Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

Training During Chaos!

Ahhhhhh! That was the sound of a deep breath after two weeks of complete and total chaos. My training for the past few weeks has been nothing if not interesting, and filled with alternative plans, added and subtracted routes, and unconventional strength-training. I’m sure everyone has found themselves in a position where training simply couldn’t be a priority in the grand scheme of other life events, and that was certainly the case for me over the past few weeks. However, as of yesterday at 1:30PM, some level of normalcy will hopefully be returning to my life. Sort of, anyway.

The chaos was the result of our packing up our life, fitting it into a POD, cleaning and selling a house, and moving in with a dear friend for the next 6 weeks. All of this happened while working full-time, and, in my case, job searching. It sounds like the perfect time to try and ramp up for some long spring miles, right?

You might recall me mentioning that the epicurean and I will be transitioning to a new home in Delaware this spring. Well, the time came to finalize the sale of our house, and that meant packing up everything we own and getting set to move it across the country. As it so happens, packing up a house is considerably more work than packing up a small apartment. Who knew?! (Ok, anyone who has ever done it realizes that, but it was new to us). It’s amazing how much you learn about your lifestyle when you pack up your home and get ready to move. You realize how much extra “stuff” you have but don’t need, and you get excited about living more minimally in the future. Well, at least that was how we felt. At any rate, the packing and cleaning took longer than we thought, as they always do, but we managed to empty our house and pack our life into a 16′ x 8′ x 8′ POD with no small amount of help from some incredible friends.

Moving with some great friends!

Moving with some great friends!

Working out to move, or moving to work out? 

Yesterday, we closed on the house and officially turned over possession. After many long days and long nights, it felt great to sit down for dinner and know we didn’t have to start packing and cleaning again when we were done. Throughout all of this, I’ve had to adjust my running schedule considerably to get in the miles I wanted and needed. This meant a few extra early morning mid-day runs (because getting up early on Saturday isn’t bad enough :) ), and some strange routes. I somehow managed to keep my training on track.

Last night, as I was finishing up a celebratory 17 mile day, I realized my knees and quads were a lot more sore than they normally are at this point in the week. That’s when I realized just how much “cross-training” I had been doing for the last two weeks. I’ve gone up and down more flights of stairs, lifted more boxes, bent over to clean more surfaces, and stayed up later doing it all in the last two weeks than I ever remember doing. Moving was indeed the best “cross-training” I’d had all year, and I’m strangely thankful for it. My long run tomorrow morning is going to hurt more as a result, but as my legs repair themselves, I’m going to be better for it moving forward.

Finished packing and cleaning- our last night in our first house!

Finished packing and cleaning- our last night in our first house!

Life is going to be full of transition in the next month and a half. We will be living out of suitcases and traveling considerably. I’ve signed up for quite a few “last races” in Iowa before I leave, and I’ll be going through RRCA Coaches Certification training at the end of April. All of this will be happening while work carries on and the end of the semester brings with it much more work. However, there’s a lot of excitement on the horizon. There will be new roads, neighborhoods, trails, and races to explore, and new challenges to meet. You can expect some optimistic uncertainty from me over the next few weeks, but plenty of adventures as well.

Spring is finally in the air, so it’s time to get those legs moving! Get out there and make it happen :) #chasing42

 

Running with Circadian Science?

Many folks might not know that I was almost a pediatrician. I spent most of my childhood planning for medical school, and the first three years of my college career taking the necessary courses to achieve that vision of my future. Ultimately, my interests led me in a decidedly different direction, but I never let go of my love of science and the human body. That’s no doubt why I find the biological and physiological side of endurance running so fascinating. We put our bodies through countless trials out on the road and trails. The pain is real, and the criticism is consistent, but we keep doing it. At a certain point, any run of 50 miles or more seems to become a decidedly mental exercise, but our body still needs to function appropriately to keep moving forward. I’ve dealt with all kinds of aches, pains, and general fatigue during races, and often the knowledge that I can and have overcome those hardships is the only thing that keeps me pushing forward.

I’ve come to realize that the most difficult part of long-distance endurance events is often the number of hours I am on my feet at any given time. I’ve always been a bit of a night owl so staying up “late” has never been an issue. Unfortunately, my body’s definition of “late” has gotten earlier and earlier as I’ve circled the sun more and more. Gone are the college days of consistent all-nighters full of productive accomplishment. I’ve accepted this reality, but seem to push it aside when it comes to running. I’ve forcefully convinced myself that I am still easily capable of staying up all night as long as I’m running, and I’ve done it numerous times, which has only served to reinforce my illogical beliefs.

Now, I might have proved consistently that I can continue running at 3:00AM, but that doesn’t mean my body likes it. The pain and fatigue are real, and the digestive issues can’t be ignored (toilet paper should be a part of any ultra-runners race kit!). Thus, I found a recent story on NPR about circadian science fascinating. As the story discussed, we’ve long known that our brains have master clocks that help us maintain our 24-hour sleep/wake cycle. Interestingly, researchers have discovered that we actually have clocks in every organ, every cell of our bodies. The story goes on to note:

We humans are time-keeping machines. And it seems we need regular sleeping and eating schedules to keep all of our clocks in sync.

Studies show that if we mess with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle — say, by working an overnight shift, taking a transatlantic flight or staying up all night with a new baby or puppy — we pay the price.

Our blood pressure goes up, hunger hormones get thrown off and blood sugar control goes south.

We can all recover from an occasional all-nighter, an episode of jet lag or short-term disruptions.

But over time, if living against the clock becomes a way of life, this may set the stage for weight gain and metabolic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

The basic idea here is that our body’s clocks are set to expect certain things at certain times, and they react accordingly by releasing hormones, digestive enzymes, and a myriad of other chemicals throughout the body to effectively achieve the desired outcomes. If we take actions, such as eating, at times the body is not accustomed to this occurring, then we are fighting the signals that tell our body not to eat or drink, and we become off-balance.

circadian rhythm

This story got me to thinking about the implications for ultra-running. How many times have we heard stories about runners unable to keep food down during an overnight run, or suffering fatigue in the middle of the night, only to feel their body reawakened and re-energized with the sunrise (hint- ME!). What if these instances were the result of the clocks in our muscles demonstrating their utter confusion and disbelief over the fact that we are running in the middle of the night when we should be horizontal and flowing through REM cycles? What if our digestive issues are a direct result of our stomach, pancreas, and other vital organs telling us that we shouldn’t be consuming calories at 2:00AM. Perhaps the stomach just can’t make heads or tails of pizza and potato soup when it should be replenishing vital digestive acids and enzymes?

The endurance running implications for this research are fascinating to say the least. Ultimately,

“We’d like to be in a position where we’d be able to monitor hundreds of different rhythms in your body and see if they’re out of sync — and then try to normalize them,” Turek says.

We might be forcing these rhythms out of sync intentionally, but the possibility of helping keep them in sync while we running is phenomenal. If my body was as comfortable running at 3AM as it is at 3PM, there’s no telling what I would be capable of achieving. Perhaps we should be paying less attention to the clock on our wrist, and more attention to the clocks in our bodies!

Circadian Rhythm image

Challenges Are the Key to Living

I headed out for a mid-week run last night, without knowing where I was heading until I started moving. That’s the joy of beginning to know your body and know your limits, I suppose. You can put on your shoes, step outside, and find that the only limits on where or how far you wander are those artificially composed by the expectations of others. The wind was blowing hard (as it always does in Iowa), and there was a distinct chill in the air (as there has been for months now), and I felt energized by the briskness and the bounce it instigated in my step. Sometimes kinetic energy is the best heat there is, and I was determined to warm myself up. The miles sailed by, and I enjoyed absorbing the energy and life around me.

runtolive

Towards the end of my run, I saw a friend drive past, and I stopped to catch up. As we were chatting, the periodic tiny snowflakes instantly transformed into a whiteout! The large snowflakes were floating down sideways and adhering to our jackets and faces while we talked and we couldn’t help but laugh. She had injured her ankle some time ago, and had recently been able to take off the boot and was rehabbing it in the pool. I’ve known her since I started running, and her energy, determination, and free spirit have been inspirational to me on many levels. Seeing her, still in great spirits, reminded me that we all face challenges in our training and in our lives. Those challenges not only motivate us but they remind us that we are in fact alive. They don’t define us when viewed as problems, but they motivate us and help us continue to live our lives when we think of them as challenges.

We hugged, said our goodbyes, and I headed off to finish my run. I put my head down as I ran directly into the wind and snow, unable to see more than a few feet ahead of me, and I simply laughed as a big smile washed over my face. My fingers were cold, my cheeks were windburn, the snow was finding its way under my best fabric defenses, and I loved every second of it. I was alive in that moment. I was running to live.

I'm going to miss the winter beauty of this campus!

I’m going to miss the winter beauty of this campus!

I often wax philosophically to myself when I’m out on a solo run, and I value these internal conversations. Whether I’m on my own moving along some beautiful single-track, or plodding along on the side of a road in an open prairie with barren farmland all around, the reminder is still there.

So, consider these thoughts a quick peek into the slow streams and fast rapids in my mind:

– Metrics are important but the minutia can cause us to lose sight of the larger meaning behind our actions…so, turn on your Garmin, but collect moments, mental pictures, smells, sounds, and emotions with as much passion as you do pace, distance, and heart-rate!

– We can’t control everything, so trying is ultimately a waste of energy. This is something I still remind myself of daily as I fight some OCD urges and give in to others. Sometimes the best runs are the ones you don’t plan!

– Embracing the unexpected and the unknown, and taking charge of an adventurous spirit forces us to live. Adventures and challenges rarely come to us if we aren’t open to them. I still get that giddy feeling in my stomach before every run because I don’t quite know what to expect!

– You won’t find meaning on a treadmill. You’ll only find what you already knew was there when you dialed in your pace and stepped onto the circulating belt. We all run for different reasons, and the desire to be healthy is incredibly important. However, if running is about more than simply race results and VO2 max, then I’m a firm believer that you won’t find what you are looking for inside on a hamster wheel.

P.S. It’s not too cold. Ever. There are ultrarunners making their way across Alaska on the 350-mile Iditarod course right now. No excuses.

The unexpected moments remind me that I’m alive. They remind me to put everything I do in perspective, and they remind me why I run. I run to live. This, I venture to guess, becomes a far more holistic approach to training than the other way around. When you assume the opposite, you run the risk of finding yourself stuck on a revolving belt, unaware and unconcerned with the world around you.

“Everything we do really is just a little marker on the long road to death. And sometimes that’s overwhelmingly depressing to me, and sometimes it makes me feel kinship and forgiveness. We’ve all got the same ending to the story. The way we make that story more elaborate, I got to respect.”
― Joss Whedon

Running & Being: Reflections in Quotes

This frigid winter has left plenty of time to curl up with a good book, a warm blanket, a warm and snuggly dog and/or cat, and a cup of coffee. One of the many books on my reading list this year was Running & Being: The Total Experienceby Dr. George Sheehan. This classic running text was first published in 1978, and became a bit of a running bible during the rise of the sport, with Sheehan serving as a muse and wise sage for the burgeoning recreational running community. The title had been on my docket for a while, and I was excited to crack it open (although carefully so as not to damage the spin, out of respect to my conservator partner!). Even after almost 30 years, Sheehan’s words ring true and I found myself connecting with his thoughts and perspective more and more as I turned the pages. His writing style, half philosopher, half runner, appealed to my intellectual curiosities as much as running passions.

Numerous reviews of the book have been published over the years, so it would be a bit presumptuous to think I could add anything in that genre that had not already been said. However, I found more and more quotes that spoke to me particularly, and I thought it would be engaging, at least to me, to document those. Perhaps you’ll discover new meaning in the book, or an interest in it that will cause you to pick it up for the first time. Either way, there’s meaning to be found if one is open to letting it in. Enjoy!

Chapter 1- Living

Our day-to-day living may seem mindless to the mind and of no consequence to the body, but the heart tells us different. The heart is where faith lies. Where we find the supreme act of courage, the courage to be. To take arms against oneself and become one’s own perfection. (p. 9)

Chapter 2- Discovering

The runner does not run because he is too slight for football or hasn’t the ability to put a ball through a hoop or can’t hit a curve ball. He runs because he has to. Because in being a runner, in moving through pain and fatigue and suffering, in imposing stress upon stress, in eliminating all but the necessities of life, he is fulfilling himself and becoming the person he is. (p. 22)

Chapter 3- Understanding

So I run in joy and even afterward there is a completeness that lingers and is even restored in the long, hot shower. I am “away”, not in the mind but in its warm, relaxed, tingling happy body, the feeling of running still in my legs and arms and chest. I am still enjoying who I was and what I did that hour on the road. (p. 28)

Chapter 4- Beginning

Where fitness ends, self-discovery starts. The athlete who is in complete command of the skills of his sport comes to understand the person he is through his attachment to his particular sport and his response to the stresses and strains that arise within it. He finds out what he is made of. What his true personality is.” (pp. 45-46)

Chapter 5- Becoming

So let us forget about longevity. Get away from the idea of prolonging life. Let us realize the truth of Thurber’s dictum “There is no safety in numbers- or in anything else.” Despite exercise, diet and abstention from all the vices, we will die in our appointed time. That should not concern. It is what happens from now until then that is important.” (pp. 56-57)

Chapter 6- Playing

Play is where life lives. Where the game is the game. At its borders, we slip into heresy. Become serious. Lose our sense of humor. Fail to see the incongruities of everything we hold to be important. Right and wrong become problematic. Money, power, position become ends. The game becomes winning. And we lose the good life and the good things that play provides.” (p. 61)

Chapter 7- Learning

What is school for the student, wrote philosopher Paul Weiss, is leisure for the mature. A time when we devote ourselves to detecting who we are and what we can do, a time to understand the world and how it works, a time to loaf and invite the imagination to full activity, a time to exhaust ourselves in play and dance and celebration.” (p.77)

Chapter 8- Excelling

Boredom, like beauty, is in the mind of the beholder. “There is no such thing as an uninteresting subject,” said Chesterton. “The only thing that can exist is an uninterested person.” (p.92)

Chapter 9- Running

Running reminds me that at any age man is still the marvel of creation. With the passage of time, there is little deterioration of our physical or psychic powers, little worth thinking that is lost. The only important issue, as Rollo May said, is not whether a person is twenty or forty or sixty, but whether he fulfills his own capacity of self-conscious choice at his own particular level.” (p. 116)

Chapter 10- Training

Life is the great experiment. Each of us is an experiment of one- observer and subject- making choices, living with them, recording the effects. “Living”, said the philosopher Ortega, “is nothing more than doing one thing instead of another.” (p. 130)

Chapter 11- Healing

The athlete is medicine’s most difficult patient. His pursuit of perfection is an unprecedented challenge to what Cannon called “homeostasis” and Claude Bernard termed the “internal milieu,” the body’s inner harmony with its external environment.” (p. 147)

Chapter 12- Racing

I have no need for short-lived bursts of superhuman energy. My game is endurance. My object perfection. My race is a product of training, determination, and reason. Strong emotions often contribute nothing but stupidity. It is the fired-up, psyched-up runner who runs the most irrationally placed races.” (p. 157)

Chapter 13- Winning

Some think guts is sprinting at the end of a race. But guts is what got you there to begin with. Guts start in the back hills with six miles still to go and you’re thinking of how you can get out of this race without anyone noticing. Guts begin when you still have forty minutes of torture left and you’re already hurting more than you ever remember.” (p. 181)

Chapter 14- Losing

Sport is where an entire life can be compressed into a few hours. Where the emotions of a lifetime can be felt on the acre or two of ground. Where a person can suffer and die and rise again on six miles of trails through a New York City park.” (p. 189)

Chapter 15- Suffering

Why I began running is no longer important. It is enough that it generated a desire to run. Then the running itself took over. Running became self-renewing compulsion. The more I ran, the more I wanted to run.” (p. 197)

Chapter 16- Meditating

On the road I become a philosopher and follow the philosopher’s tradition. I affirm my own existence and no one else’s. I am occupied with my own inner life. I am constructing a system that will justify  my own way of being in the world. And discovering, as Emerson said, that there are thoughts in my brain that have no other watchman or lover or defender than me.” (p. 220)

Chapter 17- Growing

Running is a dangerous game. At one pole the danger is contentment. Running becomes so addictive physically, so habit-forming psychologically, that it takes willpower for me not to run. And it has a solitude so satisfying that I sometimes wonder if the hermit isn’t the supreme hedonist.” (p. 229)

Chapter 18- Seeing

The world belongs to those who laugh and cry. Laughter is the beginning of wisdom, the first evidence of the divine sense of humor…Crying starts when we see things as they really are. When we realize with William Blake that everything that lives is holy. When everything is seen to be infinite and we are part of the infinity.” (p. 246)

 

Latest Running Research- Listen to your Damn Body!

I just completed a multi-year study of running and endurance, and the findings are going to completely redefine the sport! This study is probably bigger than the Harvard Love Study and the Kinsey Reports combined! Are you ready to be amazed and completely rethink everything you know about running?

Here are the important take-away findings:

1. Speed and distance are inversely proportional: All of my recent PRs have come on the heals of long runs the previous day. Forget what you know about tapering, and head out for that 20-miler the day before your marathon. Watch the magic happen!

2. Hydration and gastrointestinal Distress are related: I’ve been playing around with my diet for quite some time, trying to figure out why the threat of the runs occurs on my long runs. Then, it hit me. Hydration! I’ve consumed water every single time I’ve had to make a pit stop at a gas station, in the woods, or behind a dumpster. The obvious solution is to simply stop drinking water. You’re welcome, internet!

3. Wind impacts pace: You’ve probably all thought about this anecdotally, and now you have the scientific proof to back up those hunches. Your pace does in fact decrease when running into the wind. That is, unless you push harder and increase your pace to compensate.

4. Bodyglide suppresses lactation in men! This was a rather unexpected finding, but the facts don’t lie. I do my best to avoid chafing on longer runs and apply my Bodyglide consistently. Surprisingly, I’ve never lactated on those days. Now, to my knowledge, I’ve never lactated period, but we’re just talking about running here.

bodyglide-detail-group-original

5. Black socks make you run faster: We all know that darker colors absorb more energy from the sun, and solar energy is becoming more and more important as we rip through our remaining coal reserves. It then stands to reason that the solar energy entering my legs is providing more power and energy, and I’m running faster as a result. I went back and looked at race pictures, and sure enough, I’m wearing black socks for all of my fastest races.

Now, you’ve probably figured out by now that these findings aren’t EXACTLY scientific, but they are none-the-less true…at least for me. Sometimes. In the right conditions. If I think hard enough about them. My point here is more of a response to what seems like a constant onslaught of articles, commentaries, and studies that suggest running will do this or that to your body, or running too far will hurt your body, you need this much recovery, or you need to eat this balance of foods. The messages we receive are endless in a media-saturated, social-media intensive society. What’s more, we’ve been trained by Western medicine to assume everything is objective, has a solution, and more than likely involves a pill.

I hate to break it to you but there is no such think as objective research. Everyone involved in every research study made decisions about how to go about their work, what and who to include, and what questions to ask (and thus what questions not to ask). The reality is that humanity is amazing, infuriating, sometimes terrifying, and mostly beautifully diverse. Thus, there are as many “ways” to do something as there are people to do them. Running is simply one of those things.

We’ve gotten away from listening to our bodies. Really stopping to pay attention to not only what hurts so we can tell our doctor, but what feels good, how long something lasts, and what differences exist when we try new things. The beauty, of course, is that we can start doing this any time. It may take some time to flip that switch in your mind, but the benefit is well worth the time. Just as we invest time in hill work, speed work, intervals, and endurance training, we should invest time in listening to our bodies.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with reading the articles that flood our news feeds every day. The trick is not to get so wrapped up in what other people are saying that we stop trusting ourselves to know what’s best for our running, our goals, and our bodies. The findings of that study may just surprise you, and will certainly prove more beneficial to your overall performance!

 

 

January By The Numbers

This was a month of contrasts, and the beginning of what will no doubt be a very exciting, adventurous, and diverse year of experiences. The temperatures varied by close to 80 degrees, the epicurean and I made the decision to move half way across the country, I signed up for many of my “last hurrah” races in Iowa, and I ran more total miles than in any other previous month (I think).

Let’s run the numbers for January:

running

9,144- Total feet of elevation gain for the month…I need to try and step it up! (pun intended)

1,080- The number of miles between Ames, IA & our new home in Delaware. We have a lot of packing, planning, and house shopping to do between now and then. Don’t worry, though, as I’ve been sure to begin scouting running groups and new races to tackle in the area!

334.7- Total number of miles run in January…yikes!

80- Approximate temperature variance from -30 wind chills to 50 degree days…oh, Iowa :)

temps-drop-but-running-wont-stop

34- Number of runs during the month- I added in a second two-a-day on Thursday to increase the fatigue on my legs heading into my weekend miles. It’s been a slow transition, but I’m feeling good about it.

14- Number of old pairs of running shoes I finally parted ways with after they served their distance. It was hard to say goodbye!

6- Races I’ve signed up for, with more to come once the schedule is a bit more consistent!

5- Number of classes I’m teaching this semester…I didn’t really want to sleep, right?

Keep running…just not in place!

5- Number of marathon-or-longer distances run this month…the base miles will start to give way to more challenging runs now!

2- Number of pairs of shoes I’ve retired and replaced.

0- Number of indoor runs, treadmill or otherwise…a good month indeed!

poster-38

 

Keep #chasing42 !

Want to be a Race Reviewer? (Your answer should be yes!)

I love reading race reviews. The number of ultramarathons, marathons and half marathons has grown a great deal in recent years, and all other distances are on the rise as well. People love running, and they love hearing about other people running. With so many races competing for our time and money, it makes sense to learn as much about the race as possible before pulling the trigger and adding it to your schedule.

More people are running and racing now than ever before!

More people are running and racing now than ever before!

I also enjoy writing reviews once I’ve completed races. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the experience, think about what I enjoyed and what I didn’t, and make mental notes for my next race. With each race I run and review, I get a better idea of my ideal race conditions (time, location, distance, aid, numbers, etc.), which in turn helps me plan a lot better for future races.

Photo Credit: Runner's World

Photo Credit: Runner’s World

I have enough friends that would echo my comments, and I thought it would be nice to give them an opportunity to review a race as well. Not everyone has the time to maintain a full-fledged blog, but many more folks would enjoy the opportunity to reflect back on their latest race, no matter the outcome. As such, I’m officially opening up Chasing 42 to guest bloggers that would be interested in reviewing races I am not fortunate enough to attend but would love to hear about…and hopefully others would as well!

So, if you just got back from a race, are heading off to a race, or are planning your race schedule for the future, I’d love to hear from you. Runners of all abilities and races of all distances are welcome and encouraged. The goal is to make this blog a one-stop shop for race reports in Iowa, around the country, and around the world! Feel free to fill out the embedded form, click on the race report page, or navigate up to the Race Reports header above. I can’t wait to hear from you- keep chasing!

 

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