Chasing 42

Life, the Universe, & Running

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Race Report: Wabash Trace Marathon

Elite athletes regularly run between 80 and 100 miles a week while training. I have always been in awe of those numbers, and the ability for their legs to sustain such a high level of endurance. Clearly, I am not an elite athlete in any commonly accepted form of the term. However, over the past two weeks, I’ve run 134 miles. I’ve also run 2 marathons in 6 days. These are both stats I didn’t think possible even a year ago. Needless to say, it’s been a crazy year!

This past weekend, I traveled to Shenandoah, IA to run the 1st Wabash Trace Trail Marathon. This race was nice and close, relatively cheap, and fit in well with my schedule. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad bit skeptical of the overall quality of the experience. However, this race put those fears to bed and produced a very enjoyable marathon experience! As a first race, the organizers definitely have a lot to be proud of and I have no doubt that this race will be around for many more years to come.

Shenandoah is a small town in southwestern Iowa with a population of just over 5000 people. As I drove  in on the main highway running through town, I was acutely aware of the quintessential small rural town feel of the community. Packet pickup was at a local eatery, and as I walked in, it was business as usual for everyone else in town. I found a small table in the back with a nice young woman handing out packets, and she crossed my name off the list. I was camping at a local park in town with some friends, and I was happily given directions. I have a tendency to get lost pretty easily, but I still managed to find the park.   We set up our tents, and then headed into town for a quick dinner. We returned to a relaxing evening with the stars overhead. It was a bit chilly at night, but there is something special about sleeping out under the stars on a cool (almost) fall evening.

The race began at 7:00AM the next morning in Malvern, IA (pop. 1142), so we headed out from our campsite around 6:00AM to make the 36 mile drive. Despite getting turned around, we still ran up to the start just as they were finishing the national anthem. The group of friends I was with were competing in the marathon relay, so they proceeded to spread themselves out along the course in due time. The gun went off, and I took off with the 39 other marathoners and the handful of leadoff relay runners. Did I mention this was a small race? 🙂

The picture might be a bit blurry, but so was my brain @ the start!

After about the first two miles, I was relatively on my own for the remainder of the race. I did play leap frog with various runners throughout the course (the half marathon started further down the course in order to finish at the same location), but this point-to-point race gave me plenty of time to think! The trail is an old rail bed, and was a very easy run. The tree canopy was almost universal, providing beautiful scenery along the entire route. As I ran along this trail, sunlight periodically peeking through the trees, corn and soybean fields visible through the trees on either side, I couldn’t help think that it doesn’t get much more “Iowa” than this run. The echo of a farm auction in the distance thus became the icing on the cake.

Water stops were evenly placed, and volunteers from town came out in force to assist with the race and offer encouragement to the runners. Although I love the feel of a densely crowed Chicago street during a marathon, there is something equally special about young children shouting “WATER! GATORADE!” as you approach a clearing along a beautiful tree-lined escape from the chaos of life. It was obvious that many of the volunteers may not have completely understood what possesses someone to run a marathon, but the pride in their community and their general hospitality and caring nature shone through even brighter than the sun peeking through the trees.

As with the Sioux Falls Marathon, I was using this race as a training run to adjust my pace as I prepare for my ultimate goal at the end of October. I certainly came closer, finishing in 4:17, but my work isn’t done yet. I crossed the finish line, was handed a high-quality medal, and greeted by my friends who had, as it turns out, won the race overall and taken first place in the relay category with a time of 3:02! Clearly our goals were a bit different 🙂

Crossing the finish line 🙂

We made our way down to the tented area with food and drink, posted outside of the same local eatery I had visited the evening before. We spent some time relaxing, recovering, and chatting with other folks, many of whom were local to the area. The pride they had in such a successful event was clear, and they certainly had plenty to be proud of…all-in-all, a great way to qualify as a Maniac!

Lucky #13!

“Stretching” my Running: Cross-Training with Yoga

I’ve been running consistently for over three years now, which simultaneously seems like a drop in the bucket and an eternity when I think about what I’ve done with it. At about the same time that I started running, I took my first yoga class and began experimenting with it. I enjoyed the workout, and remember thinking that I would sweat more during a 60 minute yoga class than I did during a strenuous run. This was a huge shock to my former concept of yoga as a relatively easy activity. Needless to say, I was VERY wrong!

Running has since turned into an addiction with amazing and rewarding results, and I hope it will be a part of my life for a long time to come. For whatever reason, my yoga practice never really stuck. I would attend a class here and there, but I never really developed any consistency. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve written down the schedules for classes on campus the last three semesters, but never actually went to one. Life is, of course, busy, and there are always gong to be multiple demands on my day. However, I think I had forgotten how good it felt to immerse myself in the poses, letting everything else wash away from the day (much the same feeling that I get when I head out on a solitary run, ironically enough).

Lately, I had begun to think more and more about returning to yoga. This has been in large part due to the beautiful epicurean’s conviction to her practice, and the new studio she has begun attending. On a fairly regular basis for the past few months, I would be leaving for a run just as she would be leaving for a hot yoga class, and we would return, equally exhausted, sweaty, and satisfied. I think she might have noticed my yoga envy, along with an understanding of the potential benefits of yoga for my running. Thus, when my birthday rolled around, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a gift card for Ignite Yoga.

I attended my first class yesterday, and it felt absolutely wonderful! The addition of the extra heat and humidity was actually a welcome aspect of the class, which is funny considering how much I have discussed the ridiculous heat this summer. It had been almost a year since I had attended a yoga class of any kind, but the poses still came back to me, although not quite as easy as riding a bike. The instructor also just happened to be a triathlete, which had me even more excited and confident before the class even started! The various poses stretched just about every critical muscle group for my running, and it felt wonderful. The addition of the heat provided the extra warmth in my muscles for much deeper stretches than I could ever get on my own as well. In addition, a recent study has shown yoga to be good for asthmatics as well (of which I am one). Needless to say, I’ll be going back regularly, and I’m excited to incorporate hot yoga into my training routine.

With time, I hope to be able to incorporate short yoga poses into my pre-run and post-run routines as well. There is quite a bit of information available on the link between yoga and running, and it is an area of interest that I am just beginning to explore, so expect more to come in the future! As I sign off, I thought I would share this concise list of benefits that I found particularly relevant and encouraging.

Here are some key benefits brought by combining running and yoga (source: http://www.yoga-abode.com/node/1322):

  • Strength and flexibility: although running can add extra pressure on the joints, those who do enjoy it will find that stretching properly helps them go further whilst helping prevent injuries. Through yoga one may enjoy an increased flexibility in all leg muscles and those attached to pelvis.
  • Breathing – yoga teaches breath awareness, and breathing properly is a key part of an efficient, pleasurable and healthy run
  • Balance – both help develop core strength and postural awareness, hence helping with posture.
  • Resistance – the cardiovascular aspect of a run may help build stamina and endurance within a yoga practice.
  • Mental focus – yoga helps to be centred, and long distance running requires mental (as well as physical) focus and discipline.
  • Stress relief: both have been proven to relieve stress and tensions.

Race Recap: Midnight Madness 2012

I don’t remember the last time I ran a 5K road race. I’ve certainly run 3-ish mile routes (and then some, usually) on a fairly regular basis, but it’s probably been two years since I registered for a 5K and ran it all-out. This past Saturday, I did just that. Midnight Madness is an annual 5k & 10K in Ames, and this history is quite rich. It attracts a diverse crowd of professional runners and dedicated walkers, complete with large strollers. More than a race, it’s a huge social gathering in the community and overall a great time. The race has some added history for me because it was the first 5K (or race of any kind) I ever ran, back in 2007. So, after a rather lengthy break, I decided to sign up with the intent of testing my speed and seeing just where my PR was for a 5K. I assumed I had gotten faster in the past two years, but I’ve never focused much on speed and have been much more intentional about upping my distance. To this point, the fastest recorded 5K I had run was in 25:08 and that was almost two years ago, so I was poised for a faster time!

Credit: runninglibrarian.com

Now, this particular Saturday started like most, which is to say I went for a morning run. I didn’t think much of it despite the 5K that evening, but after I returned home from a 16 mile run, it occurred to me that my legs may end up feeling this later in the evening. Alas, this proved to be correct 🙂

I ran down to the starting line, giving me a chance to warm up my legs, which I thought might be helpful and I had never done before either. Two miles of warm-ups left me ready to go! I arrived early  and had a chance to chat with some friends before the race, and actually almost missed the start altogether because I was busy chatting away. However, I realized the time and stepped into the pack of racers just as the gun went off. Unfortunately, this is a popular race for walkers, and I ended up at the back of the pack. I did my best to weave through people and work my way closer to the front of the pack with runners more at my pace, but I’m pretty sure I came close to crushing quite a few small children along the way!

Despite the congestion at the start, I hit mile one in 7:21 which was a great time and left me excited. My second mile felt fairly good as well, although I felt myself starting to tire towards the end. I still hit it at 7:46, so I was ahead of pace. I should note that at this point, the thought and hope of breaking 24 minutes had entered my mind and I had gotten excited. It had been a tiring day academically, so this goal lifted my spirits quite a bit. Unfortunately, the 16 miles I had done earlier in the day caught up with me on the third mile and I finished 3.1 in 24:08. I know I should have been really happy with my time, but I still walked away a bit frustrated and wondering what I was really capable of had my legs been fresh when the race started.

Later that evening, after I had ran home and showered, I reminded myself that running was FUN! I let myself get a bit frustrated but I’ve kept at it this long because I enjoy it, and I think it’s really important not to loose sight of that. I think many folks become very competitive (either internally or with others) and forget why they started running in the first place. Every time I lace up my shoes and head out for a run, I’m doing it for me. I’m doing it for the peace of mind, and for the energy it gives me. Every time I toe the line, I’m doing it because I enjoy the atmosphere and cherish the experience. Getting frustrated every once-in-awhile isn’t a bad thing, as long as I always remember that I do it all because it’s fun!

Ironically, amidst it all, it didn’t even dawn on me that I still hit a PR for the 5K 🙂

Collective Bargaining with your Body

Resting after a period of hard training leading up to a race is common sense, right? Your body can only handle so much before it tells you to stop one way or another, so you might as well take it easy and let yourself recover. This seems like common sense to me, as it no doubt does to you. We all get a sense for how hard we can push our bodies before our bodies push back- in a sense, finding that limit is one of the ultimate goals for endurance sports of all varieties. Ultimately, it’s important to listen to your body when it begins to give you signs that you need to slow down. Doing so will allow you to keep training, while staying healthy and not injuring yourself in any way.

Photo Credit: Runner’s Connect

In the past, I’ve usually listened to my body. Overall, my ability to listen to my body in all aspects has allowed me to stay relatively healthy. I NEVER get sick, in fact (famous last words- you can see where this is going, right?). My immune system has become quite hearty, which has been beneficial for my productivity in all aspects of my life. However, I don’t always listen, which is when I pay the price. In the past week or so, I’ve felt a drop in my energy levels. I was still able to continue training, and was logging the miles I wanted for the most part, but it seemed to involve more effort than usual. This is especially true considering I’m more conditioned now than I’ve ever been, after so much training this past year.

Earlier this week, I took a day off from training, and chose to do some work in the yard instead. Unfortunately, that work was digging up old stumps in the yard, the result of some serious neglect by previous home-owners. The beautiful epicurean and I committed ourselves to planting our garden this year, and getting the yard in decent shape. Being that my thumbs are more brown than green, I’ve been naturally drawn to the more maintenance-oriented tasks, such as mowing, weeding, watering, and tilling. Yard work in all senses is a new experience for me, being that I grew up without a yard or the responsibilities that comes with having one. Thus, I don’t have a very good grasp yet on how much energy I exert doing this work. This proved to be costly, as several hours of digging up stumps with a shovel proved to be quite painful for my muscles. None-the-less, I recovered overnight (so I thought), and continued on my normal routine, capping the night with a nice calm run with friends (8 miles and change). However, when I got home, I could tell that there was something up with my body.

Early Stages of Garden Construction

Sure enough, two hours later, I was curled up on the couch, covered in blankets, and shivering, despite my 101 degree temperature. My entire body was sore, and I couldn’t move. Sleeping that night proved to be less than comfortable, and I spend the entire next day on the couch, unable to eat anything except bread and crackers (a far cry from my normal and necessary caloric intake!). I certainly don’t get sick often, but when I do, look out!

Thankfully, I’m feeling a good deal better today, and have been able to keep some food down without the nausea and aches that prevented it yesterday. I’m not at 100% yet, but I should be by this weekend, as long as I continue to take it easy. Now, it’s entirely likely that I picked up a bug somewhere that sidelined me like this, and it didn’t directly have anything to do with my training. However, I’m going to take it as a sign and reminder that a large part of maintaining your endurance is resting, and keeping your body healthy so it can accomplish all of the things you are asking of it. I’m going to keep asking quite a bit of my body, so the least I can do is make sure I rest accordingly, on my terms, instead of waiting for my immune system to go on strike. I’ll consider this a fair compromise in my collective bargaining agreement with my body. Don’t mess with the union!

 

Just Breathe

Many runners, and many athletes of all genres of sport for that matter, spend a lot of time thinking about the proper tools for the sport. As runners, we put a lot of time into thinking about the right shoes (minimalist, support, laces, heel drop), the right clothes (wicking, SPF, cooling, warming, style), eye protection, hats/visors, technology (watches, GPS, apps)…the options are quite endless at this point, and the industry is making money hand-over-fist. However, perhaps the most critical tool in our running arsenal is one that we can’t shop around for, and are left with no choice but to make due- our lungs. Whether we like it or not, the pace and distance we are able to tackle is ultimately controlled by our breathing.

Photo Credit: Runner’s World

As someone who has suffered from asthma (full blown, not just exercise-induced) pretty much his whole life, breathing has always been front and center in my mind. Nothing reminds you of just how important oxygen really is to your existence like being pumped full of adrenaline as you suck on a nebulizer in a hospital bed. In many ways, my current passion for running is quite a new and novel experience. As a child, my asthma was much more severe, and the thought of even running once around the track at school was daunting and unbearable. I’ll never forget the gym teacher in 5th grade who was convinced that asthma was all in your head, and forced me to run the mile, despite a doctor’s note. Luckily, modern medicine has come a long way, and I am now on a daily inhaler which controls my asthma pretty well, and allows me to breathe much easier (pun intended).None-the-less, I don’t take my breathing for granted.

Additionally, running without music (which I always do) provides me with a lot of time to think about any of a number of things, not the least of which is my breathing. I find that I pay attention to my breathing much more when I’m running. Many researchers will say that breathing in a 2:2 ratio (taking 2 steps while you breath in, 2 steps while you breath out), which ultimately equates to syncing your breathing with your running cadence. Although this isn’t necessarily a natural pattern, I’ve found that once you focus, it’s not too terribly difficult to adjust. It has the added bonus of making you a more efficient runner as well, in terms of utilizing your lung capacity to maintain endurance. Learning to breathe deeper can have positive effects as well.

In terms of nose-breathing vs. mouth-breathing, you really need to test this for yourself. Some people will tell you that breathing through your mouth will offer less resistance, while others indicate that breathing through your nose is preferable because it warms the air before it hits your lungs (great for cold weather running), and increases CO2 saturation in the blood, which can produce a calming effect.

Ultimately you need to decide for yourself, hopefully through trail and error, what works best for you. Remember that how you breathe during running will not necessarily be the same as your pattern during other forms of exercise. As someone who enjoys yoga as a means of core strengthening and flexibility, I can certainly attest to this fact.

I may always have my emergency inhaler handy, but as long as I remember to just breathe, I’ll continue to move forward!

Free State Trail Run: 40 Mile Recap #1

Now that I am relatively fully recovered, I can sit down and share a bit about what turned out to be the most satisfying race I’ve ever run! Just to recap- this past Saturday, I ran the Free States Trail Run 40-miler at Clinton Lake in Lawrence, KS. This was my second ultra-marathon and the longest run yet for me. I’ve been training since January for this race, racking up more mileage than ever before, and I felt comfortable and ready to go when Saturday morning rolled around.

I made the journey to Lawrence with two wonderful friends, and we departed on Friday afternoon. We picked up our packets at a great running store in downtown Lawrence. I, of course, got sucked into doing a bit of shopping and ended up buying a pair of compression sleeves, which proved to be quite useful on Sunday! As is the case with most running-related vacations, the secondary motive is always the opportunity to try new restaurants. With that in mind, we went out to dinner at the Free States Brewery, which had a fantastic selection of in-house micro brews. The Oatmeal Stout was quite delicious!

As always, the morning came way too early, and we were out the door by 6AM to head to Clinton Lake. Although it was a bit chilly at start time, a pair of arm warmers took the edge off, and it ended up being a beautiful day for a run. This was a small race, with probably around 400 total runners (100K, 40-mile, marathon, 1/2 marathon) and the 100K and 40-mile races began promptly at 7AM. Having not run the trails around Clinton Lake before, I was certainly a bit nervous, but the adrenaline was pumping fiercely and I quickly settled into a groove. The race began with a steep descent and a hard right, and at that point, I could already tell that this would be a more technical run than I had ever attempted.

Let the race begin!

In terms of difficulty, Clinton Lake did not disappoint! The entire route was litered with rocks, tree roots, branches, and stumps, which meant that looking more than 3 feet in front of you was just plain foolish. In total, the route consisted of two 20-mile out-and-back loops, which made the aid stations easier to position. I ended up running the first 13 miles or so with a group of guys who were all veterans of the race and the trails in the area, which ended up being a great intro for me! I was equally surprised and elated by just how kind and supportive they were (they were running the 100K race, by the way), and continued to offer suggestions and share stories about other races while we ran. The result was about two and a half hours of running that flew by without any concept of time. We eventually became separated, but those first miles set the pace for a great race. After the first 20-mile loop, I was feeling strong and energetic, despite the intensity of the trails and the distance already covered. I finished the first loop in under 4 hours, which proved to be quite an accomplishment considering the difficulty of the course.

I look like I know what I'm doing 🙂

After restocking on nutrition and reapplying sunscreen and bug spray, I headed back out, feeling confident and soaking in the energy and freedom of the environment. I didn’t bother wearing my Garmin for this race since the battery wouldn’t have lasted the whole race anyway, and I didn’t miss it in the least. I felt completely free and engaged in the run and lost all concept of time along the way. The second loop was certainly more difficult, and the second 10 miles of the loop, which were even more difficult than the first, certainly dragged on for a bit, but I never felt any pressure to move any faster than my body would allow.

The course was very well supported, and the volunteers at each of the aid stations were absolutely fabulous! When I finally made the turn to head up the final hill before the finish line, by heart was racing with excitement, and as I turned to sprint through the finish, my friends cheering me on, I was surprised and delighted by how much energy I had! I was all smiles at the end, and felt far more chatty and normal than I probably should have after running 40 miles. I filled up on water and snacks, and my legs still felt fresh. Strangely, I felt better than after many of the marathons I have run, which was a shock to me, but one I was grateful for in the end.

40 miles down, should I be smiling this much?

All-in-all, this entire experience has been one I’ll never forget, and the race is one I’ll certainly return to in the future. I’m so thankful for such wonderful, supportive friends and an incredibly supportive and caring partner- there is no question that I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this without them!

Great friends, great races!

So, I now have a 40-mile PR (8:21). Later on in the weekend, I was thinking about beginning to cycle more now that my ultra training is completed, and it occurred to me that I’ve now run further at one time than I have cycled! It won’t last long, but it’s hilarious none-the-less!

More thoughts on the race to come- it’s worth a 2nd post!

Brewing Up A Great Run

Normally, this would be the time when everyone would be talking about getting excited for the arrival of spring. After a long hard winter, who doesn’t look forward to a spring thaw, complete with budding trees and blooming blossoms? However, this hasn’t exactly been a typically year. As a result, spring is most definitely already here. I’ve been lucky enough to be running outside in shorts and technical t-shirt for quite some time, and being able to replace the winter hat with the wicking hat has been a wonderful thing for me. Now, not only does the emergence of spring a bit early mean it’s that much more pleasant to run outside, but it also means the emergence of Spring and Summer Seasonal beers!

Now, I like beer…a lot…almost as much as I love running. However, before I go any further, I should clarify something. I’m not talking about the beer you buy as a 24-pack and can drink like water (you know what brands I’m talking about- I can see the “light” going off in your mind now). I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m a beer snob, but I put in my time during college with the red solo cups and the dirty kegs, and I’ve moved on to a more quality beer experience. As it so happens, I’ve found that as I run more and more, that beer and running really go together quite nicely! Wouldn’t you agree? Perhaps that’s why so many runs, like the most recent 100% Irish for a Day 10-miler I did, end with free beer. It’s brilliant, really. What better reason to drink a great beer @ 10AM and not feel guilty.

With spring here early, many of the smaller breweries release their spring and summer seasonal brews (seemingly early, right?) and I get the pleasure of sampling them all- it’s a burden, but one I’m willing to bear. I’m not alone, of course. The great thing about a good beer, much like a great route, is that it’s always more enjoyable with company. Perhaps that’s why running and beer seem to go together so well. Below are some typical general categories for spring and summer craft brews:

Spring

Red ale, Maibocks, Marzens, dry stout, abbey beers, Biere de Mars

Summer

Helles; Kolsch; German-style pils; saison; wheat beers; fruit-flavored wheat beers; pale, amber & blonde ales; citrusy-hopped ales

So, as I sit here, enjoying a “Dig” Pale Ale from New Belgium Brewery, remember to include a good beer in your post-run routine. After all, the main ingredient in all beers is water- it’s the others that set one apart from another!

Photo Credit: Denver Post

Post-Run Spring Seasonal Beer Selection

Rate Beer– A listing of all the top options. You must contact your local distributor immediately!

Samuel Adams– Always a Great Selection of seasonal brews

New Belgium Brewery– The “Dig” Pale Ale is quite tasty!

Great Lakes Brewing Company– I”m a fan of the Holy Moses White Ale

Harpoon Brewery– Alas, they don’t distribute in IA…one brewery tour in Boston and I was hooked for life!

Blue Moon Brewery– The Spring Blonde Wheat Ale is an excellent choice right now.

Now, this is certainly only a short list of the MANY spring and summer seasonal options…there is just a better chance of you finding these at your local grocery store…or ABC…or “Packie”.

I also love recommendations, so lets here them and toast to a wonderful spring and summer running season!

Harpoon Brewing Company

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