Friday, May 30, 2014

3 Surprising Downsides to Distance Running

People get addicted to running because of all its positive mental and physical effects. But like any addiction, there are certain inevitable downsides that addicts are usually happy to forget. I'm going to call these downsides "track" marks, because I love puns and, consequently, hate humor.

As I look back on my year of running, I've noticed a few of these "track" marks sneaking around my day to day life. They're hard to spot because running is so great. Runners love that high so much that they're willing to do accept some crazy things to get another hit. Like...

1. Laundry starts to take over your life.

Full disclosure: I'm a sweater. I sweat when it's cold, I sweat when it's warm, and I especially sweat when I run. It can get a little gross.

Only slightly exaggerated

This means that, when I get home from a run, my clothes are wet and smell like the briny underside of a pirate ship. Not that I really know what that smells like.

And you can't just put those clothes in the hamper. They're a wet and sopping mess, and being crumpled in a hamper just means that they'll stay wet and continue to get smellier as you pile more dirty laundry on top of them.

And you can't really hang them out to dry, because wherever you choose to hang them will automatically become the smelliest room in your house.

Outside is also not really an option.

My solution? I shower with them. Doesn't stop them from being wet, but at least it kills the smell. Somewhat.

2. You develop very specific muscle groups

Running is great for cardiovascular health, but it's not a sport that focuses on building muscle. But if you do it long enough, your legs will inevitably begin to get bulkier. And hey, I'm not complaining about that. I'm complaining about how awkward it is when only one half of your body gets developed muscle.

I feel like my body had a decision to make concerning losing torso fat, and that decision was to add more muscle to the legs to compensate. I wish I could flip that decision, and have my body just lose the flab rather than compensate for it with more muscle.

Now that I think about it, why can't we have more say over these seemingly arbitrary decisions our body makes? I would like a preferences menu for my body. Science, get on that.

3. Days you don't run will ruin you

Here's the kicker about being addicting to running: withdrawal is very real. And like a drug or alcohol addiction, if it dominates your life the withdrawal starts fast and hard.

I didn't know what was wrong on my rest days at first. Everything just felt off. As the day wears on, I wear down until I feel like a deflated mess.

Again, not much exaggeration

Even though it can be hard to do, and even though it will exhaust you, not having running in your life is like suddenly being separated from a long term significant other. You kind of forgot how to function without them. Of course, it was just my body missing the big package of endorphins running lovingly delivers, but the reality of that can be just depressing. What if I get injured? What if I get sick? What if I join a cult that expressly forbids running?

Running is so great that it holds a lot of importance in my life, and anything that has that much importance also has the power to get away with things and potentially hurt you. In that way, maybe it's better to think of it like a long term relationship rather than an addictive drug. Ultimately, it does build you up over time, rather than tear you down. And it's also worth the risk of withdrawal, or weird bodily development, or smelly clothes. Just like a real relationship, right?


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Runner's Roundup for May 28, 2014

Below: The Truth About Running. My name is A Runner's Journal, and I have a problem. Whew! That's the hardest part, right? (via +BYUtv)

Should ultra-marathoners be good Samaritans? Jesus would say yes. But then, Jesus wasn't an ultra-marathoner, was he? (via Running Down the Law)

Foam rolling techniques from a massage therapist. Very good. Here's a technique from a non-massage therapist: use two foam rollers as giant swords and fight with your friend. (via +Fitocracy)

Uh oh. Are they planning a Star Wars marathon? AND WILL THE OFFICIAL DISTANCE BE TWELVE PARSECS?! (via +We Run Disney)

Popular fitness app is selling their users' data points. My fitness app could sell my data points to Guinness under the suggested title, "Slowest Man Alive Runs." (via +TUAW)

A woman from Texas is running across Spain. Why not just run across Texas? It's probably bigger. (via Running Long)

A man is setting a running streak of 16,438 days. Not that I'm doubting it at all, but what organization even keeps track of something like that? How is it even verified? (via +Los Angeles Times)

Ultra-marathon training camp set to open in Kenya. "We're hoping for the first time," says an investor, "to associate Kenya with running. Kenyans are seen as a non-running group in general. We're going to change that." (via +Thrive Sports)

Friday, May 23, 2014

That Time I Was Attacked by a Freaking Swan

Runner's face obstacles when they run. Most of the really difficult obstacles are internal and personal: an injury, trouble finding motivation, trouble finding time, etc. But other times, obstacles are external.

And wow, there can be a lot of them.

Okay, in real life, there aren't as many Goombas.

If you run a path every day, part of being good at the sport means adapting quickly. There isn't a field or stadium for distance runners. The world is where you run. Because of that, you can never quite predict what sort of issues might plague your run any given day.

Once, for example, a bike race coincided with part (most) of my run. Did I wake up that morning thinking that my run would involve 3300 bikers who are physically incapable of saying, "On your left," blasting past your shoulder at 30 miles per second?

No. No I did not.

Did I wake up another morning and think I would be running past two men having a fist fight over what I can only assume is a volleyball game gone awry? Did I know that fistfight would suddenly coincide with my path?

Again, nope. Not at all.

There are some obstacles you expect to encounter as a runner. One big issue for the running community? Dogs. People don't always leash their dogs, and some dogs don't always like to act reasonably when they see people running toward or away from them. As a runner, you kind of have to be doing one or the other.

To be honest, though, I've never had a big problem with dogs. In fact, up until this week, I had never had animals bother me at all during a run.

Until this god damn swan.

I run along the north branch of the Chicago river for most of my run. Aside from the occasionally overwhelming poop-smell, it's kind of nice. Sometimes I will see ducks and swans hanging out along the banks. I'm cool with them. Up until the swan, I always felt waterfowl and I had a mutual respect for each other.

Full disclosure: we're best friends.

One morning, I spotted a swan hanging out right beside the path, and it seemed to be waiting for trouble.

I should have known that this swan WAS trouble.

As I ran past, I suddenly heard a wild flapping behind me. That noise was accompanied by another, a terrifyingly guttural and alien chirping and...glugging. It sounded like Satan's toilet struggling to flush. It instantly became the most terrifying sound I had ever heard.

I chanced a look back, and what I saw was the pure, unadulterated fury of this swan as it swept towards me with no swan like grace, it's head and neck swinging violently as this hellish scream escaped its snapping maw.

The message was clear: this was his path now. This was his house now.

I responded with similar grace.

I ran, and now I don't run past that stretch of path without thinking of that god damn swan. Which, I'm sure, is exactly what he wanted. Clearly there must have been a nest nearby. That, or that swan was just tired of all us jogger and bikers stepping on his turf.

I've learned since that swans are officially under the protection of the Queen of England. Having been on the receiving end of that swan's fury, I know the truth. She doesn't protect them. They protect her. They don't need any help looking after themselves.

Respect, swan-bro. Please don't attack me again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Runner's Roundup for May 21, 2014

The scientific case against those toe-running-glove-shoe things. Interesting and all, but do you really need science to tell you not to wear foot gloves? (via Regressing)

How to donate blood as a runner. Pshaw. I hardly even use my blood when I run anyway. (via +The Globe and Mail)

A woman is running the Tour de France route. In response, I think Lance Armstrong should bike a marathon. (via Zoe Goes Running)

How does sleeping in running gear motivate you? Don't sleep in your shoes, though! (via The Undeniable Ruth)

Check out the world's largest half marathon? I wonder what the world's longest half marathon is? (via Goteborgs Varvet)

Why strength training is important for runners. You know what else is important for runners? Emotional strength training. Life can be hard, guys. (via +Setanta College)

Hurdle crash GIFS! That kid at the front? Doesn't even care. (via +Daily Relay)

Below: a good example of why you don't celebrate too early. It's like celebrating your birthday a day early! No good can come of it. No. Good.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Suddenly, I Have to Poop; A Runner's Tale

Suddenly having to poop mid-run transforms a normal run into the greatest crisis of your day. When I realized the predicament I was in this morning around mile 2 of a 6 mile run, my brain entered a stage of hysteria usually reserved for Titanic passengers thirty seconds before going under.

And it's not like you can react appropriately to this terrifying new situation. On a track with other runners, bikers, and walkers, everything has to be internalized.

Me, internalizing

First, of course, I had to find out what was responsible for this awfulness. I'm only human, and like everyone else I can only move forward with a problem when I know whose fault it is. That answer wasn't hard to figure out: it was my fault.

So I know how it happened. Now, how to deal with it? Do I cut my run back? No, I thought, I can't do that. I have to be stronger than that.

But this wasn't an obstacle that could be overcome by willpower. This was an inevitability. This was an event that could only be dealt with one way, and I was pretty sure it couldn't be dealt with while running. But I also knew that turning around now and waving the white flag compromised my willpower. If I said I couldn't do it, I still had to run the 2.5 miles back home, and I had to do it as someone who already gave into this biological necessity once. What was to stop me giving into it a second, much more costly time?

As things intensified, I suddenly stopped running. Caught between fight and flight, I had literally no response. I was a deer in the headlights of a truck driven by pizza and beer.

So I made a decision: flight. Literally, flight. I turned and ran back home, cutting my run short and desperately finding the balance between speed and not further jostling my precariously full digestive system. The whole way, of course, alarm bells rang in my head. Meanwhile, my playlist helped out with a little song by Britney Spears called "I Wanna Go." Some of the lyrics are as follows. Not even joking right now.

As the run stretched on and my desperation grew, I began imagining scenarios of how I could live with myself as someone who pooped themselves in a public park. How I would dress, file my taxes, brush my teeth? What would post-poop me be like? I even found comfort in actively planning my new life as someone who was about to actually do this.

I held it together, though. The miles ticked by agonizingly slowly, but I eventually turned onto my street and saw my house. At this point, the phrase "This is happening," began repeating over and over in my mind, quelling the voices that warned someone else might be in the bathroom, you might have forgotten your keys, the water might be out.

I won't go into detail about what happened next. Suffice it to say, the ratio of crisis level to resolution time might be the highest in the history of all things. Two minutes after the pressure in my bowels caused me to question the nature of existence, I had pretty much forgotten about the whole thing in a wave of euphoric relief.

I will, I imagine, also fail to remember the incident the next time I'm presenting with pizza and beer the night before a run.

So it goes.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Runner's Roundup for May 14, 2014

Did someone run the first 4 minute mile in the 18th century? All I'm saying is that if it did happen, someone probably said "Agast!" That's the sort of thing they said back then. (via +BBC News)

Caffeine can make you a better athlete. But a worse sleeper. (via +Vox)

Video about a pregnant runner. Awesome. But if we're counting food babies, I'm also sometimes a pregnant runner. (via +hoohbe)

Speaking of moms, someone ran for their mom on Mother's Day in a unique way. Yeah, but let's see what he does on "Second Cousin Once-Removed" Day. (via Zigs Pics)

Some students are running 100 miles in memory of their friend. (via Salem News)

Why do runners sometimes poop their pants? The real question is: why DON'T runners sometimes poop their pants? I ask the tough questions, guys. (via +YouBeauty)

The evolution of the running shoe. I prefer to believe running shoes were created exactly as they are today, and every old shoe was planted by Satan to test my faith. Teach the controversy. (via +Runner's World Magazine)

Don't be this runner. It's okay to stop for ten seconds and not die.

Friday, May 9, 2014

6.2 Miles

Well, I've done it. I've officially completed my spring plan to run 6.2 miles per day. And at this moment, two days after running my first 10k, I have only this to say.

Ouch. Ouch to all of my body right now. But why? I did everything to prepare for this achievement responsibly. I stuck to the 10% rule like glue all spring, but as soon as I first ran 6.2 miles I felt as exhausted and sore as used to when I first started. 3.7 didn't have this problem. 5.5 didn't have this problem. But 6.2 is some sort of threshold I can't seem to cross easily.

I guess that's to be expected, though. Running wouldn't be worth doing if it were easy.

It also probably has something to do with Chicago finally realizing it's not February. Things are hotter, the sun is sunnier, and humidity is humidity...ier. I finished Thursday's run with sweat dripping down to the backs of my knees, looking like I'd just jumped in a pool. I finished this morning's run looking much the same, but that was because of the thunderstorm I ran through. At times during my run, I wished for a bolt of lightning to end my pain.

Cramps everywhere. Difficulty breathing. The muscles in my calves and thighs aching.

As I ran this morning, though, I wondered how much of my toil was mental versus how much was actually physical. After all, I was only running 7/10 of a mile further on Thursday than I was on Wednesday. But since 6.2 was my final distance, I figure some part of my mind must have thought it was about time to shut down all my drive and motivation.

I like to think it was the "Douchebaggia Cortex."

So I experimented. At one point during my run this morning, I asked myself directly: is this only hard because I think it's supposed to be?

I tried to imagine not anticipating difficulty during my run. And you know what? Things became easier, for a while. I think if I could practice keeping that mindset throughout my whole run, things would be easier for me. The problem is that my mind kept circling back to the well-worn path of exhaustion. It kept telling me I was not supposed to be running, because, in some ways, I still feel like an impostor when I run.

There's also the problem of momentum and forward progress. Part of what made running those other distances easier was knowing I was building up to something more. This isn't the hard run, I would think, that comes later. Maybe all that anticipation was what mentally prepared me to find such difficulty with 6.2 miles.

You have to keep your mind on what's next to forget your current struggles, even though that goes against being mindful and yoga and all that. Maybe concentrating on what will happen is actually, ironically, I good way to lose yourself in the moment when you're running and forget what makes it hard.

So I'll keep working on not expecting my runs to be awful, and I'll keep looking forward to what I'll be doing next. I know that, in terms of daily distance, I might be capped out at 6.2, just in terms of the time I can spend running every day. But I want to take a day or two off once a week and then go on a longer run, maybe start with 8 miles, then 10, then 12.

A marathon is still my ultimate goal, though strangely, the farther I run, the farther away 26.2 miles seems. At my pace, that would be just over four hours of running, and right now I'm just over one. Craziness.

Baby steps, I suppose. I'll keep running 6.2 miles per day, and see if my body spontaneously combusts in the meantime.

You never know.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Runner's Roundup for May 8, 2014

Thursday instead of Wednesday? What mischief is this? Sorry!

Five signs your diet is a "diet cult." Sign six: they advise you mainly drink Kool-Aid for sustenance. Red flag! (via +Triathlete)

Local races in Chicago this June! Bacon run? Bacon run! (via +NBC Chicago)

Runbell: a bicycle bell for runners. Now I can sound exactly like a bike, while still running at 1/100th their speed. (via +Runbell)

This past Tuesday was the anniversary of Roger Bannister running the first mile under 4 minutes. I celebrated by running a mile at almost three times that length of time. Impressed? (via +Wikipedia)

Army concludes that foot strike placement doesn't affect injury rate. Finally. Finally, the great debate of our time has been settled. In all seriousness, though, my feet hurt. (via +Runner's World Magazine)

Some guy ran the Drakensberg Grande Traverse. And unless he did it in 40 parsecs, no, that is not the name of a location in Star Wars. (via +Sidetracked)

Reddit's weekly running pictures! Winner below, just to give you a taste of what you're missing if you don't click the link. (via +reddit)

The CDC links Tough Mudder competitions to high diarrhea rates. WHERE DO YOU THINK THEY GET THE MUD FROM, SHEEPLE?! #conspiracysolved (via +Slate)

Monday, May 5, 2014

The English Major Mile

Okay, runners. Okay. I get it. There is evidently nothing that cannot be eaten or chugged during a mile-long run.




But you know what? I'm not that impressed. Drinking beer during a run just adds another physical obstacle. More stress on your body. Runners make a habit of putting stresses on their bodies. That's almost the whole point. Burritos are a weird stress, I'll give you that, but a physical stress nonetheless.

So here's my idea: let's add a mental challenge to these mile runs. We know runners have the physical willpower, but do they have the mental fortitude?

Quiet, Ogre.

There's a lot of ways we could go with this, but I'm going to go with what I know: the English major. I can think of one or two activities typical of that degree could add challenge to a run.



Ideally, this would take place around a track, with a laptop, two or three other students, and some professors (more detail on who in each step).

Pre Run

The clock starts. You have to write a 300 word essay about a poem with between three and five lines. The shorter and more abstract the poem, the better. A haiku works best. Only the author's name will be given. The runner will have to look them on Wikipedia for historical context, but then pretend they didn't by citing Wikipedia's own references in the paper.

*Deduct thirty seconds* if you make sure the author's Wikipedia entry only says that the author wrote this poem, and nothing else.

"Why didn't this unpaid stranger include all the relevant details?!"

Hand off the essay to a professor who has written a book on the author of the poem. Begin running.

Post Lap 1

As the runner finishes up the first lap, arrange two or three students in a semicircle. When the runner arrives, hand him or her a paragraph from an essay from a modern school of thought. The more prefixes before "modern," the better. This one paragraph should take up at least a page and a half of single spaced 8.5 x 11 paper.

The runner must read the theory and then lead a short discussion with the students on its meaning. None of the other students are allowed to read the theory beforehand. To finish this stage, the runner must be able to elicit one relevant question from another student.

*Deduct thirty seconds* if you make sure the paragraph is roughly translated from a theorist who also made no sense in their native language. Think Wittgenstein or Baudrillard. Why?

Because screw you, that's why.

Post Lap 2

Have the runner pick out a piece of pop culture he or she loves. It cannot be a book. Think movie, TV show, song, or video game. After lap 2, the runner will have to think of the title and abstract of a thesis he or she could write on that subject. The abstract must then be defended to a panel of classical and medieval literature professors who haven't consumed a piece of pop culture since T.S. Eliot.

Modern garbage

The runner can move on as soon as one of the professors admits that the idea "could work."

*Deduct fifteen seconds* if the abstract's title makes believable use of at least one semicolon.

Post Lap 3

Have the laptop ready, preferably already connected to a library database system that hasn't been redesigned since the mid-90's.

The runner must find five critical sources for the aforementioned thesis. They cannot read more than the first paragraph of any one article. Along with listing the sources, the runner must provide a paragraph summing up how the sources create room for your thesis in the "critical conversation."

*Deduct five seconds* for every time the runner chooses to just read an article's title instead of the whole first paragraph.

Post Lap 4

The runner must meet with the professor who has since evaluated the essay he or she wrote at the beginning. To finish the challenge and stop the clock, the runner must interpret the meaning (literally, if the handwriting is bad enough) of cryptic corrections to his or her paper, and then discuss plans to revise with the professor.

Revise, then resubmit. If the professor feels progress has been made, stop the clock. Repeat the process a maximum of one more time if needed before stopping the clock.

*Add five seconds* to the final time for every grammatical mistake in the essay, abstract, and improper MLA citation style in the works cited list.

"Your tears only fuel my rage." - MLA Handbook

Do that in under five minutes, and I'll be truly impressed. Do it in under an hour, actually, and I'll still buy you a beer, burrito, and glass of milk. Then we'll go running.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Runner's Meal: It's a Little Chile in Here, and Other Awful Puns

A world without Fridays is a world I don't want to live in.

This past Wednesday, I made bean and vegetable chile from that wonderful Runner's World Cookbook. Full disclosure: I have continued eating it for the past three days. So the first benefit of this recipe is that it makes 8,000 lbs. of food. Literally. (I use the word literally figuratively here. As we're apparently allowed to do now.)

"Words can mean basically whatever you want now. Who even cares?" - the Oxford English Dictionary

Last time, I chose the recipe with the shortest preparation time, so you'll be surprised to hear that bean and vegetable is pretty complex. Well, as complex as chile can be, anyway. I wanted a challenge, though.

Looking over the ingredient list, though, I was a little worried. This recipe was for recovery, and I only saw one pound of ground beef for six servings. I'm a runner, and I need protein. I usually use at least one pound of ground beef per one serving of anything I eat.

The worst? Probably the one serving of yogurt.

But it looked like what the recipe lacked in meat, it made up for in veggies. Eggplant, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, tomatoes, kidney beans. Loaded with the ingredients, the kitchen counter looked bright and colorful, like a version of Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory where they made vegetables instead of candy. The version of the film no one would have seen, I guess. Anyway.

My girlfriend and I browned the meat, chopped everything up, and dumped it all in.

I was scared. I could barely even see the meat under that colorful mishmash. And since that colorful mishmash wasn't the result of a big bag of Skittles, I was doubly worried.

One broth later and, baby, we had a stew going.

Carl Weathers, eat your heart out.

Now the hard part: I had to wait fifteen minutes for everything to "mellow," according to the recipe. Mellow? Why mellow? Were the vegetables that angry? Does "mellow" mean something else? WHY DID I THROW OUT ALL MY OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARIES?!

Oh, good, food

I calmed down a little. It smelled great. I dumped some hot sauce in, and it smelled better. Then I ate it with some crackers, because crackers make everything better. (Except world history). One serving clocks in at a little over 300 calories, so I had a couple that first night. Not going to lie: it was pretty great. I will definitely be making this recipe again. A little spicy for my girlfriend, though, so be warned, spice-phobics!

Very healthy, pretty fun to make, crazy tasty, and you'll have enough food to feed yourself for a week.

Or myself for two days