Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014


There's not really an overarching narrative to this post, or any running tips, or even a larger running story. This is about that just____things trend that happens on Instagram and Tumblr and Twitter. You know the trend, it usually looks something like this:

However, I noticed that there is a deficit of these things for runners. I thought of a few, and I love illustrating things, so I did some. Here they are, with a little bit of commentary.

Running shoes are the only piece of equipment that is basically required for each and every one of your runs. (Unless you're a barefoot runner, but I don't associate with those people [except for my barefoot running followers on Twitter, hi guys, I love you!].) (Sorry for the excessive parentheses [yeah, sorry {really sorry!}!].)

So there's a bit of an emotional attachment that comes with getting rid of a pair of them, and I personally have never had the heart to just throw them out. I feel that other runners understand this need for ceremony, hence the picture.

This is a phenomenon that I discovered after I started doing much longer runs that stretched into hours of the day that could actually tan my skin. The picture really says it all, and yeah, because runners hold their arms at right angles, the crooks of their elbows don't get burned. It's weird, but it's like this weird distinguishing diamond tattoo I can use to determine if someone is both a runner and a strange pale creature, like myself.

I love MapMyRun, but sometimes you just don't need to hear how slowly you're going. If I'm having a bad run, I KNOW I'm having a bad run, so having a tiny electronic lady basically say, "Satellites have coordinated and beamed electronic signals hundreds of miles just so I can tell you what a slow, useless person you are. Go faster!"

Finally, there's something both beautiful and frustrating about how hard it is to burn 1000 calories, and then how easy it is to eat all of that back. It teaches you to eat healthier just so you can make sure to eat LOTS of stuff, and it's also incredibly satisfying to eat carby, protein-dripping cheeseburgers and mashed potatoes and steak after a long run.

It usually doesn't feel like you're overeating, even when you're eating something calorie-rich. You've earned it. Have a beer.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Breaking a Marathon into Pieces

Planning to run your first marathon, much like the marathon itself, is a large and intimidating undertaking.

Thousands of sources dictate how, when, and how much you should run every day, week, and month. Numbers begin to add together and pile up/ daily distances become weekly goals, single digits become double, and, if you pull back far enough, you see a total pre-marathon mileage that would not look out of place in the bottom corner of a GPS at the start of a long road trip.

But as a first-time marathoner currently signed up for the Chicago Marathon in October, I needed to deal with this large, intimidating planning problem. Marathons, as it turns out, need to be taken seriously.
And luckily, I found a way. Training for a marathon, like anything else, is best approached by breaking the process up into pieces. I imagine this method works quite well for all first-time marathoners like me, whom I have pictured in my head like tiny, frightened baby bunnies. 

No offense

You can't give a tiny bunny like that a whole carrot at once. They can't work with that. You have to chop the carrot up into pieces so they are able to deal with it. At least I think so. (Full disclosure: I've never fed a baby bunny.)

I don't start my days by telling myself, "I am now going to train for a marathon." I focus on how much I'm going to run that day, and I remind myself that the other hundreds of training sessions will be my problem on those other days, but not this one.

This method helps keep things in perspective by keeping that perspective tight and focused. And a similar focus applies well to those thousands of training plans for running a marathon. I pulled out the simple themes that resonate across all the plans, which are always going to be somewhat idiosyncratic to the runner writing them. Why else would there be thousands out there?

Here's an outline I've figured out to prep for a marathon:

  • Obviously, you have to run a lot. Make your runs consistent in increasing mileage each week, but not more than a 10 percent increase any week. Right before the marathon, I aim to be running around 50 miles or so a week.

  • Add speed work and interval training to your runs, and have one long run planned every week or every other week. For the long run, go more slowly than usual, and have water handy.

  • Listen to your body, and give yourself time to recover, especially after the long runs.

  • Don't make radical changes to your running routine for the race. Make sure your running shoes are well broken-in, and don't add a water-belt, or GPS watch, or new running shirt, or anything at all that you haven't gotten used to in your training.

There you have it. I can't break the marathon itself into pieces (unfortunately), but your training plan breaks down into one day at a time. Embrace that.

After all, sometimes it's nice to see the trees and forget the forest.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Things I'm Learning About Running Long Distances

Sometimes experiences throughout your life connect in strange ways.

When I was very young, three or four years old, my parents took me to the doctor and I got a series of shots that were probably just vaccinations important for a young child to get. I was as happy about this series of shots as any young child would be, but soon enough I was back home, and I went to bed that night happy, the incident forgotten.

When I woke up the next morning, my legs no longer worked.

As I threw my torso out of bed, landing in a tangled thump on the floor, I did so with a stoic resolve that surprises me even to this day. Well, I remember thinking calmly as I army-crawled to my bedroom doorway and then across the carpeted upstairs hallway, I guess I'm not a walker any more.

Maybe you have to be a child, new to the world and its experiences, to let go of something like walking so easily. Maybe part of me suspected the shots would wear off in a day or so. Or, maybe I'm just a weirdo. But as I threw myself down the stairs, landing in a crumpled heap at their base and interrupting my parents as they ate their breakfast, I could not have known that this incident would not be the last of its kind I would experience. 

I should have known that just calling for help was a better option.

I could not have known that the temporary loss of my legs would become a regular occurrence in my mid-20's, where luckily my bedroom is no longer on the upper floor of a house.

I could not have known, in short, that I would become a distance runner.

Each Saturday is my day for a long run, and each Saturday teaches me new lessons about what it is to run upwards of 10 and 15 miles at a time, starting with the fact that the rest of my day will be spent firmly on my ass. But aside from that one, I have a couple of other lessons I've learned the hard way about distance running. Starting with...

Bring Water

Sure, my other runs left me thirsty, but these really long runs don't just leave you thirsty--they leave you dry about three quarters of the way through. And its easy to tell when you're body is out of moisture: your heart beats faster, your muscles hurt more, and you begin to SERIOUSLY overheat. Your chest will start to feel like a furnace.

So obviously, bringing water is a must. Carry it, get a water belt, bring a bag; do something to ensure that you will have ready access to water throughout the run.

Now, starting out these long runs, I thought I had accounted for water. After all, there were a handful of water fountains along my route! Surely it will just tire me faster to carry a bottle, so I'll just grab some as I pass a fountain.

But I should not have counted on water fountains. As you run and get thirstier, an upcoming water fountain begins to look like a shimmering mirage in a harsh desert. You feel as if you've been saving up all your restraint until that moment, and you just might overdo it when you reach the fountain.

I might have overdone it.

Being able to sip when the mood strikes me is wonderful, and I highly recommend it. That, or you could look like you just insulted the dead parents of your magical nephew.

Apply Lubricant

So the other thing about distance running: it reveals all the parts of yourself that rub together when you run. If you didn't notice those parts before, you will after 12 miles when the skin on your inner thighs is red and chafing.

Sometimes it's even worse than that.
Waistband of your shorts too tight? Armband for your iPod shift as you run? Do your arms lightly brush your sides as they swing? All these features of your run and more will be revealed to you after you finish a long run and these sharp pains poke all over.

But the good news? Once you know, you can prepare. Get an anti-chafe deodorant stick thing, get Vaseline, get KY Jelly if that's all you have on hand, just get something to deal with it. 

So I have no doubt I'll learn more fun lessons as my runs get longer and longer, and I'll make sure to get back to you as I do.