Monday, January 30, 2012

The Battle Between Now and Later

Sun rising, from this Sunday morning's run
WARNING: Like my morning run, this post will be long and hard to finish, but definitely worth it in the end. Possibly?

Lazy Runner

I am lazy by nature. When I was a kid, I pretty much did no homework. I was a terrible procrastinator, and as I became an adult this didn't really change too much.  On occasion, I have bursts of inspiration, and I can work feverishly on something for a while.  Usually though, I give up on it before I'm done. I'm also a talker and not much of a doer. I have lots of ideas, but I don't follow through.  I have entertained the thought of being ambitious many times through out my life, but I ultimately lack the drive, discipline, desire, whatever.

When I started running again 3 years ago, I don't think most of my family and friends thought it was going to stick.  They figured it would be like many of my other hobbies that last for a few months and then go away. Honestly, I didn't think I would continue with it either. Especially when I first started, which is mostly what this post is about.  How did I go from being lazy to running every day so far this year, and getting up at 6:30 on a Sunday for a 16 miler? Well the truth is I'm still lazy in other aspects of my life, but not in running.


About a year ago, I heard an awesome Radiolab about how you negotiate with yourself when making choices.  The piece called "You vs. You" was specifically talking about quitting smoking, but it can be applied to any kind of choice to better yourself. It's the battle between now and later. Instant gratification now versus a better payoff later.  Should I continue to sleep in my cozy, warm bed or face the dark, cold morning and start running? If I stay in bed, that will feel much, much better right now. If I go out running, that will feel awful but I guess I'll get some benefit from it eventually down the road. The problem is our brains are wired to favor an immediate payoff.  In order to overcome this instant gratification and actually do things we don't really want to do, it's not enough to convince ourselves that this will be "worth it" later on.  

In the episode, this woman comes up with an idea out of desperation to quit smoking. She tells her friend that if she ever smokes again, she will donate $5000 to the KKK. This may sound ridiculous, but it worked for her.  She would have dreams of smoking and would wake up and really want to smoke. But, then immediately she would start thinking of the KKK and how absolutely awful it would be for them to have any of her money and she would be disgusted by it. After this segment, a neuroscientist came on and explained why what she did worked for her.  She took the battle in her mind from now versus later, and turned it into now versus now.  Because she associated the idea of the KKK with smoking, the decision became smoking a cigarette equals donating money to the KKK.  This worked much better than smoking a cigarette is not good for you and may because you to die of cancer later. It's the later part that ends up losing a lot of the time.

From Lazy to Crazy

Little later in the run when the sun was up a bit higher.
I love running by this farm on Willow rd.
So, what does this have to do with me? After high school cross country, I tried running a handful of times over the years, but it never lasted for longer than a few weeks.  To anyone who has started running after a long period of not running, the first weeks are awful.  Running is no fun.  You are in a constant state of discomfort so the whole time you just want to stop. Eventually I would stop until I would try again a few years later.  This repeated a few times. Three years ago, my friend, Pete started to run again and decided almost on a whim that he was going to run a marathon.  Kind of like a bucket list deal. This idea sounded kind of crazy to me, because that distance is completely ridiculous for non-runners or beginning runners. But, something about it piqued my interest. It was the craziness of it. He had found this plan that had runs of 12, 15, 20 miles on it! I saw these numbers and thought, is it possible?  Could I ever run that far? And, I'll admit that it wasn't just how crazy this would be, but the bragging rights that came with it.  If I did this, then I become part of this club of crazy people that run these distances and that was immensely appealing to me. After a few weeks of "helping him train" for the marathon, I decided I was going to go for it myself and I signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon.  Now I had this goal on the horizon, and I spent money on it, but that still didn't address the problem of now versus later. On any given day, I still needed to convince myself to go run instead of not run which is usually more enjoyable. The marathon was a ways a way so what was it that made me keep running day after day?

Stats Are My Trick

This is probably not what you were expecting.  Really? Stats?  What the heck does that even mean?  I frequently have spreadsheets that I use to keep track of all sorts of things in my life.  Going to Disney World? Better make a spreadsheet to track the families' favorite attractions.  Trying to lose weight? Better track it with a spreadsheet. Are the kids growing alright? Spreadsheet. Here as well, I had a running spreadsheet to keep track of every run that I did. The pleasure of knowing that when I was done with my run, I would feel great and I got to enter the data in a spreadsheet was the tipping point for me. I could keep track of my distance and duration and therefore have my pace. And, I could have graphs.  So many different graphs! It's true. I'm a total graph nerd. After a few months, I realized that I had outgrown excel, and really needed something more sophisticated. I had considered creating my own web app but then I found runningahead. And as you can see, there are a ton of graph options. In the need for even more data to track, I bought a Garmin watch with an HR strap so now I have HR data as well and even more graphs. I am in personal running statistics nirvana.


Nowadays, going out for a run has gotten a lot easier for me.  I actually enjoy the run itself, and not just finishing it.  I love being outside. I love running for a long time and being alone. But, on early mornings when it's cold and dark and I am warm in my bed, I love that when I'm done, I will enter the data from my run, and I will see what my pace was, and what my weekly miles are and what my HR was like.  Then I will take a look at the graphs and there will be another data point to look at. 

Stats may not be your thing, but you can find your own trick. Find whatever the "now" is that can hold you over in the beginning or for those especially difficult days. If I can get over my laziness and keep running, than you can get over whatever excuses you are making.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Dozen Pairs of the Same Shoe

Miles/Status from left to right: 379, 367, 342, 256, 417, 402, Current, Current, New, New, New, New

I know at first glance, mostly to non-runners, this looks crazy.  Why on earth would I have 12 pairs of running shoes?! Well the truth is I actually have 5 more that are not in this picture. I left them out because they are not Ghost 3s. This is one of those crazy things that just happens once you get a bit more serious into running. Normally, I don't have so many in my possession at once because I either toss them out, or donate them if they are still in good condition but have too many miles. I just hadn't gotten around to doing that with these, and then I ended up ordering 4 more pairs, and then I decided they would make a good picture.

I got my first pair of Ghost 3s about a year and a half ago at the Princeton Running Co. I like to go there when I'm switching to a new shoe because I trust them and they all look like real runners and the 4 models of shoes they have recommended to me so far have all worked out great. I made the mistake once of going to Road Runner Sports to try out the whole Shoe Dog thing where they take a video of you running on a treadmill while barefoot and then with shoes on to analyze your gait.  Then an employee who may not be much of a runner, but who is trained in the art of Shoe Dog analysis, tells you you need stability shoes for $150 (Saucony ProGrid Paramount 2) plus $20 inserts! At the time I went there, I was still new to the whole running thing so I figure I'd try out the shoes, but I skipped the inserts.  I tried them out for a couple weeks and I did not like them at all.  They were heavier than other ones I had before and I wasn't sure what the heck I was paying $150 for. So I returned them and went to the Princeton Running Co. where Abby (Oldest daughter who had just started cross country) and I both, independently ended up with Brooks Ghost 3s for $100. We were both very happy with our choice and after a few weeks of running, they were working out great.

A sweet shot of my shoes
After my first pair, I bought a few more online in the $80 range.  The last 4 pairs, I got for $65 directly from Brooks because I think they will soon be retired :(  I'm at the point where I'm never sure how many miles I can put on a pair before retiring them. You hear things like 300 - 500 miles although there are plenty of folks who do way more.  I get the feeling though that those folks are much lighter than me and are not heel strikers. I do the whole two pairs at a time, alternating days to hopefully make them last longer although I have no idea if that really does anything. I've averaged retiring them in the mid 300 mile range although my last two were both over 400 miles, because I figured I was running more treadmill and trail miles recently.  Who knows.  I know I don't want to get shin splints like I did when I first started running so I guess I am being overly cautious.  Perhaps I'll try to get into the 450 range with my current 2 pairs.

The point I'm trying to make, is I don't feel like I'm being especially wasteful.  This is just what happens when you start running more miles. I guess I could try to change my stride and start looking into minimalist shoes, but that's a whole other discussion. I'm sure there are folks out there who have gone through more than 10 times as many shoes as me. But who has a picture of more pairs of Ghost 3s than I do? Until I see proof of more than 12, I'm declaring that I have this record.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Run with Frank

The majority of my running is done by my lonesome.  I have friends to talk with about running afterwards, but the actual act of running is done alone for probably 90% - 95% of my runs.  I'm not going to bother getting an actual statistic by going back through all my runs, because even I'm not that obsessive.  Since I have run 18 times so far in 2012, and today was my first time running with someone that makes it 94% so far this year.

Frank at the River to Sea relay last year
getting ready for his first leg
Today I ran with Frank. When I started running 3 years ago, I often turned to Frank for advice since he was a seasoned runner, having already run for many years including around 10 marathons? (+/- 2) He is definitely an inspiration to me.  He is also faster than me, naturally competitive and slightly crazy, which is of course awesome. But lets get back to running with friends in general. There are lots of positives to running with a friend:

1. It's a motivator to do the run in the first place.
2. You get to catch up with your friend. 
3. The time goes by a lot quicker.
4. It's a welcome change from the usual routine.
5. You can push each other during the run.

Unfortunately, there can also be some things to watch for.  Especially if your friend happens to be faster than you. Here are the things to be aware of:

1. Since you are catching up and thus talking the whole time, what may be an easy pace can becomes quite hard when you are talking the whole time.
2. What is easy for your friend, may not be easy for you. So you shouldn't be planning on an easy day of running and should adjust accordingly.
3. Some friends are more competitive than others. Some friends have a way of bringing out the competitive side of you as well.  What may have started with a moderate pace may end in a much faster tempo by the end of the run. You might be thinking, "It's OK, I'm just going to pick it up a bit", but before you know it you are pushing pretty hard on your easy day.  Part of you says, "Just slow down and let your friend go.", but then another part says "What's wrong with you, this isn't that fast, enough with the excuses, pick it up!" The run ends with your heart pounding like it was a race and you wonder what just happened to your easy day?

In the end though, it's of course totally worth it and there is no question that the pros out weigh the cons. Perhaps what I need most of all is an adjustment of my expectations and relaxing a bit and not being such a control freak when it comes to my pace and my routine.

There is one last thing I'd like to say about Frank.  He mentioned that he also started a running streak, conveniently one day before me so he has always run one more day than me in a row. Of course that won't be true if he ever misses a day and I don't.  Just putting that out there.  I'm not being competitive, just stating some facts :)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rocky Racoon

Another easy goal goes down! I finished this week with 53.6 miles making it the most miles I've run in a week.  I expect to increase this through out the year, but it's nice to follow through on my plan this week and finish with such a nice run.  It was also my first time doing back to back weeks of over 50 miles which is not a goal, but still cool.  It was absolutely freezing this morning. It was 19 and a bit windy which made it feel like 10. I was smart to wear my ski gloves with liners because my hands are always cold.  Despite the frigid conditions, I saw quite a lot of people out running on the towpath.  Probably 10 - 15 individual runners and then a team of high school girls and maybe 10 more walkers.  What are these people doing out running today?! They must be crazy :) When I returned from my run anything liquid on my clothes like sweat or my water/gatorade mix was frozen.

At the end of my run I had an interesting animal encounter.  I could see about quarter mile ahead of me a fat looking squirrel scurrying on the trail in a way that didn't look like a squirrel.  As I got closer I realize that's probably not a squirrel because it's seriously fat and then when I was about 20 feet away I realized it was a raccoon because of its striped tail.  I have a fear of raccoons when it's day time and they are just going along the trail and aren't running away into the woods when they obviously should because a much larger animal (me) is approaching them from behind at 7.5 mph.  Who does this raccoon think he is?  When I got about 10 feet away, I stopped and yelled "HEY!" expecting him to run off into the woods and I could run by.  That did not happen.  He immediately turned around to face me like it was some kind of western shootout.  I didn't have a camera on me, but he looked kind of like this (but his front paws were up higher, and he looked a lot tougher):

He was looking right at me with a "Come at me bro" expression.  I was a bit intimidated, but I was not about to turn around and after all I am an adult so I took a few steps but he kept his ground.  Then I stomped and he decided I wasn't worth it and finally scurried off into the woods.  As I ran by I yelled out to him that he made the right choice, and then I quickly ran away. Needless to say I had "Rocky Raccoon" stuck in my head for the remainder of the run.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Streaking! (Not Naked)

One of my last minute additions to my 2012 easy goals was to break my record for longest streak.  This was obviously one of my easier goals to break, because I never really tried to run continuously before.  Today marks my 13th day of running in a row! I'm not sure how long I plan on taking this, but so far my legs feel good, and if I'm not too sick or injured, knock on wood, I plan to continue. Now I know 13 days in a row may sound impressive but let me tell you just as always as this case there are folks out there who take something and completely run away with it (pun intended). Just take a look here at this list on That's right, this guy Mark Covert has run every day for over 43 years! I think in order to count as the streak continuing, the minimum is 1 mile a day, but I believe this guy had averaged 11 miles a day when this article was written about him in 1995! (My plan to continue my running streak is subject to change without notice; void where prohibited.)

It's interesting how our idea of what is reasonable changes over time.  When I started running about 3 years ago, I  trained usually 3 or 4 days a week which is pretty common for starting out.  I did this even for my first marathon.  I hadn't really considered training too much more than that, and really enjoyed my days off.  I felt like I had earned them with all the crazy miles I was putting in (roughly 20 - 30 per week). After my first marathon, where I faded at the end, (very common for first timers) I started thinking about what went wrong, and I was thinking about hydration, salt, stretching, shoes, other crazy things I could blame, but I never considered that perhaps I was not really prepared.  I had convinced myself that I had done my training and "put in my miles" and I was ready. After reading a few books and a few hundred posts on a few message boards, but mostly from RunningAHEAD, I realized that the answer was pretty much more miles.

Now it's a couple years later and hopefully I'm a bit wiser about running and more importantly, wiser about myself in regards to running.  That is not to say that in a couple years from now I'll look back at this blog post and think that I was an idiot, but to my future self reading this, "You may be a little wiser, but man you are old."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012 Goals

Ok, so I think it's time for me to finalize my running goals for 2012. But, before I go into that, let me take a look back at 2011.Overall I'm pretty happy with 2011. Lets take a look at what I wrote 1 year ago:

Set a PR in:
5K - yes
Half - I would have if the half I ran didn't turn into a 9.5 miler so this is a semi-yes
Marathon - Didn't end up running one
Do an Olympic Triathlon - yes, I did two!
Run 2000 Miles - Nope, only 1617, which is 31 miles per week, and 276 more than 2010.

Stretch Goals: Nope :(
<20 5K
<1:35 Half
<3:20 Marathon

So, even though I completed only half of my regular goals and none of my stretch goals, I am not at all disappointed. This is most likely due to me being very gung-ho about 2012. I have laid out a slew of goals and I am very excited about what's to come.

Half PR
Marathon PR
Longest running streak
Highest weekly mileage
Highest monthly mileage
Highest yearly mileage
under 160 lb

sub 20 5k
sub 1:35 half
sub 3:20 marathon
60 mile week
2000 mile year
50K ultra
under 155 lb

sub 19:30 5k
sub 1:32 half
sub 3:15 marathon
70 mile week
50 mile ultra
under 150 lb

Crazy Hard:
sub 19:00 5k
sub 1:30 half

I will admit that I just added the running streak to my easy goals, because I'm about to beat it this week if I don't miss the next two days! knock on wood.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Thinking about starting a running blog

I'm thinking of starting a running blog to keep track of my training and race reports. I already have a daily running log where I track a slew of stats at runningahead, but I want something to record my thoughts and also a way to add pictures and video. I have no idea whether it's something I'll actually follow through with, but this is the first post, so we'll see.