Monday, September 19, 2011

Week 10: I Feel the Need...

The need for speed training. Ouch. Tacky, I know. This was the first week however for speed training, track workouts. So something new for the week. Exciting. I like new things. As noted previously new places and and activities keep running interesting.

Since I had finished up with hockey for a while I now had Monday evenings free, so I decided not to get up early to run. This gave me the ability to keep up with going to more interesting places and I found myself back at Memorial Park for my Monday run. I know it is the same place I have been running a lot recently, but it is still far better than running in my tiny park in the morning. Plus there are people there. While they present obstacles to run around, they are least present a constantly changing scenery.

I went into this run a little overconfident. Having had a really good run this past Saturday I wanted to keep it up. There were however a few things I did not really think about fully. The primary one was the fact that it was actually really nice out Saturday morning. That was not the case this Monday afternoon. The heat had returned in full force and it was pushing 100 again. The second thing was my total lack of being able to pace myself properly. I wanted to run 9 minute miles. That is about what I averaged for 10 miles this past weekend, so I figured that should be no problem now. Unfortunately I started my run at a much faster pace than that without realizing it. I finished the first three miles of my run in 24 minutes, which was a good minute pace faster than I wanted, and it killed me. I finished the next two miles of my run in 21 minutes. So I did get my 9 minute per mile pace that I wanted and I ran just over five miles during my 45 minute run, but I did it in the most ass backwards way possible.

Tuesday was the first track workout. We were going to a high school track north of Houston, so it was a little farther of a drive then I cared for but I wanted to do these speed workouts. It was actually a surprisingly short and surprisingly easy workout. We started off with a 10 minute warm, and drills similar to those that we performed prior to hill training. Then we moved on to the speed training for the day, which was eight sets of 30 seconds sprinting, 30 seconds jogging. So when all was said and done it was an eight minute workout. Kind of shocking after the 50 minute hill training sessions, but the key thing to remember is most injuries happen due to speed training. It is one of the quickest ways to over stress your muscles. So we needed to start off slow and start getting our bodies used to a different kind of running workout, then slowly build up from there. On a side note the photo of the smoke from my last post was actually from right after this run. Fortunately all of the smoke was still up in the air and and had not descended to a level where it caused breathing issues.

Thursday's run was again planned for the morning, and again due to the fact that I had stopped running in the mornings we did not get up. Again we planned to go running in the afternoon and again life got in the way. Our internet was out so I had to hang around the house waiting for the repair guy. We were given a window of between 4pm and 9pm, seriously? The guy actually got there at 4:40, it just took him several hours to fix the problem. On top of that my wife got home really late from work. Another Thursday another missed tempo run. It is becoming a habit and it needs to stop.

The Saturday long run was interesting. We were going on an 11 mile run. This time instead of starting in the middle of the pack I made sure I was with the front runners right from the start. I didn't want to waste needless energy just trying to catch up with people. Nothing to this point is interesting I know, basically learning lessons from the previous week. What made the run interesting was actually the route. For the second  week in a row we had a somewhat convoluted route, which was complicated by running in the dark. You can't always see where you are going. We were running through a park and almost ran into a fence at one point. That could have been tragic. Then we made a series of wrong turns while trying to work our way through the park, one in particular that separated me from the group I was running with. While these made the run interesting, the most fascinating part of the run was the clover leaf portion.
 The clover leaf was the answer to the fact that we had switched from hill training to speed training. We stiill need to get some hill training in so smack dab in the middle of the 11 mile run we did two loops of the clover leaf, basically running up and down the entrance and exit ramps of highway. Because we were doing two loops a lot of the different speed groups got tied up here making it a pretty large Charlie Foxtrot on top of the fact that we were doing hill runs. For some reason, maybe because I had taken to the hill training rather vigorously, this is where I got my second wind. I finally caught sight of the group I had been chasing since getting separated in the park. Myself and one other runner set about at a pretty good clip to try and catch up with them then, an effort aided by the fact that they eventually reached the second water stop and were refilling their water bottles. After that it was smooth sailing back to the start. Some folks pulled away right at the end in the park, but that will always happen. I was just amazed at how much energy I have left at the end of an 11 mile run. I never thought I would be able to run sub 8 minute miles at that point in a run.

Due to the exertion spent at the end of the run and the fact that I was one of the first people back to the meeting location I decided to jump in line to get one of the free sports massages they have there every weekend. Holy hell, that stuff hurts. I almost wanted to say "Stop torturing me, I'll go run more!" but dealing with the pain there really does help. My calves were really tightening up before hand but felt OK the rest of the day. So I might have to do that more often, though the thought kind of fills me with dread. Fun times.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Week 9: Where There's Fire, There's Smoke

Holiday weekends breed laziness. I did not want to get up and go on my Monday morning run on Labor Day. So I didn't. I slept in, and it was nice. But I did end up going running in the evening. The weather had actually cooled down from the previous hellish month so it would be more bearable running in the evening. The other part of the reason I was able to convince myself to go out and run was that this past weekend had taught me an important lesson. You need to run in interesting places.

In the previous I had been saying how the Monday run was becoming one of the hardest ones. I had been doing all of my timed short runs in the city block sized park close to my home. There is really nothing fun about running in a circle for 45 minutes. Going to different places keeps things interesting. I was excited to go on my run in New York because it was new; it was a mild adventure running in a place I was totally unfamiliar with. So when I can I need to get away from my small park and go somewhere else. So I went to the big park instead. Memorial park where our long runs usually start off at are has a 3 mile trail to run on. Its still a big circle but it is a much more interesting big circle.

It was cooler and I was going to a more exciting place to run. With those things in mind by the time I set out Monday evening to run, I was now looking forward to it. That's because I was not expecting two separate anomalous events that would attempt to ruin my run. The first was clearly noticeable upon stepping outside. Texas has been experiencing drought conditions for several months now. Most recently this has culminated in a huge number of wildfires all over the state. Some of which were not too far north of Houston. Smoke from these fire's was clearly noticeable in the air. The sky was a little hazy but it was the smell that made it evident.

This smoke made the run not nearly as fun or easy as I had expected it to be. About two miles in my eyes were burning and I felt sick to my stomach. This was really disappointing after I had gotten into a good mood about going on the run. Neither issue cleared up the remainder of the 4.5 mile run. The second issue fortunately only kicked in right towards the end. I had been wearing my new running shoes for about three weeks now. I wasn't expecting any big issues with my feet anymore but towards the end of my run I got some serious hot spots on both feet in the same spot. I actually had to shorten my run slightly because I really didn't want to get bad blisters on the bottom of my feet. Blisters on my toes I can deal with, bottom of my feet, not so much.

I'm not really sure what the cause of the foot issue was. The most likely culprit was my socks. I have two different types of socks I run in. Both types are Asics and are specially designed for running, but one type is much nicer. Fifteen dollars a pair nicer. Apparently that extra money is for something because I wear those socks for my long runs and have never had issues. I was wearing the cheaper pair for this run with poor results. To counteract that issue I now use Body Glide on my feet too help.

Tuesday was a big day because it was my last day of hill training. Fortunately the cooler weather was still prevailing and the smoke issue cleared up immensely to where it wasn't noticeable during the run. The run consisted of the very similar workout of the previous weeks but with one major difference. The previous weeks had been 4 on 2 off seven times, 4 on 2 off eight times, 5 on 2 off seven times, so it seemed that today would be 5 on 2 off eight times. Correct, with the exception that the recovery time had been reduced to one minute between sets. At first this was a worrisome prospect but shortly into the run I was feeling really good and I really had no issues with the workout. Another sign I was on the right side of the workout wall. I was finally feeling in shape again.

Thursdays run ended up not happening. The plan was to get up and go on a morning run, but getting out of the habit of morning runs made that more difficult than anticipated. It wouldn't have worked out even if we did get up to run because the smoke in the city was even worse that morning. When I went out to go to work I was immediately concerned something was burning in the vicinity of my home, the haze was so heavy and the smell so strong. Fortunately that was not the case. However, the plans to go running that afternoon also fell through when my wife came home not feeling well. I was talked into not going on the run, but only as long as we don't make it a habit. We'll see.
A later date, but it gets the idea across. That is smoke, not clouds.

Saturday rolled around and it was another big run to cap off a fairly big week of important runs for me. A ten mile run. My first run ever that would hit double digits. I looked on this as a big step. I was looking forward to this run. Everything seemed to be showing that this run would be a good one. Despite a few missteps I was not disappointed. I started off the run in the middle of my group which was pretty normal for me. About a mile in I came to the conclusion that I was not pushing myself as hard on these runs as I could. During the hills training I could keep up with or lead most of the runners who lead the long runs. If I could keep up with them there, surely I could keep up with them here, right?

So I decided to test out my theory, and set forth quickly moving up the group until I got to the back of the pack of fast runners. Unfortunately, the group of fast runners had missed a turn in the run and actually cut a mile off the run. This was relayed to use when we hit the first water stop. We were told when we reached the planned end of our run we would need to run an extra mile to make up for it. This was kind of a pain but not too big a deal. I just had to run with someone who had a GPS watch that would know how far we had gone. So the run continued. We got held up by traffic a little more than I was used to which was frustrating, but its unavoidable sometimes when you are running on the street. The run eventually took us back to Memorial park and would have ended shortly after the end of the three mile loop if it were not for the short cut we had taken.

It was while running through the park that I experienced another minor set back. When I had woken up that morning my stomach felt a little out of it but nothing serious. This feeling of unease came back a lot stronger while running through the park. It got to the point where the coach I had been following started getting a pretty good lead on me, because I was cramping up. I feel it is inevitable if you run long distance that you will eventually run into this problem, and it is actually one of my biggest fears for the marathon, too eat something that just totally messes with your stomach during a long run. Fortunately I was able to run through it, settle down, and eventually catch up with the coach. For the last mile and a half of the run the coach and I fed off each other to keep pushing ourselves. She was trying to hit specific splits for the run and was dragging some. My arrival on the scene helped push her and her knowledge of how much distance we had to go allowed me to keep pushing myself knowing how close we were to the end. It worked out well. We finished up the run at an awesome pace to finish at 92 minutes for the ten miles. I was really excited by that because it meant I was much closer to a 9 minute pace and was able to keep it up for 10 miles. This is something hope to keep up as the training goes on.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Week 8: Hope, a Preview of Things to Come?

Coming off a relatively easy week with only a six mile run I was approaching my second big hitch that I was expecting in my schedule. On Friday September 2, 2012 one of my best friends was getting married in New York. I would be attending, and it would throw a wrench in my routine. This was a week we were supposed to start building up mileage again and I really didn't want to get a step behind. So adjustments would have to be made.

Monday started things off with a 45 minute run. At this point despite hockey in the evening I planned on going for my full run as my wife was up to the same time with her half marathon training. I figured this far into the training program I should be a little more capable doing more in a shorter period of time, especially since ice skating is considered acceptable cross training.

Tuesday was more hill training in the evening. I was a little better prepped for it this time. I had been drinking water, and I had my Gatorade primer this time, unlike the previous week. We were back down to seven iterations of hills but had increased the time for each iteration to 5 minutes from 4. We still had two minutes rest between runs. I could tell I was doing better because I was able to keep up with or out run people who had easily out distanced me in the previous week. So it was a good run, but still tough with the heat. There was a nicer breeze this week though.

And that was the extent of my normal training for the week. Thursday morning we were off to NY at 6:30 am. So I didn't have time to get my run in. The question was what to do about my long run for the week which was  nine miles. There were two options, the first was to run it in NY either that Friday or Saturday. The problem with this was I was supposed to be partaking in various wedding activities, most of which involve some form of drinking. Drinking and running don't really go well together as previously noted. The other option was to wait until I got back to Houston and take advantage of of the long weekend to get my run in anyway.

All it really took to make my decision was to look at the weather forecast. The high on Long Island was 80. That is cooler than Houston is when I get up to run in the mornings. If I got up early in New York it would be in the 60's. There was no way I could pass up an opportunity to run in such cool weather.

So in the days leading up to the trip I used Google maps to look at potential routes near the hotel we would be staying at. The day we arrived we went on a drive around and looked at the route I thought was best. It seemed like a good one. So the run was planned for the next morning, meaning that night I had to take things easy. So I had to give up one night of "partying", but it was still fun to catch up with friends and meet some new people.

The next day we got up at 6:30. I had brought all of my running needs with me. Gatorade primer and recovery drinks, shorts, shirt, shoes, socks, body glide, Accel gel, and my water bottle. After getting properly appareled and equipped we set out. Going outside the weather was amazing. It was in the mid-sixties, nice and cool. Compared to the miserable heat I was used to, I was in heaven. So I set off on the run, and it was quite pleasant. The cooler weather made the muscles in my legs a little tight, but it couldn't take away from how nice it was out. Since I was running on unfamiliar roads I brought my phone with me in case I ran into trouble. While running I decided it would be fun to take a few pictures of where I was. Since I didn't want to stop at all I took the pictures while in motion. I found the results to be really interesting.

I was really expecting to have a bunch of blurry images considering how I took them, but it really just warped them somewhat. Not something I was expecting so it was cool to find out that I actually got some interesting shots after the fact. So the nice views of running through the farmland and neighborhoods of east Long Island made the run even more enjoyable. I finished up the nine mile run in about 85 minutes, which meant I actually paced myself fairly well. 

The nice weather, nice views, and good run I hope is a look forward of things to come. It won't stay 100 degrees forever in Houston. It will get cooler in the fall and winter months. I look forward to the days ahead that resemble this pleasant morning. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Week 7: The Novelty Wears Off Fast

Another week another Monday morning run. This week I was scheduled for a 40 minute run and I was starting to actually run the full time of my Monday runs despite having hockey in the evening. Today however I was just not feeling it. I think a big part of the problem was I didn't have any Gatorade which had become a big part of my routine. I really enjoy the primer pouches that Gatorade makes. I look on them as a kind of gel to use before a run. Without the extra little bit of hydration and carbs I was dragging. My knees were also acting up a bit again, so I ended up following my wife's training technique of five minutes of running with and one minute of walking. It is kind of annoying because this run is supposed to be one of the easiest of the week and it is turning into one of the harder runs. It's the first run following a long run, so I'm still not fully recovered, and it is on a Monday morning, come on.

Last week I said I really enjoyed the hill work out. As noted in the title however, the novelty wore off quickly. The hills run this week kind of sucked. The 100 degree weather felt like 100 degrees. I had tried to stay hydrated during the day but when stuck in meeting for a couple of hours I wasn't able to get more water. With that in mind I was not as well hydrated as I should have been for running in that weather. I also was not fueled properly. I had a granola bar shortly before the run which is pretty typical for me but I still had no Gatorade and I really like those little primer pouches. This weeks hill routine was changed slightly by adding one additional hill to the course and increasing the reps to eight. I think I might have pushed myself too hard right off the bat,so despite the fact that I maintained a fairly consistent pace through out the whole workout, it made it a lot harder.

Fortunately the rest of the week was kind of a down hill battle. Two runs left. The first was the usual temp run for 35 minutes. The second was a six mile run. This was a recovery week. After increasing mileage steadily for 6 weeks, it was time for a breather. So we took a step back in mileage to allow some extra recovery prior to starting the climb again. So despite some difficult runs during the week, the end tapered off nicely. I had no issues with the tempo run.

The six mile run was a little tougher than expected in someways, but I still finished it in just over the time I ran my previous six miles. The biggest difficulty was despite showing up at the park at the same time I normally do, the park was packed and there was no parking. So I ended up having to park quite a ways away from where the group meets and I ended up in the meeting area with no time to warm up prior to starting the run. I started off in the back of the pack away from the normal people I run with. I eventually moved up toward the front but never did find the runners I am normally with. I eventually found someone running at a good pace and finished up the run with them. A good warm up is important to having a good run though, so this one wasn't as comfortable as it should have been. C'est la vie.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Week 6: Head for the Hills

So my last run was bad, really bad. Which was a big downer since I had been trending upward to that point. The good thing was that I had gotten a few runs in during the previous week when I was at a low point physically, and a lot of my problems were equipment based. So there were a lot of things that could be easily corrected. The first solution of which was don't party all weekend, which I didn't.

Monday started off with the regular short easy run in the morning since I was attending hockey practice in the evening. Now I had skipped out on the hill training the previous Tuesday due to the fact that I still needed to catch up on sleep, but I had decided this week I was definitely going to attend. There were two time slots scheduled for hill training, 5:30am and 6:30pm. Now it had been consistently over 100 degrees for several weeks now in Houston so the plan was to stick with the morning run to try and avoid the heat. This required me to get up a little before 5am. I usually don't get back from hockey on Monday nights until around 10. By the time all my gear is hung up to dry, I get cleaned up, and actually go to bed it is after 11. So getting up before 5 was going to be a challenge.

So challenging in fact that when my alarm went off the next morning I said "Hell no" rolled over and went back to sleep. So the 6:30pm run it was. It was somewhere between 103 and 106 without the heat index which actually had me really worried the entire day leading up to the run. I drank a lot of water.

The run actually turned out to be really fun. I met with the Houston Fit group at a park and we did a warm up run of just under a mile over to the nearby bayou. Over at the bayou we did some warm up drills of high knees, butt kicks, and long strides to stretch out a little better. Then followed the actual hill part of the training. The bayou was sunken down below the streets and the coaches had basically set up a course marked by flags that went up and down the side of the bayou. We were to run the course for four minutes, with a two minute rest window and repeat the activity seven times. During the rest we would mainly continue walking the course or go get a drink of water.

The hill work was difficult since the rest of Houston is so flat and I barely ran on hills anymore. As I said though it was fun because it reminded me of my track workouts from high school. Nothing like a little bit of nostalgia to get you through a difficult workout. Also, while it was hot out, there ended up being a nice breeze and most of the run was fairly well shaded. So it wasn't nearly as bad as I had worried about, at least this time. After we finished our intervals we did a recovery run back to the meeting location and finished with a core workout. All in all a good day.

This hill run really got me back in the right mindset. Running was feeling good again instead of painful. The Thursday morning run was good, another 35 minute tempo run, no problem. So I was feeling good again. Now to fix the equipment problems I had been having. Texas was having their back to school tax free weekend, which one of the Houston Fit sponsor's Luke's Locker was participating in. Additionally being a member of Houston Fit provided me with a discount card there for 20% off for one use. So this was the weekend to go buy new stuff.

The first task was new shoes. I had noted earlier I really liked the pair of Asics I owned and had been using that particular type for a long time. However, on top of the fact that my current pair was too small, my knees were starting to be affected negatively it was time to look and see what else was out there. I tried on four different brands at the store Asics, Brooks, Saucony, and Nike. I ran around the store and my big test for them was how they felt on my feet, but mainly how they made my knees feel. It ended up coming down between the Saucony and the Nike. To me the Nike's felt a little lighter which ended up being the deciding factor since they were pretty evenly matched otherwise. So now I am the proud owner of a pair of Nike Pegasus 28's.

So problem one taken care of. Problem two was my hand going numb from carrying a Gatorade bottle with me the whole run and not swapping hands at all. So I purchased a water bottle designed to be held during runs. It is a Nathan product. I will say I like the strap and the pocket size on bottle. It's good for carrying gels and other items, but I am not a fan of the bottle itself. I was hoping for a more automatic nozzle like one's I have seen on Camelbak products (jet valve), but this one I have to open and close every time I take a sip. Beyond that the threads don't seal the bottle very well. There have been several times I squeeze the bottle and water pours out the sides instead of only through the nozzle. So the bottle is alright, but not as good as I'd hoped for what I paid. 

The third problem then was lack of energy in longer runs. I had been reading about energy gels but I had to this point not used any. I had been warned that different products can mess with people's stomachs so try them out and find the right one for you. The store had a good selection of products, which I looked over. I noticed a lot of them contained caffeine which I wanted to avoid. This is mainly because I am a recovering caffeine junkie. I love caffeine, mainly in the form of coffee. The problem is that I am extremely sensitive to caffeine withdrawal and it dehydrates the ever living hell out of me. So I end up with massive headaches if I don't have any. It is no fun being dependent on a chemical in order to feel OK. So before I started all of this training I stopped drinking coffee. Actually, while I had the stomach bug I couldn't drink it and just went from there. I was already miserable enough the caffeine headache just fit right in. So no caffeinated products. The only one I found that did not have any was Accel gels. A little research (finding that link) revealed some of their flavors do have caffeine, but I went with Key lime which does not. 

So my three main problems were assessed and hopefully fixed. While I was there I also grabbed a couple new shirts, shorts, and another pair of ridiculously expensive socks. A good but costly trip.

So newly equipped I set out the next day on an eight mile run, and a good run it was. My new shoes needed some breaking in. I wandered around the house all of the previous evening wearing them but that only does so much. So the shoes ate at my toes a little, but my knees felt 100 times better. The water bottle was good to run with and the gel gave me no issues with my stomach. They may not be the best tasting thing ever but I really did feel like I had a ton of energy not too long after I ate it. Probably some placebo effect in there as well, but it seems like a good product that I will use going forward.

It was a good cap off to a good week.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Week 5: Hangovers Are Bad

So I had a fun weekend. Too much fun by some accounts. The problem with that much "fun" is it typically doesn't leave you energetic and ready to exercise. In fact I was extremely dehydrated and totally exhausted. So this had a dramatic impact on my activities throughout the week. Monday rolled around and  I passed up my morning run so I would at least be able to play hockey that night. Then knowing that I was going to lose sleep if I stayed up to play hockey I ended up skipping that too.

So my first real activity of the week was my Tuesday morning run. It was supposed to be a hill run but as I was just getting back into things after rowdy weekend I just did a 45 minute normal run. It went fine all things considered.

I was able to finally get my first tempo run in this week as well. A tempo run being basically a run with two different paces. A normal start up/warm up pace for about 10 minutes, followed by a faster pace for another 10 minutes, and back and forth and so on. This run was only supposed to be 35 minutes so I got through one iteration of pace changes. I didn't quite finish the whole 35 minute run because, while escorting my wife back home from the park (we don't live in the greatest of neighborhoods, though really it isn't too bad) I had to stop because we found ourselves with a stray dog between ourselves and home. He eventually went on his way and I didn't feel like running anymore so I just went in.

Onward to the weekend and the long run. I was a little apprehensive about this run because it would be setting a new distance best for me. The furthest I had ever run in the past was a 10K race. I will note it was in the mountains of Taiwan so it was a little harder than your average 10K but 10K it was. The run his weekend was 7 miles, so close to a mile longer than I had ever done previously. It turns out my apprehension was warranted in this case; maybe a little bit of self fulfilling prophecy. This run was awful, and for many and sundry reasons.

The first of which was I still had not acquired new shoes. I was waiting for the upcoming tax free weekend to go buy new ones. So about five miles in as my feet started to swell I could feel my toes smashed up against the front of my shoes, and it was quite uncomfortable. The second reason was because I was starting to get into runs that were long enough to require extra fuel and I wasn't using any. I had lost my running partner a little prior to half way mark of the run and was pacing myself poorly. The combination of these two thing resulted in my being pretty exhausted about five miles in. Beyond any of these issues though was that during this run my knees hurt like hell. I was tired and hurting, bad. In my previous group runs I had spent my time slowly working my way up the group, this run I spent my time slowly working my way back.To add to the fun I was so focused on these other issues I hadn't been swapping my Gatorade bottle between hands. After holding it in the same hand for an hour my hand went totally numb. A very weird sensation. Despite all of this I did finish my run, for what its worth.

So I had all sorts of issues. If my six mile run was my "I can do this run", this run took a firm stance against that. My knees felt like someone had been hitting them with hammers the rest of the day. I needed to make some changes moving forward.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Brief Book Review: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

As noted in some of my older posts I like the idea of doing book reviews but I am terrible at them. It is hard to really talk about a book and say how you felt about it with out delving into the plot. I don't want to delve into the plot because the whole point of a review is to say whether I think it is worth a read or not. In this case I definitely think it is and I wouldn't want to give away what the story is about.
But I really enjoyed this book. I thought the world building that was done in it was absolutely fantastic. Its a really clever idea that was well executed. The characters were well developed as well. It was interesting in a way because a lot of books that take place from a first person perspective always have the main character at the forefront of the action. This wasn't necessarily the case in this book.

Because that is the case it is not a quick paced book. It just treads steadfastly forward. At no points is it what I would consider slow though because you are always learning new things about the world, the characters, and the history. It was almost frustrating at first not knowing what they were talking about but I began to realize if something was mentioned you would get an actual explanation somewhere down the road. All part of that world building process.

On top of all of that the book makes you think. It actually delves into a lot of philosophical issues, various mathematical and physics theories, and does a pretty good job of helping you understand what they are talking about. I enjoyed looking up more about the various topics it broaches after the fact and will probably continue to do so. The author Neal Stephenson has a link to references in the back of the book to allow you to read further on the them.

So there you go, a review where I say almost nothing about what the book is about, and tell you why I like it. No idea if this is helpful or not, but suffice it to say if you have any interest in philosophy, physics, math, and don't mind lots of detail, this book is for you.

Week 4: The First Schedule Hit

When you have a 6 month training plan, you are never going to be able to make it through every run and not have some schedule conflicts. This was my first of what will probably be several. I was leaving on Friday for a bachelor party in New Orleans, and I would be gone the whole weekend. Meaning I would miss my six mile run scheduled for Saturday morning. I wouldn't feel bad to miss a run during the week, but I really don't want to miss my long runs because they are a gauge of how training is going overall, and the runs that push my endurance the most. So somehow I had to reschedule.

The plan was to run my normal schedule on Monday and Tuesday. I wanted to run my Thursday run as well since it was supposed to be my first Tempo run, and that would leave Friday morning for my 6 mile run, prior to leaving for NO. Things went according to plan and I knocked out my two runs early in the week with out too much trouble. Things started to conspire against the end of the weeks plan though. First the departure time for the NO, trip got moved up on Friday morning reducing my schedule. The second problem was I was realizing going on a run the day before my long run with no recovery day between was probably a bad idea.

So the plan got modified to go on my long run Thursday morning before work in place of my tempo run. Not ideal since I was still time limited but it gave me a chance to get my long run in with adequate rest time and to not mess up my trip schedule.

So up I was at 5:15 am on Thursday to head to Memorial Park for my 6 mile run. And the run went really damn well. I finished the six miles in 54:54, so just over 9 minute miles. This was my "I can do this" run. Granted its not even quarter of a marathon, the fact that I went from running 11:00 for a single mile to running a 9:09 average for six really made me feel good. After the run driving home I felt fantastic. Maybe I got that runners high for the first time since I started training.

There was only one negative from the whole run but it wasn't a physical thing, it was an equipment thing. My toes were burning at the end of the run. When I got home, sure enough, I had blisters on the very tips of several of my toes. I have gotten blisters on my feet before, who hasn't, but the tips of my toes was unusual. So I was realizing my shoes that I had been running in while they had worked great for me for shorter runs were too small. Something I would have to correct in the near future if I didn't want to start losing toenails.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Week 3: Nothing to See Here

So I guess every week can't have something of interest or new to discuss. This week was really falling into a routine. Morning runs on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday that I ran on my own or with my wife. The runs were all increasing in their duration by about five minutes from the previous week. Aside from that it was a slow week.

The Saturday long run was probably the most interesting point of the week, as the long runs tend to be. This weeks run was a five miler. Having had no issues with the four mile run I was looking forward more and more to my long runs. This week was the first week where I had any issues on my long run. Part of the point of running with a group of people is that we are supposed to be running at a conversational pace. We are supposed to be talking with the people we are running with. It keeps you from going to fast and burning yourself out on a long run. The first week I talked a little bit, the second I did it more, this is the first time I pretty much held a conversation for the entire duration of the run.

I started off the run with the same coach I had run with the previous week. Interesting piece of information learned while talking with her was that she is also running in the Chicago Marathon and has also been running with the Fall Houston Fit group (I am in Winter). Consequently she is already on much higher mileage than I am. We were running 5 miles, but her total for the day was 13, so she had already run 8 miles prior to starting this run. So we started off the run together but after about a mile she stopped to walk for a minute. During that mile though I was introduced to a friend of hers from the previous year who just starting up with Fit again. So I continued my run with him.

Having lost our good pacer, we paced off each other and consequently ran much faster than we (read, I) probably should have. All the while we were holding that conversation, while not really going at that conversational pace. This really winded me and I was feeling this run. It was the first long run I felt out of it while running. Being stupid like I am, I didn't want to back down from someone who had admittedly just started running again. Granted he had run a marathon before in the last year, and I had been sitting on the couch for the last year, but I am competitive like that despite the fact that there was no competition. So I finished the run with him, but it was not smart to do.

So really lesson learned out of all of this was if you are not feeling well, slow down. It didn't result in anything bad in this situation, but that will not always be the case. Pushing yourself too hard is one of the quickest ways to get injured. Running with a group allows you to run with people at your level. If you are running with someone who is too fast, slow down and find someone more your speed. Something I try and follow more now than I did then.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Week 2: Switching to Guns

OK, really that should read "switching to mornings". As mentioned in previous posts, the Houston heat and humidity is killer. I think it was one of the biggest factors in why I got pneumonia. Between that, and the fact that the evening runs were eating up all of my time, something needed to give. The idea switching from evening runs to mornings seemed the best option. My long runs are all early mornings anyway, so best to get onto that schedule.

I am not a morning person. I have had people joke that I sleep in my car because I look so rough when I get in to work in the morning. So getting up early enough to run and still get to work on time was not an easy decision. It was made somewhat easier by the issues listed above, but not enough to make that whole getting out of bed thing and taking those first few steps on a run fun.

So Monday we got up at 6 am and first the first time in my life I ran before work. It was a short run since Monday's are supposed to be easy days. On top of that I have been wanting to keep my Monday runs shorter because I had also recently started going to a hockey practice on Monday nights. I didn't need to kill myself with too many high exertion activities in such a short span. I had to run again Tuesday morning after all.

The Tuesday and Thursday runs this week were a lot better. The Tuesday run was 35 minutes, which is what I ran the previous week, but this is also when I realized all of my previous weeks runs were supposed to be 30 minutes. I was looking at the green groups schedule and not my own during the previous week. It doesn't say a lot for my ability to follow directions. Thursdays run was again 30 minutes. By this point this was starting be the norm so the runs didn't feel as bad.

There were two nice side effects of getting up early to run. The first is while it is hard to wake up and go running, running does wake you up pretty quickly and make you more alert during the day (as long as you get enough sleep the night before). The second thing was it actually got me into work earlier, which in turn got me out of work earlier. So now I had not only cleared running out of my evening schedule, but had additional time as well.

The weekend long run was four miles. I ran with the coach who had finished last weeks run with me. As I thought, she kept a good steady pace throughout that I comfortable running and it was a good run. An interesting part of the route this time was that we ran downwind of a donut shop during the run. You couldn't see the shop but you could smell it. The smell was glorious and hateful.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Week 1: This Hurt, But it Could Have Been Worse

So this was the first week of official training. For some reason unknown to me now, I didn't think that Houston Fit actually had a workout plan for that week. I thought the three mile run that weekend was the start of the plan and we would go from there. So I missed the first run on Monday due to the fact that I had not actually looked at the schedule.

So my first run on their training plan was that Tuesday. I was slotted for a 35 minute run. To this point I had been  running between a mile and a mile and a half. All said and done that take between 10-15 minutes, depending on which run and how I feel. On those runs I was tired at the end. 35 minutes was a lot longer. A lot longer. The big thing with running though is that it is more mental than physical. I told myself if you can't force yourself to run 35 minutes now, there is no way you will be able to force yourself to run 26.2 miles later.

So I told myself that and I ran my 35 minutes. It hurt. To this point I was running in the evenings which caused several problems. The first of which was it was hot. There is not an appreciable decrease in temperature until sometime after 8. I couldn't wait that long to run, because I wanted to eat dinner, and I hate to run after eating a full meal. So I had to eat before dinner, which meant I was running at 6:30 or so. And so it was hot and humid, and I don't think I have ever sweat so much in my life as during these runs.

The second problem was still dinner. By the time you warm up, fun 35 minutes, cool down, stretch, and shower, its gotten late. By the time you cook dinner its 9:00 pm. You likely starving, and when you are done eating dinner and cleaning up, its likely time to start getting ready for bed. Running in the evening kills your evening. It took me a few more runs to finally realize that the logistics of this whole just wasn't going to work, but in the meantime I ran in disgusting weather, and it sucked.

Thursday I ran 30 minutes. It was still miserable but since I ran 35 minutes on Tuesday, it was an easier mental game of saying I could do it. And Saturday morning for the first time in as long as I can remember I got up at 6am to go running with the Houston Fit group. I am not a morning person. Knowing there are going to be a lot of other people there doing the same thing helped.

The three mile run actually went really well considering how I'd felt about running during the week. I started off towards the back of my group as they told the quicker folks to lead. But not too long into the run upon hitting a comfortable pace I found myself moving through the group. Granted by the end of the run I dropped off a little bit and people passed me in turn, but all in all it was a good run.

It also helped me find people to run with, because the people who passed me at the end are the folks I should have been running with. They had a more consistent pace and finished the same time as me. So I start all my runs with them now and it helps a lot to keep a steady pace. I can get caught up in trying to keep up with whoever is around me. Its good to find people who share a pace and stick with them.

So my first week was over. The 3 mile run turned out better than expected considering how the two earlier runs went. It was a step in the right direction, and the first step of a long training plan.

I went for bagels afterwards. It was good.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Marathon Sidebar: They Stole My Shoes!

A quick story about the shoes I started my training in. In January of 2010, I signed up for a gym membership. For about two months I worked out quite regularly. Then we decided to buy a house. Which did two things. First house hunting took up a lot of time, and secondly when we did find a house it was far away from the gym I was a member at. What does this have to do with shoes you ask? 

Well the day we started looking for houses I had originally intended on going to the gym that evening. I would never go to that gym again, but all of my workout gear that I brought in the car with me remained in the back seat for the next several months. Included in these items were my running shoes. Now a few months after we had moved into our new place my car was broken into. I use the term loosely because in all actuality I forgot to lock my doors and they just opened them and ransacked my car. Upon discovering this event I tried to categorize everything I had lost. Initially, I thought it was just my iPod dock and some loose change. 

Again several months later we decided to start doing those outdoor walks I mentioned a few posts ago. This is the first time I was going to exercise since abandoning the old gym membership. The first time I needed running shoes since then, and the point at which I realized those bastards stole my shoes. I ended up going on that walk in a pair of sandals, which was kind of awkward. Shortly thereafter I acquired new shoes, very similar to those that were stolen. They can be seen above. They had a brief use during that period of walking before being abandoned (in my closet this time, not the car). 

A few notes about them. They are a pair of Asics Gel-Cumulus 12's. They are a size 9 1/2. My shoe size is 9 1/2, which comes into the story later. They are a fairly neutral shoe and basically the same type of shoe I have been running in since my senior year of high school. I had about four pairs of the various generations of thid shoe. So it is a shoe I like, from a brand I like. They served me well for a while. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Week 0: Climbing Back On the Horse

Stomach ailment, pneumonia, bronchitis, all occurring right as I decide I want to run the Houston marathon. A demoralizing start to say the least. But I put money down to run this race. It needs to get done. At this point in time I threw Couch to 5K out the window. It was a two month program. I didn't have to months to start, and now I had lost most of a month being sick. Time to go back to what I knew. Run until you can't.

How much was that? At this point, not very much. I went out to the park near my home after work on a Monday. The park encompassed a city block. The trail in the park was over a little over a quarter mile around. Once again, as its Houston, it was in the high 90's, humid, but I did check that there were no air quality alerts this time. I went and ran around the park four times. It sucked. But I was running again.

So now was the time to sign up for a running group. I was told by a co-worker who had run a couple of marathons that this was a good way to go. It cost some money but so far it has been a great help.

USA Fit is a national program that's goal is to get people to run, and get them to finish marathons. I signed up to run with the Houston branch of the USA FIT program. They provide a workout program, have seminars, have volunteer doctors to help with injuries, and they just provide a large group of people who are all trying to accomplish the same big goal.

So Houston Fit's first orientation run was the upcoming Saturday. Fortunately at this time they only wanted us to run a mile to help determine our pace group. Even more fortunately  you are supposed to run this mile slowly because running a mile as hard as you can is quite different than a pace you will be running a marathon in. Unless you happen to be the freaks who run marathon's in under 3 hours, in which case you pretty much are running full out for 26.2 miles.

Anyway, I ended up getting two runs in during the week. One a little over a mile and one a little under a mile and a half. So I at least knew I could complete my mile pace run. So I showed up for the run and we were just doing one loop around part of the park. It was paved trail so this was the first time I was running on pavement in a long time. It was a little different in that the impacts were harder than I was used to. All in all it was not a bad run. I finished up in around 11:17, which I kind of found embarrassing since at one point in my life I could run a sub six mile. But those days are at least for now over, and this was supposed to be a slow run anyway.

Surprisingly, an 11:17 run put me in the yellow pace group, which was 9-10 minutes per mile. I didn't expect to be put in a group with that fast a pace, but it makes sense as the whole concept is you will be in much better shape by the time you are actually running the race. This made me happy because while you really aren't supposed to set a time goal for your first marathon (the goal is just to finish), I can't help it and I really want to finish in under 4:30. If training with this group really does allow me to run at a 9-10 minute pace I will likely accomplish that goal.

So from this point forward it was time to launch in to the actual training plan to get ready for a marathon.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Marathon: Almost Stopped Before I Started

So June 1st I signed up for the marathon lottery. We found the Couch to 5K program and decided to start training using it on June 6th, the upcoming Monday. My biggest obstacle in all of this hit on June 2nd, before I could take a single step in training.

After a long day at work where I had not eaten very much I was starving. I got home made some spaghetti and wolfed it down. Still my stomach did not feel right. This was because a few short hours later I would experiencing one of the nastiest 24 hour stomach bugs of my life. I didn't sleep the entire night. I couldn't keep anything down. Tired and dehydrated I rolled into the weekend. A weekend I had intended on resting and recovering before realizing I had made prior commitments to help out my wife's company in the Galveston sandcastle competition they participate in every year. So I went, I tried to stay out of the sun. I tried to drink a lot water and stay hydrated. But it was at the beach, in Texas. Neither of these things were really possible. 

The day was cut short however when my wife came down with the very same bug. So we went home (between stops along the side of the highway to allow for purging). I took care of her and we shared another restless night. 

So Monday rolls around. Time to start training. Not well rested, probably not hydrated all that well, we go run our first little bit of Couch to 5K. It is not a lot of running. In fact it is some running and a lot of walking. My ankle hurt, it was somewhere in the 90's, humid, bad air. Not fun. But I did it. And this went on for a week, everything going as it should. Then the real problem reared its head. The following Monday I ran again. I felt more tired then usual. The following day it was worse. At work I felt out of it, dazed. I kept drinking water thinking I was just dehydrated. It seemed to help at first, but as I was driving home I knew I had a bigger problem.

By the time I made it home it was clear I was feverish. Not just feverish but pushing a 103 degree fever. Not exactly a good state to be in. For a couple of days I just took advil and hoped it would pass. On the third day of it I finally went to the doctor. I had started training while warn out from a previous illness, in conditions that were not ideal in the least, and consequently I now had pneumonia (and possibly bronchitis). My running days were done for a while.

I was put on a 10 day antibiotic regimen and told not to run for about 10 days following the last medication. So pretty much all of my pre-training time was gone. About 15 days in I did start to workout again to try and get as ready as I could. Push-ups, sit-ups, dumbbell squats, anything I could do to try and get back in shape without stressing my lungs too much. But when 20 days expired, I had one week to get ready for the my official training schedule.

During this time, I was able to find out whether or not I made the lottery cut. I was honestly hoping at this point to not make it in so I could switch to a smaller marathon (Austin, San Antonio) that were about a month after Houston's date. This would allow me to make up the month of time I lost. But Alas, Houston it was.

I received the congratulatory email, my credit card was charged for the race, there was no turning back.  

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On the Path to a Marathon

So it was settled. I was going to run in the Houston Marathon on January 15, 2012. I was decided on this on June 1, 2011. So I had plenty of time to get in shape for it. But first, there was one obstacle to overcome prior to setting off down the trail to a 26.2 mile run. That is actually being allowed to run in the Marathon.

The Houston Marathon/Half Marathon instituted a lottery 2 years ago for the race as its popularity grew. The event allows for 24,000 participants. Those are actually broken up into roughly half are participants of the half marathon, and half are for the full. Of those slots about 1000 are held in reserve for those who would be running for a cause.  If you don't make the lottery you can join a charity and help raise money for it, which is always great to see. Some slots are also reserved for those who have participated in over 7 Houston Marathons. They get automatic entry, as do folks who did not make in via the lottery in the both of the last two years. 

So while 24,000 slots seems like a lot, its not the true number and there was some possibility of not being able to run. So I signed up for it and then had to hope I would get selected. Selections wouldn't be made for three weeks.

In the mean time I didn't want to waste a moment in starting to get ready.  

How does one go about going from not running at all to being able to run 26.2 miles in one go? For this I turned to the internet, of course. We discovered a great little program called Couch to 5K, which is supposed to do exactly what it sounds like, get you from a lazy, couch loving lifestyle, to running a 5K. It is a two month schedule to do this. To me this was an important thing. I didn't have two months prior to the start of my official training program but I wanted to take the time I had and start slowly.

Too many times in the past my mindset had been, "It doesn't matter I haven't run in months, let's go run 3 miles". This mindset was always quickly followed up by the "That 3 mile run sucked, I don't want to do that anymore. Back to the couch" mindset. So this time knowing this was going to be a major project and endeavor, I knew I needed to start slow.

I really wish it had actually worked out that way.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Challenging Myself: Running the Houston Marathon

Recently my wife had a co-worker talk her into running in the Houston Half Marathon in January of 2012. When I heard this I laughed, said "Have fun with that", and continued to sit on my couch watching TV. This was the response of someone who had ran track throughout high school, went to a military college and had to run all the time, admittedly had said in the past I wanted to run in a marathon, and then had any desire to ever go outside and run crushed by the Houston weather.

I have lived in this area now for over four years. In that time I have gone through various schemes of trying to stay in shape. As far as running went, the only times I ever did it was indoors, on a treadmill. Last year we actually tried walking at some of the parks in the area in the August time frame. We suffered through the heat and right as we were finally getting into it, it cooled off, and out came the masses. It started taking half an hour just to find a parking spot. The outdoor walks quickly ended after that.

So here we are close to a year later, I am sitting on the couch, a place a I frequented a lot during the past year and she is telling me how she is going to run in the half marathon. I laugh it off. However, she wasted no time in telling me that I am the one in the family who always said I wanted to run in a race like this. She also dropped the reminder that if/when we have kids in the near future my opportunity to train for something like this potentially goes away for a long time.

I thought about it and it made sense. As much as I enjoyed lounging on the couch watching whatever was on Netflix, I was also annoyed at myself for having gotten so out of shape. This was a golden opportunity to find some motivation to dig deep and do something I had said I always wanted to do, something that would get me active again, and this could be my last possibility of doing it again before my life takes some dramatic changes.

I'm in. Only I am not doing the half marathon. If this is my last chance to do this, I am doing the full. I haven't run in any consistent manner in over 4 years. Those running stints were few and far between during that time. But why not. Go big or go home, right?

Another plus of this whole thing is I have been wanting to write again. After reading an inspirational post on someone's success in a challenge they had wanted to do, I thought this might be a fun thing to document. If not for anyone else than for myself. Something I can look back on. So here is the start. I hope to knock out a few posts in quick succession in the near future to try to catch up to where I am in my training now, and then I plan to settle down to about one a week.

So here we go...

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Good Old Days of Special Effects

Being a big fan of science fiction movies I see a lot of special effects flix.  Special effects can be a boon to a movie.  Looking at films like Star Wars or Tron, that were ahead of their day in what could be accomplished with film.  Star Wars using blue screen and miniatures to create a good deal of its effects, Tron being one of the first movies to pioneer CGI effects.  Star Wars I think really showed some of the amazing things that could be done with special effects.  Watching Tron now you find a film that has aged poorly, but I am sure at the time of its filming was pretty spectacular.  Amazing things can be done with the right special effects.

I think the best special effects are performed when a good mix of both miniatures and CGI is blended with the filming techniques.  You need something with substance though to give that solid effect.  Watching Lord of the Rings is a good example of this.  They blended so many different types of effects into that movie to get the look they were going for.  Using miniatures, mat paintings, automated dummies, computer effects, amazing prop and make up work.  It is just epic in its scale.

Unfortunately, George Lucas over the years distanced himself from miniatures and started to push forward the CGI angle.  He again did some pretty cool things with CGI, but it lost a lot of the realism I felt in the original trilogy.  You can just tell when something is CGI, and it never quite feels right.  I always am amused by the photo's contrasting Lucas' filming styles over the years.  One shows him in 1983 standing among all miniature models used in the films, the other shows him in 2005 standing in front of a green screen.

As the years go on though it seems the studios want to drop any actual work with real props and just go straight for the CGI equivalent.  Now this can be done quite effectively when you have the budget.  The Star Wars prequels are a good example of this.  As the effects get better it will be easier to do.  Avatar is a better example of this.  But when you do it in an attempt to just save money or to because you can't think of a clever way to put it off with makeup, miniatures, camera work, what have you, it can really detract from a movie.

The reason I am thinking about this is because I just finished watching the movie "The Expendables".  It was a blow 'em up action movie, so I didn't go into expecting an Oscar worthy movie.  For the most part it lived up to my expectations for it.  But one of my biggest qualms with the movie was the use of CGI for all of the effects.  CGI blood, fire, and what several times looked like CGI stunt people.  It was distracting, it was fake.  It seems to be a pattern in Stallone's movies these days as his most recent Rambo film went the same direction.

Now I have seen some of these techniques used effectively in movies.  300 and Sin City are examples of these.  But it was effective because it went with the look of the film.  The movies based of graphic novels and were filmed to play on that fact.  A look that some of the CGI blood and other effects complimented.  The Expendables and Rambo were shot to be more "realistic", "gritty", action films and the use of those techniques just came off as lazy and distracting.  Be creative, there are years of techniques to draw on to do that kind of effect work.

They don't need to go back to the days of no CGI, it would be waste of an amazing resource.  All I really want is for them to not forget their roots.  Amazing movies were shot without CGI.  Cool ass special effects have been done without CGI.  They need to remember that and use it.  That's all I want.  Just because you can do it with computers doesn't mean you should.  It's that whole "With great power comes great responsibility thing."

And after writing all of this rambling rant about the overuse and bad use of CGI I had one realization.  Christopher Nolan is my hero.

That is all.