Thursday, February 25, 2016

Things I've Learned In Walking/Running, Part 6

Why Do I Walk/Run? I ask myself this during every half marathon, along about mile 11 or 12: “Why am I doing this to myself?!” (Rimshot! Crash!)

In my profile on (a site for reviewing races) I say that the reason I run is, “To show me I (still) can.” I'm not getting any younger (funny how that works). Where I start, going into my later few years, could alter when those years start and how those years might progress. I'm hoping that becoming healthier now will delay those last few years. That would mean more time with my family, a good for me and (hopefully) a good for them. I'm also hoping that the more I'm able to do now, the more I'll be able to do when I do start to decline (i.e. delaying having to use a walker or a wheelchair … maybe even to never).

Blech! That was DEPRESSING! I've discovered, along the way, other good things that encourage me to keep going and working to improve.

My preferred venue for races and daily workout walk/runs is park trails. Generally, the scenery is a whole lot more interesting and beautiful that a suburban neighborhood or business district. Many trails are amazingly beautiful!

I've also found that the running community has many folks who are very encouraging and friendly. One might only get glimpses of this during workouts “on the trail”, but it's easy to see during races, especially small-medium-sized races, especially before starting and after finishing. Frankly, the prospect of meeting some really nice people in the finish area – and, frankly, the goodies – helps keep me going in that last mile or so when I'm pretty well spent and questioning my sanity.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Things I've Learned In Walking/Running, Part 5

What to Expect of a Race Organizer … this can get a bit subjective, since personal tastes, experiences, and the nature of the organizer shape expectations, but I would summarize my answer to my question very simply: a great race experience, from signing up through leaving after the race is over.

In this day of the Internet, a race should have reasonably complete information available online in a timely fashion. Things like location, date, course map, and, except for “flat” courses, course profiles are essential for a prospective participant to know a race exists and whether it would be interesting and suitable.

Registration should be easy – no complications, no cul-de-sac gotchas. There are several companies that handle registrations and such for organizers, whose processes are very smooth. The registration site should generate an immediate confirmation email.

Information is critical. Besides basics like venue location, date, and times, an organizer's website should give details about parking, entry fees, start/finish area location, timing, T-shirts, finisher's medals, special awards, and - much more importantly – course details (map, elevation profile, aid station locations). In other words, a race participant should have a reasonable mental picture of how to get there, where to find the start area, and what to expect their race day will be like.

Production details should be organized and – from the runners' perspective – smooth. If problems arise, they should be handled as best and quickly as possible. Check-in should be smooth and quick, whether on days before the race or on race day. Restroom and porta-cans should be sufficient to preclude long waits.

The course should be clearly marked, with monitors to direct people, and watch for runners who are injured or in trouble. Aid stations, minimally, should have water, sports drink for longer (>5K) distances, and some rudimentary first aid.

The finish area should be welcoming, with a smooth flow to direct recent finishers out of the way of those coming behind them. Handing out finisher's medals should be quick and congratulatory. There should be snacks and drinks nearby that are suitable for recovery. Aid stations and the finish area should be well supplied, even for the very last finishers. If race T-shirts are given out at the finish, even very late finishers should receive the size they specified when they registered (being slower, my size being unavailable is a pet peeve!).

Race T-shirt practices vary,both as to type and when given out. Some organizers give tech T-shirts for all distances. A few (usually charities) give cotton T-shirts for all distances. Some give tech Ts for half marathon and longer distances, and cotton for 5K and 10K racers (with an option to pay to upgrade to tech). Some organizers give out T-shirts before the race, some to finishers. I like the latter less, because I've twice found on finishing that my size was no longer available. Both races were with the same organizer, who had had a larger than expected number of late registrants (twice!). Because of this and an unsatisfactory experience attempting to resolve the problem, I avoid that organizer's races.

Like race T-shirts, finisher's medals are tangible mementos of the races. A few small charity races do not give out medals; for that purpose and context, I think that is fine. Some somewhat larger charity races give out medals that are semi-custom off-the-shelf awards company medals. Large charity races and race organizer businesses usually give out custom-designed medals (it is becoming common for the ribbons to be custom-designed as well).

I adjust my expectations of a particular race's “swag” according to the nature of the organizer and size. Generally, I expect simpler from a smallish charity race, and nicer from a larger organizer business.

In “chip” timed races preliminary results should be posted online quickly, and racers notified by email. Within 24 hours is very common, and I've seen some races posting on race day evening. There should be a way for racers with a concern to have it addressed.

The above are all nutsy-boltsy tangible things. A large part of an enjoyable race experience is the people. Friendly and helpful staff and volunteers are critical. Less easy to control, friendly and encouraging racers are also important. Personally this is a factor that has inclined me to prefer small-medium sized races, and has brought me back race after race to several local organizers who do well with the people factor.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

“In Control” - Delusion and Reality

Sometimes we humans really delude ourselves. Some imagine they are in control of their lives. And what can be said about Christians who imagine that if they say just the right things, do the right things, and have just the right faith, God MUST do what they ask/want?

Hello! It's a huge universe! There are some 7 billion sinners living and doing things in this world. Also, there are weather, earthquakes, volcanoes, and zombies, all doing their thing

No creature can trap their Creator into a corner. OK? Christians can act faithfully, intelligently, and diligently, but cannot control what other sinners may do or do to them. Nor control what God brings into or allows in their lives. That's part of what it means to have faith in and trust God. Living with unknowns and trusting God for whatever came and will come. In God's hand even pain is a tool to shape us into better than we could ever imagine ourselves to be.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Things I've Learned In Walking/Running, Part 4

Where to go for workouts and preparing for races? One could, of course, join a gym and use a treadmill. A gym can be useful, since it's good in any weather. But before joining a gym, I suggest getting in the habit of working out for “free”. Places I've done this …

Even before my first race I had been walking in my neighborhood. I used routes that crossed as few major intersections as possible, stayed on sidewalks where possible, and was very careful of traffic.

Near where I live are a park and a community center that have large fields with running trails that circle their fields.

Not too far from where I live is a community center that used to be a high school. The football field has been maintained for various sports practices and events, and has an oval track around it. The bleachers are also maintained, and I've used those for stair climbing exercise.

Also near my home is a fairly long suburban greenway trail that traverses sections of several cities and climbs up to the top of a dam in some nearby mountains. I use this trail a lot, because of its varied terrain. The several miles that climb up to the dam are fairly steep, and are good preparation for hilly trail races.

Things I've Learned In Walking/Running, Part 3

What things do you need? Well, I'm laying out my stuff for a race this coming weekend, so I'll go over that.

I prefer tech type T-shirts for races and workouts. These wick moisture (sweat) away from the body, aiding in cooling and reducing chafing. One can buy such T-shirts, but I generally use the T-shirt for the upcoming or a previous race. Among the shirts I have are several that are long-sleeved. I only use these for really chilly weather. Generally, where I live, by the end of the first mile or so I'm plenty warm.

I usually wear shorts, though for chilly weather I do wear long pants. Either way, I go for loose-fitting and comfortable, and pockets.

Because of my hairstyle – a lack thereof – I wear a cap to prevent sunburn. I've used caps from Disney, and I currently use a tech type from a race. Both work fine. Both are also hand-washable, nice when they get dusty and salt-stained from sweat.

One area that is a little difficult for me is eye protection (from UV light). There are plenty of sunglasses out there that block UV and wrap around to protect against UV coming from one's side. But because I wear glasses for distance vision I can't use these, and use clip-on sunglasses that block most UV, but don't wrap around. It's something I need to improve.

I wear calf compression sleeves. I bought a set after getting calf muscle spasms in two half marathons. I wore them in the next half I did, and didn't have any spasms. I forgot them in the half after that, and between the muscle spasms and the heat, I dropped out of the race at mile 10. It was my only DNF since my first 5K in 2011! Lesson. Learned.

I wear compression running socks to prevent blisters. I bought them after getting a blister in a workout. Since then I've gotten a blister once, due to debris inside one of the socks; I check for that now. I've used three brands. Champion brand are of mediocre durability in my experience, but their price is so low that they may be a good value. I have Balega woolen socks, but haven't used them often enough to comment on their durability. I have Injinji toe socks, and I am most happy with these for comfort and durability. For 10Ks and half marathons, if I use the Balegas or Champions, I also use Body Glide lubricant between my toes, so that a blister wont develop from my toes rubbing against each other.

In choosing calf sleeves or running socks, don't just grab a familiar brand. They may be OK, but Nike's running socks are almost double the price of Balegas or Injinji. Ask running friends or workers at a store for runners for recommendations and how they use what they recommend.

Probably the most emblematic icon of running is shoes. There are a BUNCH of brands “out there”, and a lot of them are excellent. Ultimately, it comes down to you – how are you going to use them and where, durability, and fitting your feet. You may find several brands and models work for you, or you may find you have to stick to one company's products. I've used Nike quite a bit, and I have a pair of Brooks shoes that have done well for me. Living near a Nike outlet store that has some excellent prices on really good shoes on their clearance rack makes Nike my starting point. One thing I've learned, and not the smart way, is that trail shoes soles wear pretty quickly if used on pavement – street, sidewalk, or paved trail. Also, even excellent road shoes may not be adequate for a challenging trail. Choose smart – don't be cheap and don't throw money at your feet.

Running accessories – necessary and pleasant things. Get. A. Water. Bottle. You may eventually get one of those vest type bladders, but start with a water bottle. Many races have well spaced aid stations, but carrying your own is a good idea (some trail races use somewhat remote trails and have fewer aid stations, making carrying water or sports drink a necessity). Water or sports drink … I've done both, usually using sports drink for more challenging races. Different brands vary, but sports drinks with sugar are designed to give an energy boost and replenish electrolytes that are lost through sweat. Another product that does this is gel packets, e.g. GU. Be careful in using the latter, don't take more than one every half to full hour. They are much more concentrated than sports drink and could cause problems. I use these, maybe 2 or 3 during a race, and always with a swig of water. They. Are. Very. Sweet (literally). I use snack and sandwich sized baggies that zip closed. I keep my ID in a snack bag, the gel packets in a sandwich bag, and I carry an empty baggie for my used gel packets and other trail trash. If it might rain I keep my cell phone in a baggie. In the event of rain or mud, I bring a change of clothes and shoes and a bath or beach towel. Like many runners, I listen to music. While many use earbuds that plug into their phone or MP3 player, I use Bluetooth earbuds. I use Pandora on my cell phone. Some trail races' courses don't have cell reception, so no music on those races.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Things I've Learned In Walking/Running, Part 2

This post is going to be a little more nutsy-boltsy. In choosing, planning, and running a race, pay attention to basic stuff (put more bluntly, be smart, not stupid).

Know what you're getting into. Most race organizers – whether of just one annual race or of a couple dozen races a year – have in their online information for a race a course map and an elevation profile. Another valuable online tool is Google Maps Satellite View feature. Sun and heat are not a runner's friend, but shade can mitigate their effects. Use Satellite View to look over the course, where and how much of it is shaded. Use these tools! Use them to pick races and distances suitable for you. Use them to prepare properly.

Hot, cold, and wet weather are not a runner's friend, but they are part of running reality. Be aware of a race location's seasonal weather patterns, and use online tools such as AccuWeather's weather forecasts. The point isn't so much avoidance – by the time you know rain is probable, you've already registered – but planning. Dress appropriately for cold weather. Bring extra snacks and hydration for hot. Bring extra clothes and shoes for wet weather and/or mud. Except in the heaviest cloud cover, use sunscreen.

Be realistic in challenging yourself. Learn what your abilities are on your neighborhood streets, a community track, or a local trail. Pick a race appropriate for your abilities, plan carefully, and be careful in how aggressively you walk or run it.

Things I've Learned In Walking/Running, Part 1

Yeah, I'm going to do this as a series of posts. If I tried making it one long post it would be wa-a-a-a-a-aaaaay too long and put to sleep anyone who tried to read it. Much of it will be pretty “basic”, stuff I wish I'd been told (or had had sufficient sense to ask) when I was just starting.

Everyone starts somewhere; where we go is mostly our choice. My first race in 2011 was a 5K, with a finish time of 49:30. It's not fast, but it was what I could do at that time. My goals that morning were to finish, with a time under an hour, so I was very happy. Fast-forwarding some 4 years, I did my second 5K (weird, I know). My finish time was 42:31, nearly 7 minutes faster. Though I took rather circuitous and indirect route, I did the work to improve.

Whether you're a speedster or a reforming couch potato, you are where you start. That, not some other person's abilities, is basis for gauging progress. If you're the reforming couch potato, don't be ashamed of it. You're already making progress, because you've started. If you're the speedster, don't be particularly proud of that. You may become a world-class runner, but that isn't you, yet.

Growth can be in multiple directions. You can go faster. You can go longer. You can take on more difficult terrain. The big thing is to start, and you don't have to choose just one growth direction. For me, 2014 and 2015 were years of going longer (specifically, more races than the previous year) and on more difficult terrain. On the other hand, my speed did suffer some in “flat” half marathons (though an injury contributed some to that).

In whatever endeavor, deciding to start is the biggest decision. Choosing to grow, to improve, is the second-biggest decision.