Keeping a running journal again at DailyMile

Back in the day, I religiously kept a running journal. Actually, the information wasn’t all that detailed. If I run a track work-out, I would just list the mileage and might note “track work-out” but wouldn’t include the length of the track intervals or the times. It’s not so much the information one puts into a running journal, but the thought and concentration involved in putting the day’s run onto paper that makes a running journal valuable. Well OK, it doesn’t take a lot of thought or concentration to write “7” on a piece of paper after running seven miles, but you get the idea. The problem was, every couple of years, I’d lose my notebook, and would have to start the whole process over again.

Sometime in the mid-90’s, I ended my daily devotional of running journal entries entirely. A lot of this was simply because I wasn’t running much then, and was well on my way to gaining about 50-60 lbs over the next fives years. There was a time I’d blame it all on marrying the wrong woman, who wasn’t a big fan of me running, but I think it’s fair to say that my first wife probably gave me a well needed break from running seriousness, just not in the right way.

So as to slowly reclaim back the old running life once lived, it’s time to start keeping a running journal again. And instead of an old fashioned notebook, I’ve recently joined DailyMile to record each day of running. It’s got a few new fangled features they didn’t have back in the day. The most notable is the social networking aspect of the website, where you can have training “friends”, and even send your friends motivation, in the form of icons shaped like a blue ribbon or a green thumbs up sign. If you want to send me motivation, well that’s nice, but after thirty years with plenty of runs and races under my belt that have gone horribly wrong, countless running injuries of all type and severity, and a few unfortunate incidents involving either end of the digestive system, a green thumbs up icon from out of the blue is not going to make much difference in whether or not I keep at it.

The really neat feature of Daily Mile is their running route mapping feature, leaving no wild guesses as to how far each run is, or how high certain hills are. I’ve had some fun looking at the online map of my neighborhood, and think, “Hey, what if I ran this course?”, then map it out and immediately get a good idea of what I’m getting myself into, rather than finding out the hard way.

For my other hobby, homebrewing, I haven’t found the equivalent of Daily Mile, and wouldn’t join, even if it existed. Something about quantifying a hobby changes it. By keeping track of miles, times, and workouts, running becomes, at a certain level, a chore, but it’s doing those chores that pay off on race day, so I gladly do them. On the other hand, I just simply like brewing beer and sharing those results with friends, end of story. I have great friends who lie to me, always telling me the beer tastes great, whether or not it actually does. And perhaps because the stopwatch is more brutally honest than my friends, I have no real desire to monitor every last beta acid or religiously keep track of the gravity of the beer over the entire process, which would take a lot of fun out of home brewing for me. Maybe some day I’ll enter my home brews into competitions and start keeping more detailed notes on my home brews, but right now, developing a repeatable malt extraction process or agonizing over how the judges are going to perceive my homebrews are stresses I’d rather not deal with right now.

So I keep a running journal, and will remain blissfully unaware of metrics needed to improve my homebrews. And unlike my old running journal written in a notebook for my eyes only, my daily workout are now on this blog via some Daily Mile gadget, for the whole world to see. My training is now a wide open book. Is this really progress?

My Only Goal was to Finish

There’s been very few races where my only goal was to finish, but I found myself on the starting line with that objective last Thanksgiving morning. I’d like to say I was about to start a marathon, ultra-marathon, or run some obscenely difficult course, but in fact, it was a simple five mile cross-country race in Golden Gate Park. I was pretty sick the day before and while I’m striving to be more descriptive in my writing, you’d probably don’t want to read a detailed description of what emerged from my throat and nose over two previous two days. While I had recovered somewhat, certainly not enough to feel optimistic take on the race, even if these holiday races tend to be pretty good natured events.

Why was I even running in the first place rather than stay home? I have this certain ethic, perhaps better described as a stubbornness, to finish something I’ve started, no matter what. So if I’ve entered a race and not at death’s door, I’m obligated show up on the starting line and give it my best, no excuses. I don’t recommend this attitude for everyone but like to think it has served me pretty well. As long as we ignore all those times I’ve turned a little sickness into a raging fever because I didn’t want to take a rest day, or a ended up limping around for a week thinking I could just push through some “little, nagging injury”. So flying in the face of most conventional reason, there I was, after a few tepid and lethargic brief warm-up jogs and sucking nonstop on a water bottle all morning to battle a still slightly sore throat, about to give the race a go.

Surprisingly at the start, the slow “just finish the damn race” pace was surprisingly effortless, and I was a bit bewildered at where the sudden energy had come from. I have to say that whenever there’s a starting line, a finishing line, and a clock timing how long it takes to run between the two, it just turns on some sort of high energy switch inside of me. But maybe drinking five or six glasses of water, each with a packet of Emergen-Cee dissolved into them the day before, giving me a daily dose of vitamin C good for over 50 people is what gave me the necessary recuperative powers. Or perhaps I was energized by the postcard-picturesque course that twisted and turned through the green rolling hills and coastal forest Golden Gate Park landscape, with the ground perfectly soft from four days of light rain, meticulously marked by tiny bright yellow flags and burnt orange traffic cones so no one would miss every zig and zag only the course.

Whatever the source of unexpected strength, I slowly picked up the pace, and methodically reeled in runner after runner over the first couple miles. And while the urban forest location provided a pleasing background to the race, it also provided some handy underbrush cover required for a little pit stop at about 1 1/2 miles, that was quite necessary from all the extra pre-race hydration. That business taken care of, I just concentrated on keeping good form, maintaining pace, and looking at the back of the runner in front of me, gradually pulling up to them, before concentrating on passing the next person. After five miles of this, I finished with a time and place much higher than I thought I could have realistically hoped for.

One thing running has taught me is there that are no guarantees for success. You can have several excellent weeks or months of training, with a good focused attitude and strong game plan, and things can still blow up in your face on race day for reasons either completely unknown or outside your controll. Thankfully the opposite is also true. Everything can be off or sub-par going into race day, and you can still end up hanging up a performance you think you had no business reaching. Enjoy those days when you can. I know I will.

PS – Considering all the “opps” and “oh shit” moments while home brewing the day after this race, I can only hope to have the same kind of luck with that endeavor once the yeast finishes its thing.

Surprise Trip to Harsh Running and Brewing Conditions in Utah

Sometimes out of the blue, life takes you places you never expected. One day in late April, my boss calls me into his office, shuts the door, and tells me our company is about to be acquired. Two weeks later, I’m meeting with the sales force and management of my new company in a small, isolated lodge 30 miles east of Logan, UT just south of the Idaho border. At 6,500 feet above sea level, a light snow fell steadily, even though it was early May. The only chance to run with all the planned activities was during the early mornings in snowy, windy 30 degree weather. I didn’t pack any sweats or running tights, gloves, or a hat, but that didn’t stop me from getting in a couple short morning runs. Running in just shorts and long sleeve T-shirt in these conditions creates a certain refreshing intimacy with the surrounding environment, as the cool air rushed by my legs and face, with the soft crunch and the strain of the changing terrain in each step.

Running success is about overcoming barriers, so bad weather days give you the opportunity to train the mind to deal with discomfort and anything the weather might throw at you. Now I didn’t run around in these conditions to the verge of frostbite, with the runs lasting only about 20 minutes. But now I’m better prepared for whatever cold and windy conditions the San Francisco Bay weather throw at me, and running around for 20 minutes is better than nothing.

The Utah climate is not very kind to the craft brewing industry either. When a sizable fraction of the local population will not drink your product, or is even downright hostile towards it, a local brewery better brew something pretty good if they want to stay in business. But since 1986 Wasatch Pub and Brewery has survived, even thrived in such difficult business conditions. And since Wasatch founder and owner Greg Schirf spearheaded legislation in 1988 to make brew pubs legal in Utah, at least 12 brewpubs have followed Schirf’s trail and found success is these less than ideal business conditions. I was fortunate to discover Wasatch Brewing’s fine beers during my stay in Utah, which my new employers graciously provided.

I’m quite relieved to discover my new bosses appreciate good beer. Especially since they checked up on me and discovered during a Google search that I write this blog. Here’s a brief run down of the fine beers they shared with me.

Apricot Hefeweizen
The Hefeweizen style is known for plenty of fruity, banana-like esters and light aromatic spiciness. I wasn’t getting much of that here. This was more like a fizzy wheat beer with a light apricot tartness that harmonized well with the underlying wheat. The end result was pretty refreshing even if it didn’t quite meet my intial expectations, and I appreciated the restraint of the apricot.

Provo Girl Pilsner
This is actually brewed by Squatter’s Brewpub, which partnered with Wasatch a few years ago. The light brew has a nice, earthy hop finish to it, and plenty of tingly carbonation.

Full Suspension Pale Ale
Another selection from Squatters, and if you like Cascade hops which I do, you’re really going to like this one. Plenty of citrussy Cascade hop aroma and a bitterness, well balanced by a straightforward, bready malt. Not a very complex brew, as it was mostly a showcase of Cascade hops, and that works pretty well for me.

Polygamy Porter
Of course, as a red-blooded heterosexual male, polygamy suggests all sorts of intriguing carnal possibilities. But on further reflection, polygamy seems a bit overrated. Even if you really love the one you’re with, would you really be happier with one, two, three or more of the same person around all the time? Now you know what I’m talking about.

As for beer, I picked out plenty of rich coffee notes in all the roasted malt goodness. It’s a very drinkable porter with the fizzy carbonation being the only slightly off note. Better to have a few extra beers than a few extra wives if you ask me.

Roots of Running Routes

Moving to a new place is more than simply unpacking boxes and filling out change of address forms. It’s also about exploring the new place, and that means finding new running routes. Sometimes when plotting a new route, I simply go out a general direction in hopes of creating one. This can lead to getting hopelessly lost or running around in circles, but eventually leads to a new place to run. It’s often trial and error process, guided by experience, and a lot like learning, where frustration and confusion coupled with persistence eventually yields to discovery. Finding new places to run helps me put down new roots, which strengthen I periodically visit these spaces again and again.

Setting up running routes in Belmont is made a lot easier by the great set of running trails they have in the open space areas around Water Dog Lake Park. It’s something I’ve taken for granted living in the San Francisco Bay Area, where secluded trails are often just minutes away from highly urban areas. Having lived many placed both outside and within Bay Area, I can see myself putting down some good roots here in Belmont for a while.

Learning Patience in Running and Home Brewing

I’m not a patient man.

This has unfortunately worked to my disadvantage in races, where patience is pretty important. Everyone knows it’s important to pace themselves, to not go out too fast. And of course, once the gun goes off, there’s all the usual chaos at the start, then the adrenaline starts flowing, patience goes out the window, and before you know it, you’re at the first mile 20 seconds sooner than you wanted to be, and in big trouble. At least that’s the way a lot of my races started out.

One of the ways I learned to developed a better sense of running patience was through tempo runs. These are workouts of about 20 minutes duration, typically run at a “comfortably hard” pace. A simple rule of thumb is to simply add about 15 seconds to your 10 k race pace. This is around the lactic acid threshold, where lactic acid starts accumulating in the muscles because of chemical reactions required to generate enough energy to maintain this comfortably hard pace. Too much lactic acid in the legs makes them feel rubbery, makes harder to keep up the pace, and is often what forces you to slow down if you’ve gone out too fast.

A track is a good place for a tempo run, because you want to concentrate knocking out the same pace over that 20 minutes. Of course, you could go faster, but a goal of a tempo run is to training the mind to learn pace sense and develop a certain patience to keep knocking out the same time, lap after lap around the track. (If you can’t find a track, a reasonably flat running trail with few variations or interruptions due to traffic works pretty well.) Since lactic acid is accumulating in your legs, the body learns to buffer this acid, and so over time, you can run faster without producing as much lactic acid in the legs.

Learning to be more patient in home brewing? Home brewing workouts seem to be an oxymoron. Instead, patience in home brewing seems to simply come from experience. I’m finding I’m way to eager to bottle and drink my finished brews, where an extra week or two in the carboy or bottle conditioning would give it that extra edge. I recently brewed a coffee porter, and while I originally wrote in my blog post that it was flat, found giving it another week in the bottle allowed the carbonation to fully develop. Probably another week of secondary fermentation would give the yeast a little more time to do their thing and give the flavor a little something extra, but I still think it turned out to be a pretty good brew once I gave it time. I suppose the more I brew, the necessary patience will start to develop.

I need to be a more patient man.

Find balance and lost years at the SCORE Clinic

I walked into the SCORE Clinic knowing something was terribly wrong, but not quite sure what it was. My training regimen had degenerated into a cycle of a hard track workouts ending in injury, a two week recovery period, only to injure something else in the next hard workout. This is not training that leads to success in racing, and it was showing. The soles of my running shoes looked like someone whittled outside edges with a pocket-knife, a sure sign of supination. My left hip was noticeably at least an inch higher than my right one. For at least the least nine months, I’d been trying to push through chronic soreness in my upper left knee and soreness on the ball of my right foot, and was now starting to battle left hip strains on top of that.

With things get totally screwed up in an important area of life, and you don’t have the foggiest idea what to do about, it’s always good to consult a professional. And there’s a certain irony to the fact that the SCORE Clinic is just a couple blocks away from my divorce lawyer. And once Dr. Omura of the SCORE Clinic simply watched me try to do a single squat, and he pretty much figured out what the problem was. I basically couldn’t do even a single squat, and was rotating my left foot outward due to a weak left hip, and shifting most of my weight to my right foot to protect my weakened left knee and hip. Needless to say, a one-legged runner is at a considerable disadvantage, so Dr. O developed a plan to increase flexibility, get rid of the pain and soreness, and find balance in my running stride.

That all sounds wonderful, but Dr. O accomplished this with techniques a casual observer might think come from a CIA torture manual. A typical session started with electrodes attached to my ailing left knee, producing pulsing electrical current into the knee muscles, causing them to twitch and contract uncontrollably. Then, Dr. O scraped my knee with something like that looked like an enlarged butter knife to break down the adhesions and scar tissue. Then, he performed something called Active Release Therapy where he would apply strong pressure with his bare hands directly on the sore knee or hip with the muscle contracted, and would maintain this pressure as I extended the muscle, literally squeezing out the swelling and damage. The session concluded with a vertebrae popping chiropractic hip and back adjustment, allowing the hips and back to find their natural, optimal alignment.

But Dr. O did more than subject me to a number of teeth gritting situations. He patiently demonstrated some simple stretches and exercises to do at home to flush out soreness, increase flexibiliy, and build up weaknesses. I’ve seen physical therapists treat their patient’s living tissue as if it were some inanimate car chassis, but Dr. O gave me the insight and understanding to know what my problems were, how to fix it myself, and how to prevent it from happening again. These sessions were quite possibly the best investments I’ve made in running. I’ve faced many injuries and set backs in my thirty years of running, but dealing with these lingering pains and frustrations over the months with no apparent progress at the advanced running age of 42, I was contemplating hanging up the racing flats for good.

Back when I was young, immature, and naive, I told myself the day I stopped running and racing was the day I died. Life has changed tremendously since then, but one thing that hasn’t is the drive to keep running, and train for the next race. Like a lot of runners, running has been my rock. There simply must be some challenge to overcome or a goal to meet to keep me driven, and without this, I become very directionless. The lessons of discipline, persistence, and dealing with success and failure learned from running have guided me well in real life, where success and failure in things like family, career, personal fiances, and social relationships have consequences far more significant than whether or not you take home some cheap, plastic trophy. Running’s gotten me through some hard times, when I could briefly escape life’s turmoil and burn off frustrations just to get through the day. I simply wouldn’t know how to give it up even if I wanted to. Thanks to the SCORE Clinic, I no longer have to make that difficult choice.