Thursday, October 27, 2016

Running While Male

A few days ago I was in Hartford, CT to give a luncheon speech to some wealth managers at TD Bank. I arrived the evening before and got to my hotel ready to go for a little shakeout run.  I had tentatively planned out a route that would take me from my hotel down to the river and along a riverwalk. Never having been to the area I was relying on my skills at being able to look at Google maps and discern what makes for a good route. Having worked in the past designing long-distance running relays, I have actually become quite good at glancing at a map and almost uncannily knowing where I should run for a good trot.

I was a little askew in my planning this time, however, as one of the bridges I planned on crossing did not seem to have a way to get across. The riverwalk path ran a good 50 feet below it. As I saw no stairway to get up, I decided to venture further north before eventually turning around. I figured further south another bridge had to have a way to cross.  Evening light disappears quickly in late October in New England and shortly after 6 p.m. it was as dark as it would be for most of the night.

The temperatures dipped and for a person who enjoys running in cold far more than heat, and having just a few days before still had to endure 94 degrees in my new home of Austin, Texas, I was reveling in this chilly nip. Heading back south along the waterway, I figured out what I thought would be a route which would take me across a different bridge and then back along the northerly route of the riverwalk on the other side of the river.

The path, well-lit and recently paved, was obviously for use by all runners and walkers.  As I
undulated over a small rise, some weeds which needed to be tended to obscured my vision on both sides.  Up and then down I ran, passing within rock tossing distance of some lattice work of stanchions which held up the nearby highway. A railroad lay next to both of them and the lights cast some spooky shadows on my path. Above them all, off in the distance was this mystical blue onion-shaped Russian-dome-looking minaret striding atop some large rectangular building.

I found my way to the busy bridge upon which the Wilbur Cross Highway passed. A dark ramp allowed me to scoot up and on top of it.  I traversed the length of the bridge looking for an egress down to the other side of the river. Suddenly a staircase appeared with at least 10 flights of 6 steps each.  I had my phone with me simply to be able to check where I was in this new area but here I used it to illuminate each corner as I went down flight after flight, hoping not to trip.

At the bottom I crossed under as dense tree cover and a misty gloom setting in. A man in the shadows in the distance stood silently along the river, seemingly fishing. I saw a path that looked like it had just been paved but I knew it did not go where I wanted. In addition, as it was not lit, I couldn't see how long it went off in the distance. Otherwise I may have added some distance just to check it out.

Crossing over a footbridge I was brought right alongside the water's edge. Up ahead a system of street lights lit the path with their white lights piercing the darkness. I had always wondered why orange lights were more prevalent amongst streets until the internet became more widely available and I could find the answer (Answer: orange light is cheaper even though white light makes things much easier to see. *sigh* Of course price over safety reigns.) These lights here reminded me of the beginning of Harry Potter and I expected a wizard to snuff them all out as I ran on by.

After this jaunt through a park, I passed a serious of parked cars with people of both genders occupying them. Some were eating, some listening to music, some were, well, I actually don't know. It seemed like an odd time to be here in an odd place but I am quite sure they thought the same thing of me, this solitary runner out at night.

I looked over and again saw the blue onion of what I later learned was the Colt Armory. It seemed so out of place settled between the other buildings but I can imagine it looks beautiful in the snow at night. I passed by all the cars and went up a small ramp. Up ahead I saw the bridge which would take me back to my hotel.

As I bounded up some stairs, a large man came down the other side. He looked me over and said "Good job" as I passed him.  I gave him a tip of the cap and exhaled a quick "thankyou".  I hung a hard 180 degree turn and almost bumped into a guy wearing a black hooded sweatshirt who I hadn't seen. I felt rather embarrassed given how much I try to think of others when I am in motion and hate being inconsiderate, but he seemed unfazed.

Over the bridge, down some stairs, and finally at my hotel, I stopped my watch.  A crisp 6.5 miles at
a good clip made me feel good to be alive. While I waiting for my Timex to upload my data to Strava wirelessly, I took in the night. Suddenly, I was absolutely thunderstruck:

If I had been a woman, that run would have been absolutely terrifying. Let me explain why.

Not knowing exactly where I was going in a strange town at night. Tall weeds where anyone could have been hidden. Railroad tresses obfuscating both my sight lines and the light. Dark passages. Blind pitch black turns on staircases.  Dead end paths. Passages through trees with no sign of exit. Shadowy figures silently standing next to the river with no face. Random people idling in cars for no particular reason. Large men checking me out. Guys with sweatshirts pulled over their heads on the wrong side of the sidewalk.  All of it was lost on me, a guy, while running.

By no means do I mean women are timid or cannot handle themselves. But, by and large, most violent crime happens to women by men. You don't need to believe me. Just look up any crime statistics. And this run I just did was absolutely fraught with opportunities for a bad guy to take advantage of a nice person.

This is not the first time this thought has occurred to me, either. In fact, I am in the process of creating something which is based specifically on the idea that women runners tend to need an extra layer of security when out for a jog. As such, it has been at the forefront of my mind. However, in spite of that, I still forgot how easy it is for me, a relatively large, relatively fast, male to be able to go out for a run, anywhere I want, at any time of the day, and probably be fine every step of the way.

I am not throwing my gender under the bus and acting like I am the only good guy and girls can love only me.  In addition, there are obviously instances of male on male crime while running (e.g., the absolutely heartbreaking story of Dallas runner attacked by a mentally unstable former Texas A&M football player.) Furthermore, it is not the wild west out there and fortunately even attacks on female runners are rare enough to still be quite shocking. But the fact remains that running while male is something most guys do not even begin to fathom as anything other than safe and secure.

There is no fantastic way to wrap up this article. I have no solution for how to solve violence. I wish crime against all people would simply stop, an idea so quaint and naive it makes me laugh to even type it. I guess I can only hope that someday a day will come in which either gender, of any size, can run down a dark alley or the backwoods and the worst thing that can happen will be you get a side stitch or your iPhone dies.

Until then, be careful out there runners. And women, I am sorry you have to take extra care.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How Runners Sabotage Their Own Running

With something like 400 races under my belt, I have learned a great deal how to screw things up. Fortunately, that is how you learn what you should do the next time as well.  

While most of these are based towards the long distance runner, the tenets involved within can benefit any runner of any talent level.  I come back to them often when things don't seem to be working out just right.  Here's hoping they help you, too.

During Training:

Building up mileage too quickly

Easily one of the most frequent errors made by both newbies and experienced runners is ramping up mileage too aggressively. Your body needs to rest and have time to adjust. Sure, when you feel good you want to go from 20 to 30 to 40 to 50 miles week by week but that is a recipe for disaster.  We have all heard about the 10% rule for adding mileage and while that may be a bit conservative, it is not a bad way to start.
 
Neglecting speed work

Without a doubt if you want to do well at long distance stuff, you have to run long distance.  But there is just something about speed work.  I touch on it here on my article on loving the track. Track workout, and sprints are like weight training. I have often said that long distance running and sprints are even the same sport and that is no knock on sprinting.  It is a powerful, burst of speed akin to hitting the gym but also while running.  Total win-win.

Running recovery runs too fast

As I have beat into the heads of the athletes I coach, recovery runs don't mean just 20 seconds slower per mile.  That's hardly a recovery.  Your body only truly recovers at rest and if you aren't doing that, it is a hole you are digging to even get back to where you were, let alone improve. Recovery runs should be just that: recovery.


Prioritizing a training plan over how your body feels

Another thing I tell my athletes is that when I give them a plan it is a guideline. Sure, I painstakingly craft a schedule tailored to what they should do for that week.  But I also know that life gets in the way and often you just don't feel it.  I often make workouts shorter or longer depending on how I feel that day.  Don't listen to your body and you will end up very unhappy.  Your logbook doesn't care how you feel and will get over the slight.  I promise.


On Race Day

Going out too fast

There is no such thing as time in the bank.  That is a bank from which you will not withdraw without serious penalties. If you are running a marathon you have 26 miles to pick up speed.  Of course it is nice to feel good after months of training and the rush is in you and the blood is pumping. But it feels SO much better to run fast at the end than it ever will at the beginning.

Waiting too long to fuel

As a heavy sweater, no one needs to tell me to drink a lot and often. But many make the mistake of trying to play catch up and by then they are dehydrated. I now there was a lot of hoopla recently about hyponatremia and drinking too much.  However, that is far less common than even the worst of those with fears about it would believe.  Look, you don't need to drink a gallon at each aid station but a swig or two is great.

Also, master the pinch trick and you don't even need to stop running! Simply pinch the paper cup in the middle at the top, make a spout and pour the water down your throat.  Voila!

Not adjusting pace to race-day conditions

Everything can go right in training and fueling and everything else but we have no control over the weather.  It is a tough break if you get to the starting line and the day is not what you want. But you will not win over Mother Nature. If it is too hot, well, I am sorry but a slightly slower time on a planned acceptance is far better than a fast start and a trip to the hospital.

The elements play just as much a part in a good race day as anything else. We can't ignore them no mater how badass we think we are. 

Losing focus

I know it has become beyond acceptable to make races more about the experience and taking selfies and whatnot but if you want to have your best race, then pay attention. You can have wonderful gabby training runs but when you put the bib on, you are there to race. So pay attention to our surroundings, to your body and to how you can make each step propel you forward to your goal.

 Some runners like to break the race into smaller, more mentally manageable sections. I do this all the time with section I run at home. If there are 6 miles left, I think of a 1.5 mile loop I run all the time and think it is only 4 times around that loop. It is all minds games in long distance running and while it is nice to lose yours every once in a while, being in control of it is even better!

Overestimating your fitness

We all like to think that we are putting in hard work and long miles and as such are ready for the task ahead of us.  Sometimes we have and we are.  Other times, we are remembering runs that didn't happen at speeds we didn't run.  It is OK to not be in the shape you are hoping for on race day.  Unlike other sports, there are no timeouts and no teammates to hand off to.  Not every day can be your best. So going in with a clear understanding of where you are fitness-wise on that day is the best way to arrive at the finish line in one piece.  It is better to plan to how up ten minutes slower than think you can hit a time goal, bonk and show up two hours later, bedraggled, exhausted and swearing off the sport entirely.

Here's hoping these tips help you in your own training. Learn from my mistakes which is far better than experiencing them yourself!


Friday, October 7, 2016

Louisiana Marathon Weekend

In early 2015,  I still had never been to Louisiana. Not once. Not for a second.   had studied law in Florence, Italy, ran a marathon (twice) in Seoul, Korea, and went for a jaunt amongst the moai of Easter Island. But after running the Crescent City Classic and then the Louisiana Marathon, I am happy to be heading back to Baton Rouge for the second straight year to once again be part of the Louisiana Marathon festivities. This time I will be taking part in the half-marathon after securing my 77th Boston Qualifying marathon time there this past January. More importantly, I have carved out more time for myself to enjoy the events of the weekend. (Register here!)

This past January I was on a tight schedule. I ran the marathon and had to quickly skedaddle to get to the airport and get home. I missed out on what is truly separating this race weekend from others.  Let's be honest, the racing world is changing for the masses. You can't just have a well-run, well-marked course if you want to attract customers (the people formerly known as "runners.") You have to have bling. You have to have bands.You have to have swag. You have to have something that separates you from the pack. That is where the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge comes out on top.

Let me give you a brief overview of what one can expect.  First ,you have the Finish Fest which has a variety of beverages of the alcoholic variety. They aren't my cup of tea but tons of people enjoy them and apparently the four different Abita beers on tap are well-received.  There are dozens of local food for people to taste many with that cajun flair. Finishing a marathon leaves you with the weirdest cravings and chances are you are going to find what you want here from someone.

The course itself is quite beautiful with a distinct bayou sense, neighborhoods right on top of the Mississippi River, a loud and large support from townsfolk and some fun fans. In fact, one of my favorite most original signs ever was just after 13 miles in the marathon when the sign said "You have [picture of then LSU coach Les Miles] to go then before!"  That was brilliant. I don't care if he got canned. I hope that sign is there again.

It is a forgiving course. It is not easy. It is not hard. But it is just the right amount of differentiation to give you a challenge but also help you out.  Often shaded by large beautiful southern trees, with wide streets shut down for the runners to enjoy.  No shuttling you off to a place where tons of cars and people are in your way.  This race is about you!

With an average 40 degree start temp and 60 degree finish temp, that is about the best you can hope for in this climate change world we live in. With an expo in close proximity to the many wonderful hotels downtown and all of them close to the start/finish line, there is not any real fear of getting caught in traffic on your way to the start.

If you need another, more altruistic reason, think about how hard this area has been hit with storms.  First Katrina a decade ago and then this year with a storm, that because it didn't have a name didn't receive the same amount of media attention. Where do you think your tourist dollars will go further?  In Vegas or NYC or here in the bayou where businesses are trying to rebound, people put their lives back together and communities rebuilding?  So above and beyond all the other reasons you could run in this beautiful area, think about how much good you can do by showing up and throwing a few bucks at local establishments.  Runners like to talk about how much good we can do - well, now here is your chance.

In addition, on top of everything else, I have partnered with the race to even offer you a discount.  If you use "RUNWITHDANE" you will get 15% off your registration for any of the wonderful races. 

So come join me while I run the half-marathon, take in the culture, throw back some calories and enjoy good ole Red Stick this upcoming January.

See you there!