Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Book Review: When Running Made History

I decided to read a book a week for 2019. Hardly a lofty goal and when you see what 52 books looks like on a shelf, it makes you sad to think that is all you have read. But it is a goal nonetheless and one I have kept so far. One week! Whoo! Steve Holt!

First on my list was the tome by Roger Robinson entitled "When Running Made History". I thought about saying how I would be biased in writing this review as I am lucky enough to call Roger a friend. Then I realized how often we misuse the word "biased". Just because we have a connection to something doesn't mean we are biased to it. In fact, like when people say, "Well isn't that pot calling the kettle 'black'", I have always thought "Well, is there anything more qualified to call a pot black than a kettle?" In other words, I love running, have tried to be a student of the sport since I became a small part of its history by running 52 marathons in 52 weeks, and the fact that I am reading and reviewing a book by someone who has forgotten more about it than I know simply means I am choosing my sources correctly. Having said all of that, let me give you my review.

I have read a few other of Roger's books and have thoroughly enjoyed his writing style. A rather learned man, he writes with ease and eloquence I could only hope to emulate. In fact, when I read his writing I can hear his posh British accent enunciating every "t" and accenting each syllable articulately. Roger is a literary scholar, elite runner, sports commentator and journalist, and this book is his account of him crisscrossing continents while recording sixty years of seminal racing moments that he observed in one or more of these roles. He is involved in so many amazing events that he is the reference point people should use when they mention Forrest Gump to show that they actually know an existing runner rather than a fictitious one.

Lest you think that the book reviews moments in running which are historical for running, let me disabuse you of that idea. Rather, this is an account of when running itself as a sport transcended the footfalls of runners and addressed much larger topics, ideas, and movements. Whether he is regaling you with tales of running in Berlin at the time of German reunification in 1990, organizing a replacement track meet in New Zealand after the disastrous 2011 earthquake, or the triumph of Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Robinson is not talking about how running is neat. No, he is showing how running has been instrumental in either making by itself, or helping to push along, massive social change. Roger need look no further for such inspiration than his betrothed since he is married to Kathrine Switzer who (and if you are reading this and don't know, I mean, wow) in 1967 became the first registered female to compete in the Boston Marathon. 

I read this with rapt attention and even a bit of smugness given how much Roger and I agree on so many things. Rest assured, we disagree as well (he does not care for the Nike-sponsored Breaking 2 attempt to run under two hours for the marathon, whereas I thought it was awesome) but those are few and far between. 

Getting this ringside seat to decades of running escapades which have created the world in which we now live is a treat. Reading it from one who can put it in such a way which gives it the necessary loft it deserves is even better.

Roger is lucky to have seen so many events up close; and running itself, because of this book, is lucky Roger was there to see and share them with us.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

17-Day Running Experiment™

A rare combination of nice weather for running (well, nice for me, anyway - I like it cold), being home for an extended period of time, and no races had me deciding to do something I had wanted to do for quite some time.  I wanted to run the same stretch of trail here in Austin virtually every day for a few weeks straight. I don't mind its sameness and while I do venture to other locales, the convenience of leaving my door and running without driving to a location or needing to worry about a single traffic light or car is hard to beat.

Looking over my beloved running spreadsheets, I noticed something that surprised me: I had never run double-digit mile runs for more than a week straight. Never.  I had run 350 miles in a week. I had run a 90.65-mile week followed by a 75.95-mile week but neither had a double-digit mile run every day (although some where close with 9-milers in the mix). It shouldn't have surprised me as it logically follows my desire to adequately rest after long or strenuous runs and then get back at it again. So, after a 11.3 mile run which felt particuarly excellent, I decided I would run 10.3 miles (a 9 miler out-and-back on the trail with a .65 -mile to-and-from the trail to my house) for the last 17 days of 2018. I wanted to see how my body would hold up to the miles, the unflinching sameness, and how my weight, speed, and recovery would be affected.

For some background, I first ran this 10.3-mile course a few months after I moved to Austin. I found
that going into this experiment I had only run it 23 times in two years. In fact, at the end of October and the end of November I had done miniature versions of this experiment of five and four days respectively, meaning that of the 23 times I had run it, nine had been in just the 6 weeks prior to me commencing this data-collecting happy fun-time gala. This was mainly because I only tended to venture out for this distance when the weather cooperated and I was feeling good. I have tons of crappy short distance runs but very few bad long runs. When I am feeling it, I stretch the workout.

For some reason, when I run courses, the first few times seem to be the fastest. Even though I become more familiar with them, I rarely improve the time. With this course, the first two times I ran in on 01.27.17 and 01.29.17, were the fastest. Then a month later, I ran the next two fastest times on 02.27.17 and 02.28.17. This is not surprising as the weather was "cold" then. After that, I never came close to running those times again but I also never broke 1:20 for the run until the first time I went for a long run after being attacked by two guys in Austin last summer. (Yeah, you read that right. For more, check this out here.) Then in those mini-experiments this October and November I ran a 1:21:02 and a 1:23:21 that almost killed me (both because of unusually warm day).

My goal for these 17 days was to make sure no runs were over 1:20. Other than that, I was going to run how I felt and see what it produced. So, without any further ado, here are my daily runs and what I found.

Day One:
10.3 Miles in 1:18:54 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 54 degrees and sunny; 50% humidity
Ending weight: 187 lbs

This run started right after I found out some frustrating business news and really didn't have my mind in it at all. Usually runs help me straighten out anger or frustration but this one just seemed to be compounded by the news.

Day Two:
10.3 Miles in 1:19:51 (7:45 pace)
Weather: 58 degrees and cloudy; 42% humidity
Ending weight: 186.6 lbs

Pushed it hard to make sure this was under 1:20 but was pleased with the overall result after having done a 7-mile hike after the run the day before. I figured this would be the most tired I would be for the whole two weeks.

Day Three:
10.3 Miles in 1:18:54 (7:38 pace)
Weather: 69 degrees and sunny; 25% humidity
Ending weight: 185.6 lbs

This felt a bit faster than it was but was happy to better my time from the first day. The run was only memorable because when I got home, I had no water at my loft and had to wait three hours for a shower. I stank.

Day Four:
10.3 Miles in 1:16:47 (7:27 pace)
Weather: 57 degrees and mostly sunny; 80% humidity
Ending weight: 186.2 lbs

This was a good run but only on the way back home. Going out was rather pedestrian but once I hit the turn-around I felt like a different runner. After three days of losing a little weight, I gained some back.

Day Five:
10.3 Miles in 1:17:55 (7:34 pace)
Weather: 60 degrees and cloudy; 90% humidity
Ending weight: 184.2 lbs

I wasn't surprised to slow down, mostly because of the high humidity and what it does to me, but I was happy I seemed to be back on the losing weight kick again. My plan was to not change my eating patterns for this experiment to see how much running itself does to get weight down on people who are already relatively fit. Sure this would be a limited range of dates and a party of one but it was what I could do. I figured I would be below 180lbs in four-days' time.

Day Six:
10.3 Miles in 1:18:05 (7:35 pace)
Weather: 64 degrees and sunny; 28% humidity; VERY windy
Ending weight: 184.6 lbs

An extremely windy day with gusts into the 30-mph range accounted for the slight slowdown here. I was actually rather pleased with how it went given that wind. Surprised my weight went up a tick but no problem there.

Day Seven:
10.3 Miles in 1:17:48 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 64 degrees and sunny; 35% humidity
Ending weight: 185.2 lbs

The night before this run I had felt a bit of a pull in my right groin.  I wondered if a week was too long to be doing this to my body but come morning, the pain was gone. Given the 11.3-miler I did before this experiment started, this seventh straight day here meant that with eight total, I had now surpassed the most consecutive days with double-digit miles run in my life.  *confetti throw*

My body celebrated by gaining weight inexplicably.

Day Eight:
10.3 Miles in 1:19:11 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 70 degrees and sunny; 35% humidity
Ending weight: 185.6 lbs

With a schedule of other things to do, I got up earlier than normal to get this run in which I think contributed to a sluggish beginning and overall run. Who am I kidding, it was the fact it was freaking 70 degrees on December 22nd. Another small weight gain had me puzzled.

Day Nine:
10.3 Miles in 1:18:23 (7:37 pace)
Weather: 58 degrees and sunny; 65% humidity
Ending weight: 187.2 lbs

First time I began to feel a little bit worn down.  The fact that after nine days of this I had GAINED .2 of a pound overall was a bit frustrating as well.

Day Ten:
10.3 Miles in 1:17:22 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 55 degrees and cloudy; 58% humidity
Ending weight: 187.6 lbs

As I waited for a new watch to be delivered, I had run the first nine runs of this experiment carrying my phone. I had played music out loud while doing so and it felt like it had helped me along a bit. I wondered how much not carrying a phone in my hand and also not having music would affect me and if the two would cancel each other out or what exactly. On my first one with the new watch, I ran my second fastest time so far and also gained another half a pound. Because...?

Day Eleven:
10.3 Miles in 1:19:54 (7:45 pace)
Weather: 74 degrees and sunny; 80% humidity
Ending weight: 183.6 lbs

Ridiculously warm temperatures for Christmas day and the weather wore me down. Took everything I had to keep the run under 1:20 and for that I am proud. I apparently also sweat out four pounds from the day before or something.

Day Twelve:
Weather: 65 degrees and windy and rainy; 100% humidity
Ending weight: 184.6 lbs

I expected very little out of this run given the humidity but the rain seemed to cool me just enough as I almost ran the exact same time from two days prior. The weight continues to yo-yo.

Day Thirteen:
10.3 Miles in 1:16:39 (7:27 pace)
Weather: 68 degrees and sunny; 48% humidity
Ending weight: 184.6 lbs

The rain only got worse throughout the night and created ridiculous flooding in the area. By morning it was sunny but as I approached an underpass I saw what looked like really deep mud. Just before getting to it, however, a slick patch reached up and grabbed my feet, pulling me down to the ground, skinned my knee and slammed my hip. I fortunately didn't do any structural damage and I laughed thinking that three years ago on the day after Christmas I had done something similar in Portland, giving myself a spiral fracture in my pinkie. Ran the next mile to the turn- around and then all the way home with a muddy and bloody leg.

My weight stayed the same so I guess that's good. And if I hadn't fallen I might have broken 1:16 on this run which would have shocked me something fierce.

Day Fourteen:
10.3 Miles in 1:19:36 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 50degrees and sunny; 50% humidity
Ending weight: 187.2

With the sun and heat and low humidity I assumed the mud would be dry in my slip and fall spot. It was. However, the muck I had seen from the day before, while looking dry, was still inches deep and slick. Down I went again because I am a fool. This time my entire side was covered in a clay-type mud. I skinned the same knee again but this time on the other side so now it looked like I had sunglasses.

My cautiousness and soreness were what caused the rest of this run to be quite slow. And then I got home to see that after two weeks of running my weight was exactly the same.

Day Fifteen:
10.2 Miles in 1:16:09 (7:28 pace)
Weather: 44 degrees and cloudy; 60% humidity- first time I wore a shirt
Ending weight: N/A lbs

I had to deviate from the course for a variety of reason on this day and maybe that was a good thing. Lord knows which knee I would skin if I went down again here.  Instead I ran a different course and ended up chasing some random former BYU track and XC runner for bits and pieces of the run.

I didn't have a scale so I haven't the foggiest idea what I weighed. Anywhere on the scale would probably be right.

Day Sixteen:
10.3 Miles in 1:18:54 (7:40 pace)
Weather: 40 degrees and cloudy; 80% humidity
Ending weight: 186.2 lbs

Was pleasantly surprised to see that someone had shoveled out some of the mud on the far sides of each part of the sidewalk but it was still a bit slippery. The cool temperatures were great but I felt so very heavy. My body seemed to be made of lead. I could muscle through the run but it was tough. Each slower mile felt like it took so much effort. I was able to finally get going in the last few miles but this was way slower than I expected.

Day Seventeen:
10.3 Miles in 1:12:15 (7:01 pace)
Weather: 54 degrees and sunny
Ending weight: 185.4 lbs

The goal for this run was to try to run the fastest I had ever done on the course. I knew it was going to take a solid effort for sure and in order to do so my best shot was to make the first half of the run much faster than the first half of the previous PR. The second half was a blisteringly fast time and I just didn't think I could match that.

Mile after mile of the first half of the run shocked me as I was crushing mile times I hadn't run in ages. By the time I was at the halfway point I was 2:16 faster than I had been at my previous PR. Only at mile 6.5 did I finally run a mile equal to the previous run. The next two were a hair slower but it was clear I was going to crush my PR. If I had done the math properly and realized another 15 seconds faster would have netted me a sub-7 for the whole run I think I could have found that in the reserves. As it stood, I killed my PR by 2:25. That is quite possible the fastest double-digit training mile I have ever done. Yeah, I was happy.


So, my observations. It should be quite clear to anyone that you can't simply run your way into weight loss (if you are already healthy and about at the weight you want to be already.) If you count the 11.3-miler I ran before this experiment, I ran 186.3 miles in 18 days at an average pace of roughly 7:33 and in that time gained and loss weight rather randomly while more or less eating the same way I had for the other 350 days of the year. I am curious how, in the next few days, once I settle into a more routine running schedule, my weight will be affected.

I am also severely affected by the weather. This is no shock as I have written about it extensively. However, it still leaves me a bit surprised how much weather is the deciding factor between a good and bad day. More or less, if it is going to be anything over 60 degrees, I have to change my plans for the day to some extent. Give me cold on a day where I might otherwise not be feeling so great and chances are high I will have a good run.

Was very pleased to be able to really make the last workout so fast after so many days of the same run. I had no idea if I could will myself to that effort and for the most part I think that run was 90% mental.

All told I think most of what I learned is how easily one can adjust to something new and difficult. I obviously have somewhat of a base but to force myself to do the double-digits wasn't too hard after a while. I did sometimes not like the idea that I knew exactly what I was to run each day as I often play it by ear. That sometimes led to a little bit of dread and I often runcrastinated.

As I coach athletes of all abilities, it is paramount to me to always be pushing myself and finding new ways to stretch talent out of a body. I want to always be innovating and testing and fortunately I can use myself as the guinea pig here.

I finished December with the most miles I had run in a month in five years. In addition, I ended the year with 2199 miles. Since running an extra mile wasn't in the plan, and wouldn't have helped me in any case, I showed I truly believe in my adage of not necessarily counting your miles but making your miles count. If I can leave the year so close to a cusp of another mileage bump like that than my athletes know what I prescribe for them in their own workouts is what I truly think they need to do and no more.

Here is hoping you have the happiest of new years and 2019 meets all your desires!