Monday, January 26, 2009

Just Call Me "Tom"

Today I entered yet another race lottery, this time for the unique 'Bull Run Run' in April. This 50 mile race, which began in 1993, takes place on the beautiful & tough Bull Run Trail in Northern Virginia. The run's unique character includes a Civil War theme that respects the battles that occurred on the Bull Run site many years ago. One of the coolest aspects of the Civil War theme is all runners select which side (North or South) they'll be "fighting" for during the race. In the end all points are tallied up depending on finishing times and a "winner" is declared.

Since the theme of the race is to honor those who fought in the battles of Bull Run, I have entered the lottery under the name 'Tom Griffin': my great-great-great grandfather who actually fought for the North 160 years ago in the real Bull Run battles. I should note, since I don't want to cheat to win the '179+ year-old' age group during the race, I entered the race with my actual age and not Tom's. I'm already looking forward to lining up with my fellow troopers from the North....if, of course, I'm lucky enough to win the lottery. That said, it can't hurt to have the luck of Irish Tom Griffin on my side this time!

As for my running/rehab this week, I'm happy to report my knee has finally healed up after 3 weeks of babying it as much as possible. I've got a couple weeks to try and ramp up the training a bit before a quick taper prior to the Iron Horse 100. I'm beyond happy that this course is mostly on a grassy trail, as my knee should hold up fine on such a cushy surface. I still have no clue what type of shoe I'll wear, so most likely I'll just pack 3 or 4 options and make my decision when I scope out the terrain in person the day before. Of course, since the weather will be much warmer down there, no matter what shoe I pick, I'll just be happy I won't need to add ice screws for the race!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Inauguration Infestation

After my run today, I can confirm the media predictions that DC will definitely be packed with millions of people for the Inauguration on Tuesday. Even today - two days before the ceremony/parade/balls - I was forced to run in the street on my way back home as the sidewalks were overflowing with proud Obama supporters. Dozen and dozens of buses have been hauling folks in all weekend, and it's only going to increase during the next couple of days. Elizabeth and I took the car out for one last grocery/supply run last night, and now we're locked into our street until Wednesday (we live 1 block from the Capitol building). Since this is my first inauguration as a DC resident, I'm looking forward to watching the sea of people flow by my window on their way to the ceremony and parade. ...and since it'll be 18 degrees out when they open up the Mall to the public in the morning, I'll be very happy I have a nice warm home so close to all the action.

In terms on running, it's been a very frustrating couple of weeks for me as I try to deal with an annoying knee injury. I originally hurt it while trying to do too much speed work too quickly in anticipation for my first regular marathon in a few years. Now I remember why I originally decided to quit running those things - I always end up getting hurt when doing speed work. How stupid of me to forget. Anyway, in order to keep my knee under control, I've been forced to "run" on the non-impact elliptical machine at the gym for my weekday workouts. Even though it's been insanely cold lately, I'd still rather run outside than be stuck in the gym, but I don't have much of an option. After each of the past two weeks in the gym, I've been able to get out on the road for one long run a week (35 miler last week, 40 today). Last week was a rough one, but this week I think I've finally turned the corner as the pain was managable most of the way and the knee isn't swollen now (a couple hours after the run). Since there was some definite swelling last week after my run, I think the lack of swelling now is a sign of progress. Hopefully after another week on the Helliptical everything in the knee will be good to go.

Regardless of any healing progress at this point, I'll definitely be heading to the Iron Horse 100 in less-than-stellar shape. The good news is I was never planning on running that one "fast" as much as just using it to practice running at a steady 9 min/mile pace to work the plan for my next 24 Hour attempt. Lucky for me, at this point 9 mins might be about as fast as I can run a mile my, those running gods are wise in their ways!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cleaning up my mess...

As you probably noticed, I'm in the middle of switching up the style of my blog a bit for 2009...

Thanks for pardoning my mess during construction!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Dynex iPod Shuffle Headphones Review

As someone who didn't run w/ music for the first 29 years of my life, I was immediately convinced of its value when running my first 100 miler. In that race I picked up my ipod at mile 77 and cruised through the finish feeling re-energized by the tunes in my ears. While I still run headphone-free on my daily training runs, music is definitely an essential part of my drop-bag for races these days.

Like most runners, I don't like to have a lot of "stuff" on me when I run. While switching from a big ipod to the tiny 2GB Shuffle recently did help eliminate lots of bulky weight, I still had that annoying wire from the headphones to deal with - It seemed no matter where I put the darn thing it would either end up chaffing me or catching my hand (or a branch) at some point while I ran. Still, I figured the positives of running w/ music outweighed the negatives, so I just dealt with it.

...but now, there's great news for people like me who hate headphone wires. A few companies now have headphones that you can directly attach your ipod shuffle to without any wires. At least to this point, all of them are "over-the-ear" headphones (needed to support the weight), but for someone like me who always runs with that style of headphones as opposed to ear buds anyway, there's no compromise at all for me.

This past week I picked up a pair of these headphones from Dynex in hopes that they would allow me to run wire-free from now on. Here's what they look like:

The ipod shuffle goes right into that left earphone. It snaps in securely and doesn't budget a bit (read: you never lose connection, even if you have one of those semi-defective shuffles that occasionally decides to cut out for no reason). An added bonus to their construction is they fold up super-small and can fit in the back of your fuel belt w/out a problem if you want to take them off for some reason. Check it out:
On a less-positive note, as soon as I tried them on, I realized I would need to add a bit of padding on the plastic part that goes behind my ear. After 5 hours of running, I assumed this would hurt like heck, so I was pro-active in padding it before I even ran 1 step. I ended up cutting some pieces of mole-skin-type material and wrapping them around the parts that would come in contact with my head. After that, I was confident it would feel great no matter how long I ran. Here's the final product after successful surgery:

The next day I went out for a 35 miler to see how it all held up. The first thing I noticed is there's a bit more weight on your ears than with normal headphones, but after a mile I forgot all about it. This extra weight may mean that they could be prone to bouncing at faster paced running (or rocky descents), but since it was pretty cold out, I had a winter hat pulled down to the top of my ears and everything stayed firmly in place.

As far as sound quality goes, I was pleasantly surprised. The only real drawback to them was it took a few tries before I figured out how to adjust the volume on the side of the shuffle since you can't see it when it's on your ear. I recommend putting a little drop of super-glue on the headphones at the spot where the ipod's "+" volume button lines up. This way, it will act like a braille indicator for you to feel with your hand as you run and immediately know where the controls are.

Sure, you might be thinking "Why in the world would I buy headphones that I have to make so many adjustments to when the ones I have work just fine?" - Good point, I say, but to counter that, I can't possibly overstate how fantastic it is to run with NO WIRES hanging from my head...or down my shirt...or wherever. If you don't have a problem with over-the-ear headphones to begin with, I definitely recommend dropping $29.99 at BestBuy or wherever to try them out. The ear pads are pretty big on these things, so they may be too warm for some in the summer...but right now, they double as excellent ear-muffs for winter runs!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It was bound to happen, I guess...

Here's a quick story I need to tell. A couple weeks back while out on an otherwise boring daily run, something happened that I never in a million years would have thought possible: I stepped on a squirrel. Seriously, a real, live, scurrying-about, fluffy squirrel. Just like the one shown here.

Like most runners, I see thousands of squirrels a year on the roads and trails...and like just about every other animal out there, they always run away when I pass by. Sure, the occasional deer might be transfixed by my headlamp on a night run, but even they snap out of it and scatter away when I get close enough.

...but not this squirrel.

I saw him on the side of the road grabbing a few acorns as I approached, and as I got within the usual distance where they start to run away, this squirrel started to move just as expected. The only problem was, you know how squirrels usually zig-zag a bit before running in a straight line to safety?....well, this one did that zig-zag, but decided to run directly into my running path afterward. I must say, it was a pretty creepy feeling to step directly on top of him, but I felt better once I looked back and saw him run away. I guess all the extra fat he's been storing up for the winter helped cushion the impact....or maybe I'm just that light on my feet (yeah, right).

Anyway, I feel much better having come clean and admitted my sinister squirrel-stepping ways...I was worried that PETA would somehow find out about this incident and force me to care for an injured squirrel like when George Costanza hit one with his car on Seinfeld:
  • DOCTOR: "One more thing Mister Costanza, we just need to know what time you'll be picking him up tomorrow."
  • GEORGE: "What's that?"
  • DOCTOR: "Oh, we're discharging the squirrel. We think he'll be better off at home."
  • GEORGE: "He has no home. He's a squirrel."
  • DOCTOR: "Your home, Mister Costanza. Just make sure he gets his medicine six times a day and keep his tail elevated."
Tread lightly out there, people!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Hello 2009!

Just back from a fabulous 8-day vacation in sunny about great running weather down there, Wow! Even though we had a busy schedule with a dozen family members on the trip (and 6 days of Disney parks and Sea World visits), I was able to stick to my training schedule with some early wake-up calls. Since I took so much time off to start December, I'm definitely behind the ball in terms of getting in top shape for the Iron Horse 100 in February, but I'm not too worried since I have a solid month in January to get some quality work done.

Here I am getting ready to run on a sunny 70 degree day in Orlando - Elizabeth is holding a Disney brochure to help differentiate this photo from the many other 'Dan stretching to run on vacation' shots to come in the future.
One decision I've made for 2009 is to move my daily loop away from the 8.5 mile Hains Point course to a 10 mile out-and-back along the Mt. Vernon Trail. After my Hains Point overkill last fall while training for Ultra Centric, I really really really got sick of running around that loop. It'll be a while before I'll be excited to head back that way - I'm thinking maybe 2010 or so. The other bonus of my new daily loop is the additional 1.5 miles I'll tally every day. Not a huge difference, but a necessary start to the overall increase in weekly miles I now see necessary for reaching a higher bar in terms of performance in 100 mile and 24 hour races. I'm not someone who runs a high amount of miles to begin with, mostly because I try to keep a balance between running and family/work life, so I think this little increase is a fine compromise.

For now, it's back to the frosty running weather and double-loads of laundry with all the extra hats and gloves and tights...I was definitely spoiled in Florida! January should be a big (and cold!) month out there on the training trails for me!

Week Training Log:
Monday - 10 Miles - Florida Loop
Tuesday - Off Day
Wednesday - 10 Miles - Florida Loop
Thursday - 10 Miles - Florida Loop
Friday - 10 Miles - Florida Loop
Saturday - 10 Miles - Florida Loop
Sunday - 30 Miles - Mt. Vernon Trail (40 degrees colder than Saturday's run!)

Total Miles: 80 Miles