Monday, March 30, 2009

Blessing in Disguise?

There's no doubt my shin injury has limited my training quite a bit over the past 6 weeks. ...and yes, at this point my elliptical machine nightmares contain more Screams than Jamie Kennedy's resume. ...but I'm happy to say it's not all bad news!

Now that I'm finally able to run 20+ miles on the trails again, I'm finding that all the extra work I've done in the gym (lifting, VersaClimber, and Elliptical) has really gone a long way to getting my climbing legs in pretty good shape. This realization definitely makes me think I'll be better off in a couple months than I would have been if I just stuck to my usual training variety of Run, Run, and Run.

Even as I start to ramp up the running miles again, I'll be sure to keep some of the same gym routine in the mix throughout the year to maintain the strength-gains I've experienced this winter and give my legs a few more impact-free workouts.

For anyone stuck rehabbing like me and looking to make the most of their non-running workouts to keep their legs and lungs in shape (or if you're just looking for an off-day workout), here's what I've been doing the past few weeks:

1) VersaClimber - I mentioned it a couple posts back, and I'm still convinced that this thing is a killer for getting the heart-rate up and blasting your quads, hammys, and glutes. I "warm up" by racing to climb 4,000 feet in 30 minutes (hint, start slow, especially at first...otherwise you'll come thisclose to passing out...and trust me, you don't want that - It's an awkward machine to fall off of!). After a 5 minute stretching/drinking recovery, I get back on for a series of three 1,000 mile climbs. I do them as fast as I can with only a 2 minute break in between. I hate this workout as much as my old "ten 1/4 mile repeats" back when I was a miler. Which is good, because I know that means it's really working my VO2-Max and lactate threshold levels: Two things that are basically allowed to snooze during most long runs outside.

2) Lifting - Here's a shocking truth for most ultra-runners: Just because you can run 100 miles, that doesn't mean your legs are strong. It's true! If you haven't experienced this realization yet, invite your grandma out to a nice Sunday tea this weekend. On the way home, stop off at your gym and be prepared to watch her squat more weight than you. Sure, you can blame it on that extra scone you ate upsetting your stomach, and grandma will believe you because, hey, she's grandma and she loves you no matter what, but deep down you'll know the truth. Here's how to fix it:

a) Start off slow and light. No need to give yourself *another* reason to be stuck on the rehab rollercoaster.
b) Focus on working one leg at a time. Don't let your already-dominant side take the lion's share of the weight.
c) Be sure to stretch before, during, and after.
d) Include squats, quad extensions, calf lifts, standing rows, and any machine that burns like hell when you use it.

After a couple months of lifting every other day (after my aerobic workout/run), I already notice a big difference in my hill climbing. Now, I'm not saying I'll be featured on the cover of Quad-zilla Magazine any time soon, but I can say that I have lots of new confidence in terms of my chances in a couple trail races coming up this year. ...and all this because I hurt my shin. Who knew the silver lining would be so bright?!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weekend Camera Run

Who knew it was so much fun to take pictures while running?! I had never run a step with a camera before, but I tucked one into the front zipper-pocket of my Nathan HPL running pack this weekend, and off I went down the Bull Run trail. We're still about 2 weeks away from the colors of spring arriving here in DC, but I still had fun snapping a few shots of the course in the final days of its winter slumber. I should preface these pics by saying I have zero skill as a photographer, and I was also using a camera that may or may not have come free with the purchase of a box of Golden Grahams cereal. That said, enjoy!

I took this picture before starting out on my 15 mile out-n-back on the northern end of the Bull Run course today. I haven't been able to test this 3-part below-the-knee arrangement for a 50 or 100 miler yet, but thus far everything has passed the early tests and will most likely be what I wear for my next two races:

1) Obviously the Drymax socks are a necessity for all my runs/races. Once I get in a few more 40-50 mile training runs, I'll see if I prefer the Maximum Protection socks (which I use on the roads) over the Trail versions (shown here)...but at this point, the Trails socks have passed with flying colors.

2) I've reached the point where I am fully in love with my compression socks now. The Red are my favorite too. With me being a huge baseball fan from Boston, it always makes me smile when people I pass yell out "I like those Red Socks!"...and I get to reply "I like the Red Sox too!".

3) I've been dying to put in a true long run in my Vasque 'Aether Tech SS' shoes for the longest time...they're almost too good to be true with how perfect they feel on my feet while tearing up the trails. They're so light, but somehow they also protect my feet from rocks and roots too (and no, they don't pay me to say that). The only potential downside is how they breathe when it gets hot out (they seem pretty air-tight). The next few months of hotter weather will provide that test for them...

The Bull Run trail is such a nice mix of hills, rocks, roots, and wildlife (too many white-tailed deer to count!), I wish I could run it every day!

Oh yeah, and it's also an Historic Civil War Battlefield! About 4 miles up the trail from the starting line of the race, you come across this sign which marks an old artillery emplacement from the war....
Here's what the "Artillery Emplacement" looks like. It's a series of mounds that form a between each mound is where they'd place their weapons. It's so cool to run around it and imagine the soldiers from the North hiding in there as they waited for the advancing troops in this valley below...
This is the view of the valley along the river where the Southern forces would have approached. (The Artillery Emplacement was directly behind me as I took this picture).

Speaking of the river, much of the trail follows it along the northern part of the course (not sure about the southern part, since I haven't run it yet!)
Here's another shot of the trail along the river. You can see the water level is pretty low right now...this course tends to get quite muddy when that river rises to toward those banks!

There may not be any Port-a-Pottys in the woods, but the hole in this tree is HUGE (taller than me). I'm not saying it should be used for that reason, I'm just saying it would offer some privacy in an emergency...

Do you think the woodpeckers like this poor tree?!

Finally, some signs of spring!! These daffodils will be in bloom by race-day (along with a few million blue-bells, so I'll be sure to bring back the camera and get some shots of all the race-course flora next month!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Worst Goody-Bag EVER!!

Silly reason for a post, I know, but I needed to show everyone out there what I consider to be the saddest bag of race schwag ever! My shin injury forced me to skip the National Marathon this weekend in DC, but since I had already paid my non-refundable $95 to run (ouch!), I at least wanted to get my bag o' goodies at the pre-race expo yesterday.

Now, I'm not one to criticize any race for the $$ they charge to run (I have no clue how much money it takes to close down the streets of DC on a Saturday, but I'm sure it's not cheap), but for a race of this size, I really expected the sponsors to contribute more to the expo bags. Maybe it's a sign of the economy, who knows? Anyway, I thought the bag was a little light as soon as I picked it up, and when I dumped it out at home, here's what I found:

1) A surprisingly nice running shirt. I like to refer to it as my "$95 Running Shirt". I'll definitely wear this one, so I applaud them for their choice of material. I'll even ignore the fact that the back says "26.2 Mile Finisher". So as to not feel like a liar when I wear it, I'll just choose to interpret that as meaning "26.2 Mile Finisher for some other run in the past".

2) A sticker from lead sponsor Sun Trust Bank. I know banks are having a rough time right now, but seriously, a sticker? What am I supposed to do with this, put it on my Trapper Keeper from 3rd grade? Oh wait, since the slogan on the sticker is also grammatically incorrect, a grammar school probably isn't the best place to show it off. Hey SunTrust, how about you use some of those ATM fees you charge us and buy yourself an adverb?

3) When I say they gave us peanuts, I literally mean it. We got an airline-size bag of peanuts from who I can only assume to be the Peanut Lobbyists here on the Hill in DC (they also gave us a pen to remind us of their cause long after the nuts are gone). Well done, fellas, by supplying the only edible item in the bag, you've definitely got my support. Runners aren't picky: If you give us something to eat, we love you.

4) While technically the little packet next to the peanuts in the photo is also edible, I'm pretty sure I'll never eat it. It's called "Instant Energy Beans"...but without any NASCAR drivers or NFL players plugging it awkwardly in TV commercials, I don't think I can trust it as much as "5-Hour Energy". We all know celebrities don't lie. If these professional athletes say they've reached the highest levels of their sport because if this product, who are we to question them? If they can stay up fishing until 3am while on this stuff, it must be good for us!

5) A pack of Duracell AAs. These were a gift of the DC Amory (where the Expo was held). They lasted long enough in my digital camera for me to snap this very picture of my goody bag items. Then they died. Seriously. Although, if you look at it from a philosophical point of view, the batteries may be dead, but they lived long enough to take a photo of themselves...and now that this photo is posted online, their memory will live forever. (Note: When you have to go to these lengths to speak positively about a goody bag, it's not a good thing).

6) The folks advertising the Maryland 1/2 marathon could teach a few things to the people at Sun Trust. Namely, put your ad on a MAGNET. From now on I will think fondly of the Maryland 13.1 milers every time I add something to the grocery list on my fridge.

7) Lady's Secret antiperspirant. About as useful to me as Paris Hilton is to the cast of a Shakespeare Theater Company. Enough said.

In closing, there's one lesson to be learned here: If you're running the National Marathon, forget about getting anything fancy or useful in your runners' packet. Just keep reminding yourself that you're running this race for the sights (amazing), the accessibility (doesn't sell out in 2 seconds like the Marine Corps), the weather (45-55 degrees today - perfect for running!), and maybe the Peanut Lobby won't be disappointed!

Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness

With all the buzz right now surrounding the NCAA Basketball tournament, I feel the need to experience my own version of March-ing Madness this weekend as I head to the Bull Run course for long runs on both Saturday and Sunday. In an oddly beneficial turn of events, my injured leg still flairs up when I run too far on roads at this point, but it feels great on the trails no matter the distance. What a great excuse to head to Bull Run as much as possible!

My first visit to the Bull Run course was last weekend, and even though the rain made the trail a sloppy mess (thank god for Drymax, by the way), I absolutely fell in love with the course. Sure, I only covered the first 10 miles or so, but the mix of hills, rocks/roots, smooth sections, and historical landmarks along the course made me completely forget the cold and rainy weather. I really wish I had the chance to get in better shape for this race, as this is the kind of course that I think I could really shred when properly trained. C'est la vie - I'll just consider this year's race as research for a faster future attack and enjoy the day at more of a relaxed pace this time around.

With things slowly warming up now that Spring has arrived (today's the first official day!), the famous fields of bluebells should be popping up along the Bull Run trail soon. Here's a shot of a runner enjoying the sea of blue during last year's race. I'm excited to have a couple pictures of myself on the course next month - Since my parents will be coming down to see the race, I'll be sure to put them to work with the camera! Speaking of cameras, since I won't be trying to set any speed goals in this race, I very well might take the lead from some other ultra-bloggers and carry along my own camera for action shots during the race. I'll try running with one in my fuel belt this weekend and see how it feels. I think it would make for a pretty cool Race Report posting if I took more of a photo-journalistic approach!

Hope everyone enjoys the first weekend of Spring, and I wish everyone luck with their NCAA Brackets and Pools (for entertainment purposes only, of course)!!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Modern Torture

Now that I'm back running outside in the sun again (hallelujah!), I think I'd rather spend an hour on The Rack than one more minute stuck on an elliptical machine.I now understand why everyone being tortured on the rack in these old pictures is always so thin: They probably spent the previous week stuck on an elliptical before finally saying, "No way the Rack can be as bad as this, bring it on!"

With today being my off-day from running, I was looking for a gym alternative to the ellipti-rack torture I've endured over the past few weeks of rehab. Unimpressed by the many "lazy man" machines that fill the cardio areas of my gym (seriously, if you can read a magazine while talking/texting on your cell phone during your "workout", it might be time to reconsider the way you try to burn calories), I ventured up to the old "exercise machine graveyard" in the attic searching for an alternative.

Up there on the Abandoned Planet, I found a dusty old VersaClimber. For those of you unfamiliar with this machine, I believe its name comes from the German for "QuadKiller". After 30 minutes (and 4,000 feet of climbing) on this thing, I was begging for mercy - talk about a killer workout!

...and you know what? There was no TV Screen, headphone jack, or even a bottle holder - It's just a good old-fashioned butt-whooping machine! I swear I've had less wobble in my legs after a 50 mile run.

I know there's no better way to train your legs for climbing hills than to actually run in the hills, but I'm pretty sure regular workouts on the VersaClimber will go a long way to helping me in some of my mountain races later on this year.

Having been surprised by this unknown-to-me machine, I'm wondering what else is out there for great cross-training workouts. Anyone have a special way they work up a sweat in some original way? I'm all ears (I'll try to hear you over the crackling sound of my burning quads)!

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Healing Powers of Spring

Guess who's back running just in time to enjoy the 70+ degree weekend weather here in DC? For the first time in what seems like forever, this will be the view from my bedroom window tomorrow as I head off on a healthy run. Sure, it'll be slow, but just the fact that it will be has me buzzing with excitement! I hope the spring weather shines down on everyone this weekend!