Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Day 137

I am now on day 137 of learning how to become a runner and reconnecting with what makes me human--that is, the ability to run.

As I sit here, typing this, fresh off a tune-up run of 3.6 miles (at a 9:03 pace), keenly aware of the cramping and soreness in my right calf, I'm reflecting on the training I did for the '05 and '06 marathons. I'm struck by how naive I was going into the '05 run and sorely underprepared for that race I was come race day. I figured guts alone would carry me through the race. I remember how DETERMINED I was for the '06 marathon to overcome the disasterous failure that '05 was and how relaxed and comfortable I was on game day. In '05 I was so uncertain of my ability to accomplish the marathon, but in '06 finishing was a foregone conclusion by the time I toed the line.

Today I'm running faster than I ever did in '04 or '05, but I'm still uncertain because I haven't been running FARTHER than I ever did. In fact, though I'm running more, I'm not running farther. This is the same thing that put the kibosh on me running in '07--I simply didn't want to put the time on the road that running a full marathon would require. I had very little interest in trading 3 hours with my new baby son for 3 hours of grinding out 10 miles on the road.

Of course, at the speeds I'm running now I should be able to grind out 10 miles in closer to 2 hours.

Nonetheless, I've been seriously considering merely running the half rather than the full simply to accommodate my home/work/school schedules. On the other hand... the marathon is a special thing. The pipes, the communion wafer, the bridge on Westpark, the stretch through Memorial Park, the entrance into downtown... All things that are unique to the full marathon as they happen after the 8 mile mark.

I'm not questioning my ability to do the run. I'm questioning my priorities, which I have in the right order. I question the sanity of anyone who will look in the face of their child, or wife, and say "no, i can't play because I'd rather go run, by myself, for a few hours". Son, you're less important to me than this run that will be there next year... and the year after... and the year after.

On the other hand (yes, the third hand), if I continue to add speed and power to my running, I can actually train for a marathon without sacrificing 3 or 4 hours, because the speed will be such that I can do in 2 what I could do in 3. Of course, that's another year away, at least.

No bother. Tomorrow I have a 10k, and it'll be an honest to goodness race against someone who is, by all indications, faster than me. Maybe I'll get lucky and be able to hang for a few miles before konking out.
I guess what I'm looking for is a sign, like that angel in 1 Kings 19 that touched Elijah and encouraged him to eat, regain his strength, and continue on his mission.

Man, the Runner



The Evolution of Human Running

Humans evolved from ape-like ancestors because they needed to run long distances—perhaps to hunt animals or scavenge carcasses on Africa's vast savannah—and the ability to run shaped our anatomy, making us look like we do today. That is the conclusion of a study by University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble and Harvard University anthropologist Daniel Lieberman. Bramble and Lieberman argue that our genus, Homo, evolved from more ape-like human ancestors, Australopithecus, two million or more years ago because natural selection favored the survival of australopithecines that could run and, over time, favored the perpetuation of human anatomical features that made long-distance running possible.


"We are very confident that strong selection for running—which came at the expense of the historical ability to live in trees—was instrumental in the origin of the modern human body form", says Bramble, a professor of biology. "Running has substantially shaped human evolution. Running made us human—at least in an anatomical sense. We think running is one of the most transforming events in human history. We are arguing the emergence of humans is tied to the evolution of running".


That conclusion is contrary to the conventional theory that running simply was a byproduct of the human ability to walk. Bipedalism—the ability to walk upright on two legs—evolved in the ape-like Australopithecus at least four and a half million years ago while they also retained the ability to travel through the trees. Yet Homo with its "radically transformed body" did not evolve for another three million or more years—Homo habilis, Homo erectus and, finally, our species, Homo sapiens—so the ability to walk cannot explain anatomy of the modern human body, Bramble says.


"There were 2.5 million to 3 million years of bipedal walking by australopithecines without ever looking like a human, so is walking going to be what suddenly transforms the hominid body?" he asks. "We are saying, no, walking won't do that, but running will". Walking cannot explain most of the changes in body form that distinguish Homo from Australopithecus, which—when compared with Homo—had short legs, long forearms, high permanently "shrugged" shoulders, ankles that were not visibly apparent and more muscles connecting the shoulders to the head and neck, Bramble says. If natural selection had not favored running, "we would still look a lot like apes", he adds.


I run, therefore I am


Bramble and Lieberman examined 26 traits of the human body—many also seen in fossils of Homo erectus and some in Homo habilis—that enhanced the ability to run. Only some of them were needed for walking. Traits that aided running include leg and foot tendons and ligaments that act like springs, foot and toe structure that allows efficient use of the feet to push off, shoulders that rotate independently of the head and neck to allow better balance, and skeletal and muscle features that make the human body stronger, more stable and able to run more efficiently without overheating.


"We explain the simultaneous emergence of a whole bunch of anatomical features, literally from head to toe", Bramble says. "We have a hypothesis that gives a functional explanation for how these features are linked to the unique mechanical demands of running, how they work together and why they emerged at the same time".


Humans are poor sprinters compared with other running animals, which is partly why many scientists have dismissed running as a factor in human evolution. Human endurance running ability has been inadequately appreciated because of a failure to recognize that "high speed is not always important", Bramble says. "What is important is combining reasonable speed with exceptional endurance". Another reason is that "scientists are in developed societies that are highly dependent on technology and artificial means of transport", he adds. "But if those scientists had been embedded in a hunter-gatherer society, they would have a different view of human locomotor abilities, including running".


Why did humans start running?


The researchers do not know why natural selection favored human ancestors who could run long distances. For one possibility, they cite previous research by University of Utah biologist David Carrier, who hypothesized that endurance running evolved in human ancestors so they could pursue predators long before the development of bows, arrows, nets and spear-throwers reduced the need to run long distances.


Another possibility is that early humans and their immediate ancestors ran to scavenge carcasses of dead animals—maybe so they could beat hyenas or other scavengers to dinner, or maybe to "get to the leftovers soon enough", Bramble says. Scavenging "is a more reliable source of food" than hunting, he adds. "If you are out in the African savannah and see a column of vultures on the horizon, the chance of there being a fresh carcass underneath the vultures is about 100 percent. If you are going to hunt down something in the heat, that is a lot more work and the payoffs are less reliable" because the animal you are hunting often is "faster than you are".


Anatomical features that help humans run


Here are anatomical characteristics that are unique to humans and that play a role in helping people run, according to the study:


Skull features that help prevent overheating during running. As sweat evaporates from the scalp, forehead and face, the evaporation cools blood draining from the head. Veins carrying that cooled blood pass near the carotid arteries, thus helping cool blood flowing through the carotids to the brain.


A more balanced head with a flatter face, smaller teeth and short snout, compared with australopithecines. That "shifts the center of mass back so it is easier to balance your head when you are bobbing up and down running", Bramble says.


A ligament that runs from the back of the skull and neck down to the thoracic vertebrae, and acts as a shock absorber and helps the arms and shoulders counterbalance the head during running.


Unlike apes and australopithecines, the shoulders in early humans were "decoupled" from the head and neck, allowing the body to rotate while the head aims forward during running.


The tall human body—with a narrow trunk, waist and pelvis—creates more skin surface for our size, permitting greater cooling during running. It also lets the upper and lower body move independently, "which allows you to use your upper body to counteract the twisting forces from your swinging legs", Bramble says.


Shorter forearms in humans make it easier for the upper body to counterbalance the lower body during running. They also reduce the amount of muscle power needed to keep the arms flexed when running.


Human vertebrae and disks are larger in diameter relative to body mass than are those in apes or australopithecines. "This is related to shock absorption", says Bramble. "It allows the back to take bigger loads when human runners hit the ground".


The connection between the pelvis and spine is stronger and larger relative to body size in humans than in their ancestors, providing more stability and shock absorption during running.


Human buttocks "are huge", says Bramble. "Have you ever looked at an ape? They have no buns". He says human buttocks "are muscles critical for stabilization in running" because they connect the femur—the large bone in each upper leg—to the trunk. Because people lean forward at the hip during running, the buttocks "keep you from pitching over on your nose each time a foot hits the ground".


Long legs, which chimps and australopithecines lack, let humans to take huge strides when running, Bramble says. So do ligaments and tendons—including the long Achilles tendon—which act like springs that store and release mechanical energy during running. The tendons and ligaments also mean human lower legs that are less muscular and lighter, requiring less energy to move them during running.


Larger surface areas in the hip, knee and ankle joints, for improved shock absorption during running by spreading out the forces.


The arrangement of bones in the human foot creates a stable or stiff arch that makes the whole foot more rigid, so the human runner can push off the ground more efficiently and utilize ligaments on the bottom of the feet as springs.


Humans also evolved with an enlarged heel bone for better shock absorption, as well as shorter toes and a big toe that is fully drawn in toward the other toes for better pushing off during running.


The study by Bramble and Lieberman concludes: "Today, endurance running is primarily a form of exercise and recreation, but its roots may be as ancient as the origin of the human genus, and its demands a major contributing factor to the human body form".




Run The Planet thanks the University of Utah ( for the permission to reprint "How Running Made Us Human - Endurance Running Let Us Evolve to Look the Way We Do" by Lee Siegel, a news release about the article by biologist Dennis Bramble and Harvard University anthropologist Daniel Lieberman (published in the November 18, 2004 issue of the journal "Nature"). Text © by University of Utah. Chart © by Laszlo Meszoly, Harvard University (drawings of our ape-like ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, and an early human species, Homo erectus, showing some of the differences that gave humans the ability to run long distances). Illustration © 2005 by Run The Planet.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

3 more lunch time miles

Today’s 3 miles were…  ahhhh…  painful.  Painful, to say the LEAST.


I’m still running without a watch, so I don’t know the time, but I KNOW the first mile was fast.  How fast?  Dunno, but the dude I was following was built like a Marine—an old Marine, but a tough sunuvabitch all the same.  I paced behind him until he stopped for some water at about the 1 mile mark, and it was about half way into that mile that I started to realize that he was booking it.  But I was on his heel, so I figured I’d hang as long as I could and see how it went.  He dropped for some water, and I picked up on another guy who had a slightly slower cadence, but was taller and a ton stronger than me.  We kept a slightly slower, yet still quick, pace for the next mile.


How much slower?  Not much slower, but the old Marine passed us at about the 2 mile mark.  I dropped old Long Gate and chased the Old Marine knowing damn good and well that I wasn’t going to be able to keep that pace for the full 3 miles, but figuring I could give it a shot and see how it went.


At about the 2.5 mile region, Old Marine started to pull away from me and I started to get a cramp in my damn side.


I hate those.  They’re painful.


Then, over my left shoulder, I hear Old Long Gate’s “thud-thud-thud” cadence in the gravel behind me, back maybe about 15 feet or so (I need to start measuring like a runner…  that’s, what, 5 meters or so?).  Worst timing ever!!  The cramp is starting to set in, I’m trying to get my breathing under control and in the proper rhythm to counteract the cramping, and now I have to pick up the pace to hold off Old Long Gate!!  Ugh.


So, for the next half mile, give or take, I’m trying to fend off cramps AND Old Long Gate, panting hard, gasping for breath, desperately trying to hold my mid section just right while keeping the muscles under control and in proper form as we approach the stretching benches.  He’s still about 3 or 4 meters back, but he’s closing fast (not that I think he’s racing me, or trying to catch me, he’s just galloping along).  I grab my side and push on to the 3 mile marker, grit my teeth and push the last 7 meters or so, and he’s closed the gap to maybe 2 meters, and then finally, blissfully, it’s over.  I reach the marker and damn near collapse in a crampy garbage heap.  Old Long Gate just trots on by.  One of these days…  one of these days…  that’ll be me.


Meanwhile, Old Marine watched me pass from the stretching benches and smiled as I passed.  He looks like a neat guy, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk to him next time I see him.  By the time I had caught my breath and the cramps had gone away, he had trotted back to the tennis courts where he picked up a very lovely running companion and went trotting by for another lap.  You know, what’s another 3 miles among friends?  One of these days…  one of these days…  that’ll be me, trotting another lap like it’s nothing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Ok, I deserved that

Not two days after asserting, rather proudly, that I do not exist because I do everything wrong and have never been seriously injured, I suffered some kind of ligament or tendon injury.


I deserved that.  No question.


But after 8 days of downtime I’m back, and I’m feeling good again, doing the one thing that separates us from cave men and every other mammal on the planet—running.  I haven’t used my watch on my last couple of runs, clocking miles instead of time.  I’ve packed on, as of today, 6.6 miles and will run another 5 or 6 tomorrow as I start extending my distance once again.  In a week or so I’ll break the watch back out and see how my times are holding up on the longer—10+ miles—runs and make a determination as to whether I’ll run a marathon slowly or run a half marathon quickly.


The decision will be based on the following:


I am not, nor do I ever intend to, train for A MARATHON.  I am, however, training my body and mind to once again be a RUNNER.  And as A RUNNER, if I hope to condition myself to be able to not only run 100 meters quickly, but also 100 MILES.  No, I am under no presumption that running 100 miles is as easy as running 100 meters, but a runner—a true runner—should be capable of doing either, even if the 100 miles takes 5 days to do it.  A runner is a different breed of animal than a person who runs.  A runner holds himself differently.  A runner knows that if gas spikes back up to $10 per gallon, he’ll still be able to get to the office because it’s “only” 15 miles and he can run that in 2, maybe 3 hours.  A runner has a higher level of fitness, poise, confidence, and general well being that merely somebody who runs.  I am not training to run a marathon.  I am training to be human again.


As such, I know I can run 13 miles.  That is not now, nor ever has been, a question in my mind.  I’m not saying it’s easy to run 13.1 miles, but I am saying it’s easy for me to run 13.1 miles.  26.2, however, is still hard for me.  As such, 26.2 is my current goal, but merely as a waypoint to my ultimate goal of being able—both physically and mentally—to run 26.2 today, tomorrow, and whenever as easy as I run 3 or 5 or 10 today.

However, if based on my times in the next few weeks, I can run 13.1 miles exceptionally—that is, “exceptionally” as I have defined it being under 2 hours, and closer to 1:30 than 2:00—then I will seriously consider adjusting my training to seek that goal.  Because if I can run 13.1 in under 2 hours, then I can begin to seriously consider not only running far, but running far AND fast.  I know not a few runners who are quite literally torturing themselves on a regular basis in order to shave several minutes off of the 300 or so that they’re already planning to run for the marathon.  Do you know what the difference between a 5:35 marathon and a 5:28 marathon is?  A lot of miserable Tuesday nights, and 7 stinkin’ minutes.  Do you know what the difference between a 5:30 and 4:00 marathon is?  Me neither, but I’d still like to find out.  But running a 3:00 half marathon won’t get me any closer to knowing.

And I guarantee if I run a sub 2:00 half marathon, a sub 4:00 full will not be too far in my future.  And I won’t have to torture myself to find out.


And that would be something, indeed!

Monday, November 9, 2009

There's a first time for everything

Yup, I pulled …  well, pulled something.  Maybe strained something.  Possibly just suffered a severe, severe cramp.


I was nervous before the run on Sunday.  A feeling I’ve grown accustomed to this season.  I tried to shake the nerves with a little blood pumping activity. 


Consequently, on Sunday, before the 25k, I was doing some warm-up jogs and stretches.  During these short little jogs and stretches, I felt a twinge at the top of my right calf, just below, and behind, the knee.  It’s a twinge I’d felt before on runs, but the twinge always went away after a couple minutes of running as the muscles and ligaments loosened up.


Not this time.


At precisely 7:00am, when the gun sounded, and I pushed off with my right foot to take my first step with the left, I felt a BIG twinge in my right calf, just above the muscle, just behind and below the knee.


I kept going, hoping it would go away, as it has always done in the past.


Mile 1, 12 minutes.  Mile 2, 15 minutes.  On mile 3 things started to get to normal and I logged a pair of 10 minute miles.  At the start of mile 5 I had to stop and use the can.  Standing there caused the muscles to seize up once again and that mile cost me 19 minutes.  I crossed the starting zone and pulled out of the race.  The pain was unbearable at that point and it wasn’t getting normal.  I had gone about an hour and a half into the race, was roughly 5 miles behind where I wanted to and needed to be at that point, and wasn’t going to be getting that time and distance back.  It was over.


I’m worried that I strained a ligament.  I’m less worried that I strained the muscle, and even less worried that it is just a severe cramp.  The last will be fine in a few days and everything will be back to normal.  The second will take a little longer, but everything will be ok if I focus and work on making up for lost time, possibly pushing the goal from sub-4:30 to sub-5:00.  The first, however, will likely force the conversation of the complete realignment of goals for January, like from 26.2 to 13.1.

That’s a conversation I’m not ready to contemplate right now.


Now, a little post crash analysis.


In August, my FREQUENCY of runs was roughly one every other day—about 15 runs logged.

In September and October, my FREQUENCY dropped to one every third day—about 10 to 12 runs logged per month.

My frequency needs to increase.


In August, my distance and intensity was relatively low.  I was in the process of ramping up distance from 1 to 6 miles and my times were all above 10:30 per mile.

In September and October, my intensity began to steadily increase as the times steadily began dropping to sub 10:00 and sub 9:00 miles.  The distances, on average though, continued to remain flat at an average distance of roughly 5 miles per outing.


Now, the frequency can drop, but the distance needs to increase along with the intensity.  The distance cannot remain the same if the frequency is going to drop.  If the distance is going to remain the same, the frequency needs to remain at least the same while the intensity increases.  If the intensity is going to drop, the frequency needs to stay at least the same while the distances increase.  It’s like a big triangle, and the ultimate goal is to increase the area of the triangle.   If only one side grows, the total area stays the same or shrinks.  At least two sides need to grow simultaneously, while the third at least stays static, to ensure an increasing total area.  The sides of the triangle are intensity (time), distance, and frequency.  The two most important sides are intensity and distance.  As soon as the pain goes away, I’ll start back on that formula and see what it gets me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Race fuel

Ok, I just read about a chick who fuels up during long runs with Gummi Bears.


Interesting idea…


Just remembered that I have a dinner date tonight with part of the fam.  I’m quite literally going to have to go home, throw on my gear, and run to dinner.  Hopefully I’ll get there in time for the entrees.


How’s that for dedication?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My lack of existence

According to most marathon training programs, I do not exist.


I don’t stretch.

I don’t train with weights.

I hardly ever do speed workouts, and when I do they’re pretty short.

I never run hills.

I rarely run more than 3 or 4 times a week.

My mileage rarely tops 35 miles in a week.

I don’t do “tempo” runs.

I don’t run Fartleks.

I don’t consciously carbo-load.

I don’t use energy drinks.

I don’t use energy gels.

I rarely drink sports drinks.

I don’t have a heart monitor, and therefore don’t know when I’m at 90% of my ideal heart rate.

My “long, slow runs” are neither long, nor slow.

I don’t consciously taper before a big race.

I don’t warm up.

I don’t cool down.

I run almost exclusively on concrete.


Basically, I do everything they advise against, yet still manage to run long distances and have completed one marathon with the second on its way without any significant injury to my muscles, joints, or bones.


Basically, I don’t exist.


Sure, you can say “it’s just a matter of time before…”  But you know what?  If you wait long enough, even Olympians get injured.  And I’m willing to bet real, American money that most of the Olympic runners have been injured more in the last 6 months than I have.


Basically, my training program is to get out there and run.  Run as far as I can, as fast as I can, given the time constraints I have to work within.  If I have an hour to run, well, I need to go out there and run for an hour.  If that’s 3 miles, then it’s a 3 mile run.  If it’s 6, then a 6 mile run.  If I can finish 8 in that time frame, then I’ll go after 8 (and thus far I have never been able to run THAT fast, for THAT far).  Sure, on the weekends, when I have more time, I’ll give myself a specific distance target—go run 10 miles, cover the distance, no matter what.  But on a typical weekday evening, or morning, when I have to get back to the house ahead of either darkness or in time to go to work, then I have to either leave early—which is precluded by sleeping or driving—or adjust either the speed or distance.  And you know what?  A 6 mile run at 9:00 per mile is probably as good a workout as a 10 mile run at 12:00 per mile.


Of course, I can’t prove that.  I’m not a coach or anything.


But, then again, according to most coaches I don’t exist.


Monday, November 2, 2009

A week of preparation

I’ve fallen into something of a pattern with my running.  A pattern that will likely be completely disrupted thanks to the phase shift from daylight savings time to standard time…  or standard to daylight savings time…  whichever.  We fell back and now it’s dark when I get home.


The old pattern was 3 or 4 runs a week.  Most of the runs were in the evening and I could usually sneak one in on a Wednesday morning if I didn’t stay up too late on Tuesday.  Going back to the middle of September I am working in long runs every couple of weekends.  I’ve stretched the definition of “long” from 6 miles to 13 miles, and will be hitting 15 this weekend (2 weeks after the not-so-good 13 miles).


On the weeks in between these long runs, it’s not that I don’t want to run.  In fact, Saturday I woke up with every intention of running, but couldn’t find socks, shoes, or shorts.  An hour after I intended to leave, I crawled back into bed and enjoyed the warm sheets.  The next morning, as I was opening the door to head out, I hear my son call from upstairs and decided that playing with him was FAR more important than the 13 I was about to run, so I chose to play with my kid—and will no doubt pay the price for that this weekend.


However, this weekend’s run shouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary.  Sure, it’s 15.5 miles.  That’s a long way to run.  But just 4 days ago I whipped off 6 miles at a 9:30 clip.  The fastest 6 miles I’ve run in probably forever.  If I can key it back to 10:30, I should be able to crank out 13 or 14 miles, and then gut out the last mile or two.  Even more importantly, I need to find out what my “forever pace” is.  Alberto Salazar, at the end of his marathon career, realized that he could no longer run 26.2 miles at 5:30/mile.  He realized, though, that he could run forever at 6:30, so he transformed himself into an ultramarathoner and started running 40 mile races instead of 26.2 mile races.  He was injured shortly thereafter and hung ‘em up for good, but THAT’s the pace that I’m looking for.  I don’t want to plod around at 15:00/mile.  I want to find that pace where I can just hit the cruise control button, crawl into the back seat, and nap all the way to the finish line.


So to speak.


To do that, though, I’ve got to put in some more miles and deepen the reserves of energy as well as add some strength to the old power plant.  So, in preparation for the next long run on Sunday, I’ll be running 6 miles this evening (and possibly 3 at lunch), 6 miles tomorrow evening, skipping Wednesday (unless I can sneak in a morning run), and adding another 6 or 8 on Thursday and Friday.  I’ll take the day off on Saturday (or only run 3), and then it’s off to the races on Sunday.


What about the taper, you ask?  I’m not looking at this as a race, I’m looking at it as just another training run.  Will I be at my peak performance?  Nope.  Will that matter in the grand scheme of things?  Nope.  I’m not trying to shave another minute off my time to beat out some Kenyan at the front of the pack.  I’m just trying to run 15.5 miles…  and get to church on time.


Ideal time for this run, between 2:35 and 3:00.  That’s between a 10:00 and 11:30 pace, which is around the pace I want to have for the marathon.


Can I do it?  Not sure.  Will I try?  Yup.  The half marathon was an 11:30 pace, and I’m feeling a lot stronger now than I was then.  I should be able to at least match that “performance”.