So I might be going to yoga…

Update March 2015: No yoga. Not going to be any yoga.
Update January 2015: Microdiscectomy on L4/L5.
Update December 2014: Herniated disc in back.

One of the key benefits of getting older is that your body gets smarter. The more miles I run, the more my body has learned to use the smallest number of muscles necessary to run. This efficiency results in a few comparatively powerful muscles working like iPhone assembly wage slaves while a whole bunch of atrophied muscles sit around eating Jax and cheering on the effort. “Woot,” yells latissimus. “You go, hamstrings! Woooot!”

Eventually, however, my head will overwhelm the working muscles with increased demands without increased recovery time and the working muscles will tire and finally call upon the no-twitch muscles for some support. This ends poorly for me. Latissimus, or some other welfare-sucking muscle, jumps off the couch, spills his beer, sprints to the door, and promptly tears himself in half. Every witness nerve pisses himself. Pain wakes up, flicks open her eyes, and shouts, “holy shit! Did someone just kill Latissimus!? What the fucking fuck!?” Surrounding muscles panic and spasm. It’s a real messy shit show.

So then my back hurts and it’s hard to do anything strenuous, like stand up or lift a glass of water. After a couple days of ibuprofen or naproxen, I’ll overlook the awkwardness of my doctor’s last vigorous prostrate examination and make an appointment. We’ll see how that goes.

Yoga might be better…  dark yoga. Not “am I sweating because of the workout or because it’s 90 degrees in here” yoga, but a new yoga. Which flavor of yoga throws out all of these concepts of calm ohm community and harnesses chi instead for personal gain? How does one channel chi to smite competitors? Where can I get a red light saber?

2014 Back the Track 5K

Ran the 2014 Back the Track 5K to help raise funds to build a new running track in Marblehead. Was trying to break 19 mins, but the start of the race was a bit of a crowded scene and someone fell down, so I’m blaming the extra 9 seconds on that! Finished in 19:08 for about 6:10 mile pace.

Real highlight was having a beer with near Shalane Flanagan anyway!

Shalane Flanagan – Olympic Bronze Medalist and future winner of Boston Marathon


Baystate Marathon 2014

The Good:

  • Personal Record of 3:21:41! (Better is better.)
  • Finished the race feeling a little less bad than last year!
  • Was on pace for BQ until leg cramps and old age combined in a spectacular pincer movement to restore me to a more appropriate running pace.
  • Great weather and occasional views of river and fast food!
  • Lunch with my wife! Great support team!

The Bad:

  • No Boston Qualifier. Missed Boston qualifying time by 6:41.
  • Leg cramps came on again late in the race. I could actually hear my hamstring say to my quadricep, “there is NO grizzly or polar bear chasing us! I repeat: there is NO PREDATOR chasing us, so clearly we need to stop this foolishness! Cramp… CRAMP now!”
  • Do not look at any pictures of me running this race. Every time I saw a camera person something was going wrong.

Here are the mile Splits. Can you tell where bad stuff happened?

1 – 7:21.5
2 – 7:09.5
3 – 7:20.8
4 – 7:22.2
5 – 7:27.1
6 – 7:18.3
7 – 7:18.0
8 – 7:10.4
9 – 7:09.5
10 – 7:09.9
11 – 7:18.8
12 – 7:12.3
13 – 7:10.0
14 – 7:21.8
15 – 7:21.7
16 – 7:33.0
17 – 7:43.3
18 – 7:38.4
19 – 7:16.8
20 – 7:36.1
21 – 10:33.5 (Thank you, kind spectator, for throwing me a gu!)
22 – 8:17.6
23 – 8:05.0
24 – 8:27.1
25 – 8:30.0
26 – 8:04.3
27 – 3:37.9 (forgot to stop watch at end of race).

NERC 10 Mile Road Race

Sunday, June 22nd was the first New England Running Company 10 Mile Road Race which is not only a very long race title but also the third race in the New England Running Company Road Race Series.

Watch your back in the late miles!
Watch your back in the late miles!

This is another race I did not win. No socks or gift certificates materialized for my efforts, but they did have Bagel World bagels and I did manage to catch and pass a runner who was ahead of me for 9 of the 10 miles, so there IS that bit of consolation prizeness to take home with me!

I imagine this late race, soul-crushing conquest is similar to what a cheetah feels upon catching  a winded, cramping antelope on the Serengeti. Actually, cheetah is a stretch. It’s more like the ecstasy a two-toed sloth experiences while patiently peeling a ripe, freckled banana after an exhausting fifty minute stalk and pounce. But hey, baby… a kill is a kill and no hyena (or painted-ass gibbon) is getting mine without a fight.

The race itself was scenic with some water views, if a bit hilly and circuitous at times. The route was not closed to traffic and the track was Beyonce curvy, so those inclined to run the tangents would have to disregard automobiles Yellowstone bison-style to do so. Organization was good, parking was easy, and there were either police details or race volunteers at mandatory road crossings and forks. Solid local race; I’d run it again… especially if I was assured that my age group would be slower next time.

For future reference, if you fill out a form (next year, since it’s too late this year!) and then run all the races in the NERC series, you earn a Brooks running jacket. Yes, you could also run none of the races and take the approximately $240 in race fees you’d save by staying home eating freeze pops, and just order yourself a Brooks running jacket in the color and size of your choice with free Prime shipping from Amazon to your leather lounger… but THAT is not really the point, smartass. And frankly, while you’re collecting slick threads and acting like a wannabe clothes horse, you should probably consider participating in the Strider Grand Prix as well, since that can secure you more important garb.

Form Voltron!
Form Voltron!

However you amass your running wardrobe, I would encourage all of you to collect enough Strider-emblazoned garb that you have some relatively clean club wear available for all races. Strength lies in fashionable numbers and free advertising, people!

I failed to win anything at this race or to run 4 minute miles (despite undergoing frequent Fernando track torture and dedicated PED use), but also galling was the large number of clearly-marked Wicked Running Club runners in attendance, as all of these extroverts wore flashy red, somewhat angry feline-logoed uniforms. Yes, they were nice people. Yes, they were encouraging to all runners regardless of club affiliation. Yes, they may have saved some plump tabby cat from a massive maple tree (I mean they’re kind of obligated, right?). Yes, yes, yes… but none of this makes up for the fact that they arrived in snazzy matching club uniforms and looked like they might form Voltron (or at least a roadside billboard) at any moment.

Now that we have a spanking new singlet design, Striders have a great opportunity to pour a little more blue into that sea of wicked red. For my part, I poured more The Substance Ale (thanks, Lindsey!) into my gullet after this race. I highly recommend it; it’s just below Heady Topper on the libation depth chart.

Chelsea Chase Recap

The Chelsea Chase (results) is a value race. 30 bucks or so scores you a technical running shirt, the usual bag swag, two adult beverage tickets, a buffet lunch, and the unique privilege of taking part in a running route that breaks many agreed-upon laws of physics and geography. Despite being an out and back loop, the route gains some 20,000 feet of elevation. It’s uncanny.

I don’t know how the organizers managed it, but the entire circuit leads stubbornly uphill. The starting line is down near sea level with sea gulls enjoying snacks in a Market Basket parking lot, but less than a mile into the run you find yourself well above the tree line with sparse vegetation limited to mountain blueberry bushes and hardy lichens clinging to glacial boulders; on a clear day you can probably look down from the finish line and see the Prudential Center Spire, the Hancock Tower observation level, and perhaps even what is on sale in the window of the gift shop at Story Land. Truly remarkable!

Uphill both ways and the route avoids a brewery. Tsk Tsk.
Uphill both ways and the route avoids a perfectly good brewery. Let’s make some modifications.

Ring Around the Neck Recap

A few Striders ran the Ring Around the Neck in Marblehead on April 27.

This race is a home game for me, so I refused to let any of the Kays beat me. Actually… Sean was ahead of me for most of the race, but it looked like a small dog (Pekingese perhaps?) tried to attack his ankle on the far side of Marblehead Neck. My Rhodesian Ridgeback is absolutely useless, but this poorly-leashed ball of white fluff slowed Sean down enough for me to lurch ahead at the summit of the Neck and to begin the descent with renewed optimism. Young people really have no concept of how fast older people can go downhill.

Results are here:

Illustrated Map

Ring Around the Neck - 2014
Ring Around the Neck – 2014

About a Mile from Finish:


IT Band Fun

So I went a full year with no significant injuries from running, but after running the Maine Marathon in October 2013, I came down with an IT Band issue. If you’re a runner, you probably already know about Iliotibial band syndrome, but if you’re not a runner (or you’re an oblivious runner like me), IT Band Syndrome means that the outside of your knee screams at you when you try to do daredevilish, outlandish activities like walking down stairs, running more than 500 yards, sitting in a chair with your leg in the wrong position and then standing up, pedaling a bike, or chasing your two-year-old.

What Fixed It (Maybe!) For Me

If you search the Internet for IT Band remedies, you’ll probably find what I found; anything can cause the problem and the cure is rather specific to the individual. What I think worked for me was the following:

  1. Stop running until it doesn’t hurt to walk.
  2. Buy a cheap elastic exercise strap. I found a set of 3 at Target for less than 20 bucks. Put the strap around your ankles, stand on one foot, and extend your leg out to the side until your hip/butt hurts. Stand on the other leg and repeat in the other direction. When you get bored of this, lie down on your side with the band still around your ankles and lift the top leg up in the air until you’re tired; then flip over and do the other side.
  3. You might also want to try to do one-legged (pistol) squats. I still can’t do one completely on either leg, but I think attempting it and getting lower as the legs get stronger helped. Regardless, if you’re like me, failing miserably at these and falling down on your ass will at least entertain your family, dog, etc.

What Popular Tips Didn’t Work For Me

In no particular order:

  • Running through it didn’t work. That’s my usual approach to injury management, but I couldn’t push through the pain on the outside of my right knee. It never loosened up, it never went away during a run, and it hurt progressively worse (like a rat chewing on and earlier during runs. I contemplated switching to croquet.
  • Stretching didn’t seem to help. I tried every stretch I could find to target the IT Band, but none seemed to help me return to running. It’s of course possible that stretching helped make the exercises work and/or sped up the recovery, but I’m unconvinced of this.
  • Many people swear by foam rollers. I’m unconvinced of their effectiveness for IT Band recovery. Rolling up and down the leg (I had the large roller that you lie on, rather than the hand roller) feels good in a “hurts like f’ing hell so it might be helping” kind of way, but I didn’t notice any lasting benefit of rolling. Again, an argument could certainly be made that foam rolling played a part in conjunction with exercises, but I don’t think it did much for me.
  • Resting alone didn’t seem to help. Before I did any specific exercises, stretching, etc., I just took a couple weeks off from running. The pain went away during this time, but it came right back when I tried to start running again. I could never go more than a couple miles before shutting it down again.

What I Think Caused My Particular IT Band Issue

I’m not a doctor and I imagine listening to people ponder what caused/fixed their injuries is of dubious merit, but hell… you’ve made it this far… so here’s what I think happened.

  1. Since doing exercises that target the hips/butt seemed to fix the problem (fingers crossed), it seems likely that I had/have weak muscles that are not specifically strengthened by running.
  2. Most sources call this an “overuse” injury, but that never sat well with me, because I had run quite a bit over the past year without any issues. My running included half marathons and several long runs in preparation for a marathon, and I never significantly ramped up my weekly mileage.
  3. I ran a marathon in early October and struggled with leg cramps over the last 10K, and I’m suspicious that I caused some problems/irritation during that race. I took about 5 days off after the marathon and then returned to my normal running routine, which included a weekly long run of about 13 miles. I did this for a couple weeks before the IT Band issues popped up, so I think this is a case of insufficiently recovering from the marathon before returning to longer runs. I think lurching toward the finish of the marathon screwed up some hip/butt muscles/attachments/legos not usually taxed during my training/running, and I think that once they were beaten down they didn’t have a chance to repair before I returned to running. A couple long runs were then probably enough to cause a problem… in my case an IT Band issue.
  4. I keep having birthdays.

2013 Maine Marathon

Wheels still on!
Wheels still on!

Completed first marathon (Maine Marathon) on October 6 in 3 hours 22 minutes. Beat realistic goal of 3:30, but fell short of reach goal of 3:15 needed to minimally qualify for Boston Marathon in my age group.

Marathon Notes:

  • Support was HUGE! If my family had not been along the route during the last six miles, I might have finished at a leisurely Lonesome George shuffle step, or have ditched my bib, pulled off the course and pretended to be a water-stop worker (“you can do it! almost there!.. ” I know the lines now, you liquid-pimping sadists!) until the volunteer shuttle came. Emily ran with me for a good chunk of the last mile, which was great. I anticipated being able to summon more of a conquering Caesar finish with a sprint at the end, but in true October/Halloween month marathon style, I crossed the finish line like a walking-dead zombie.
  • Well-run race… on the organizers’ part. Good swag bag, GREAT shirt this year, easy to get to start/finish line, and a very nice touch by not firing a gun at the start in respect for what happened at the Boston Marathon in 2013. A little air horn went off and then the race organizer just walked up to the front of the corral and said, “go… GO DAMN IT! I started the clock! Go! RUN!”
  • Take that, Apolo Ohno!
    Take that, Apolo Ohno!

    Marathons have time to catch up to me. I made the turn (out and back course) at 1:32, felt great, and didn’t finish until 3:22. Virtually ALL of the added time in the second half came in the last six miles. At the turn I was thinking, “if I’m close at mile twenty, I’ll go for 3:10 this time, and then go for sub-3 hours next time.” Idiot. Moron. Tragically-flawed getting-ahead of one’s self simpleton. The last six miles were a series of pace-exploding, have-to-stop-and-stretch-omfg-forrest-gump-something-bit-me leg cramps and I was thinking, “I’m standing in the middle of the road with less than a Chatham Harbor Run to go and I’ll be lucky to beat Oprah’s marathon time… or Al Gore’s marathon time… or Al Roker’s marathon time (although he might be still running).”

  • Hydration and nutrition are legitimate factors. I haven’t run into leg cramps at distances up to the half marathon, but even on a cool, autumn Maine day, the marathon distance shut down both legs. I carried my own Gatorade in a nifty Orange Mud mini pack and consumed approximately 18 ounces. Apparently this is not enough, or I didn’t drink it early enough. Along with the Gatorade, I ate six Cliff Margarita chews “with 3x the salt,” and four Endurolyte capsules. I may pack a pizza and a growler of beer next time… or push an IV stand… or at least switch back to Gu’s.
  • Heady Topper is the best beer I have ever had (put “Hints of grapefruit belong in an IPA, damn it!” on my gravestone), and I’m designating it my officially official celebratory libation for marathon PR’s, BQ’s, and maybe even DNFs. Hard to find beer, you say? Yep. Almost as hard to find as this particular Andy in a marathon, since I’m currently averaging 1 marathon every 41 years.

Running Goals for 2014:

  • Qualify for Boston 2015 (3:15 for lottery, probably 3:12ish to realistically get in).
  • Sub 3 hour marathon in Fall.
  • Sub 39 minute 10k.
  • Sub 1:25 half marathon.
  • Perfect alchemy of electrolytes, fluid, food that allows me to hide what’s going on from my leg muscles.

First Marathon by Mile Splits (reality by Garmin!):

  • Mile 1 – 6:50
  • Mile 2 – 6:54
  • Mile 3 – 7:04
  • Mile 4 – 6:50
  • Mile 5 – 7:00
  • Mile 6 – 6:55
  • Mile 7 – 7:10
  • Mile 8 – 7:15
  • Mile 9 – 7:09
  • Mile 10 – 7:20
  • Mile 11 – 6:54
  • Mile 12 – 7:11
  • Mile 13 – 6:59 (delusions of still making reach goal)
  • Mile 14 – 7:12 (no worries!)
  • Mile 15 – 7:31 (hilly… no panic!)
  • Mile 16 – 7:16 (got this easy!)
  • Mile 17 – 7:38 (angry face, but doing fine!)
  • Mile 18 – 7:33 (hold it to 20… got this!)
  • Mile 19 – 7:31 (Nice… I’ll take this pace to the house!)
  • Mile 20 – 7:30 (Only a 10k left… nice!)
  • Mile 21 – 8:30 (first leg cramp… wtf! Eat and drink everything left on my person… lick visible salt!)
  • Mile 22 – 9:58 (despair… train wreck mile… multiple locked up leg cramp stops.)
  • Mile 23 – 8:44 (baby rally… still can make up some time… finish this thing strong!)
  • Mile 24 – 9:44 (more leg cramps… despair… I hate Maine!)
  • Mile 25 – 8:20 (family witnesses… baby rally… or hallucinations)
  • Mile 26.2 – Approx. 10 mins (forgot to stop watch at finish line… again!)
  • Average mile: 7:43 / Final time: 3:22:03