Saturday, January 26, 2013

Baby it's cold outside

It's January. In Chicago. 
Which only means one thing...IT'S COLD OUT!

I'm not a treadmill runner, never have been and more than likely never will be. These days I don't even have access that dreaded rubber-belted machine that I've learned to loathe so much, and I couldn't be happier about that.

In my non-professionally-scientific opinion, there is no need for me to EVER be on a treadmill. I run races, 100% of which are never indoors on a treadmill in a controlled climate. So that means everyday, rain or shine, I'm outdoors to get my mileage in. No excuses.

This time of year is my favorite time to head out the door. The chill in the air makes my legs feel spunky, and more often than not there are no other runners out to share the roads with. It's just me, the coyotes and deer, and the crazy suburban drivers...I love it.

Lately, I've seen a lot of blog postings and Facebook S.O.S. status updates about winter running attire that have made me realize I'm in the minority for my winter running love. Yes, it's cold and can be difficult to keep warm. But if there is anything I've learned in the nearly 17 years that I've been running it's that in order to survive outdoors in the balmy Midwest winters one NEEDS to invest is quality gear.

Believe it or not, you don't need 2 bottoms or 6 tops to keep warm unless you're buying your gear from Target.

I get the Target athletic gear appeal. It's cheap. But honestly is it? When you have to buy 4 $25-30 tops to keep warm instead of investing $80 in 1 quality top are you really saving money? I don't think so because these kind of items don't usually last for more than one season.

When you're buying quality technical gear, you can get away with 3 top layers and 1 bottom layer on days when the windchill is in the negatives. Promise. There should never be a need for 2 bottoms...is that even comfortable, I've never tried it???

NEEDED:

1 quality base layer

Pictured here is the Mizuno crew

That goes for top AND bottom. The base layer should be tight where it is as close to the skin as comfortably possible. Some of my favorite base layers this winter are:
The key to keeping warm on any cold run is for those base layers to be your best pieces. They are well worth the investment. Mizuno's Breath Thermo technology actually generates a heat with the sweat it is pulling away from your skin. It's not anything drastic, but gives that toasty feeling against your skin. They make tops and bottoms with this technology. If you aren't familiar with Craft, I can tell you that although these pieces are a bit more of an investment they are worth every penny. That Zip Mockneck is body mapped and doesn't hold any moisture and the PR Thermal Tights actually have a butt warmer. I could head out the door in 20 degree weather with that Mockneck on as my only top layer and be comfortable.

1 quality mid-layer


This is the Mizuno Breath Thermo 1/2 Zip. This layer has the same functionality as the base layer where it generates that warming sensation, but also has that little collar which can make all the difference for the neck. This layer should be something that mimics a pull-over where it is a bit more heavy duty than that base layer on days that the mercury generally dips below the 30 degree mark. This layer isn't always needed when you've invested in that quality base layer.

The quality outer layers


Depending on the conditions, you may or may not need a lined wind breaking coat. I generally don't wear lined coats because they get really warm. A quality jacket that is vented will create a greenhouse effect on the interior of the coat which will keep you warm without holding any moisture in. My favorite outer layers currently:
The gloves are really where you shouldn't skimp any money. Cold fingers can make any runner crabby and turn what could be a great run south really fast. Brooks makes these awesome 2-in-1 mittens that have a fleece mitten which get covered by a full wind breaking mitten. And contrary to popular belief, Smartwool socks ARE NOT itchy. 

And that's my 2 cents on cold winter attire. 

Everyone is different, but I can assure you that investing in those quality layers will make all the difference in your run and will be well worth every penny as long as you wash them with care according to the labeling...it'll also cut down on the amount of laundry you have to wash. Save those Target bargains for the summer.

Any other favorite winter running gear from this season that I haven't listed here?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Goals and shifting focus

Finding myself these days at a rather odd fork in the road with my running.

On one side of the fork is a tiny glimmer of hope of the things that are to come which my heart aches for, things that with quite a bit of work and self-belief are out there just waiting for me to take on.

Then there is that other side of the fork, the side that is the road less traveled for me where expectations don't exist and the pace is more of a go with the flow kinda thing.

I'm no stranger to setting big hairy goals for myself and setting my sights well outside of my comfort zone. But for me things never seem to pan out remotely close to where I anticipated they would lead, and the achievement (or lack thereof) those GIANT relentless pursuits never seem to bring the desired outcome.

It doesn't take much time before they annihilate hope and turn me down a road where I just find the need to become further and further removed from logic wrapping myself up in myself.

And that is not an attractive quality.

Goals have the ability to build people up, motivate them towards a brighter future, and radiate positivity onto everything they touch.

But they can also give a false sense of security and can make a seeing man blind.

Goals have the power to make you feel like you're on track to all thats well and good, yet lead you astray from your true path in life missing out on some truly sweet sweet moments.

I more times than not fall into the latter of the two categories.
Especially when it comes to running.

That being said, I've decided to try something different this year:

there will be no goal races.
there will be no goal finish times.
there will be no mileage or workout expectations.
there will continue to be no plan.
and there really will be no goals.

I'm just gonna to keep doing my thang. Bending when life tells me to bend and forfeiting expectation of where I feel I should be headed. Just live my life for once and not become a slave to my running goals.

Hopefully that opens the window for more runs like these,



And if it doesn't, I'm okay with that.

Cause I'm taking the road less traveled this time around anyways.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Benchmarks

It's been months since I've ran anything other than the same slow and monotonous pace that always seems to become a steady beat through my legs no matter what the distance. 

And I can't take it anymore.

I've needed all those easy and relaxed miles that have lacked focus and logic. Finally giving my body the rest and recovery time it had been craving for months and months wasn't really an option. Not feeling obligated to do workouts and clock a certain mileage has done wonders on all those open wounds that hadn't really gotten the chance to heal from last year. Now feeling rejuvenated and refreshed, I'm finally feeling physically and mentally ready to start moving out of my comfort zone once again. 

Having lost the majority of my stealth running fitness in the past 7 months or so, it's really hard for me at this point to guess where I am physically. Mentally my head is still where it was last year at this time, where no workout seems impossible and outrageously crazy dreams are like kerosene for my relentless heart. Realistically, I know that's not the case and that I'm in desperate need of some type of benchmark to place my current fitness that the slow and steady paces I've been clipping aren't going to show me.

Yesterday came time to put my money where my mouth is.

2x10 minutes @ estimated threshold pace
Followed by 8x15 second hill climbs


It was windy.
My legs were screaming.
My eyes were burning.
My mind felt unsure.
But it all felt amazing.

This was no walk in the park, and by that second set of 10 threshold minutes my legs were pretty spent. But it just felt good to be moving forward again with deep breath and a steady focus. And those hills were a b*#$%. But now I know where I stand and that I've got quite a bit of work ahead of me if I want to have another one of those amazing years in 2013.

Wore the new Brooks Cadence 2's,


and I think I may have found the shoe for me.
Pure love for pure project.
Brooks never disappoints me.

Maybe it was all in my mind, but when wearing these kicks I feel light and as if my cadence is as steady and quick as it's ever been.

Currently rotating these puppies in with my Ravenna's, where they hopefully will stick around for awhile.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Where I am with things

Turns out that keeping a running blog together when you're not really running is tricky and it becomes quite the hindrance. 

Since the Chicago Marathon last October, I've taken a total of 3 weeks off. 1 week to recoup post marathon, and 2 weeks to get a very persistent and nagging pain in my heel under control. It was a tough decision to make taking all that time off to do nothing, which pretty much sealed the deal for me that it was the right one. And my blogging followed.

But as it turns out, I survived.

My legs have been back up an runnin' for just over 5 weeks now. Mileage hasn't been impressive when compared to the numbers I was putting in last year at this time, but that has become irrelevant. As it turns out, I seem to simultaneously be both my best and my worst encourager. I can push myself harder than I ever thought, then just not know when to stop. Seems that building myself up just as quickly as I can tear myself down is my achilles heel.

Right now I'm just getting back into a routine with the basics. 5 runs per week of easy mileage mainly without a watch, and making my best attempt to get some of the strength I've lost back through circuit training. Taking that time off was probably the best thing I've done for myself in a long while because it gave my body the chance to have a mini-reset. After months of struggling with my own mess, the legs are finally feeling like they are back to normal.

I learned a lot in 2012, most through my ugliest of moments (which there were plenty of...running and otherwise).

Racing is fun.
It's taken me years to realize this, butt loads of lost race entry fees on races where my head just wasn't in the game, and plenty of self-induced heart ache for my mind to truly grasp this concept.

Racing is fun when I let it be fun.
When I don't let the outcome of the day define who I am,
when my training isn't the only thing I'm worried about,
 and when I stop over thinking it and just get out there and move.

I can honestly say that even though I struck out at quite a few races last year, I never toed the line of a race wondering why I was there. I wanted to be at every single one of those starting lines, where most time I dance around like a fool trying to keep the anxious excitement I have to be moving under control.



The second racing stops being fun where I can't smile at the starting line, I know that I'm not out there for the right reasons and it's time to evaluate what the heck I'm doing.

Mileage notions and expectations are bogus.
The most important lesson I learned last year would hands down be that I can take mileage, and I can take intensity. But when I add those two together, it doesn't equal anything of quality and instead I just beat the crap out of myself.

That became pretty apparent when I finished 11 seconds off my 5k PR on no speed training, very little mileage, and a heart that was ecstatic to be racing again on Thanksgiving.




All those miles won't mean a damn thing if you can't get to the starting line healthy.
Being flexible and logical will most likely bring more successes than the bulk of a cycle.

Appearance means nada.
Looked the part last year...



and that didn't get me much further than the year before when I had more meat on my bones.

Right now I'm feeling very grateful to just be running and don't really feel like I need to set out a blue print of races I want to tackle and PR's that I'm going to hunt down in 2013. Instead I've decided to just move forward slowly and continue building my fitness back up. Don't really know what that means as of yet or where that will lead me, but for once in my life I'm not too concerned about the destination.

2013's plan as of right now...

is that there is no plan. AMEN. Hallelujah.

Just going to run. Plain and simple as that.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Twenty 12, relived through running


"The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection."
-Thomas Paine 
At first glance back, some years can seem perfectly flawless. Events play out as anticipated, goals become obnoxiously attainable, and setbacks only fuel the desire to push harder than before. For me, I was lucky enough to have a year like that in 2011 which has left my heart with the odd year itch.

2012 wasn't that flawless year for me, instead it was the year that I beat myself into the ground while blindly moving ahead with my foot floored on the gas pedal. Battered and beaten, I've continued moving forward embracing the fact that I'm human. I'm fragile. And that my mistakes will only show me as much as my heart is willing to learn.

The year hosted a few wins, 



even more losses with quite a few moments where the strength of my character was tested...most of which I failed miserably,




and plenty of sweet sweet moments that will forever out shadow the glory of any PR, clock time, or split.




It also became the year of rubbing elbows with the elite crowd.


The ever sweet Deena Kastor

The very humble Abdi Adirahman

And the legend himself, Mr. Frank Shorter

Wins, losses, missteps, short-coming...they are all the same at this point. 
The past is the past and will only be as valuable as the heart allows.

I may have come up short on countless goals for 2012. Fallen on my face multiple times. Failed. Succeeded. Moved on. And now I'm here, ready to carry on and plow through the next adventures that life has planned. Head held high, heart strong as ever, and little to no expectations.

May my past be the sound of my feet upon the ground.
Time to carry on.