Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Winter Racing: How Much Does the Cold Really Matter?

Two of my Favorite Winter Warriors!!

This past weekend, many of my running friends headed off to the Snowman Half Marathon that is part of the Winter Warriors series of races here in Michigan. These are a crazy bunch of races put on in January, February, and March, with cool names like Snowman, Ice Cube, and Mud Dogs. It is basically a chance for a bunch of crazy runners to get out of the house and stay motivated during the gloomy, frigid winter days. Besides being a lot of fun, they have some truly cute bling and age group awards, and I was very bummed to be sidelined with of all things, a tooth extraction.

Pretty cute!!

Anyway, the cold weather racing raises lots of questions for runners. The biggest ones are what to wear on one’s feet, which I mentioned in my previous post on screw shoes, and what to wear on one’s body Two layers or three? Gloves or mittens? Smartwool or Drifit or both? Balaclava or fleece beanie, or both? There are so many choices on a given day that I am almost too exhausted to actually run the race by the time I am dressed for it. Packing for all the potentials is exhausting – but I digress.

One of the key questions runners might have on race day is “how is this cold weather going to affect my race times?” I am going to put the idea of footing aside for now. I want to just focus on the idea of the effects of running in cold weather itself.

Before I ran in Michigan, I had never given much thought to how cold affects running. And, having come from a place where the coldest weather I usually had to deal with would be upper 30s maybe once or twice a year, there was really no reason to think about it.  My first race here was a 5k in about 3 degree weather. I thought I was fairly fit, but my race time was much slower than I anticipated. I was a little upset and could not figure out what was wrong. I had been training well and had done several training runs faster than my race time (and no I didn’t go out too fast).  My answer came a few weeks later when I was running with one of my new friends, Corey, in the Playmakers group. He said to me something like, “Well you know you can’t run as fast when the weather is that cold don’t you. It affects your lung and your oxygen uptake.” That was news to me. I made a mental note to look into it, but since I had no more races scheduled until warmer weather, I did not follow up. I avoided the question the following year by getting out of Michigan for the really cold winter months.

That brings me to this year where I have several races planned during what is likely to be the coldest part of the winter. I decided to look into this idea a bit further. I began by looking in some of my running books. Most of them discussed the idea of hypothermia as a hazard but did not really talk about race performance. In The Competitive Runner's Handbook by Glover and Glover, I did find a mention related to race performance. They said, “The effect of cold on performance depends on the severity of the conditions. Running in cold or moderately cold weather (30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit) yields fast race times …. But excessive cold is another story. Exposure to extreme cold reduces both the runner’s core body temperature and maximal aerobic power, impairing performance.” They go on to say that the clothing worn also restricts movement, which can also affect race times.

Thus I found the confirmation that my friend Corey was correct (I didn’t doubt I would. Corey is one smart dude and a bad ass runner). So my next thought was “Okay, well how much does it affect it?” For that I had to turn to the Internet.

I found two really great sites that give information on this. One is an excellent article by Matt Johnson on the web site Runner’sAcademy, that discusses the key physiological components of the effects of cold on pace, including reduced muscle contractions, changes in energy sources, changes in lactate production, etc. If you are interested in understanding the physiology, the article is definitely worth a look. The bottom line is that there is a predictable performance decline in cold weather related to temperature, similar to that in hot weather:

Air Temperature
Decrease in Performance
50 °
32 °
20 °
10 °
0 °

They give an example of a person at an 8 min/mile pace to show the decline. The paces at the various temperatures would be 8:00, 8:07, 8:17, 8:26, and 8:41.

To figure out how this would play out for your particular pace, you can do the math. The formula is pretty simple:

1.  You need to convert your running pace to seconds, i.e. 9:10 pace is 9 x 60 secs +10 secs = 550 seconds.

2. Next, multiply that by the proper % from the table for the air temp at race time. For this let’s say it is 15 degrees. I will call that between 4% and 5% so 4.5% (or .045 as a decimal) 550 x .045 = 24.75 sec decrease. Let’s round it to 25 seconds.

3. Add that back to your pace per mile: 9:10 + :25 = 9:35.  So for this example, someone who would normally run a 9:10 pace could expect to run about a 9:35 pace in 15 degree weather.

If you are wondering how this would play out at other paces and are not a math whiz, I found another page with a really nice table of temperature and running performance. To take a look, click here

If you look at this table, you will see that the performance declines from 50 to 0 degrees are nearly identical to the performance declines from 50 to 100 degrees. An 8:30 runner could expect almost equal effects of temperature on performance at 100 degrees and 0 degrees. We all knew heat was a killer for running pace, but I, for one, did not know that cold could have an equal effect.

Suddenly my lackluster performance in the 5k at 3 degrees did not look so bad. I had been hoping to run around a 7:15 pace that day but had run 7:45. According to the chart, that would be just about right on.

So why is this important? Well first of all it can give you an idea of how to pace yourself on those cold days. You will not be running a PR, and to try by going out your normal 5k pace is setting yourself up for disaster and a really ugly last mile or so. Adjust your pace and expectations to fit the conditions. It also can give you the confidence to know that your training is working even if the race times aren’t showing it right now. It also can help when trying to do quality training in cold weather. Just as you would not expect to run intervals and hit a target pace in 90 degree weather, you should probably not expect to hit that pace in 10 degree weather either, even if the roads are clear.

Yes, I still hate winter, and yes, I will still avoid running in cold weather whenever possible, but when I do race in cold weather, it is good to know what to expect and how to take into account conditions. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Running Gods Smiled

Yesterday I had one of those rare days where the Running Gods smiled on me. These are the types of days that every runner hopes for, the days when everything is easy, when running the pace that you are supposed to hit is effortless, these days when you go a little longer than you need to just because it feels so good to run.

In case you missed it, the weather here in Michigan is absolutely frigid. Anyone who knows me knows how much I truly dislike cold weather. How cold was it? It was so cold that Hell froze over.

For those who aren’t local, Hell is a little town south of here with some of the best trail running in the area.  But you won’t see me on those frozen trails. In fact, I am rarely spotted outside at all in this weather. My first winter here I joyfully embraced winter – at first – until I found out just how cold it was and how it just went on and on. But enough about the cold, let’s get back to the Running Gods and my workout.

Me joyfully embracing winter the first year (before I found out
what a pain it really is)
You may remember one of my earlier posts where I confessed to being a running pagan. I believe wholeheartedly in a pantheon of Running Gods of various shapes, sizes, and temperaments that when they are not otherwise occupied (no doubt watching reruns of great running races or filling race directors’ minds with particularly nasty courses) deign to meddle in the lives of mere mortal runners such as you and me. No runner is immune from their influence (although many may deny their existence).

My workout yesterday was a lactate threshold workout, 35 minutes continuous at lactate threshold pace. I have really been struggling with these runs lately, which is out of character for me. These have long been my favorite workouts on the schedule. I just naturally love running at that pace. However, I had been neglecting these types of runs in the last year, and as I got back to serious training this fall, these workouts were both painful and frustrating.

I approached the treadmill and began warming up feeling that it would be another difficult and lackluster performance, but then as I pushed it up to pace and started the harder part of the workout a miraculous thing happened. It felt good. It felt easy. The Running Gods were smiling. I waited 10 minutes to be sure it wasn’t just a cruel prank on their part (like the Greek gods, they are not above that type of thing), and then cautiously pushed up the pace a bit. It still felt easy. 

After another cautious 10 minutes I pushed the pace back again. I still wasn’t struggling. It was amazing. At the end of that 10 minutes I pushed it back one more time. The last five minutes of the workout still felt good. In fact, just in the last few minutes a song I love started on the video that was providing the background (Jimmy Buffett live in Wrigley Field), so I just kept going, for three more minutes. Even then, I didn’t want to stop, but I knew I should.  "If only this would happen on race days," I thought, but then quickly brushed that thought from my mind. To seem ungrateful for the gifts that are given can bring wrath from the aforementioned temperamental and easily-offended Running Gods. 

Now I know what some of you might be thinking: "there are no Running Gods, and there is a reasonable explanation for this. You have been training steadily for six weeks now and progress was bound to happen. You have done some good workouts in the past that laid the foundation for a breakthrough run. It is all physiology."

Well, you can think that if you want, but to do so is to take away the enchantment of the moment. This explanation may leave the intellect satisfied, but it leaves the soul without sustenance. In the spirit of my Resolution 3, I will stay enchanted.

So, yesterday, while the wind howled and Hell froze over, the Running Gods smiled. Have the Running Gods been smiling on you? 

Friday, January 18, 2013

How to Make Screw Shoes for Winter Running

Ready for Winter Running

Well the short thaw that we enjoyed for last weekend’s race is over, and the temperatures have plummeted back to below freezing. While the streets and paths are mostly clear of snow, they are often dotted with ice. These are the kind of conditions that used to create a footwear dilemma for me, especially being new to this cold weather running stuff.

I have Yak Traks, which are fine for running in snow. I also have some ice spikes that are good on ice. However, both the Yak Traks and the ice spikes are less desirable in conditions like we have now, mostly clear roads, with patches of ice popping up unpredictably. Both of those options make the balls of my feet hurt, and running with them on clear pavement in between patches of ice and snow I find to be uncomfortable.

I know a lot of people just run in regular shoes in these conditions, trying to watch for ice and hoping for the best. I also know a lot of people who have taken nasty falls.  Since the old ruptured spleen incident from my last bad fall while running, I have become super cautious, and falling on ice is something I definitely want to avoid, so I was never comfortable just going out with nothing on when I could hit ice. Plus, it takes some of the fun out of the run having to worry all the time. Luckily when I was fairly new to Michigan an old-time runner said, “Why don’t you just make some screw shoes? You can search it on the Internet to learn how.” When I mentioned it to Jerry, he said sure. He used to put screws in his motorcycle tires for ice racing in the winter. I was intrigued.  It sounded like it was worth a try.

I searched the Internet, found a site, and made my first set of screw shoes. They were amazing, and I loved them. They were perfect for giving that extra bit of stability and did not bother me when I had to run on pavement. There was a little ticking sound, but nothing too bothersome and uncomfortable.

I have since used my screw shoes extensively and successfully through two winters. I have even found that they work well in races, such as the Sgt Preson Yukon King 5k and the Ididarun, where I feel they gave me an advantage over those who were running in regular shoes in slippery conditions. The good thing is that they don’t interfere with my natural stride or the shoe’s flexibility. I would like to encourage you to give them a try.

Unfortunately, the directions I found online were not quite as good as I would have liked. They basically just said, get some screws, a screwdriver, and go to it.

That is what I did. I soon found that it was not quite that easy, at least for me. Maybe a guy or gal with a lot of hand strength and more hand/eye coordination than I possess can use a screwdriver and just shove them in, but that did not work for me. About an hour later, after exhausting my extensive vocabulary of swear words, I finally hit upon what I consider a better way to make the screw shoes. That is what I would like to share with you now.



  • #6 x 3/8” hex head screws (some people use slightly different sizes, such as #8 x ½”, but these work for me)
  • An electric drill with bits and a nut driver bit (or a hand nut driver) to fit the screws
  • Your running shoe of choice (I usually use an old pair and leave the screws in all winter)

Step 1. First you need to decide on where to place the screws. In general these should be placed around the outside and inside edges of the front of each shoe (similar to most cross country spikes) and in a horseshoe pattern around the heel as well. I do not recommend putting them around the balls of your feet, as this can cause discomfort if you wear them for long runs.  You can adjust this a little bit to fit your foot strike and the wear pattern on your shoe.

More screws in areas
where my foot lands first
For example, I know that I land on the outside edge of the mid to forefoot of my shoe. I put more screws around the outside edges than I do on the inside edge. I do come to the center on toe-off, though, so I need those on the inside edge as well. I do not heel strike, and my heels almost never touch the ground. However, I do put the heel screws in because in icy conditions I do slow down and run more flat footed, and if I start to slide, I want my heels to grab too. If you are a heel striker, primarily, you may want to put a few more in the heel area than I have pictured.

Another thing to note about placement is that they need to be on top of the shoe tread, not down in the crannies. You want them up there where they can grab the surface you are running on. If you put them between the lugs, they won’t reach the ice. That is a little hard to see on the Grits, but they are on the tops. (You may notice the marks of the previous holes. The Grits have shallow treads. For cross country and fall trail running I had these between the treads, where they barely stuck up and gave just a bit of bite. For winter I switched over to the treads for the extra bite for the icy conditinos.)

Step 2.  This is where I ran into trouble before. As I said above, the previous directions I found online said to just grab a screw and a screwdriver and go to it. No matter how hard I pushed with the screw and screwdriver, I could not get the screw started. Eventually it would slip off the end of the screw driver and go rolling across the room and under a bookcase or go flying across the room and disappear (only to be found days later when I was barefoot). Now maybe if you are a big, burly guy (or girl) with more hand strength and coordination than I have, you can just go for it here with a screw driver. I could not.

After a while, Jerry came in to see what was causing me to cuss like a drunken sailor. After watching for a few seconds, he said, “Why aren’t you using a nut driver.” “What?” I said, “What’s a nut driver?” He disappeared to the garage for a minute and came back with a wonderful little tool. It made the screw much easier to put pressure on to put them in, but getting them started was still difficult (and frustrating). That is when I headed for the garage for the drill and decided on the process below.

Drilling holes to help get screws started
Once you have decided on placement, I recommend popping in a drill bit to make a pilot hole for the screws. You would not believe how hard and springy the rubber on the outside of the sole of a running shoe is until you try to puncture it. I mean think about it. They are made NOT to puncture.  You do not want to necessarily drill a hole here, just make a spot for the screw to start to grab. I used my 1/8” drill bit. You also don’t want to go deep (be sure NOT to go deeper than the depth of your outer sole), just a little ways to give the point of the screw a place to grab.

If you are using a hand nut driver, you can just drill and install for each screw. If you are using an electric drill with a nut driver bit, it is faster to drill all the holes first and then switch to the driver bit to install the screws.

I could do it with the hand driver,
but why pass up a chance to use a power tool?

However, be sure that you can see the little holes you have made. In my green-soled Brooks Pure Grits, the holes showed up well, but when I did this on a pair of shoes with black rubber, the holes seemed to disappear and close back up. You will know after you drill the first few holes.

Putting in the final few screws

That is really all there is to it. The great thing is that when the weather changes, you can remove the screws and wear the shoes as normal. Occasionally one of the screws may work its way out a bit and need to be screwed back in or replaced. I check them every once in a while after a run. I also keep a hand nut driver and some spare screws in my running bag in the winter just in case.

Well, I hope this has inspired you to give screw shoes a try in this weather. Again, they are not made for super icy or snowy conditions. They are more for those days when you have mostly clear pavement with some snow, ice, or mud. They also don’t mean that you won’t ever slip or fall, so, of course, be careful out there! 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Race Report: Ididarun 8 mile Race and Relay

This past Saturday night I did two things that I have never done before. I ran a race at night, and I ran the 8 mile distance in a race for the first time. Both experiences were good ones. The Ididarun 8 Mile Race and Relay in Linden, MI is one of those wonderful small town, old school races that I just love, with a few twists.

The first twist is that the race is a night run. I had some trepidation about this because during my last time running in the dark (the first few miles of Dances with Dirt Hell were before sunrise), I managed to fall three or four times. The problem with that one was that my light was not bright enough to light the trail adequately because I had cheaped-out and bought a hardware store clip on light. This time I decided to not make the same mistake and actually buy a “big girl” running headlamp. I still cheaped-out, though, and bought the least expensive version they had at Playmakers because I really don’t think running at night is going to be a regular habit for me.

The second twist to the race is the course. It is a hybrid race of road and cross country. Since the race is put on as a fundraiser by the Linden Cross Country teams, this is not surprising. The race is run entirely on the grounds of Linden High School and Middle School, so there is no traffic. That was a nice feature, especially since the run was at night. The course was also unusual in that it was four repeats of a two mile loop  for the 8 mile. This worked well for the relay, as each member of the two person teams could run two loops. The relay was a popular option, but at the last minute my relay partner, Ruth, and I decided to go ahead and do the 8 miler to get a longer run in. I liked the loop format more than I thought I would. This year the course was about three quarters road and one quarter cross country as a result of the weather, which brings me to the next topic.

The third twist to the race was the weather. The race name is, obviously, a play on the Iditarod sled race from Anchorage to Nome. This is because the race is in the middle of winter in Michigan, so presumably there would be snow.  Not this year! We had a January thaw for the previous several days, with record setting high temperatures on race day. This turned the course into a mud run rather than a snow race, much to the race director’s chagrin.  I got a kick out of one of the bling choices at sign-up. It was a glass, with the race logo on it and the words “Let it snow!” This year, that was more a prayer from the race director than a statement of defiance to the elements. In his defense, he told me it was snowing when he ordered the glasses.

I was turned onto this race by my friend Ruth, who I mentioned earlier. I traveled to race with her before, so I knew this would be a good time. She is just one of the most delightful people I know to run with. Jer and I picked her up on Saturday night, and we headed over to Linden. It was a nice drive through beautiful country scenery.

Ruth and me, pre-race
We arrived at the race very early, just as they were setting up. The race is low key and old school. There is no online registration, and the cost was a very reasonable $20, even on race day. To keep things simple and not have to deal with sizes, rather than a shirt at sign-up we were given a choice of a polar fleece hat, a drinking glass, or a coffee mug. All were very nice, but since my shelves are already overflowing with glasses and cups that I have collected in the last two years (what is it with MI runners and their drinking vessels?), Ruth and I both went for the hat. It was an excellent choice. It is well made and incredibly cute.

Deciding on clothing for the race was a problem. Ruth and I had both decided on tights rather than shorts (although probably half or more of the people were in shorts). We also both had on long sleeve tops but were both not sure whether or not to wear another layer. It was about 54 at race time, but with a bit of wind and seeming to cool off as darkness descended upon us. I ended up throwing a short sleeve shirt over my long sleeve and Ruth added a lightweight vest. One great thing about the loops was that they allowed us to drop any clothes we needed to at our car, which was parked right on the course (which made spectating easy for Jerry).  Ruth and I both shed that second layer on the first trip around. 

I skipped the warm-up for this race. Eight miles was really as far as I wanted to run. My long run right now is only 10 miles. I figured 8 miles would be enough. I did test out my headlamp on the few trips back and forth between the cars and the restrooms (which, by the way, were in the field house building, which was a nice change from freezing porta-potties – one more reason to love this race).  Another reason to love the race was that the race director gave the directions for the race inside the building before going out to the start. Although it was not cold enough to really matter, I still appreciated this. I hate standing on a starting line freezing while trying to listen to instructions.

The race director with visual aid for pre-race instructions
(one of the excellent course markers) 

The start was as low key as the rest of the race, with a simple voice command. We were off, a bunch of bobbing, bouncing fireflies in the night. The race started on the paved roads through the campus, with gently rolling hills. Footing was good. So far I was liking this race! I made it out to the turnaround where we had been told a volunteer named Kevin was waiting to keep us all on course. We had been told to say hi to Kevin, so I definitely did as I went around. Saying hi to Kevin became a highlight of that part of the race for me. Keep in mind I couldn’t actually “see” Kevin. He was out of the beam of my headlight, but it was comforting to know he was there, leaning on his car and cheering us on as we made the turnaround.

The race start: (Cell phone cameras are not the best tool
 for night time race photos.)
After the turnaround we soon got to the cross country aspect of the course. Again, there were helpful volunteers at this key spot to help us head in the right direction. The race director had made some course changes to their usual course because, as I said, we had had a thaw over the previous week that left all grass and trail muddy at best or under water at worst. As we headed off the pavement, it became squishy pretty fast. In this portion it was not really slippery, just wet. That soon changed as we hit the one really hellacious hill on the course. I am not sure that it was really a hill. I think they were having us climb the face of a bluff. It was that steep (although it was mercifully short). And boy was it muddy!! I did the sensible thing and drew on my ultra training to walk up the hill.  

Once over the hill, the next sections were also pretty muddy, through the woods and back out into the fields.
Again I must give kudos to the volunteers in this section who helped us stay on course and avoid some of the worst of the flooding. Soon we were back on the pavement and completing the first loop. I had kept my running under good control through the loop and was pretty pleased to see my time as I went through the start/finish at about 16:40. That was about where I wanted to be.

The second loop went much like the first. I felt good about my pace. I was not being passed by anyone and managed to pass two people on the early part of the second loop. I went through the turnaround, greeted Kevin, and then passed two more people in the trail section. I came through the second loop in 33:??, so was holding a steady pace pretty well. The third loop was a nerve wracking one. The relay exchange was occurring and there were a bunch of guys and one younger girl passing like jack-rabbits, which was a little unnerving in the dark, even with their headlamps as warnings. I was starting to tire a little at this point so was a little grumpy. I apologize for all those uncharitable thoughts to those who passed. J 

The third loop through, the cross country section was getting really muddy and slippery. In looking at my splits, the biggest drop-off in pace came in this section. I was able to run through the first time without a lot of slowing. The second time, I had to slow on the woods section. By the third time, even the parts in the field where the footing had been fairly good were starting to be slippery. Since one of my major goals for the race was to finish staying upright, I slowed down some. Still nobody was passing me, so I figured I wasn’t doing any worse than everyone else. I was suffering a bit though. The last part of this loop was the toughest part of the race for me. My legs were starting to tire, and my glutes were sore. That is a great sign (Yes, Dr. Tom, I am activating my glutes!), but still I would rather the soreness wait until after the race.

The final loop I took a little extra time to give Kevin a big hug at the turnaround. That little distraction at the end of the uphill section before the turnaround was a good mental distraction for me. He actually helped my attitude in the race more than he could have imagined. I finished strong. The time was not as good as I had hoped for, but I was pleased because I had run a very even race. I also thought that I had finished pretty high up. Ruth finished just a bit behind me. She also did quite well. I should probably mention here that Ruth is in the 65-69 age group. She finished ahead of many who were much younger than she is. She rocks! In fact, I would like to say that both of us old grannies rocked the race!!

If there is anything runners love as much as running and good bling, it is good food. In this department the Ididarun definitely does not disappoint. The cross country parents created a huge soup, chili, and stew bar. There were like 20 Crock Pots laid out full of steaming hot soups of all varieties, as well as some bread, baked goods, and hot chocolate. It was a feast!! 

There was plenty of food for everyone, runners, volunteers, and spectators, which was really nice. The overall awards were also really cool. They were fleece blankets with nature scenes on them. There was one with polar bears on it that I had my eye on, but unfortunately I did not win the master’s division. I was second. Darn!! Maybe next year!  I did place first in my age group, as did Ruth, and we received a nice dog tag type necklace with the race logo on it (pictured above).

Ruth with her award

All in all, the race was a really good time. In accordance with my Resolution 3 for this year, I would like to comment for just a second on the enchanted element here. It was the spirit of community that was pervasive at this race. This race was a coming together of people to support their excellent high school cross country programs, which have been very successful, no doubt partially because of this type of community support. It was also a community event in the relay aspect. There was a real sense of the magic that can happen when people come together in a spirit of goodwill. Kudos to the race director and the whole community on an event well run.

I will definitely keep this race in mind for my winter calendar. It might be fun to see what this race would be like if it really were a snowy winter in Michigan… or not!

Monday, January 7, 2013

First Race Report of 2013: Sgt Preston Yukon King 5k

I started 2013 off on the right foot by running a New Year’s day race. It was the Sgt Preston Yukon King 5k in Muskegon, MI. This is the second time I have run this race. The first time was in 2011.  It was the first race I ran when I moved to Michigan. That year is it was around 10 degrees at the time the race started. It was quite a shock for a California/Florida transplant. This year I was more prepared.

Before I start on the report, let me tell you a bit about the race. In an earlier post I talked about how I like small, kind of unique races and those that support a local cause . Well what attracted me to this race initially was the title. In case you are not old enough to remember Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, it was a television show in the late 1950s. Sgt Preston was a Canadian Mountie who, with his “wonder dog Yukon King” patrolled the northwest territories in “relentless pursuit of lawbreakers in the wild days of the Yukon”:

How could I watch that video and not be hooked? It also met the criteria of being a small town race benefitting a local cause, North Muskegon High School athletics. Plus, as if I needed any further encouragement, there was a long sleeved t-shirt with a cool Sgt Preston logo involved. It was also the 39th running of the race. If it had been around that long, they must be doing something right.

The race is held in a really nice location, Muskegon State Park, on the edge of Lake Michigan. Driving into the park, the lake was beautiful, despite the cold, although I must tell you that I did have a moment of cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile sand dunes with sub-freezing temperatures. Where I come from, those two definitely don’t normally go together. To be more specific, the race is held at the Winter Sports Complex at the park, which has an 850 ft. Luge course and three outdoor ice hockey rinks. Thankfully, it also had a brand new pavilion with several heaters which made waiting for the awards ceremony much more comfortable.

Race day was  a chilly one again this year, but this time with temperatures in the upper 20s instead of the teens. We arrived at the race a bit early, so I had time to check out the course. The race has the 5k that I was running, as well as a 6 mile race. The 5k course is very flat, and if run in the summer would be a very fast course. The 6 mile is hilly, going over the famous “blockhouse hill.” Well we all know my aversion to anything with “hill” in the title, so it was the 5k for me. Having run the race before, I knew the course, but wanted to drive it anyway to check out the footing.

What I saw did not thrill me. The course started on the main highway, which had two very clear wide strips with clean pavement. Unfortunately, after about a quarter mile it turned onto a road for the out and back that was in all manner of mess. There was an abundance of snow and ice. As I looked at it, I began to doubt my decision to leave the Yak Traks at home. It did look like there was a narrow patch down each side of the road where the pavement was showing through. I was hoping it would give some good footing. I had brought my screw shoes and hoped that if I stayed on those parts of the road, the screws would grab.

We went back to the start, and I got registered. It looked like a good crowd, and it was. They announced at the start that the race had the biggest turnout so far, 396 runners. I hate warming up, especially in sub 30 temperatures, but I forced myself out to do it because I really did want to run a good race. It turned out that the warm-up actually saved the race for me.

As I went onto the out and back part of the course on the warm-up, it turned out that the course did not have as much traction as I had hoped, even with the screw shoes. It was pretty slippery, but I soon discovered that the “back” side of the road was better than the “out” side and that running in the shallow snow on the side of the road was less slippery and provided more traction than trying to run on the slick section of the middle that looked like it was more clear. I filed that key information away for the race.

I got back from the warm-up just in time for the start. I found a good place to line up, not too far back. The quarter mile at the beginning and end of the route offered the best traction of the race, and I wanted to use it. I did not want to get caught behind slower runners and not be able to take advantage of the good footing. They made a few announcements at the start of the race, including that one of the founder’s of the race, Jack Kroeze had died this year at age 75. Although I did not know him, I said a silent “thank you” to him for starting such a fine race.

The race started, and I took off fast but controlled. My goal for the race was just to have improved pacing and to run fairly even mile splits. I had initially thought that I would try to run 7:40s, but doubted that would be possible with the footing. I decided just to concentrate on running a good steady effort and not over-reaching -- and staying on two feet. I turned the corner onto the icy road and moved to the left side to run on the section I had scoped out. The footing was fairly solid, and I was able to run a steady pace. I hit the first mile in 7:42. So far, so good. 

Just before the first mile marker, the footing started getting dicey. I crossed over to the right side of the road and slowed down some while I searched for the optimal footing. It ended up being the edge that I had mentioned earlier. Thankfully, as we approached the turnaround, the footing improved temporarily.

As I watched the runners coming toward us from the turnaround, I realized that there were not a lot of women ahead of me. In fact, besides the girls who looked like they were probably high school cross country runners, there were only a few women ahead of me. That gave me a bit of a boost. I made the turnaround and headed back. At the 2 mile mark, I checked my mile split. It was 7:55, but that was okay. I had slowed down because of the footing and the turnaround, not because I was dying. I still felt like I was running comfortably hard and in control.

Mile 2 to 3 was not as miserable as it usually is (obviously – I didn’t kill myself in the first mile this time). I did get passed by two men in this mile but no women. That was a good sign. This mile included the section of bad footing again, and again I struggled through the early part of the mile to find a spot that was not slippery. The latter part of the mile had better footing.  I was running on the same section I had run on the way out. As I turned the corner onto the main road, I did not have time to check for a split. It later turned out that I had done that mile in 8:04, I would have liked to have been under 8, but whatever. The final .1 I was able to pick it up to 7:23 to finish. I crossed the line in 24:13, which was slower than the previous year, but good considering the conditions.

I did not realize how good it was until they posted the results. I was first Master’s female, which was a huge surprise. The previous year I had been about 15 seconds faster and only third in my age group. I was very happy with the finish, especially when I saw the awards --  huge beer glasses, engraved with the Sgt. Preston logo. Who does not need one of those?

This was a fun race and a great way to start off 2013. It was just the morale boost I needed after those rather depressing performances in my previous two races. You can keep your sauerkraut and black-eyed peas. Nothing brings luck in the new year like a nice little race on New Year’s Day! 

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Running Resolutions (Part 3 of 3)

This is the third part of a three part series on my New Year’s resolutions for 2013. If you missed the first one, you can scroll down to view it or click here . To view the second one, click here

Resolution #3:  Be Enchanted
My final resolution is different in nature from the previous two, but it is just as or more important. It adds the balance that I feel is needed to help make me a more complete runner. Running is a mind, body, spirit activity, but I find that it is often easy to focus too much on the mind and body and neglect the spirit. This resolution is meant to keep the soul of running foremost in my thoughts as the year progresses. This may be a stretch for some of you in the way you think about running, but hopefully you will read on and hear me out. 

 In an earlier post, I had mentioned Thomas Moore and his book The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life. As I explained in that post, Moore argues that in modern society we have become so analytical and scientific that we miss the magical and the awe-inspiring in our daily lives and that this point-of-view does nothing to nourish our souls. He advocates opening the mind to the enchanting and awe-inspiring in daily life by paying more close attention to the magical in the things around us.

Moore has a specific section of a chapter devoted to sport. Among other things he talks about the magic of sports and feats of athleticism:

The enchantment of sports, then, lies first in its capacity to take us away from the laws of nature and introduce us to a world that is real but not limited by ordinary physical laws. Like the magician, the athlete shows us the hidden possibilities of nature… sports are filled with magic. They enchant by revealing a realm that is close to nature – most sports are eminently physical and bodily – and yet otherworldly at the same time. (p. 323-324)

In this section, as in the rest of the book, he reminds us not to over-analyze but instead to appreciate the wonder of what we are doing as we engage in our sport. There are so many things to be in awe about in running. In the earlier post, I focused on the externals, putting oneself in a natural place that inspired a sense of wonder. However, thinking of the activity itself, the functioning of the body, the mind-body connection, the ebbs and flows of training and racing, the rituals surrounding competition, the poetry of a well run race, the power of sport to transform lives, and the power of running to create a community of strangers who might otherwise have felt no sense of connection, can also be a profound way to be aware of the soul of running. A commitment to being aware of these things, to reflect on them, and to allow myself to experience the sense of wonder related to these is what I mean when I say that my resolution for the year is to “be enchanted.”

I feel this is a very important idea for me for this year in particular. It was easy to keep this frame of mind with the running last year when I was primarily running on trails and had the wonder of nature to keep me enchanted. However, making the move to shorter distance road races, with a focus on speed, can easily lead to a state of disenchantment and soul-less running. I wrote about this last year in a post called “Road vs Trail Marathon: It’s a Mental Thing.”  Road racing can easily become an overly-analytical activity, focused on pacing, training plans, and numbers. Success and failure can become very black and white in terms of PR or not, win or lose. I fear I may slip into this mindset and lose the enchantment that I worked hard to cultivate in the previous year. 

Thomas Moore's book that inspired this post
Can a runner run without this awareness? Yes, definitely, (as Moore points out, many people go through their entire lives in a robotic fashion with almost a total disconnect from soul-enhancing activities – although I suspect most of these people are not runners), but why would we want to when to run with a sense of enchantment brings so much more enjoyment to the activity.

My challenge to myself, and my final running resolution, is to find one thing to be enchanted with, amazed at, or in awe of in each and every run I do for the year. What about you? Would you take that challenge? Would your running be better if you did? 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year's Running Resolutions (Part 2 of 3)

Resolution #2: Stay injury free

This is the second part of a three part series on my New Year’s resolutions for 2013. If you missed the first one, you can scroll down to view it or click here. My second resolution ties nicely into the first one because a key to being consistent is to stay injury free.

This may seem like a strange resolution because a lot of people think that injuries just happen. And it is true. Some injuries, like ruptured spleens or twisted ankles or injuries from falls, do just happen, and there is not a lot that can be done about these. Those are not what I am talking about. I am talking about avoiding self-inflicted injuries that come from common mistakes runners make, myself included.  

There are a variety of things that contribute to or cause injuries that are under a runner’s control. Let me just give you a quick list of mistakes I have made in the past that have caused running injuries: increasing mileage too quickly, doing too much speed work, running on severely canted roads, wearing the wrong type of shoes for my foot, neglecting flexibility, not correcting muscle imbalances, continuing to finish a long run when I knew there was something “wrong” (the injury in the making), and running a race when I knew I was on the verge of injury.  That is a pretty long list, but I have been running a while. However, I am, apparently, a very slow learner because I have made some of those mistakes more than once.

So, what will I actually be doing to stay injury free? Well, I will not be over-reaching with my mileage. Last year I ran an average of 30-35 miles per week. This year I will try to bump that up to an average of 35-40.  I also will stick with my training schedule which will keep me from doing too much speed work. I will run on varied surfaces, avoid concrete, and get as much soft surface (read “trails”) running in as possible. I have awesome shoes – love my Brooks Pure Grits – and will be sticking with those. Besides being super comfortable, they have done a lot to help me with my form, which also helps prevent injuries.

Dr. Tom Livermore:
A runner's best friend
The muscle imbalances and flexibility I will continue to address with yoga, strength training, and the foam roller. My plan is a minimum of three times per week on these. When all else fails, I will count on Dr. Tom. Dr. Tom is my chiropractor/ART (active release therapy) guy, and he is like a runner’s secret weapon in the fight against injury. (He is also a runner himself, so he gets us.) I have learned that a visit or two to him at the first hint of injury can often keep one from happening. He saved the X-Country Championships for me last month by dragging me back from the verge of a groin/adductor injury (and we all know how long those take to heal!). If you are in MI and have an injury this year, keep Dr.Tom in mind. Tell him I sent you. :-)

Hopefully these actions will help me keep this resolution and run injury-free this year.

Well, two down and one to go. Tomorrow I will tell you about my third resolution. It may surprise you. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year’s Running Resolutions (Part 1 of 3)

I took a little vacation from the blog for the last week or so for the holidays. Now I am back, and like most of you, I am ready to start off the new year and make it a good one.  I have already begun with my first race of the year which I will be reporting on later in the week.

Like most people I am full of hope and  good intentions, and I am not immune to the idea of resolutions to help keep myself on track, especially as they relate to my running. I try to keep it simple because I know from experience that keeping it simple is the best way to help ensure that I will follow through. I decided that three resolutions is about the maximum that I will be able to actually stick to. I posed the question to myself  “What three things, if followed through on religiously, would make the most difference in my running and help me meet my goals for the year?”

The first answer that came to me is “Be consistent.”  Since I started learning about what it takes to do well in running, this has always been one of the most important things to remember. It is such a simple concept, but at the same time it is so hard to do.  It almost doesn’t matter which of the training plans a person chooses (whether Galloway, Higdon, Hansons, Daniels, Pfitzinger or others), as long as the person follows through on it consistently.

Being consistent is not as easy as it sounds. First of all, for most people, myself included, life sometimes gets in the way. It takes planning to be able to get the running in consistently and a bit of self-knowledge. I know, for example, that I always have trouble being consistent at about week six through nine  of the quarter. I am overloaded with papers and things to do for work and tend to push the running aside. To be successful at being consistent, I have to plan for those weeks and not let the running slip.

Next, I have to deal with the whole motivation issue. This is a new issue that I have had to face. I am a pretty motivated person where running is concerned. I have a lot of intrinsic motivation and drive to improve, and I also respond well to extrinsic motivation. I will knock myself out training for weeks and weeks in the hopes of picking up some little plastic, glass, or metal trinket as an award (as evidenced by the number of coffee cups, martini glasses, beer glasses, and the belt buckle and ring that I collected last year and that are spread around my house).

HOWEVER, and this is a big “however,” that was before I moved to this cold and dark place. I am a California girl at heart and always will be, no matter how much I love Michigan trails in the summer and fall. It is excruciatingly hard for me to get up early in the morning to run when it is 20 degrees and gray outside. I try to get around this by waiting for the warmest part of the day (yes, 28 degrees is much better than 20 – at least in my mind), but sometimes by the time the temperature is agreeable, I am at the low ebb of my energy.  The process of getting on the layers it takes to run in this temperature sometimes seems too hard, let alone the idea of running itself.

To address this, I am now turning to something that I learned in this past year from the talk given by Lynn Jennings that I attended and wrote about (to read that post click here). This was actually not a point that I initially picked up on (probably because it was something that I did not really want to hear), but it was one that made an impact on my husband and which I have thought a lot about since that night. I am going to paraphrase here because I don’t remember Lynn’s exact wording. Basically what she said is that if a runner wants to excel, he or she can’t wait for motivation. Motivation does not always come. You just need to get out and do it, motivated or not.  That is powerful advice for all runners. Many of us wait for motivation to strike to get out the door. I know that I am guilty of this at times, and I know that follow-through on my training schedule has often suffered because of this, as have my race performances.

Thus, to stick to my resolution, I will remember the advice of Lynn Jennings (and the marketers over at Nike) and “Just do it.”  I have a color code system on my training schedule.  I highlight in green the days I follow the plan. Days where I do the workout but don’t quite meet the plan goals for the day are in yellow.  Days I miss are in red. I will be working to have no more than one or two reds per month. (Keeping a log and checking progress is also a key aspect of being consistent.)

Rest or Xtrain
4 mi easy
4 x 800 (3:30-3:35)
5 mi easy
4 mi easy
8-10 mi 4.5 mi.
4 mi easy
Tempo 15/20/15

If I can keep those missed days to a minimum, I know I will be a much better runner for it.

This is the first of my running resolutions. Tomorrow I will share resolution number two. How about you? Did you make any resolutions for the new year related to your running? If so, I would love it if you shared them in the comments. I like to see what other people are working on.