Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mother Nature can be a real “B----“

That’s “B” for Beauty. I know some of you were thinking I meant something else but I’ve learned you don’t want to mess with Mother Nature. Take this winter in Boston for example. In the last 10 days we have had 2 snow storms that have generously presented almost 3 feet of snow, temperatures ranging from single digits to almost 50 degrees (within a 24 hour period), rain, and of course several days of 25-35 mph winds. Quite a different story from last year’s snowless winter. Last winter’s nice weather (nice being a relative term) of snow and ice free roads and the somewhat pleasant winter runs spoiled me. Of course Mother Nature, making sure to show she is firmly in charge and has a sense of humor, then presented us with 90 degree weather on marathon day. I’d choose 20 degrees over 90 degrees any day. Mother Nature…if you are listening, that wasn’t a request for this year’s marathon.

The toughest part about training for the Boston Marathon while living in Boston is the weather. You have to do your heaviest training in the worst weeks of the winter. It leads to some pretty interesting calendar gymnastics as you try to figure out how to inject 7 hours a week of running into a busy schedule and at the same time work around a somewhat unpredictable Mother Nature. If you could listen in on a marathoner’s conversation with themselves as they are planning their week of runs it might sound something like this….I can do 6 miles Monday and 7 on Tuesday but if it rains Monday and freezes overnight the roads will be icy Tuesday so maybe I should plan to skip Tuesday and run Weds and Thursday except I have an early meeting Thursday and I’ll need to do 10 miles that morning so I’ll have to get up real early and run in the dark which will be tough cause if it is warm on Weds the snow will melt and freeze overnight and I won’t be able to see the ice not to mention that with the snow banks are so high and the streets so narrow there is not a lot of room to scramble when the occasional car runs you off the road so maybe I should skip Thursday and run Friday and Saturday but my long run is suppose to be Saturday and I heard it might snow Friday night into Saturday which will mean running on unplowed streets and you remember how hard it is to run in the snow where it is not only difficult to get traction but you actually can injure your hamstrings and calf muscles so maybe I should try to do the long run on Friday before the storm and then a short run Saturday in the snow unless the storm comes early then I could go back to the original plan of an hour on Friday and do 2+ hours Saturday once the streets are plowed. That might work. Now, what was it I was going to do Monday? Nobody ever accused marathoners of being laid back when it comes to getting their weekly mileage in.

But if you do have to run in the snow or extreme cold there are tools to help. For a start, there are little “studs” you can strap onto your shoes for better traction called Yaktrax (sounds like something you would see in the snow after a college fraternity party). For the cold I like to double up on gloves and socks. Feet are one of the rougher problems as the running shoes are designed to be comfortably snug to begin with and don’t leave a lot of room for stuffing in the necessary 6+pairs of socks I would need to keep my feet from turning into blocks of ice. Of course the feet eventually do thaw out several miles into the run and you are then rewarded with that attention grabbing “prickly” feeling you get when the blood begins flowing again to a frozen part of the body.

And then of course there is all the “great” advice you get online like “run with a buddy or your pet”. I don’t know about most dogs but both of mine are much too smart to sign up for joining me when I’m dressed up with enough layers to look like the Pillsbury doughboy. I did run with a buddy a couple of times but all we did was complain about how cold we were and how stupid it was to be outside. Neither was helpful and I certainly don’t need anyone to remind me of the latter.

While the snow has been a bit of a challenge this year the more significant “pain in the butt” has been the wind. The other day it was blowing so hard that when I ran into the wind it was like being on a treadmill. The legs were moving but I wasn’t going anywhere. At times I was bent so far forward into the wind that I looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame. If the wind had stopped it would have resulted in a rather nasty face plant.

Speaking of treadmills, there is always that option for the less adventurous. Some runners swear by them in the winter and are comfortable running for hours in one spot. I’ve tried it a few times and once I even ran for an hour an half on one. To say it was boring would be an understatement but it certainly gives you a better perspective on what it is like to be a mouse on one of those running wheels. The mice by the way, apparently really like running on the wheel and researchers use it to study autism in mice as well as mouse behavior. How they determined the correlation of mice behavior to human behavior (or for that matter that a mouse has autism) is outside my scope of knowledge or interest but I suspect they would tell me my dislike for treadmills says something disturbing about my mental state.

But I have to admit, I do like running outside in the winter. Just as long as it is not too cold, too windy, too snowy or too icy. In New England that means I’m good about two days a month. The rest of the time I just have to get along with Mother Nature.

Monday, February 4, 2013

If running keeps you young, why do I feel so old?

I was reading an article the other day on life expectancy and it predicted that based on my age, health and parents longevity that I would likely live to be 100. I haven’t really planned for to be around that long and it raises interesting questions on what will come first…running out of money or running out of legs (although I could always compete in the wheelchair division).

And if you are thinking, no one runs a marathon at 100…think again. In 2011 a 100 year old man set the record for the marathon in his age group (granted there are not a lot of competitors in that group). To match his feat (8 hours) I would have to run for 40 more years and not slow down more than a hour a decade. No small feat given how old and battle scarred my legs currently feel. Heck, I’d be happy to keep up with my father-in-law who just won a 5K at 86.

The affect of age on running is like the affect of age on a fine cheese….eventually it just stinks. Getting past the initial aches and pains of the first few miles is like getting that stinky cheese past your nose…if you want to taste the good feeling you have to get through the stinky stuff first. As I get older it seems to take more than a few miles to get past the “stinky stuff.”

Don’t get me wrong, I like running (and cheese), I just don’t like what getting old does to my running. But for all the moaning and groaning about the aches and pains of being an age-challenged runner (it’s not polite to say “old” anymore) I wouldn’t trade being on the roads for any other form of exercise. For me, being a “geezer wheezer “ is just fine.

What does piss me off is being injured. It’s hard enough getting up at 5 AM on cold winter mornings to slog through a couple of hours of below-freezing running in the dark. But to do it limping from a sore hamstring or a painful knee, well let’s just say it’s certainly not the fun part.

So why do it? I could point to a recent article by Owen Andersen on the benefits of running to people over 60. Owen refers to a series of studies on the affects including the following:

What other things did mum forget to tell you about running? Well, she probably didn't mention that once you reach the age of 60, your HDL should rise by about 1.5 ticks for each additional 10 kilometres of running that you complete per week. Plus, for each 10 kilometres, your waist circumference will narrow by one centimetre, your hip circumference will do the same, your diastolic blood pressure will dive by .4 mm Hg, resting heart rate will go down by .6 beats, and blood-fat levels will decrease by 3.3 mg/dL. (Full article at )

It could also be that I’m just addicted. After 40+ years of running, I’m a street-pounding junkie. There’s a study on the Live Science web site that suggests that the endorphins released in runners become addictive over time. The study used rats to prove the point, and while I prefer not to be equated to rodents, my wife would certainly argue that when you take away my running the response can certainly resemble the negative aspects of withdrawal.

But the real reason I run marathons is because it’s my reminder that I’m blessed to have the ability and time to do it and I can use that gift to give back to the people who do not. It’s also a way for me to keep my son’s memory alive by dedicating the effort to the charity in his name, “Help in the Nick of time.” I’ll concede I like the health effects of running and there is no question there is a certain “high” to being fit, but before I started running for charities I only ran 1 marathon in 10 years. In the last 6 years I have done 9 and we have raised over $30,000 to help others.

I love win-win scenarios…I get the running benefits, the people we help get hope and assistance, and I get to do something that celebrates my son’s memory. Age be damned, what more can you ask for?