On to 2016!

So, what are your new year’s resolutions?

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I have a few, though they all ultimately converge on one single, broad resolution: get back into the thick of things.

I spent the better part of 2015 with an extremely finicky metatarsal, resulting in my lowest annual running mileage to date (since I started keeping track, at least): 1,018 miles. I’m glad I got over 1,000, but it’s quite a bit less than 2014’s monster 1600+. And that mileage came with a wedding, a thesis defense, and a cross-regional move! 2015, what’s your excuse?

…oh right. Injury. Ahem.

So like I was saying: getting back on that running train is my #1 goal. More specifically, though, there are a couple other milestones I want to hit.

  • 1500+ miles. I miss the uber mileage, I really do. Notching my first 200-mile month was awesome, to say the least. I’d like to hit that again this year if I can, but more importantly I want to get back into consistent high mileage.
  • Sub-1:40 half marathon. It’s been on my mind ever since break 1:45 back in early 2012; numerous setbacks since then have kept this goal on the back burner, but it’s simmered there. Boiled. Came close to exploding when I hit 1:41 practically on the nose in 2014. Due to injury this past year, my best half performance was a 1:49–made more impressive by the fact that all I did to train was bike obscene distances–but with Mark as my coach for the Albany half in March, I’m confident this is a very real possibility.
  • Race weight. The holiday season is great for visiting family, not so great if you’re trying to maintain a race weight. I’m not picky, but I do recognize that I can run faster when I’m not carrying extra pounds around. 210lbs is my goal; definitely achievable.
  • Bench press. An injury I haven’t discussed here: sometime in the latter part of 2015, I injured my left shoulder. Still not sure how, but suffice to say it was pretty bad: a good month of complete and total rest had to go by before I could start PT-type exercises, and only recently have I been able to really hit the strength training again. My bench press is about as low as I can ever remember–I just did 4×10 of 135lbs this very morning, which is along the lines of what I did as a freshman in high school–so I’d like to get back into fighting form there as well. I’m well on my way, but I want to get back to the 225lbs reps of a year ago.
  • Blogging! Oh man did blogging take a backseat as last fall went on. All told, I managed a paltry 31 blog posts across 3 blogs; 19 of those on this one. Over a whole year. That’s pretty sad! So I’m changing things up a bit this year: this blog will still be here, and I’ll keep using to discuss my running / athletic escapades, but I’m closing up shop at my other two blogs and consolidating them in a new github-based static blog: http://magsol.github.io/ . I’m still getting it up and running but I made great strides over the holiday break; it’s just about done. I figure between two blogs I can manage a more respectable update frequency.

And remember: don’t hate on the resolutioners in the gym. We were all there once as workout newbies. Encourage them to stick it out beyond January!

Any interesting running goals / resolutions for 2016?

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CrossFit, from a runner’s perspective

I know I’m probably wading into a pool with which I’m at best unfamiliar, at worst wholly unwelcome. In that spirit, I want to limit my discussion here to what I am perceiving given my role as a runner and athlete.

Basically this is what I see:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jn8KwUNLdkI]

I’ve heard The Lady use a line I’ve also since seen on the interwebs at large:

CrossFit is the opposite of Fight Club: the first rule of CrossFit is to always talk about CrossFit.

Needless to say, I don’t have a particularly high opinion of it. I’ve been known to defriend acquaintances on Facebook just to cut down on the sheer quantity of CrossFit-related pictures showing up on my News Feed.

However, my biggest complaint with CrossFit isn’t how it appears to encourage humblebragging. My biggest complaint isn’t that it seems to reinforce bad and potentially injury-prone lifting technique. My biggest complaint isn’t that it exudes a very clique-ish aura of you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us mentality.

My single biggest issue with CrossFit is that proponents of it truly cannot acknowledge the effectiveness of workout regimens that aren’t CrossFit.

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This is completely at odds with one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with running: if you ask a runner why they run, you’ll get a unique answer every time. Everyone runs for their own reasons. And that’s not only ok, it’s awesome! We’re all bound in siblinghood by our varying degrees of crazy, even though our motivations may be wholly disparate.

And even the activity of running itself can take many forms! There are long slow (LSD) runs, tempo runs, speed work, hill repeats, fartleks (heh heh), striders, sprints, run streaks, and the catch-all of cross-training. All of these are essential, and while some are qualitatively more important than others, they all work in unison.

tl;dr version: There’s no best way to go about doing your thing. Of course there are plenty of wrong ways, but there’s no single right way. Where every one of my interactions with CrossFit proponents seems to be a paraphrasing of “CrossFit is the only way to work out,” runners revel in the veritable “Choose Your Adventure” of training regimens. Coming from an athletic background–organized baseball, football, and basketball; weightlifting, running, pick-up soccer, racquetball, tennis, and even swimming–one of the worst things you could say is that one of these sports is objectively better than another.

For instance: since arriving in Athens, The Lady and I have adopted the following workout routine:

  • Monday: squats, squats, and more squats (30-45 minutes’ worth); 30 minutes of treadmill / elliptical; 3-5 miles in the evening with Fleet Feet
  • Tuesday: back and shoulders weights (bench press, standing/sitting rows, laterals, plate lifts; 1 hour), treadmill / elliptical (45 minutes)
  • Wednesday: core work (45 minutes); treadmill / stationary bike (45 minutes)
  • Thursday: biceps and triceps (dips, tricep extension, chin-ups, halting dumbbell curls; 1 hour), quality cardio workout (speed work / tempo run)
  • Friday: rest, yoga
  • Saturday: long run (10+ miles)
  • Sunday: rest, yoga

Nontrivial amounts of strength training (with focus on proper form) with nontrivial amounts of cardio. The specific lifts and cardio sessions change each week to ensure our bodies are exposed to as many different workouts as possible. “Cross-training,” indeed.

Running thousands of miles may sound like drudgery to some, but to me, it represents a release from my day job and an unbreakable union with millions of my brothers and sisters in arms. It’s as solitary as a trail run in North Park, or as social as a 30,000-person Marine Corps Marathon. While I firmly believe everyone could be a runner, I also respect that not everyone wants to be a runner. And even for those who want to be a runner, there are myriad routes to doing just that.

Which is awesome. And is, I think, what sets it apart.

run-good-for-youIf you want to run, run! If you want to CrossFit, do CrossFit! If you want to do both, do both! Just remember that what works for you–as amazing and remarkable as its results may be–won’t necessarily work for everyone. The key is to be open about that. Runners are so perpetually hopped up on endorphins, we can’t help but roll with it.

Mileage Milestones

I feel like this is appropriate.

all the miles

Eat ALL the donuts!

Following last week’s 18-mile long run, I simultaneously notched two milestones.

1: Most mileage in a single month: 181.50. That shatters my previous record (March 2014, 162.01) by nearly 20 miles, and extends my streak of consecutive months logging 100+ miles to 8.

Courtesy of my Twitletic app. Message me if you're interested :)

Courtesy of my Twitletic app. Message me if you’re interested 🙂

2: Crossed the 1000-mile threshold for 2014. This happened precisely on July 31, making the case that it took exactly 7 months to reach 1000 miles. In 2013, I hit that mark in late November. In 2012, it was December.

2014 mileage as of August 5.

2014 mileage as of August 5.

Here’s the really frightening part in all this: this month, August, is monster month for Air Force 2014 training. Which means, assuming I don’t anger the running gods and turn an ankle–KNOCK ON WOOD–the mileage will be even higher than July.

I know, of course, that this all pales in comparison to hardened marathon veterans and ultramarathon runners. I recently read the blog post of a fast[hole-ish] runner here in Pittsburgh who wrote about the 80-90 mile weeks she was logging, and how a 60-mile cutback week was a nice reprieve. But insofar as personal milestones go, this is huge. It’s exciting! Especially considering everything that’s been going on in 2014, I’m proud of what I’ve already been able to do.

It’s something nice for me to keep in mind as the year continues–there’s still a lot more of 2014 to go.

Slow runners and the marathon mystique

A friend of mine posted this article on her twitter. I read it. It covers a topic I’ve read about previously: does the dearth of slower runners entering into a marathon ruin its “mystique”?

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Putting aside for the moment the meme-ness of this topic–and, therefore, the inherent futility in exploring it–let’s throw caution to the wind and examine this for a bit.

First, it’s important to note that we’re smack in the middle of running boom. As the article mentions, the number of registered runners in races across the board has been significantly increasing over the past couple decades. Even if the statistics of these new additions remained identical to the 1980 distribution of runners, there would still be, in absolute numbers, many more “slow” runners now than three decades previous. That’s just how it works.

But the article suggests (and doesn’t cite the source so I’m inherently skeptical, but for the sake of argument I’ll play along) that the statistics have in fact changed: the distribution of runners has skewed with the addition of many more “slow” runners, and not enough “fast” ones to offset the change. There are many possible reasons for this, and I’m sure speculation runs rampant on the internets, but for the sake of this post I’m not going to dwell on the “why”. Ask 100 runners why they run, and you’ll get 100 different and equally inspiring and/or humorous answers.

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Second, let’s look at this concept of the “marathon mystique”. The race itself has its origins in Greek history (or mythos; most likely, some combination of the two). Through various cultural lionizations, the marathon is pretty much regarded as the apex of running. Of course, there are also “ultra marathons”, or distances greater than the official 26.2 miles (which used to be closer to 25 miles, until the early 1900s, so not even the distance itself is sacrosanct, merely the concept).

It’s difficult to describe exactly what finishing a marathon means to a runner. It’s an entirely arbitrary distance that, by itself, has no special meaning beyond what we, through dozens of Olympics, have placed upon it. Nevertheless, successful completion of a marathon is nothing less than an epic milestone; a badge of honor; a rite of passage into a veritable Valhalla for runners.

It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and discipline to train for and run a marathon. In that context, then, it makes sense that some people would be upset by what they perceive to be a cheapening of the experience. It’s like working your tail off in college for a degree, only to learn later that the curriculum you toiled through was altered to strip out the toughest courses, giving everyone an easier path to the same degree you now hold. That would certainly upset me.

But here, I suppose, is where that analogy breaks down: 26.2 miles is no walk in the park, no matter how you slice it. The distance hasn’t changed. This is the reason why I have no problems with anyone who wears a shirt saying “I run for the cookies at the end” and finishes the marathon in 6 hours. While I’m always going to race the distance as hard as I can, they and I still both have to complete the same distance (and I would love to have that shirt). Our respective finishing times are differentiation enough for me. Anything else, in my opinion, is up to the specific runner.

Which brings me to my final point: running is an intensely individual sport. I’ve played four years of football and decades of baseball, and running is far and away the single most individual athletic endeavor I have ever undertaken. You’re not relying on anyone else but yourself. Nobody else can run interference, or clear your path, or handle the curves. Consequently, everyone is going to have their own style and motives. No two runners will have the exact same form, strategy, or preparation. Some will be out to compete, others to simply finish. They’re different mindsets, but they’re not mutually exclusive to the sport. The challenge of starting at point A and getting to point B leaves a lot of room for variable approaches.

So when someone says something like this:

‘If you’re wearing a marathon T-shirt, that doesn’t mean much anymore,’ Given said on the eve of this month’s Baltimore Marathon, where vendors were selling products that celebrate slower runners. One sticker said: ‘I’m slow. I know. Get over it.’

‘I always ask those people, ‘What was your time?’ If it’s six hours or more, I say, ‘Oh great, that’s fine, but you didn’t really run it,’ ‘ said Givens, who finished the Baltimore race in 4:05:52. ‘The mystique of the marathon still exists. It’s the mystique of the fast marathon.’

I think they’re missing the point of running. Who cares how anyone else runs their race? What impact does it have on yours? They ran the same distance, starting at the same point A and ending at the same point B. What else is there? Running has a mystique unto itself, and is entirely too special to be confined to the viewpoint that if you’re not there to win, you shouldn’t be there at all. That attitude, I think, restricts the very spirit of the marathon and is what actually ruins the mystique of the event.

There are plenty of events specific to competition, and plenty of events open to a broader audience. There’s lots of room in the sport for everyone who wants to give it a shot, and for whatever reason they want to. I for one think the more runners there are, the better. The world could use more people who are perpetually hopped up on endorphins 🙂

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Running memes!

I know there are plenty: here are some of my favorites.

And of COURSE, the Mo Farah memes.

 

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Mo-Farah

…but in this case, I’m actually referring to some questions put forth by Megan in her recent post! These sorts of things are always fun–particularly when those who read your blog repost them–because you can learn an awful lot about people this way. The coolest (like this one) involve everyone who answers these questions to also make up their own, perpetuating the fun. FUN FOR EVERYONE, AM I RITE.

  1. What’s your biggest food weakness? That one thing that you’d never be able to stop eating, despite what a diet might tell you?

No question: cookies. Oh man, cookies. Chewy chocolate chip cookies is my Achilles’ Heel’s Achilles’ Heel. I literally cannot stop eating them.

  1. Favorite beverage of all time?

Water? I dunno, ever since realizing in high school I’d stopped drinking sodas without even noticing it, I’ve pretty much stuck to water without any real problems. I suppose a really great Spanish rioja will always grab my attention, but otherwise no particularly strong preference.

  1. Backstreet Boys, N Sync, or 98 Degrees?

Absolutely none of the above, thanks.

  1. When did you start running?

This doesn’t have a very clear answer. The easiest question would be “when did you start considering yourself a runner”, in which case I’d say sometime around when I ran my first-ever half marathon on Thanksgiving 2010 with The Lady. Until that point, I’d always used running as a way of staying in reasonably good physical condition, but never an end unto itself. I’d run the occasional 5k or 10k pretty much since middle school, and by college had some reasonably good PRs (49:17 10k in 2004, and 24-something 5k in 2005), but even then I considered it just a side hobby to, say, baseball or weightlifting or racquetball. So yeah, I’ll stick with my “fall 2010” answer.

  1. What is your favorite race distance?

It’s a tie between 10k and half marathon. 10k was my first love–just short enough to mandate high speeds, but just long enough to keep you honest–but the half marathon is quite a formidable challenge now and has seen the greatest improvement in PR since I started running them: from a 2:09 after my first half to my current PR of 1:43.

  1. Would you consider yourself a Phoebe, Monica, or Rachel?

I’d consider myself a Rodney McKay.

  1. Are there any textures (food or otherwise) that weird you out?

Texture is actually never a problem, just taste. After all, it all ends up the same way in your stomach!

  1. What was your first pet?

The first pet that I remember were my parents’ two adorable cats, Rags and Lint (mother and daughter, respectively). They were wonderful.

  1. Your number one desired travel spot?

Oooh, that is a tough one. I’ve set foot on 4 of the 7 continents, and have a lot of favorite places among them. I’ll have to pick the place that’s on the very top of my “never visited and need to visit ASAP” list: Ireland.

  1. If you could go back to school and get your degree in anything, what would you do?

Computer Science! Yes, that’s what my undergraduate degree is now. But if I had to do it again, I’d do the exact same thing. It’s freaking awesome and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  1. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Boy, that’s a hard question. There are a lot of accomplishments of which I am very proud, and consider myself an amalgam of all of them (in addition to things I’m not proud of, to be honest). It’s tough to pick one thing up and elevate it above the rest. Being accepted into my current PhD program? Being a committer in an awesome open source project? Publishing and presenting a paper during my very first year of the PhD program? Improving my half marathon PR by 25 minutes in 1.5 years? Running a marathon? Organizing and participating in an epic Ragnar Relay?

Marrying my best friend and partner-in-running next year???

Yeah. I’m going with “all of the above”.

Now! 11 questions for everyone else:

  1. What has been your favorite race to date and why?
  2. What is your pre-race routine?
  3. Do you prefer to train alone or with company? Or some combination?
  4. Do you listen to music on your runs? What kind?
  5. What is your favorite kind of cross-training?
  6. If you’re not running, working, or cross-training, what are you doing?
  7. Is there a specific race or distance you’ve never done but would love to do?
  8. You’re trapped on a desert island with only one technical shirt. Which one is it?
  9. What’s your biggest annoyance while running?
  10. Windows, Mac, or *nix?
  11. If Facebook crashed and burned tomorrow, what social network would you turn to?

Answer these questions, create your own, and link back here!