Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Just a walkin' in the rain

Sunday morning dawned wet and gray. Perfect weather to test my new raingear, purchased for an upcoming walk in northern England where, unlike Colorado, you just can’t count on seven straight days of sunshine.

I also wanted to test my walking capacity, just a bit intimidated by the thought of 84 miles in six days, finishing up with a final 21-mile day described as “Moderate and long” as opposed to most of the other days, shorter but described as “strenuous.”

I know I can run 20 miles, but I’m not sure I can comfortably walk that far. That may sound a little weird, but it’s true. Walking uses a different set of muscles and requires a longer time on your feet resulting in potential for sore toes, blisters, aching knees, quads and calves. I figured I needed to practice. I didn’t have any luck enticing anyone else going on this trip to join me so I went alone, which turned out to be a good thing.

There weren’t many cars on the road during the first two miles of my trip. The next three, on a bike path, I was alone except for a plastic-wrapped woman and a jogger in shorts who said what a nice day it was for a stroll as he passed by. The rain splashed gently down, persistent but never a downpour. I was happy for the hood on my jacket, its length, enough to cover my butt, the high-tech rain pants, a bargain from the children’s department, and the plastic bags I’d tucked around my feet inside my wool socks. By mile three I was warm enough to unzip my jacket despite the rain.

I couldn’t help thinking what a different world I was in as I traversed this same bike path a week ago on the last miles of the Horsetooth Half Marathon, dodging clumps of runners, seeking the dirt path whenever I could, grateful for the wind nearly at my back at last. What a difference a week makes.

Sometimes when I go out to walk, which is not often, I find myself morphing into a run but this day I kept one foot on the ground at every step. I’d promised myself to do that. It was whole different experience from going for a run. I stopped to pick up a stick and scrape away some debris on the roadside to allow the water to flow smoothly, stopped again on the bridge to watch the rising Poudre River pick up speed, remembering the devastating flood of 2013. On the way home, I picked up some trash on the trail. I don’t do those things when I’m running.

At my turnaround point, I knocked on the door of friends, interrupting their recliner-relaxing, TV-watching Sunday afternoon. They welcomed me in to eat my apple, use their bathroom and linger longer than I ever do when I visit other times.  The hugs they gave me when I left made me realize I sometimes hurry too much.

It rained off and on all the way home. It was that kind of a day. One I needed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Horsetooth Half Marathon-2015

Last Sunday morning I entered the Horsetooth Half Marathon, the most challenging race of that length in these parts, and the oldest too. It began in the early 70’s when the part of the course commonly referred to as Maniac Hill, was dirt. It’s paved now, and a little less steep, I think, but still steep enough, the second in a series of hills that are the trademark of this race. And instead of finishing at the Colorado State University football stadium as it did for many years, the course now snakes its way downtown on a bike path, ending up close to New Belgium Brewery, a race sponsor. The party that follows has been designated “best after race party” by Colorado Runner magazine.

The course is not certified because, according to race director Steve Cathcart, “no one ever sets a record on this course.” There was some prize money this year for the speediest ones; good enough, who needs certification? Wind was a factor this year but the sky was blue and there was no trace of the spitting snow-in-the-face that was a feature of the 2014 running. April is a tricky month to plan a race.

I don’t know how many times I’ve run the HTH, but lots. It’s a tradition now, even though it gets harder every time I do it. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. The views, of Horsetooth Reservoir and the foothills in the distance, this year barely touched by a sprinkling of white, cannot be beat. I even saw a couple of deer along the way.

The toughest hills come early in the race. By mile eight they’re mostly over but they’ve taken their toll on the body and another five miles, even though its mostly flat, becomes a plod.

Somewhere in the vicinity of mile 12, I took a tumble, landing hard, luckily in dirt rather than pavement. The fall drew blood only on a single finger and in less than 30 seconds, I was on my way again. I reached the finish line in one hour, 59 minutes and 33 seconds. The first, last and only woman in the 70-plus age group. I got a little plaque, a beer mug and a poster and I went home happy.

I don’t know what it is about this running thing that keeps me at it, but I feel so grateful that it is still part of my life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Niners" may be finer!

Are you by any chance on the cusp of entering a new decade in your life? Are you a niner?  That is, are you 39, 49, 59 or better? If so, here’s a little information that may surprise you.  Beware: It may not apply quite so accurately to nine-year-olds. According to a paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and reported in the June 2015 issue of Double Runner magazine, “niners” are more likely to “run a marathon, have an affair, or take part in other behaviors that reflect an ongoing search for meaning.”

These behaviors, the article by Laura Young, MD continues, can cause either constructive or destructive behavior as people reflect on the upcoming new decade in their lives. A series of six studies looked at people in 100 countries and found that this sort of behavior, ranging from seeking extra-marital affairs to committing suicide, held true world-wide.

The study used data from Athlinks.com to learn about the behavior of runners. They found that an exceptionally high percentage of first-time marathoners were “niners”. They also learned that all road runners were more than two percent faster in their races than they were in races two years before or after their “niner” year.

What’s up with all this? Perhaps it is logical that runners might up their mileage and train a bit harder in anticipation of entering a new age group where they will have the advantage of being among the youngest in the division.  Is this “niner” issue something we all recognize and acknowledge, or is it a sub-conscious thing?

Are we better off to embrace this phenomenon it or blow it off as a silly notion? Since it is going to arrive anyway for all of us, perhaps it makes sense to use it for good. Instead of having an affair, offer your partner or spouse a little added attention. Instead of vegging out in front of the TV, see if you can’t incorporate a couple more miles into your weekly training schedule. And if you’ve never addressed the challenge of running a marathon, maybe this is the year to give it a go. The same applies to a 5k or 10k, a challenging hike or bike ride.

It’s interesting to think about what it is that motivates human beings to decide to do difficult things. The fact that preparation is often uncomfortable, even painful, expensive and time-consuming does not deter people once they set a goal. Sacrifice seems to be part of the deal. It would be informative to know the ages of individuals  when they rowed solo across an ocean, climbed Mr. Everest or jumped out of an airplane for the first time. There’s another opportunity for a Ph.D dissertation.

I’m about to enter a “niner” year. But I’m approaching it forewarned, armed with the results of a study that just might make it appealing to do something crazy. How about you? Whatever your age, it’s never too early to be making some plans.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fast After Fifty

One day more than three decades ago, my son Jeff came home from Rocky Mountain High School to report that his history teacher was planning to run in the Denver Marathon that spring. So was I. That was when I was first introduced to Joe Friel.

This week a book arrived in my mailbox. Fast After 50: how to race strong for the rest of your life, is Friel’s twelfth book about athletic training and it’s a winner. I was touched by his hand-written words recalling the longevity of our friendship and the fact that it mattered to him.

What’s a history teacher doing writing nationally acclaimed books about the art and science of training for sport? Turns out Friel is over-the-top qualified. He holds a masters degree in exercise science and before he developed a reputation as an elite triathlon and cycling coach, he owned Foot of the Rockies running store in Fort Collins. During 30 years of coaching he trained national and world championship athletes such as Olympian Ryan Bolton, winner of the 2002 Ironman Triathlon in Lake Placid.

As his expertise grew, Friel began to write about what he’d learned coaching. His publications include the training bible series for cyclists and mountain bikers. This guy never stops. During this time he co-founded Training Peaks.com, a web-based software company and Training Bible Coaching with his son Dirk, a top-level bike racer. These days Friel travels internationally giving seminars, clinics and offering training camps. In his own right, he has been a Colorado State Masters Triathlon champion and a perennial USA Triathlon All-American duathlete.

Friel describes his latest book as a present to himself on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. “I was afraid of rapidly deceasing athletic performance,” he admits. “I decided to read all of the research I could find on aging and endurance.” He began by posting blogs on the subject on joefrielsblog.com. They were so well received that he knew he had to write a book about what he was learning.

The result covers myths about aging, how normal aging differs from athletic aging, how exercise affects us as we age, the roles of nature and nurture and what we can do to slow or even temporarily reverse changes that occur. He makes specific and concrete suggestions about training routines, recovery, sleep, diet and nutrition. All his statements are backed up by meticulous research.

The best thing about Fast After Fifty is that it’s fun to read. Friel’s personality comes through on every page. He’s done his homework. He’s a techie kind of guy who loves delving into research. He pulls no punches, acknowledging that there are still areas where the answers are not cut and dried and will differ with the passage of time as more and more athletes move into older age groups. “Everyone is different,” he says asserting that the volume and intensity of training regimes and diet must be tailored to the individual. In this business one size does not fit all.

You’ll have to read to the end to learn about Friel’s personal vulnerability and why he’s working harder than ever to take his own advice these days.