Monday, February 2, 2009

I hate running.

Or at least, I have from time to time.

I've had an on again, off again relationship with running.

As a kid, I didn't think about it. I never ran track, but running was a huge part of conditioning for basketball and soccer. To get ready for the season, I never intentionally laced up my shoes and went out and pounded the pavement. Didn't need to. We ran so much just goofing off and playing that we were always in decent shape by osmosis.

Then I joined the Army, and they proceeded to suck any marginal fun that there might have been in running. It was a chore, something you had to do. And that damn airborne shuffle. Those were the shortest strides I had ever seen, and they tore up my knees. Running in formation, I was taking quarter strides to try to stay in step, so my knees were barely bending. You had to stare at the back of the head of the guy in front of you. You ran around the same loop over and over. There was just nothing cool or interesting or fun about it. So running became something I only did when I had to.

Then, during my first mid-life crisis, I'm not sure what clicked but for some reason I found myself hitting the road to try to forget my problems. And for the first time in my life, I got smart about running.

I was stationed in Korea, and my best friend at the time, a guy named Bryan Chapman (who would go on to run the Kona Ironman a couple or three times and completed the Eco-Challenge back in 2001) taught me how to run smart for the first time in my life. Up until that point, "running" meant 3-4 miles at a constant 7 minute mile pace. Duh, no wonder I hated it. What Bryan showed me was that you needed to teach your body to run fast as much as you needed to train it. You had to show your legs what fast looked like. So for the first time ever, my workouts got smart. Every run had a purpose.

A typical week would include four days of running, with no two days the same. One day was focused on speed work. There was a state park right outside the gate, so I could jog about a mile to this huge expanse of parking lots. There, I could run sprints of various distances. Maybe a hundred meters out, walk back, and repeat. I could run a handful of full-gas sprints, or I could ramp up: two at 50%, two at 75%, two at 100%, then back down. Or I could run laps around the parking lot and make up my own intervals. Whatever, that day was all about speed.

Another day was all about maintenance. Those days were 3-5 mile days, and I'd line up the return so I came back on the PT test route and could time my last two miles.

Another day was for LSD, long slow distance. I usually saved this for Saturday or Sunday, when time wasn't an issue, and it was all about ground pounding. By the time I left Korea, I was casually running 15 or 20 miles at a shot, but it took a long time to get to that point.

And the fourth day was used to keep things interesting. We had a trail running through the hills (a deer trail, really, because we never saw anyone else ever walking, hiking, or running it), and running the zig-zags of this trail was used to target the legs' stabilizing muscles. Or I'd run an ad hoc fartlek course, using my watch timer to tell me when it was time to do some push-ups or sit-ups or lunges.

So part of it was that I was for the first time learning to run smart, but the mid-life crisis part probably helped as well. I finally understood what a runner's high was all about, and I'd come back from my LSD runs thinking I had solved all of the world's problems in my head at about mile fourteen or so, and if we could just get all of the world's leaders to buy a pair of Asics and go hit the road, we could save this planet. There was a one week period when I was training up near the DMZ where I got up around four every morning and did a pre-PT run, and I saw at least a dozen shooting stars right at BMNT each day. I still remember thinking, how many of those have I missed because I wasn't running before?

This period lasted maybe ten years, and during that time, I ran a handful of marathons and whatnot. Whilst in Hawaii, I formed a team that completed the Oahu Perimeter Run, a 134 mile relay race for six-man teams. (Two of my buddies ended up getting hurt and dropping out, so I wound up running about 40 miles that day, along with my COL boss. Our team was one of the last to finish, but I couldn't have had more fun.

And then at some point I started biking instead of running. And the next thing you know, running became a chore again. It was okay, but why run when you can get twice as far twice as fast on two wheels? If the weather was crap, then that's what trainers and stationary bikes were made for. And the most boring bike ride to nowhere on a trainer can be made endurable with an iPod and a decent selection of magazines. So the circle is now complete, and I once again hate running.

But now that we have the kid and time is a premium, I'm reconsidering this arrangement. For one, I don't have the time every day to check my tires, find my duds, load my jersey pockets with grub, make sure the Garmin is charged, count out CO2 cartridges and everything that goes along with going out for a ride. I don't mind doing my own bike maintenance, but during this time of the year, an hour on the bike comes with an hour in the garage, cleaning snow and ice and grime from every nook and cranny of your bike and yourself. All of a sudden, running is starting to look good again. Lace up your shoes and your out the door. Might not be as sexy as climbing aboard shiny titanium tubes and watching the road disappear beneath you, but at this point glitz and glamour are over-rated.

But if I'm going to stick with this, I need to jazz it up again, so here's part of my plan: to incorporate things like this into each run.

Slope Training

This program includes lunges, squats, upper body, and exercises to work your stabilizing muscles and to work your muscles in extension and compression. On top of that, I'm going to add a bunch of plyometric stuff into my runs. There's are park benches along my route, so there's no excuse not to stop for a minute and knock out a hundred step-ups and step-downs.

If you have any good mid-run exercises that you don't see here, please fire away.


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