Friday, September 30, 2011

The Healing Power of a Good Run

I know people that are always looking for a miracle fix-it:

< mocking sneer in lilting fancy-boy voice >
Oh, I have a headache better pop an aspirin.
Oh, no, part of my tooth fell out. Time to go to the dentist for a filling.
I was just hit by a car. Someone call 9-1-1 while I gather the bone shards from my diced clavicle.

< / mocking sneer in lilting fancy-boy voice >

Sheesh…ibuprofen, alloy amalgams, Vicodin, ambulances…folks, these things don’t solve all of life’s problems. Sure, the Vicodin can take you on a distractedly strange and magical journey that lasts a few hours before depositing your tattered consciousness back into the hot stew of your troubles. Well worth it - just to get re-acquainted with Salvador Dali style surrealism if only for a short time - but hardly a miracle fix-it.

You don’t have to go all Anna Nicole if life’s physical and mental woes have you down. See those running shoes over there under the Ab Lounger/coat rack? Go on, put them on. There’s the miracle fix-it you crave. C’mon, just one little step. I’ll give you the first mile free. Try it. I bet you like it. Plus, have you seen all of the sold out marathons? Everyone’s doing it.

Case(s) in point: I was recently struggling with some post-half marathon upper respiratory tightness. I felt my annual chest cold coming on. I went out for an 8 miler. Three miles in, I wanted to quit. I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt uncomfortable and fatigued. Did I quit? Am I not Nitmos? Of course not, I pressed on as the slave to my running log that I am. Facing a few hills and a sharp headwind, it was not going to be pretty. I was wishing I had some Vicodin. At one point, I was wishing that I tripped and shattered my clavicle. But, mostly, I was wishing for the Vicodin (and maybe some Vicodin-flavored whiskey*).

Then, the clouds parted, a ray of sun shone through, and a giant floating clock appeared and ticked…then tocked…then melted in front of my very eyes. Then I remembered that I had consumed some Vicodin-flavored Gu a few minutes beforehand. At any rate, a miracle occurred. An epiphany ephiphaned. I charged up the remaining humps of the hills with frenzied spinning legs, like a teenage boy’s arms fumbling with Anna Nicole’s bra strap, and huffing breaths. At the top, I turned and looked into the valley of abandoned despair. I could see the red little devil-horned chest cold baby floundering on the sidewalk amidst its bioslime covering. He could no longer cling to a healthy body in motion.

I bounded down the sidewalk like a gazelle and never again looked back. Chest cold? No. Lungs tight? No. Breathing labored and fatigued? No. Clavicle intact? Yes. Nipples hard? You betcha (Hi Sarah!), it was cold out.

This same sort of miracle fix-it happened a few days later too. My left foot was throbbing due to some impromptu yard soccer-rugby that the boy and I tend to play. (It involves me trying to tackle/trip/push him while he dribbles the ball in circles around me.) The first mile was miserable. Did I quit? Am I not Nitmos? Hell no, I kept running until I couldn’t feel the foot anymore. I figured I either damaged it severely and it is now numb - so better keep running and deal with that problem later (you know, get as many miles in as you can while you can't feel anything) – or it worked itself out.

Guess what? It worked itself out. No foot pain whatsoever. I must have lost it on the run like that miserable little chest cold baby.

Bad day? Get a good run in. Bad kidney stone? Good run. Bad toothache? Good run. Bad break-up? Good run. Bad cirrhosis? Good run. Whatever your ailment, a good run is the cure. And approximately 1500mg Vicodin**. But, mostly, the running thing.

The only side effect? Apparently, a nasty habit of asking rhetorical questions. How many have I asked in this little blog post? Seventeen.

Happy trails?

Eighteen. Happy trails.

*Don’t take medicinal advice from me.
**I warned you, don’t take medicinal advice from me.

It's been years since I revisited my Enjoy These Links sidebar (which you probably didn't even know I had there) and, lo and behold, half of the links were either downright dead or no longer updating. I have updated my links. This is not a complete list but, I think, are some of the most consistently enjoyable/thought-provoking/entertaining runner writers (or, exercise writers) out there. Check them out! Yes, I left Half-Fast on there despite the fact that he cares so little about anyone that he isn't even bothering to put a crappy Happy Labor Day! post out there. What an ass.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mine Got Even Bigger

My 2011 Capital City River Run half marathon race report.

You may remember the double entendre in the post title from such classic prior Capital City River Run race reports as:

2009: Mine is Shorter Than Yours
2010: Mine is Longer Than Yours

Once again, they f-ed me. That’s right, according to infallible Garmin (p.b.t.n*), the already long half marathon course…got even longer again this year. It’s like the race organizers are using some sort of enlargement device to make it longer (and girthier) every single year. Really, it’s unnatural and, the way it weaves all over the place, entirely too veiny. The good news is that, despite the extra inches, I was able to set a new course PR. The bad news is that, due to the extra inches, I wasn’t able to set a distance PR.

To begin at the beginning (a very good place to begin), this was to be my second and, most likely, last half marathon of the year. In May, I set a PR of 1:26:37 on a largely flat, perfectly measured course. Then, per usual, I started getting all braggy about how I’d go ahead and devote my summer to some hard training and come back in September to set yet another PR. If there is one thing I’m good at, it’s telling people about the wonderful things I’m gonna do. If there’s two things I’m good at, it’s assigning external blame when the first thing I’m good at inevitably doesn’t happen. Consider this post my #2 thing I’m good at.

The truth is that, though I trained consistently hard through-out the summer, I didn’t really “up the ante” from what I had been doing prior to the Bayshore Half in May. More like, I put my brain, legs, and training plan pen on auto-pilot and just kinda….kept on going. Same training distances. Same paces. Hell, largely even the same unwashed compression shorts/end table. I wasn’t really expecting to kick ass. But I was thinking about taking a few names though I’d commit them to memory…no need for a Rolodex.

I showed up at the course full of yawns and fecal matter. The yawns were easy to pass. The fecal matter….another story…but not through lack of effort. I was one grunt away from running a half marathon with a spidery hemorrhoid hanging out of my unwashed compression shorts. Did you hear about the Irishman caught recently with 72 bags of cocaine in his abdomen? This is not a joke. There’s no punchline. See, here’s the actual story. And the CAT scan.

And you thought runners were gaunt? Dude, we can see your ribs.

That’s what I felt like with the pressing on my lower g.i. Except, it wasn’t cocaine. Well, it wasn’t all cocaine. There was a fair amount of Chili’s chicken tender tacos, chocolate pudding pie, and Good n’Plenty’s in there. You know, your normal pre-race fuel. I knew right off that this race would be a battle considering the 72 little bags of waste stowing away in my small intestines. I could only hope the course was more in line with the Bayshore distance (13.13 miles) if I wanted to PR. Hey, they redesigned it – again – this year so there was always the chance, right?

I won’t bore you with the mile by mile details except to point out that the key point came around the 7 mile mark. I had been following a group of 7-8 runners - whom I nicknamed the “peloton” - by about 15 seconds. They were marching along at a consistent pace in the neighborhood of 6:30 minute miles. I knew that my PR hopes were pinned to sticking with the peloton. But, man, my little stowaways were starting to get a little rowdy. I wasn’t sure I was up for it. Frankly, I felt like easing off and spending the next 6 miles coming up with a creative excuse to blame for my failure. Even more frankly, I felt like easing off and figuring out a way to get to the finish with no more than 20 stowaways left.

This was my Flight or Fight moment. It came earlier in the race than I expected. I’m happy to report that I chose to Fight, mainly because I received a small bump in motivation from the peloton. The #3 overall female runner was in the group but she had slowly slipped off the pace and I had gradually gained even with her by mile 8. As I moved on past, I could tell that she was using me as a pacer. Nobody uses me as a pacer. Hell, no one uses me at all. I’m the notorious user around here. I felt strangely obligated to carry the pace forward under some sort of unwritten runner’s code of race pacer ethics. So I did. My robot brain overrode the yipping from my lower g.i. and the body went marching along under its monotone command.

My mile by mile splits weren’t nearly as consistent as I would have liked. I think they reflect my waxing/waning motivation. Here they are, for posterity, in all their mundane glory:

Mile 01 6:40
Mile 02 6:43
Mile 03 6:48
Mile 04 6:24
Mile 05 6:31
Mile 06 6:34
Mile 07 6:36
Mile 08 6:31
Mile 09 6:38 (overall time, 59:24 – compared to 59:37 at Bayshore – ahead of pace!)
Mile 10 6:43
Mile 11 6:28
Mile 12 6:30
Mile 13 6:33 (overall time, 1:25:38 – compared to 1:25:51 at Bayshore – ahead of pace!)
Last bit 5:53 pace (1:49 time - .31 miles according to Garmin(p.b.t.n.))

Numbers? Yes, numbers:

1:27:27 time
13.11 miles (Garmin sez 13.31 miles)
6:34 pace

25th of 1630 overall
of 106 in age group

No PR. Despite being faster than PR pace through 9 miles and 13 miles, each by 13 seconds, the long, engorged course raped me in the final post-13 miles distance by over a minute. I wasn’t in shape for that extra girth. Still, I’m glad I didn’t prematurely emasculate myself at mile 7 and stayed in the fight. It was, after all, a new course PR! Compare from year to year (according to Garmin):

Year – Dist - Time
2009 13.21 1:28:51
2010 13.29 1:27:43
2011 13.31 1:27:27

They can keep making the course longer but I’ll keep setting course PR’s apparently. Hell, by the time this course measures at an even 14 miles in a few years, I should be able to run it in 1:20, right?

I’ll take my course PR, my half marathon per mile pace PR (6:34), and my little stowaways home with subdued satisfaction. They can keep pumping up that course and I’ll keep setting a personal best on the sumbitch.

Oh, and yes, I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and ejecting stowaways, if anyone was concerned. Lots and lots of reading. Lots and lots of puckering.

Happy trails.

*”praise be thy name” for those who forgot

Friday, September 16, 2011

Run Robot, Run!

Folks, we are getting closer to the days when we won’t actually have to run marathons. Behold the creation from the University of Michigan (the leaders and best.) This is MABEL. She’s a sexy running robot.

So now they are building robots with two legs and knees. Knees?! As in “I torn my ACL and will be bedridden for 26 months” knees? I thought the goal of robotic creations was to improve upon the human form to make tasks more efficient, less prone to human injury and fatigue? And so you build a robot with knees? That apparently, as shown in the video, favors the Galloway run/walk system?

I’m told their next generation MABEL will have asthma and adult onset Diabetes. They are going to keep creating new, improved generations until they get to a generation that refuses to get off the couch and prefers to bitch about the weather instead.

I spend half my running time dreaming of robotic wheels to replace my tired legs and these guys are building mechanical knees? I guess it’s still a work in progress though. At 6.8 mph, MABEL won’t qualify for Boston. They don’t have oil flavored Gu there anyhow. Heck, she wouldn’t even age group a local 5k.

There is something to be said for robotic running though. I admit to using a little psychological trick when racing to try to disassociate from my fatigue. I have a half marathon this weekend and I’ll be employing a little Robotic Brain on the course. Inevitably, there comes that point in the race where my breathing accelerates, stride lengthens, and the negative thoughts creep in. I’m at the key spot where the Fight or Flight path will be chosen. In a half marathon, it usually comes around the ten mile mark. I can’t fathom doing another three miles at current pace. I’ve started to become conscious of my own labored breathing. And my arms that once hung loosely by my side are now bunched up, elbows akimbo, swatting at the air with every stride.

When I get to that point, I try to become a cyborg. From the neck up, I’m an emotionless, slave-driving computer. My lungs and legs (and knees!) take direction from the command post. When the body attempts to send signals back to the brain that it’d like to slow up, please, and stop for a Fresca and a scone, the cyborg brain blocks the message and replies with short, authoritative monotone commands:

“Maintain current speed.”
“Relax arms and shoulders.”
“Breathe fuller, easier.”
“Wipe chin spittle. Have some self respect for chrissakes.”

Seriously, it sounds stupid but I really think that way. My body likes to try to quit way sooner than my head. So I’ve become accustomed to simply detaching my thoughts from my feelings. I actually imagine that I’ve stepped out of the tired body and crawled up into my cyborg head. I know my body is fatiguing….but I also know that there is more to give in there somewhere. Maybe a bit more energy in the 4th toe? Check there.

I run the first 10 miles with my body and the last 3 with my head. And I’m living in my head at that point. The body is all rundown and gross and the foundation is leaking. I abandon it like I'm an upside down mortgagee. My head is still crisp, clean and filled with people wearing matching silver jumpsuits and carrying clipboards. In other words, by mile 10, my body is the abandoned home of the average American and my head is filled with bankers walking around holding deeds and blowing their nose on the wads of crumpled cash falling out of their pockets. Stupid bankers.

I’ve been pretty successful at disassociating the pain and fatigue by becoming a cyborg runner. I’ll probably continue with the technique until the day comes when I don’t have to run at all.

Just a few more mph’s on ol’ MABEL and I can get one of them to run the race for me. Have you seen the new movie trailer for Real Steel? It’s like a real life version of Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots. Why would robotic athletics be confined to boxing?

Oh, yeah, this is happening. The day will come when I won’t have to run these marathons at all. I’ll wear a headset, sipping a Fresca while sitting on the couch, issuing commands to my own MABEL and she'll herky-jerky step her way through a marathon.

I just hope she doesn’t blow out a knee. I guess.

Happy trails.

I only half-heartedly trained for the Capital City River Run half marathon. I intended to train hard…and then summer days and summer vacations and Oberon got in the way a bit. So, goals, quick and easy:

a) Beat 1:26:37 and PR.
b) Beat 1:27:43 and set a course PR.
c) Beat 1:28.

I'm hoping for the B goal, realistically. I ran my current PR time back in May but this is a longer (measures 13.29 miles compared to 13.15 miles on my PR course) and slightly more challenging course. So, I’d need to be at least one minute faster just to match my PR time. I’m not sure I’m any faster. I may run exactly the same as in May and barely beat 1:28. We’ll see. No worries, though. It should be a beautiful day for a run either way.

Side track note: I overheard my colt’s soccer coach discussing fitness with the team and how they should run or cycle on off days. I even heard him explain the term “fartlek” and how it can be used to build speed. You have no idea how weird it is to hear that term in a non-running environment.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Cold Lung Disease

I hate this time of year. Overnight, the weather has shifted. Last Friday was the final “hot” summer day of the year. When Labor Day weekend comes, it’s like someone flips a giant “screw Michigan” switch and it gets chilly, cloudy, and the leaves start dropping. My normally robust balls start cowering close to my abdomen for protection. I haven’t seen the sun in four days. And that was on the heels of a string of 90 degree plus days where the only thing not sweating was your eyeballs but that’s only because they come with their own windshield wipers.You never hear me complain about the summer heat. Sure, I might point out how the warm air affects my running or question how people from the south run in the extreme heat, like in my last post, but never, NEVER do I wish away the summer heat. It’s too precious of a commodity around these parts. To those Midwesterners that complain about running when it’s hot out? I don’t want to hear you complain over the next 8 months about how it is too cold. You wished away the heat so now enjoy the next three seasons and your YakTrax. We’ll see a full day’s worth of sunshine maybe a dozen times now until May and that’s no exaggeration. If you live in a warm climate, remind me what the sun looks like every now and then m’kay? My sunglasses will be as useless as my Members Only jacket.

This state is almost uninhabitable. But at least we are not Ohio.

I am, however, not above complaining about the cold. In fact, I’m a champion Cold Weather Bitcher like most Midwesterners. You’ll hear a ton of that over the next 8 months. And that’s really the point of this post. It’s not exactly “cold” per se either. It’s in the mid 60’s and constantly drizzly. It’s really near perfect running weather. But when you’ve been sucking in hot summer air for the last four months and suddenly your morning long run is 52 degrees with a nippy breeze, your lungs eject the air back out like a cheap Hollywood spit take. Ever spray a passing runner with Gatorade spittle? It’s not as comical as Laurel and Hardy would have you believe.

I attempted another 8 mile “race pace” time trial last night and, per Michigan standards, it was around 60 with a chilly breeze. My lungs were tight, my colon was clogged (don’t eat Frosted Mini-Wheats if you will be running later), and my breathing was labored. The two little shriveled balloons inside my chest cavity simply would not take in enough air to keep the heart rate down and the engine running. My lungs ejected the chilled air. They were as useless as a dog groomer in Korea.

With a few well-timed intersection traffic light breaks, I was able to complete my 8 miles at a 6:35/mile pace per plan. But I double checked the race website and, again this year, they will not feature periodic rest stops with no time penalty. I’m on my own. Again. Their stubborn insistence on 13+ miles – run consecutively – is growing as tiresome as my lame “useless” joke comparisons in this post. But there’s only one more of those to go.

I guess I’ll just need some more time to suck it up - to suck it in. As the temperature drops, it takes a few weeks for my innards to adjust. It’s like when I go on vacation and don’t poop for 5 days. Everything holds on for dear life inside until it has no place to go and falls out like a Titanic victim frantically grasping for a railing. Eventually my colon settles into routine; eventually my lungs will as well. They have 9 more days to adjust until the half marathon. Better get adjustin’. Quickly.

Until then, they are as useless as a Futon store in the Upper West Side of New York.

Yep, good work on those jokes, Nitmos. /wipinghandstogetherpattingselfonback

Happy trails.
Happy 16 years to Mrs. Nitmos! How she did it, I don’t know. She’s a true endurance wife. I have a few more “useless” jokes that didn’t make the cut to share with you…and consider the ones that did make it, you could be in for a long evening. Here we are in recent warmer times. Can you name this exact location? It's from my recent Florida trip. Not much to go on but a beautiful evening, sunset, some background architecture and our rum flushed faces.

And, yes, that is a Boston shirt. I wear it everywhere. Want to fight about it?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Everywhere Signs

Here’s what I love about Northern Michigan: Signs.

This appeared a few years ago on the route to one of my normal race destinations. I know what you are thinking. How do they get the bears to cross the highway within those same five miles? Dunno but it sure is a neat trick. I like to stand just in front of the sign wearing nothing but a slathering of honey and my shame (and my Garmin, for obvious reasons). There’s nothing that the sign-following bears can do about it right. Right? Stupid bears.

For the record, I’ve never seen any bears along this stretch of road but I have seen a few mobile homes with stick built makeshift roofs over top. Classy. And so far, the record for number of rusty pick-up trucks parked in the gravel drive of a mobile home with a makeshift roof is…9. C’mon Northern Michigan, you can do better than that! This is the land where “You Can Have My Gun When You Pry It From My Cold Dead Fingers” bumper stickers are as prevalent as Southerners and their “South Will Rise Again” stickers. And speaking of the South…

It’s been a hectic few weeks. Last you knew, I was heading to Florida – in August – for more R & R. This was resoundingly accomplished. Didn’t you get Mrs. Nitmos’ Facebook update titled Patron, Bitches! sometime on August 22nd? Well maybe you should be friendlier to Mrs. Nitmos so you can be Friended to receive updates such as Patron, Bitches! as well as photo evidence of me playing pool volleyball while floating horseback style astride two partial weight-bearing water noodles after several shots and a few Heinekens. Tequila, pool, water noodles, midnight volleyball = advantage Nitmos! You won't find that picture here.

I wish I could share more of my vacation with you but our cameras are now “evidence” and our accompanying friends are now termed “material witnesses”. On advice from council, that’s all I’ll say about Florida other than…how in the hell do you southern folk run in that heat?? I managed three runs in the easy, vacation-friendly 3-4 mile range and worked up enough sweat to match a 15 miler here in mild Michigan. Holy suffocation, David Carradine! I didn’t think “heat” should have a consistency and flavor. My sweat beads dried up while ejecting half way down my torso…due to dehydration. Maybe I don’t feel so bad now when I have to dress up like a Sherpa just to get a few January miles in.

Over Labor Day, Mrs. Nitmos (bike) and I (legs) took in 14 wonderful miles along a scenic rails-to-trails path in Northern Michigan. There’s something pleasant and reinvigorating about a run through the quiet countryside. At least, there is until you come upon this scene:

I don’t want to know who sits in that chair watching the runners…and his bird friends. Feel free to hum the standard Deliverance ass-rape banjo accompaniment to yourself. If that seems like a good place for a fartlek…it was.

And since our Northern Michiganders are so sign conscious, they had the foresight to warn us that some tractors might be working in the area as well here:

And here:
Also here:
Like the bears, I also didn’t see any actual tractors either. And that’s what scares me. If someone is taking the trouble to post these signs, that means the threat is in the area somewhere. So…where are the bears? Where are the tractors? And, praise jeebus, where in the hell is the guy that sits in that yard armchair?

Soo-ee! Oink-oink.

Happy trails.
Any mention of "signs" brings out my favorite: Who’s the jerk that likes to make fun of slow kids by posting signs rather than taking them to the track for some much needed speed work (apparently)? Oh, that was me.