March madness

This month started off right. I was well on my way to 100-plus miles in one of the oddest weather months of the year. But then came the bizarre injury that won't leave me alone.

To sum up this month, I don't have much to say. I finished with 51.9 miles ran, 15 miles walked and 13.6 miles biked. For the year I've logged 182 running miles, at least 52.4 walking miles and the new 13.6 biking miles. All told, it's 248 exercise miles for the first quarter. Below is an interesting look at my mileage so far this year by week (Blue line is running; red is walking; and orangish is biking).

Right now, I'm ready to put this quarter behind me. There have been a lot of ups and downs that I've already talked to death. Tomorrow is April 1. It's a new calendar year for this blog; it's a new quarter for the calendar year; and it's time to stop hurting.

Staying on two wheels, for now

To sum up my left foot injury in one word, I must say that it's annoying more than anything else. It's like a silent injury. It came from nowhere in the race and now it's playing mind games. In the past few days, it hasn't hurt when I get up in the mornings and it doesn't bother me during the day. When I take my dog on a walk it doesn't hurt, but as soon as I make an attempt at running it hurts.

On Thursday, I ran a half mile and it didn't really bother me. But on Friday, it did. And today it did. So, instead of forcing myself to run, I'll just continue to not run for a couple of more days before I try it again. It's not really an intense pain like it was when it first started -- it's just dull and annoying. It sort of feels like a bad bruise that's almost gone.

In the meantime, I'm amazed at how quickly I've gotten used to riding a bike. If this is what I have to do every day for a little while to stay in shape, then I'm OK with that. I'm approaching April as a month to get healed. If I can get to May without being hurt, then I'll have plenty of time to be in tip-top shape for the Rock and Roll Half. All these goals of setting PRs in other distances will take a back seat until I'm 100 percent.

Take it and run Thursday: Injuries

On a day that I ran a half mile for the first time in two weeks, I find it a bit ironic that today's theme for Take It and Run Thursday over at the Runners' Lounge is on injuries.

In four-plus years of running, I consider myself lucky that I haven't had too many injuries. The only problems I've ever had is when I increased my mileage - first in 2006 in training for a 10 miler, at the end of last year after my first marathon and less than two weeks ago in the Shamrock Half. Without really haven't to go into too much detail, the biggest lesson I've learned is to rest, rest, rest and rest. If you have a problem that impacts your running form, you have to stop. In '06 when I had knee problems, I treated it with ice and Advil, which helped get me through the race, but after a hilly 10 miler, I couldn't hardly walk for a week.

I used my first injury, though, to motivate me. I wanted to be a distance runner. Instead of sitting around that winter, I trained for a half marathon. After basically not running for two weeks after that race and then taking it really easy for a couple of more weeks, I came back feeling great. Resting was key.

At the end of last year with my heel issues, I just stopped running altogether and didn't run again until I felt no pain. With the gradual increase in miles, I came back pretty strong, only to have the other foot hurt. Today, actually, is the first day that my foot hasn't hurt at all, but I'm in the "one more day" frame of mind before attempting a few miles.

In the past two days though, I've realized how awesome it is to have a bike. In two days, I've rode about 9 miles and I've worked muscles that I forgot existed. In a short time, I already realize how important cross training needs to be and how a bike can prevent losing endurance.

The hardest thing I've encountered is how to deal with everything mentally. This recent injury hasn't been so bad, since I know that I need rest. But with nice weather, it's tough to sit still. Thankfully, I now have a bike, but I'd rather run. There's no cure for that itch to run. When you're hurt, you don't want to see other people running, you don't want to talk about it and you don't to read about it. Just know that if you're hurt, there is an end. The more patient you are, the quicker than end will get here.

4.5 miles on two wheels

So I finally bought a decent bike and got in 4.5 miles this morning. Not much, but it was the first time in at least five years that I've gone more than a few miles on a bike. Boy do I have a lot to relearn. Of course I didn't forget how to ride -- who does once you learn -- but the whole shifting gears thing and getting my butt used to the bumps will take some adjusting. Either way, I'm happy to get an aerobic workout in. My foot is still bothering me slightly, so I haven't done any running since the race.

Anyway, I'll have more details soon about my bike and the experiences I'll get on it this week ...

A gift for my feet

After my post below, I went out shoe shopping and left the store with Brooks Adrenaline GTS 8. I got the black ones since that was all the store had, but I used to have this obsession with black shoes when I was a teen, so it's sort of a retro thing for me. This is my second pair of Brooks - I got the GTS 7 last summer. They lasted 250 miles, which is good for me, and I really had no complaints about them. The Asics 2130s I have now just don't seem to be working like I want. The insides are coming apart and they're pretty close to 200 miles. I know it doesn't sound like much, but I can easily wear out some shoes. They still have some life in them, but not for running.

The Brooks today just felt right, so I'm looking forward to something new. Plus the sales people at the store were very helpful with explaining the shoe and gave some insight to why my mechanics likely lead to my shoes wearing out so quickly. So if you're ever in Richmond, I highly recommend stopping by the Roadrunner Running Store on Cary Street.

No marathon, no problem

It's hard to believe, but the first quarter of this year is almost over. If you've followed along, you know that it's been an interesting few months. I'm ending it much like it began by taking a little break. Sandwiched in between foot issues, though, have been some exciting times of building my mileage back up and having another half marathon under 1:50.

I feel like with April right around the corner, there are some new beginnings waiting for me. I'll soon be buying a bike to get more serious about cross training and to give my legs a bit of a break from pounding; the weather will hopefully get warm and stay warm so I can get in a normal routine every morning and evening; I'll soon get a new pair of shoes that will hopefully make my feet feel better; and I don't have to think about training for 26.2 miles.

This certainly makes me look forward to being a homeowner again. I'll have some time to do some yard work; I'll be able to open up the windows and get some painting done; I'll be able to take a vacation in June and not care too much if I miss my long run; and maybe I'll sleep in occasionally on Saturday and Sunday (if my dog lets me).

While I am focused on the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in August, I'm looking forward to a much different spring and summer than last year. Yes, I'll still be running a lot and doing races, but I won't have those extremely long runs that just ruin a weekend day. Last year it seemed like whenever I got to about 14 or more miles in the morning, the rest of my day was worthless.

Running has helped me become a more goal-oriented person, but it seems lately so many of my goals have focused around running. I should have a goal to get my dining room painted by the end of April. Maybe I will … as long as that PR in a 5k is somewhere close by. :-)

The search for a bike

Note to self: Never buy an $80 bike. It only causes issues 5 minutes after riding it. And never buy a bike from Target. Despite loving everything else in this store, including buying 99 percent of my running gear from there, when it comes to bikes, the staff isn't so helpful. Perhaps Target's PR department has Google alerts set up and they'll read about this and get back to me.

I'll be headed to another store very soon to complete my cross-training purchases and buy a bike that might have tires that last longer than a half-mile trip down the street and have a staff that might be willing to get another bike for me if I return it ...

March: A new racing year begins

This past weekend's Shamrock Half Marathon was truly the end of a great year. (See below or click here in case you missed the race report.) Last year's race -- held on March 17 -- was the beginning of something great for me. I ran a long-distance race without getting hurt, so I did what I said I would do -- sign up for the Richmond Marathon. Thus began this blog and eight months of being focused on the end result -- finishing 26.2 miles. Before that journey even ended, I signed up for the 2008 Shamrock Half. So since November, I've spent four months -- some of it injured -- focused on that race. So on March 16, everything seemed like it came full circle. In a way, it feels like my running year began March 17, 2007, and ended on March 16, 2008. Now I'm back to a new year.

Just as I did a year ago, I wanted to get through the Shamrock before determining what I would do the rest of the year. It's a good race to do -- it keeps me off my ass in the winter and keeps me moving even when I'd rather curl up by a fire. It helps build a good base without feeling exhausted afterward. And that's one reason why I've come to like half marathons, especially after having the experience of a marathon. It's half the soreness, half the distance for long runs and half as much stress leading up to it.

As I've already declared, I'm not running a marathon this year. After my right foot hurt in December and early January, and with my left foot bothering me during the recent race, adding 10 to 15 miles a week on to what is comfortable to me isn't something I want to do again this year. There's part of me that wants to bounce right back and tackle another half marathon - like Charlottesville at the end of April. Another part of me was ready to continue training and run a spring marathon. Unfortunately, I need to rest my foot, so it's best if I stick to my plan of two "big" races a year.

After spending the weekend at Virginia Beach, I realized that it would be a ton of fun to take part in a "big" event there when there are actually a lot of people around and when it's warm enough to get in the ocean. It's close enough to be "local" -- all I need is two hours to get there along with patience to get through the tunnel on Interstate 64, and less than a tank of gas. And for two years now, all I've been hearing is how great this race and race weekend is .... so, I signed up for the Rock and Roll Half Marathon, which will be held Aug. 31. The "Rock and Roll" name has built a good reputation in recent years, and I've never heard anything negative about the one in Virginia Beach.

The timing of it is great. It's really before the peak of what's known as "race season," so if I want to do a "big" race in the fall -- like the return of the Richmond Half Marathon -- there's plenty of recovery time built in without losing any endurance. There are also a ton of shorter races around Richmond during the summer that'll help in speed training.

As for what'll happen between now and the end of August, I'm really setting my sights on making this year the best ever again. In June I'll be entering a new age bracket in races as I hit 30, so there's no better time than now to step it up. In less than three weeks, I have the Ukrop's Monument Avenue 10k, which has become one of the largest road races in the U.S. This year more than 31,000 people have registered -- in its first race nine years ago, only 2,000 people participated. My goal for that is to have fun and to raise money for the VCU Massey Cancer Center (click here to donate). Right now my focus is to not be injured, so how fast I am that day will depend on how the recovery goes in the next week or so. This spring and summer, though, I really want to set PRs in the shorter distances. I haven't done a 5k since August, but I've got a decent streak going on. My last three 5ks dating back to November 2006 have been a PR: 23:49, 23:03 and 22:42. While setting a PR is my overall goal, I would love to break 22 minutes.

As far as 10ks go, actually running that distance would be good experience. My PR is 48:32 in December 2006 on a hilly course, and I've only done three 10ks ever with one being a cross-country style race. My goal for now is to break the 48-minute mark in a 10k. As for the half-marathon, I have the 1:44.23 still looking straight at me. I won't get into it too much, but 1,000 miles at the end of the fiscal year (July '07 through June '08) and/or the end of the calendar year would be an added bonus, but not a priority.

I hope to continue mixing up the distances -- I think doing multiple distances for races helps in the big picture. There's also a track series in the summer that I hope to participate in a few times. On top of all this is the one thing I've always struggled with: cross training. With a home gym that hasn't gotten much use and the cheapness of bikes at Target, there really isn't much excuse for me I guess. I need to add more cross training, especially right now when I'm in post-race mode with a sore foot.

Of course, all of these goals depend on staying injury free, something that hasn't gone so well this year. By focusing on a half marathon, I'm not too worried about "life getting in the way," and I don't think anything could be as bad as moving cities like last year.

I'm ready for what this year will bring me, and I look forward to having you along for the ride.

Sham rocked

There are so many ways I could start the race report for the Shamrock Half Marathon. I could wrap it up in one word: awful. But it really wasn't. I could use the words frustrating and disappointing, but it hindsight 10 hours later, it really wasn't.

I could start with discussing the 8k the day before. To me, it was just a normal easy run with an old friend of mine. I finished in 46:11.60, never running hard until the last half mile. In fact, we started more than half way back just to not get wrapped up into thinking about running fast. In the end, it was a 9:18 pace and I placed 1,353rd out of 4,920 runners. The weather was great. After the run, though, I felt a slight pain in my left foot. Nothing major. Nothing worth worrying about. The rest of the day was spent taking it easy, drinking lots of water and enjoying being away from home.

The half-marathon race report starts at 10 p.m. last night when I went to bed. I feel asleep quickly only to be awakened an hour later by some apparent domestic issues across the hall. Then a couple of hours later, the fire alarm at the hotel was going off. I looked outside and it was POURING down rain and very windy. I thought if the hotel was on fire I'd grab my wife first, my race number and my race outfit. Fortunately there was no fire and the alarm went off about 10 minutes later and I quickly went back to sleep. (Note to self and anyone else Googling Virginia Beach: Don't stay at Marjac Suites.)

So ... at 5:25 a.m. my alarm was going off. By then the rain had stopped but it was still windy. As we (my wife and my mom included) walked toward the start line, the wind was ripping through us. It was a bit chilly - mid-40s - but nothing like last year. I met my friend Travis on the way there and we continued to battle the crazy wind. The forecast was for 20-30 mph winds throughout the day, but these gusts were definitely higher. Once I got to the start line, the winds died down and were not a factor at all for us half-marathoners. (The marathoners who started an hour later probably have a different story.)

The race started slow. Even though I was closer to the start line than I was last year, my first mile time was 8:40. It was no big deal though. I avoided weaving in and out of people to conserve my energy. There was plenty of time to get on track. Mile two was in 8:11. It was a nice increase and I was feeling good and warmed up. I tossed my gloves that I started with and logged the next mile in 8:05. A nice steady increase.

Between miles 3 and 4 I tossed my long-sleeve shirt and began to pull away from Travis just a bit. The fourth mile was in 8:02. In my head I knew I was on track, but my head was also reminding me of my left foot pain. I could feel it, but it wasn't anything unmanageable at the time.

The next three miles were the best of the race - 7:55, 7:53, 7:56. Around that halfway point I knew that beating last year's time could be done. At that point I was feeling awesome physically. I was ready to maintain that pace for a couple of miles and then pick it up the last 5k. It was very similar to the way I ran this race last year.

Between miles 7 and 8 though, I couldn't ignore the pain in my foot though. I spent the next couple of miles speeding up and slowing down between the cones on the road. Keeping a pace wasn't working. Mile 8 was in 8:04. Nothing really wrong with that. I was still on track assuming I could pick it up the last bit. Mile 9 was also 8:04. OK ... hitting last year's time is still a possibility. Just pick it up, is what I was telling myself.

Picking it up, though, just hurt. It was like taking a nail to the side of my foot and hitting a hammer. People around me were picking it up and I was passing no one. When people would pass me, I'd pick it up for about 5 seconds to keep their pace. It helped a bit because I still hit mile 10 in 8 minutes flat. In my head I knew if I ran a 5k like I know I can, I could still hit my time from 2007. It was kind of far-fetched, but I tried to pick it up. Mile 11 was 8:06. It was then that I knew I better slow down and not hurt myself more than I already had. Beating my goal time was out of the question.

As I slowed a bit, my foot began hurting worse. Just before mile 12 I had to stop. So I stopped briefly to stretch my foot. I still hit mile 12 in 8:56, but despite my body having plenty of fuel left, my foot had nothing to give. As the race turned onto Atlantic Avenue, I stopped twice to stretch a bit. I wasn't about to turn onto the Boardwalk and walk in front of all the supporters. My last 1.1 miles was 11:10, with the two stops included. It was saddening to be getting passed by everyone, but I was leaving what I could leave on that course. I would have loved to have finished strong -- my upper legs, my lung and my brain wanted to and could have had it not been for my left foot.

In the end, my chip time was 1:49.07, an 8:20 pace. Had I never ran this race before, I would have been thrilled with this time. For a short time, I was very disappointed that an injury came out of nowhere to kill my momentum. But how can I be upset about that time? I was 836th of 5,501 runners; 104th out of 365 in my 25-29 age group; and 620th out of 2,339 men. And I probably saved myself from a serious injury by stopping when I wanted to push it.

As for the Dolphin Challenge -- doing both the 8k and half marathon -- I was 36th out of 222 participants. Not bad for not really racing the 8k. (Note: these actual number of runners could change in the next couple of days.)

Afterward, I had trouble finding my mom and my wife -- somehow they missed the slow guy crossing the finish line. I went to the tent on the beach and had a couple of beers and then ventured back to the hotel. Here at the end of the day, my foot doesn't hurt me too much when I don't have shoes on. My legs aren't too sore either. It kind of feels like a hard shorter race rather than a half marathon.

As for now, I'm going to enjoy the fact that I finished this race in one piece. It's only my fourth half marathon, and only my second one with a race frame of mind, so I'm still getting used to what my body has to go through to get ready for this distance. With the exception of this freak injury, today was perfect. I did everything right. Mentally and physically, I feel like I have a lot of potential to still unlock.

For the record, though, I will not be running a marathon this year. I have some ideas for a long-distance race or two this year, but that's another post for tomorrow or later this week. It's time to drink some Magic Hat and eat some pizza.

The biggest Shamrock variable: The weather

Things are looking good for Sunday. There's a chance of rain on Saturday, but it should be out of here by the time the Shamrock starts. Since the race starts at 7 a.m., it begins in the dark thanks to the daylight-saving time change. Last year it was clear and it was beautiful to see the sun rising over the ocean. Temperatures for Sunday should be in the upper 30s/low 40s at the start. Cool, but perfect for running. It shouldn't warm up too much that early in the day either. Sunday's forecast high is only 51.

Last year's race started in the mid-20s and may have hit 30 by the end of the race. It was also very windy the second half of the race. It was quite miserable actually. It had warmed up a bit in the week's leading up to the event, but race weekend was freeeeezing. It actually flurried a bit the day before. I'm looking forward to starting in some old gloves that I can discard and maybe chuck an old T-shirt as well. I figure after a mile or two, I'll be comfortable in short sleeves. The gear will be a race-time decision.

As for Saturday, if it's raining, I'll likely skip the 8k or run part of it and go back to my hotel. I don't want to risk getting hurt by slipping, exposing myself to bad weather, etc. We'll see what happens.

In the morning I'm planning a final race tuneup by waking up a little earlier and getting about a mile tempo in. Race day is a little earlier than I'm used to and I've had a hard time this week adjusting to the time change. I've also been tired from four days of covering the CAA tournament. (You know, this year's George Mason, could be George Mason ...)

As far as what happens after this race, I'm still waiting until after this race. I'm not really budging on those thoughts. Part of me wants to rest, part of me wants to do something "big" soon and part of me wants to sign up for a big race for later in the year. We'll see how 13.1 miles of all out running feels.

Pre-Shamrock thoughts

In just a few days, I'll be headed out on a 13.1-mile quest. My thoughts before the Shamrock Half Marathon are all over the place.

While there's part of me that feels like I've done a lot of half marathons, the reality is this is only the second one I've done with a racing frame of mind. My first 13.1 event in the summer of 2006 was used as a long run to get ready for the Virginia Ten Miler. I surprised myself by finishing in less than two hours. Then came last year's Shamrock in which I went out with a goal to beat my 2006 time and get as close to 1:45 as I could. This past summer I did the Lynchburg half marathon again, but that was really a long run in my marathon training. I wasn't really thinking about racing.

So what does that mean for this weekend? I would love to beat my time from last year. I have logged fewer miles in the past three months than I did last year, but I've been more consistent with building my mileage. I also have the marathon experience, which I think has really helped with maintaining being in shape. This year I had to recover from an injury, which hurt my miles, but gave me extra time to get over whatever the marathon did to my body. I do weigh a few more pounds than last year at this time, but I feel really good.

So I have this time staring at me in the face - 1:44:23. I'm ready to try and beat that, but if I fall short it's no big deal. Like last year, this event is really a springboard for the rest of the year. I've managed to stay in decent shape through the winter, and this gives me a chance to perform well all year.

I guess my pre-race thoughts are just mixed right now. I'm doing the "Dolphin Challenge" this weekend by doing an 8k on Saturday, but I have no intentions of running that hard at all. In fact, it'll be my slowest event ever I hope. For now, it's time to rest and try to clear my mind.

This weather can kiss it

After my rant yesterday, I woke up this morning ... feeling tired. It was about 20 degrees colder than yesterday, but no wind, so that was nice. Sort of. 50 degrees one day, 30 the next. That kind of swing just makes it tough to keep going. I long for the days of complaining about the heat.

So anyway, after my usual warm-up walk and jog with my wife and dog, I ventured over to the nearby park where I had my mind set on intervals. Like last week, I started off with a quarter mile. My time was 1:49, 20 seconds faster than my first quarter mile a week ago. After a quarter mile cool down, it was another quarter mile. This one was 1:48. It all felt great too -- nice and consistent. I then set my sites on a nice steady mile. Not an all-out mile. Just something that felt right. So I managed to log a 7:53 mile.

Overall today I ran 4.5 miles. Everything went well, yet I still feel like I'm in some strange funk. Maybe I'm just ready for the race to get here. Maybe I need a day off work. Who knows. Speaking of work, this weekend I'll be covering the Colonial Athletic Association tournament -- you know, the same league that has George Mason (Final Four in 2006) and Virginia Commonwealth University (the team that beat Duke last year). I mention it for two reasons. No. 1 is it'll be a pretty cool experience, just like covering the NASCAR race last fall and a recent Democratic dinner where Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both spoke. Secondly, though, it's possible that this tournament will get in the way of a long run this weekend. I'll still have time to run, but probably not as much as I'd like. Losing an hour on Sunday won't help. It's been a while since "life got in the way," but at least it's coming at a time in which I probably need to give my legs a break anyway.

Get me to the race on time

Virginia's winter has been pleasant. Despite that, I am so sick of up and down temperatures and wind that I don't know how I haven't managed to join a gym this winter. Despite it being 50 degrees this morning, there was a wind that just cut through what I was wearing. It's enough to question what the hell I am doing training for a race in the winter.

I'm starting to feel like that "My Fair Lady" song, "Get Me to the Church on Time." Just replace church with race. Ding dong! The bells are going to chime. I know in a little more than a week, I'll be pumped on race day. If it's 20 degrees like last year or 60 degrees, I'll be ready. But I'm tired of feeling cold and tired of putting on layers only to get hot 3 miles later. I'm tired of gaining weight in the winter no matter what I do. (Get me to the church ... get me to the church ...)

Maybe it's time to do something different and get my mind off these "big" races. Like adult league basketball, or get into playing tennis. Maybe I should join a gym to put miles on an elliptical machine. Or maybe I should shut up and sign up for a marathon after Shamrock. It is, afterall, what I did last year after having these same exact thoughts ... just get me to the church (race) on time ...

The mistake of 3

I've never been one to run three days in a row. Rarely have I done it. And when I do, that third day seems so worthless. Or if I do, one of those days is usually less than three miles and acts as a recovery run rather than a training run.

Well, I tried running three days in a row this past weekend at a higher mileage, but I just ran out of gas on my long run. Two weeks ago it actually worked, but I took a 36-hour break between Wednesday and Thursday. So after this past weekend, you won't see me attempting three days in a row of running again like this. I'm not saying I won't run three days in a row ... I'll just take a much different approach than I did this past weekend.

I felt so tired yesterday, and even this morning I was still struggling. From the waist up I feel great, but the rest of me is exhausted. So today I just walked and did a short jog with my dog, but I'm already looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow. I'm glad that I listened to my body and stopped when I did on Sunday, or else this post might be a completely different story.

The streak has ended

Every week so far this year has seen an increase in mileage ... until this week. And I'm actually only a mile away from passing last week's total. The thing is, I'm tired and my body just doesn't have another mile in me today. After a tough hilly group run yesterday of nearly 6 miles, I cut my long run short today to 8 miles, bringing my weekly total to 24.6 miles. I did creep my mileage past 100 miles in the past 31 days, so I sort of feel like I can say I had a 100-mile month. It's just an "unofficial" month.

With two weeks to go to the Shamrock Half Marathon, my plan this week is to bump my mid-week mileage up a little bit and shoot for 10 miles as a long run next week. The weather is looking a little more consistent this week, so that'll make things easier. These up and down temperatures are really starting to bug me -- each day is just another day closer to spring!