Silly September

At the end of the month, I usually do some sort of month recap. I've missed some months along the way -- like last month, which ended with a race and I pretty much forgot about it -- but I usually like to take a look back on what has happened both positively and negatively.

If you have followed my blog, you already know that September was pretty much an off month for me. I did it for various reasons, but the No. 1 reason was to give myself a break by choice. Sure I've had some breaks in the past year, but they were mainly due to injury. I wanted a break by choice. It wasn't a complete break from running -- it was a break from doing things because of a race. My random runs were actually pretty good. I happily increased my dog's miles along the way as well. I also got back on the bike after a couple of months off it. I didn't get many miles, but it was enough to feel comfortable again on two wheels. The totals: 24.8 running miles (compared to more than 100 miles in August); 19.9 biking miles; and more than 20 walking miles. Surprisingly, when it comes to running, it wasn't my lowest total for the year -- that came in April when I was getting over an injury.

So now that September is over, I can finally answer the question of what's next. I have decided to run the Ntelos 8k in Richmond in November. It's the same day of the Richmond Marathon and the new Richmond Half Marathon. Simply put, it's a huge running day in Richmond. While it's not a "big" race when it comes to mileage, it's a "big" race with more than 2,000 people taking part in the 8k. That distance is what I'm comfortable with right now. It'll be nice over the next six weeks to have a few runs a week in the 3-4 mile range and "long" runs in the 5-6 mile range. It's a welcome break from what I've been used to for almost two years. I'll detail my goals sometime in the next few weeks.

I may do a 5k along the way, but honestly I just want to spend the next couple of weeks getting into a normal routine. My September normal is over and it's time to get refocused.

Rain and wind ... and sleep

Whatever you want to call it -- a month off, a month of laziness, a month of recovery -- today I am even happier about the choices I have made concerning racing this fall. It's raining ... it's windy ... it's strangely cold ... and I don't have a gym membership. While I respect all of you training for an upcoming event, I am perfectly content to get an extra half hour of sleep in the morning.

Getting to the bottom ... of my feet

Last week I started experiencing some discomfort (not pain) in my feet and some pain (not discomfort) in my back. Actually, my back pain probably started two weeks ago. It was never anything that seemed out of the ordinary. I had just come off a few months of increasing my mileage and had just ran a long race -- it wasn't anything unusual ... but it wasn't going away.

Then this week it clicked -- I'm wearing nicer shoes to work that didn't have gel insoles in them. I hadn't really wore those shoes too much over the summer, so my feet really weren't used to them. So last night I bought some new insoles and today ... well, today everything felt much better. Problem solved. I guess my feet have become spoiled with using gel insoles, but man they feel good.

I'm still easing off the mileage with running while putting a little more emphasis on the bike. It's a whole lot of little things adding up to some fun workouts. September will eventually go down as a good recovery month for me. It really has helped my mind a lot with not worrying about racing.

Planning around life

I'll hit this nail on the head one more time ... I am glad I'm not training for a long-distance race right now. The weather is beautiful, but unlike last fall, I feel like I can do something with my weekends now, although much of them have been very busy. A year ago, it seemed I planned my life around running. This year I am planning my running around my life. This week, though, was actually more about getting back on my bike instead of running. And my tail bone feels fine, thankfully.

This coming week I'll probably run more than last week, although the upcoming weekend is already going to be busy. I really don't mind though -- it's a very nice change of pace.

Take It and Run Thursday: Running Blogs

Today's "Take It and Run" theme over at the Runners Lounge is about running blogs. I certainly have my share that I read -- some not even listed over to the right side of this page. I really like this theme -- I've been looking to update my list of regular blogs I read and them link to them, so I'm anxious to get to today's posts if I ever have the time. Anyway, here's a look at some of my regulars. Thanks to everyone who reads mine regularly!

Andrew is getting fit -- This is a great mix of humor, facts, weigh-ins and various motivation factors. Andrew is literally a world away and updates his blog often.

Rob Dares -- What started as a weight loss journey turned into running a marathon. Rob has a great story to tell that just keeps on going.

Non-Running Nancy -- Who doesn't ready Nancy's blog??

Recast In Iron -- Jason was one of the first bloggers I came across when I started blogging last year. Together we made it through the Richmond Marathon and the Shamrock Half Marathon ... yet we've never met! Anyway, Jason's journey continues with goals beyond doing a marathon.

A Viking, Running -- This guy is hilarious. He may be sporadic with his posting -- sometimes three or four times a week; sometimes he'll go a couple of weeks without writing -- but it's always a great read.

The Journey ...
-- This girl does it all despite a very busy life. Check it out.

Back in May, I gave a shout out to several bloggers. The title was "Yo Bloggers" -- click here to check it out.

Hello bike, remember me?

There's no question that my tail bone injury in July really screwed some things up for me in several ways. Missed runs, missed sleep, missed job interviews, no biking, no driving, lots of bitching about my tail bone hurting ... most of these things have worked themselves out, except for biking. I tried getting back on my bike a couple of times in August, BUT my butt still hurt too much for a smaller seat and bumps on the road. Instead of trying to bike at least once a week, I just ran. And eventually, my bike seat gathered a lot of dust and dog hair on the spokes.

For the past month or so, I've thought a lot about going out and biking. I then had some good excuses going on in my mind -- first was the race and I didn't want to start over close to a race; then my job came along and until this week I've had a rough time adjusting to a new schedule after two whirlwind weekends out of town. Then this weekend came and went; then I was in D.C. for the day this past Monday for work; then I ran yesterday ... and damn, I can't think of a reason to not bike today. So this evening after a walk with my wife and dog, I busted out the two-wheeler and went out for a few miles.

It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. It was better than thinking about doing it. Now comes the fun part of making it a regular thing, all while combating the fact that daylight is getting less and less every day. I cannot get up earlier to get my full workout in, so I'm in a gradual shift of become a person who works out in the evenings. So far it hasn't been too bad. I'm pretty much staying very open minded about when I can get a workout in. I feel, though, that a gym membership may be coming this winter.

A non-title title because my creativity is lacking

While many of my recent blog posts have been about just happy being running and not worrying about racing, I haven't really discussed my actual runs too much. Well, there really hasn't been much to report. My runs have been shorter, but I feel like I've stepped up my intensity.

My runs have generally been around 8:30 to 9 minute mile paces, which is going at a pretty good clip for me considering I'm not training for anything. Maintaining that pace is key to what I would want to do in a 5k whenever that happens again, with the general thinking of what I've done in the past with races being a minute or so quicker per mile. I've been running between 3 and 4 miles, and focusing on getting more mileage with my dog. He's gotten up to about 2 miles comfortably on top of a walk or two every day. I don't really want to make him a runner for beyond 2, maybe 3 miles, but he has tons of energy to burn off. He's only 3, so now is a great time to make this part of his routine.

Lastly, for those of you continuing to train for long-distance races this fall, I just wanted to say that I hope you are really having a great time out there. Since I went through marathon training last year, I have a lot of respect for those who choose to tackle 26.2 miles. For those of you doing it for the first time, you'll understand what I'm saying once you do it.

Me random? Why not ...

For more than two years now, my running has generally been focused around a longer-distance race down the road. The Virginia 10 Miler, the Shamrock Half (twice), the Richmond Marathon and most recently the Rock 'n' Roll Half. Even when I've been hurt, I've remained committed to these races. So it's no wonder that now that I haven't signed up for a "big" race that I have a lot of random thoughts. With no "what's next" to think of, my posts are just random, and I'm completely fine with that.

Virginia 10 Miler
So on my short walk/jog with my dog and while mowing my yard this morning, I realized that I really don't want to do this race. Yes I'm in shape and to prepare for it over the next couple of weeks all I would really need to do is run more hilly routes. But if I did it, it would make it two weekends in a row of traveling to the Lynchburg area since I'm headed there next weekend and I really don't feel like doing that.

It is a race I want to do again. It was my first double-digit distance race and it's a very challenging event. But my burning desire to redeem myself in a long-distance event isn't there. For anyone within a reasonable driving distance of Lynchburg, I would highly recommend this race. (Click here for the Web site.) It's an event that used to be gigantic -- Bill Rodgers won it several times in the 1970s and it peaked in the 1980s with nearly 2,700 people running it one year. Due to some poor organization it saw a big decline, but as of last year it is now organized locally and things seem to be improving drastically. It's also very hilly -- the highest elevation is 800 feet; the lowest is 593.

Anything but double digits
One reason I'm not doing the 10 miler is because I want to do some shorter races again, at least for a little while. I'm not committing to anything yet -- I'd rather just go unplanned. I'd like to do at least two more races this fall. It's been way too long since I've done a 5k -- I've done 11 since 2004, but the last one I ran was July 2007 when I set a PR. It'll be interesting to see how fast -- or slow -- I am in that distance in a race setting.

Things will be fine in '09
It's hard to think about next year already, but I can't help it since I'm essentially ending any thoughts of another long-distance race this year. Right now, my plan is to do the Rock 'n' Roll Half again, and that's really it for long races. That gives me a chance to adjust to having a baby in my life and it gives me about 10 months off long-distance training. I'll still have "long" runs, but I'm limiting race distances to 10k or less until next September. I need the break both physically and mentally. I am very interested in doing a duathlon in April instead of training for the Shamrock Half again, but I'll save that for another day.

What's in a week?
My runs this week have been great. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I'm enjoying running just to run. I feel like I've had a big weight lifted off my shoulders to say the hell with big races right now and do whatever I feel like doing when the time comes. I'm not worried about the number of miles in a week, I don't care about hitting 1,000 miles right now and I don't feel bad for cutting it short today because it's so hot and humid. I'm in an unusual zone right now and I'm loving every bit of it.

Are you still mad as hell?

When I was running tonight, I was thinking a lot about Sept. 11, 2001. Like I often do when I run, I was writing a post in my head, coming up with various thoughts about 9/11, what it means, etc., etc. Then toward the end of my run, I had two very interesting back-to-back songs: Dave Matthews Band's "Everyday" and Garth Brooks' "The River." While I would probably usually slow down for songs like that, I sped up. I was inspired by the words ... and I became fired up like I did seven years ago today.

For those who know me well, know that Sept. 10/11, 2001, was also the beginning of the relationship with my wife. It's a story too long to tell and it's not too many people's business, but in the long run it was a life-changing night. But so was that next morning. At the time I was a copy editor working evenings at a newspaper, so needless to say, I was up late in the morning of Sept. 11 on my first "date." (I guess that word is up for debate.) Around 10 a.m. Sept. 11, a friend of mine called and woke me up and told me the horrible news.

As a copy editor, that night and over the next few days, I saw pictures that never made it in the newspapers or on TV. Looking back, I'm not sure how I made it through all that, other than the fact I was in the beginning of a new relationship, I was only 23 and only nine months into my career.

While you try to make your choice this fall of who will bring the most "change" to Washington, D.C., I will never forget the change that happened seven years ago today.

So, fast forward to my run today. Those songs reminded me that we can never forget what that day did to us as a country and as a world-wide community. I remembered how mad I felt at times that first week and month after 9/11. But I also remembered how mad I still am ... and how mad I am at other things that have or have not happened since then.

I am not going to get into too much, but I hope that 9/11 continues to always be a day of remembrance. A running blog isn't really a place to talk about all this, but if it wasn't for running I would not have reflected as much as I should have.

Running ... just to run

Ever since the summer of 2006, it seems I've been locked into the pattern of what to do next after a big race. While I still have thoughts on what to do over the next few weeks, I want to take another week before officially deciding.

Last week -- for the first time in a very long time -- I essentially took off from running just to do it. I was not physically injured after the race, but I really needed to get my mind away from it. When I went out for walks with my dog, I jogged a little bit here and there, but all told, it was probably only about a mile or so. I had a whirlwind of a trip to Ohio this past weekend, so there was no running then. Until tonight, I have had no urge to put my Garmin on. It was a planned week with extremely limited running and it was a welcome break.

Tonight I was ready for a run, but I didn't realize how early it got dark, so I only got in 2.5 miles. It was a nice run despite the humidity, and it's probably a wise thing to be light on the miles the first few times back out since the race just to make sure everything is in its right place. It felt good to run without thinking about what's next. In my last post I said that I would have things figured out by now, but I really want to run this week for the enjoyment of running. I will begin to prepare myself as if I'll run a long-distance race in a few weeks, but I don't want to commit 100 percent to it just yet. I don't have any big reasons other than the fact that it was liberating last week to do nothing, and this week I want to feel liberated from worrying about a race.

This is the first time in a long time that I've been able to let myself feel this way and it's really ... to steal my own words ... liberating. When I started running in 2004, I got involved in a lot of small and short community races. I ran just to run and raced to challenge myself. While races are still very challenging, I've gotten distracted along the way. I said this a few weeks ago, but this summer running has become fun for me again. I want that continue even if I do get focused on bigger races down the road. If it's not fun, then why do it? I hope that helps you understand why I'm not committing to anything just yet. I have to keep having fun.

Motivated to rest

With an upcoming crazy weekend with a baby shower out of town, I've never been more happy to not run as I have this week. With a walk and short jog with my dog yesterday, it was liberating to know that I'm just taking this week to do whatever when it comes to exercise. It's nice to know I decided to avoid a marathon this year ... had I chosen a marathon this fall, I would've kept to the rigorous routine and probably would have driven myself to the ground this week. Like I said earlier this week, maybe next year.

When I get back to town Sunday evening, I will have figured out what I'm doing this fall. The only thing that makes sense for me with a baby on the way is the 10 miler; anything after that isn't worth traveling to. And I'm holding a grudge against 13.1 miles right now, so I don't want to even think about that distance. I was almost convinced to run the Baltimore Half, but the price just jumped to $80, so I quickly thought twice about that. There are several community races around here that I may do and I may be very happy to just do those.

Meanwhile, here's a reminder for myself on what I want to do next year ...

A hodgepodge of post-race thoughts

I could write a lot about a variety of things right now, but instead here's a shorter list of things on my mind right now. Also, I've inserted some of my photos from the weekend to show some of the amazing sights.

Taking a break
I have not had a full, complete two-day break from running in almost three months. Even through my tailbone injury I managed to get in a few tenths at a time. The last time I went more than two days without running at all was June 10-12 when I was in the Outer Banks. You'll have to excuse me this week as I don't even think about having a running motion for a few days. Today I had a great walk with my dog and I MIGHT go for a run after work tomorrow. Otherwise, it's been nice having a break since Sunday morning.

Going Garmin free
On my walk with my dog this evening, I didn't take my Garmin. I've been so obsessed with my miles -- even walking miles -- that I feel like my Garmin is just a growth on my arm. I don't even know what bag it's packed it right now, and I may not bust it out at all this week. I'll estimate my miles based on what I know about my neighborhood or use I need a break from looking down at my watch so much.

Post-race soreness

Despite shutting it down the last half of the Rock 'n' Roll Half on Sunday, I still have sore legs and am tired. It's not nearly as bad as usual, but it's oddly comforting to know that I put enough effort in early on to be sore. Just because things went bad doesn't take away from three months of training, and I'm exhausted both mentally and physically. I think I'm entitled to do whatever the hell I feel like doing this week.

A tale of two races
Despite the fact that I was 17 minutes slower this weekend than the Shamrock Half in March, there is something special about what happened a couple of days ago. A friend of mine called it a character-building race. He's so right too, and right now I probably don't even know how right he is. It was a learning experience in so many ways, and I'm strangely glad that it played out like it did. In March, I was hurt. I was mad as hell and I was determined to get back on my feet this summer. When I did, I turned around and fell on my butt, but I stayed determined to keep training and fight through it. When the humidity hit me like a brick wall on Sunday, it was just part of my story of things trying to prevent me from finishing this race. But I finished dammit. Unhurt and not limping across the finish line.

Rock 'n' Roll 2009
A few hours after finishing on Sunday, I said I highly doubt that I would return for this race. But by that night, when talking with my friend Vicki who ran it last year, I realized that I have to go back to Virginia Beach on Labor Day weekend next year. It's more than a year away and right now that seems like forever and a day away, but that 2:06 is already burning a hole in my feet. It's a course record for me that just can't hang around.

So ... what's next?
Ah, the question runners everywhere are always asking themselves. Well, I'm not 100 percent sure. The Virginia 10 Miler is coming at the end of the month in Lynchburg, and I've been thinking about doing it again for two years now. It's a unique race on an extremely hilly course ... it's the race that got me so hooked on longer distances. I have to get through the next couple of days and recovery runs to see how I feel before I make a decision, but right now it's the only race close by that makes sense. Despite wanting to redeem myself in a half marathon, I don't want to venture too far from home with a baby on the way in November. Plus after two half marathons that didn't go as expected, I want to get that distance out of my head for a while.

I'd like to do some shorter races this fall. I haven't done a 5k since August 2007 and I haven't had a good 10k in a long time, so I'm kind of itching to get back to what got me hooked on running in the first place.

So ... what's next after what's next?

It's kind of weird to think about 2009 already, but looking ahead, the Rock 'n' Roll Half is the only "big" thing on my radar screen (see above for all that). After that, I'm totally open to thinking about doing another marathon next fall. I've already looked at how the calendar plays out and it's ideal to just keep training after Labor Day weekend to perhaps do the Richmond Marathon again. It's just not happening this year with a baby on the way. Plus I haven't forgotten about the nagging injuries despite feeling great right now. There's something itching inside me to have a half marathon that I'm 100 percent happy with before doing another marathon, so mapping out my plans for next year will have to wait ... probably until a year from now.

Lastly, a HUGE thank you
I just wanted to extend my sincerest thanks to my wife, my mom and stepdad, my friends and my fellow bloggers out there for your support in the past few months. I've had so much going on personally and professionally, and I could not have made it without all the support. I could have easily just given up hope on a lot of things, but everybody has played a role in keeping this train from running out of steam. Thank you!! It'll be time to keep it going in a few days.

By the way, I'm in the blue waving my hands in the photo below. It's one of the very few times I've actually done something for a photo during a race. I'm looking forward to seeing the official photos because I actually put my hands up in the air for one.

I finished and that's good enough for me

It's weird to say this, but my worst race ever may be one that I am most proud to say that I finished. To get straight to the point, my time for yesterday's Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach was 2:06:03, more than 20 minutes off my goal.

What? Why should I be happy about that? No, I didn't get hurt, thankfully. Instead, I encountered some extremely humid conditions that I think impacted a huge number of participants. As I did during the Richmond Marathon and this year's Shamrock Half Marathon, I started with my friend Travis who had a similar goal to me. We started this race off very well -- our first 5k split was 24:56. Despite being hot and sweating more than I ever have before, it was right where I wanted to be. After a couple of more miles around an 8:20-8:30 pace, I decided to start to push it a little bit to see if I could run a sub 8-minute mile or two in order to get to my 1:44 goal.

Despite that feeling of pushing it between miles 5 and 6, I hit a little more than 8:30. What the hell? I think I might've even said that out loud when I looked at my watch. I tried to keep pushing it between miles 6 and 7, but I kept getting slower. It was at that point, when a good portion of the race was entering a couple of miles of direct sunlight, that I decided to shut it down and make this a long run. Despite my efforts to keep running, when I hit a water stop around mile 9, I decided to walk for a little while with hopes that Travis might catch up to me. I took a cup of Cytomax and two waters and took my time for about a quarter of a mile.

At that point, I was feeling refreshed and I thought that maybe I could push it for the last 5k and beat 2 hours. When I got to mile 10, I stepped it up, or at least I thought I did, for a mile ... and that's when I decided to walk again. No matter what I tried, I could not run faster. When I made a turn toward Atlantic Avenue near my hotel, I ran so I wouldn't be walking through the large crowds. After passing off my soaked visor to my mom, I walked briefly again. Once I got to mile 12 and made the final turn onto the Boardwalk, I jogged my way toward the end. I wasn't going to walk with the finish line in sight.

I could not believe how many people I saw walking during this race. At the same time, I could not believe how miserable many of the runners looked. For the last couple of miles, there was no one near me finishing strong or having a final kick. My friend Travis, who really wants to break 1:50 for a half, ended up just 30 seconds behind me, almost 20 minutes off his goal time. My friend Vicki, who ran about 2 hours last year and wanted to run in less than 2 hours, was about 20 minutes off her goal.

We all pretty much had the same story -- the first third of the race went well, but the humidity was too much to battle. I heard others around me saying the same thing. In the end, none of us really walked away disappointed at our results -- there wasn't anything we could have done differently. I was happy to finish in one piece and unhurt. I have a little typical race soreness since I ran some of this hard, but shutting things down in the second half has saved me to do something else soon -- something for another post later this week.

The other day I said my goal was to have fun, and for the weekend I did (I'll post a few photos later). I got to catch up with old friends, have dinner with family, walk on the beach and boardwalk and see the worst concert ever (thanks B52's!). As far as the race is concerned, it is what it is. Sure, I probably could have had more speedwork and two weeks of an injury in July didn't help, but none of that could have prepared me for crazy humidity. And please don't talk to me about hydrating -- I prepared myself all week to be properly hydrated. That was not an issue yesterday.

I know that I could have done more in the second half of the race to have a better time, but strangely I'm taking pride in having my worst half marathon out of the five that I've done. Had I pushed it a little more than I did, I still wouldn't have beaten my goal, and my overall health was issue No. 1 yesterday.

I finished and there's nothing wrong with that.