Monday, May 30

Pre... (and running in Euguene, OR)

Today is the anniversary of the passing of an American running legend, Steve Prefontaine. Prefontaine is often credited with kick-starting the running craze in the States in the 1970s. (Thank you!) Before his running career was cut short by a car accident, Prefontaine held the American record in every event over a mile: 2000m, 3000m, 2-mile, 3-mile, 10000m, and 6-mile.

After Prefontaine's death, Lane County (Oregon) worked closely with the Oregon Track Club and University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman to design and build the running trail - known as "Pre's Trail" - that winds for four miles through Alton Baker Park in Eugene, OR.

It was about a year ago that I had the opportunity to run Pre's trail, with a running group from Seattle, as part of their last workout before the Eugene marathon.

The trail is extremely well-maintained and covers a beautiful section of the park. On any given day it is filled with runners from the neighborhood and from the legendary University of Oregon running community. It is a trail worth seeking out for a run while traveling, both for the secenery and for the running history.

"You have to wonder at times what you're doing out there. Over the years, I've given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement."
Steve Prefontaine

Friday, May 27

Just a little trick

This morning, on a particularly hot and sticky run, I reverted to an old psychological trick that I haven't had to play on myself in years. It's the "just keep running until you get to ________, and then you can rest" trick.
(Insert "that tree" "the white mailbox" "the next street light" and you get the idea.)

You pick some inanimate object, say 50 yards away, and promise yourself that you just need to run to that object, and then you can take a rest. When you're, say, 20 feet away from the target, you convince yourself that you can run "just a little farther" to the next target - another 50 yards away. Left foot. Right foot. Repeat.

When I first started huffing and puffing my way to being a runner (we won't talk about how many years ago that was) I used this little trick regularly to stretch my runs from 1/4 mile to 1/2 mile... then to 2 miles... and eventually to my first 5k. By that point, I was hooked and no longer needed tricks to keep myself motivated. (Well, that is, until I met the sauna that is northwest Florida. Hello humidity!)

How my legs haven't caught on to what my brain is doing, I'll never know, but it does work. I "tricked" my feet into carrying me through the second half of a 90+ degree run this morning. By the end I was so drenched in sweat that I looked like I had gotten caught in a rain storm, but I finished.

And man did that cold shower afterward feel good!

Tuesday, May 24

Run D.C.

There is a reason why Runner's World picked the National Mall as their Rave Run for July 2010. RW's reason to run this route: "Not many five-mile runs can boast such historic scenery as a loop of the National Mall can."

I was in D.C. for work on Monday, so I decided to give their theory a test-drive. After all, there is nothing I love to do more while traveling than run. It covers "exercise" "sight-see" and "act like a local" all in one activity. Over the years I have run in dozens of cities, but despite the fact that I've been to D.C. a handful of times in the past, I had never run the Mall before.

Sunday after my plane landed and I arrived at the hotel, I immediately changed into running clothes. I stopped at the front desk to double-check the route from my hotel to the Mall. While I was discussing running options with the front desk staff, two Navy officers overheard the conversation and offered perfect details about the route. They had run the same route that morning and said I'd love it. They were not mistaken.

The route from my hotel took me through the Capitol Hill neighborhood and around the Mall.

I have to admit that I slowed to a stroll through the United States Botanic Garden, the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, and the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. But I doubled back and forth across the Mall, too, passing dozens of teams playing kickball and families having picnics.

The Reflecting Pool is closed for repairs, which made running the trail along it a bit tricky (pedestrian traffic was corralled between fences for the nearly half-mile length of the pool).

I started to run up the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial... err... until I saw the sign that said "no running." Oops!

The Capitol steps were equally off-limits, but for security reasons. But no worries. Running up Capitol Hill at the end of my trek was good enough for me. The wide pedestrian walkways and beautiful grounds around the building were a perfect end to a very memorable run.

Friday, May 20

Zen running

Last week there was a break in the weather, and we had five glorious days of morning temperatures in the 60s. By the second day, I was literally bounding out of bed in the morning.

I couldn't wait to lace up my shoes and get outside for a run!

While I was out enjoying the cool morning air, I remembered a quote from the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn:

"If we are not aware that we are happy, we are not really happy. When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy. A non-toothache is very pleasant. There are so many things that are enjoyable, but when we don’t practice mindfulness, we don’t appreciate them."

For a few moments I was reminded of how wonderful it is to be able to just run. Sometimes in the need to stick with a training schedule, or squeeze a run into a busy schedule, running becomes something we "have" to do, rather than something we "get" to do.

And when the weather gets hot again, my runs will remind me of why a cool shower is an amazing, incredible experience, instead of just an everyday one.

Wednesday, May 18

Born to Run (and to be anything but a couch potato)

I am about halfway through Born to Run. Having published the latest obesity stats in another blog, this passage struck me:

"Every action flick depicts the destruction of civilization as some kind of crash-boom-bang, a nuclear war or hurtling comet or a self-aware-cyborg uprising, but the true cataclysm may already be creeping right up under our eyes: because of rampant obesity, one in three children born in the United States is at risk of diabetes--meaning, we could be the first generation of Americans to outlive our own children. Maybe the ancient Hindus were better crystal-ball-gazers than Hollywood when they predicted the world would end not with a bang, but with a big old yawn. Shiva the Destroyer would snuff us out by doing... nothing. Lazing out. Withdrawing his hot-blooded force from our bodies. Letting us become slugs."
Christoper McDougall, Born to Run

Today, Colorado has the nation’s lowest rate of adult obesity, at 18.6 percent. In California, with its reputation for athletic-minded surfers and beach bums, one quarter of the adult population is obese. That's right - not just overweight. Obese. In California.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The rapid change over the past two decades is alarming, to say the least. In 1990 ten states had obesity rates below 10 percent. Today none do. In 1990 no states had obesity rates above 15 percent. Today none have rates below 15 percent.

How has this happened so quickly?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Many communities are built in ways that make it difficult or unsafe to be physically active."

While I agree that wide, sidewalk-less roads play a role in the obesity epidemic, I also think there is a broader social movement at play... Or rather not moving and not playing?

According to Nielsen, Americans are watching more TV than ever - now up to an average of 34 HOURS PER WEEK per person. People are watching television like it's a full-time job.

Somewhere along the way we've lost our collective interest in getting outside to play, and have turned into a nation of couch potatoes.

I'm hoping that by the end of Born to Run, McDougall will present some suggestions for overcoming our national sloth. Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign is a start in the right direction, but I have to wonder if more people will exercise or will just sit and watch her dance in the Dougie video?

According to the CDC, obesity is “defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater. BMI is calculated from a person's weight and height and provides a reasonable indicator of body fatness and weight categories that may lead to health problems. Obesity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.”

Sunday, May 15

I can run and chew gum at the same time

You've heard that old expression...

__insert name here__ is so stupid he can't walk and chew gum at the same time.

Well thankfully most of us are perfectly capable of doing both, seamlessly, unless we suffer from some sort of cognitive impairment like Alzheimer's or dementia.

But running and chewing gum? That's just pure madness.


I had never even considered the possibility until recently. If I had thought about it, I probably would have dismissed it under the assumption that running while chewing gum posed a high choking hazard. You know, with all that huffing-and-puffing, you'd probably inhale the gum, right?

Maybe not...

On a rather hot and dry run last summer, a friend handed me a stick of chewing gum before we started. I was skeptical, but she's an accomplished runner. And on closer consideration I realized baseball players chew gum while they're playing and to the best of my knowledge, no game has ever been stopped because of a gum-asphyxiation incident.

So I took a stick, and was off on my way.

Maybe it was the placebo effect, but I felt more pep on that run than I had in weeks. As we have discussed before, I tend to wither in the heat like a snail on hot pavement. The minty gum prevented my mouth from getting that gritty dry feeling that is inevitable on long hot runs. I think it tricked my brain into thinking "it's not so hot out" the way running with music tricks my brain into thinking "I'm not breathing so hard; I can go faster!"

So much of running is about training our brains, because our brains are wired to tell us to slow down, ease off, and take it easy long before our bodies really have to give in. One of my favorite running quotes of all time is: "In the beginning it's hard to understand that the race is not against others but against that little voice in your head that tells you when to quit."
(I have yet to find a credible "first" source for that quote, but do believe that the speaker knows what it means to be a runner.)

My verdict on the gum: it keeps that little voice quiet for a little longer. Maybe it works because it keeps my jaws working on something else, so my inner voice can't say "it's too hot!" Maybe it works because it keeps my mouth from getting dry. Maybe it works because it's 100% placebo effect. But no matter what the reason, it does work.

I just have to remember now to look for a waste bin at the 3-mile point... because the gum only lasts so long, and I don't need to leave my flavorless gum on the street waiting to ambush the next runner's shoes.

Photo courtesy of
Photo link:

Friday, May 13

Learning to love the dreadmill

One of the things I love most about running is the time it gives me to go outside and play. I love the scenery. The fresh air. Watching surfers bobbing in the waves, waiting for their ride. Spying on dog-walkers, and wondering who is walking whom? Getting a regular tour of the neighborhood to see what new construction is underway or which neighbor is having a yard sale.

But with my perfect-year-round 68-degree San Diego days now 2,000 miles away, and a Florida Panhandle 90-degree, 95-percent-humidity summer stretching out in front of me, I am in a bit of a bind. I either have to accept a pace so slow I might as well be walking (which sort of destroys all of the progress I've made in training over the past thee years), or I have to make peace with the piece of equipment runners love to hate: the dreaded treadmill.

So I've sucked up my running pride, cast away all "dreadmill" stereotypes, and have learned to embrace my new running friend. In the mornings Kiran Chetry has become my running buddy, filling me in on all of the day's breaking news. Instead of surfers, I get to watch dancers, in the odd instances when Vh1 stops the chatter and actually plays a music video. I won't claim that the treadmill will ever replace the freedom of outdoor running, but I am learning to enjoy it, especially for interval training.

My new favorite treadmill workout:
10 minute warmup (starting at a 10 minute mile pace and gradually increasing to 9)
6 x 90 second sprints (1 min. at btwn 7:00-7:30 pace, last 30 seconds @ 6:30-6:50 pace) with 1 minute recovery (9:30 pace)
10 minute recovery and cool-down

By keeping the speed up on my treadmill workouts, I'm hoping to avoid any "damage" being done to my overall pace on my slogging, sluggish outdoor runs in the heat.

Photo courtesy of
Photo link:

Sunday, May 8

Listen to your mama - lessons in running safety

In honor of Mother's Day, today's post is about running safety.

And I don't mean "Don't run with scissors - you'll put someone's eye out!" (Although that is good advice, too.)

Before I lose my male audience here, assault is not the only safety concern for runners. In 2009 more than 4,000 pedestrians were struck and killed by cars in the United States. Florida has the highest pedestrian fatality rate, at 2.5 fatalities per 100,000 residents (compared to a national average of 1.3), but unless you live in Wyoming or Vermont (which tend to have fewer than 5 incidents per year) your risk is definitely not zero.

So here are my three favorite "things your mama would tell you if she was a runner" safety tips:

1 - Look and listen: Be aware of your surroundings - people, cars, potholes, roots sticking out of the trail. I am not a no-headphones curmudgeon, but you can't hear a car coming if you have the volume on so loud that it drowns out background noise. If you must listen to music while running outdoors, keep the volume low. Apparently the listening in one-ear-only option isn't all that safe either, according to Runner's World. Whatever the circumstances, safety experts agree that being alert is the best way to avoid a dangerous situation.

2 - Use your voice: Whether it's a potential mugger, or a car about to blow through a stop sign (and your kneecaps), YELL. LOUDLY.
Shouting at an errant driver has saved my knees more than once. If the driver doesn't see you, making him or her hear you may mean the difference between an accident and a close call.
With personal threats, most perpetrators are looking for a victim that they can harass without much notice. So if someone is approaching you and you yell "No" "Stop" or "Back Off" you draw attention to the situation and reduce your attractiveness as a target for crime. I learned this (and other tactics) during a self defense course, which was 90 minutes well spent.

3 - Buddy up: Use the buddy system when running. I know, this is starting to sound like an after-school special, but sometimes there were good lessons to be learned in all the cheeseball antics of those hour-long morality-fests. Running with a partner is ideal, but some of the joy of running comes from going out alone. So if you're running solo make sure a trusted person knows what time you're leaving, the route you're taking, and when you'll return... because you don't want to wind up like Aron Ralston.

Monday, May 2

Sticking with it (for beginners)

A friend of mine is training for her first 5k, and had been making excellent progress. Unfortunately she's hit a plateau (largely a result of work and life throwing up roadblocks to running). So I've been brainstorming advice to help her hurdle those roadblocks.

1 - Run with a group.
I cannot possibly emphasize this enough. If you run with a single running buddy or a group you achieve a level of accountability that prevents you from flaking out on a run. (I'm too tired. I'm sore. I'll do it tomorrow.) Get a move on! Someone is waiting for you!
Plus, group runs can be a lot of fun.

2 - Hang your running clothes (or running shoes) somewhere you HAVE to see them.
"The first step out the door is the hardest" is one of the truest mantras for a beginner runner. So make that first step easier. If your gear is in easy reach, it makes it much harder for your brain to use the "it's too much effort" excuse.
Once you get going, you'll be glad you did.

3 - One bad day does not mean you "can't run."
It has taken me more than a decade to figure out that I am a competent runner who sometimes has a bad day. This is a matter of statistics as much as one of perspective. When you are just starting out, a single bad day could be a sizable percentage of your total running experience. You may want to throw in the towel. (I am just not meant for this.) When that happens, remember: As you cover more miles, you'll start to realize that you have some stellar good days and you have some disasters.
Don't let the disasters dictate who you are as a runner.