Long run, fast run

Last week I got out for a long run. At 5.14 miles, I exactly matched the distance of my previous longest run of the year. (I ran the same route.) I also just about matched the time, running it in 1:07:04 versus 1:07:50 back in June (a 13:03 pace, versus a 13:12 pace).

At this point, I’m pretty happy with the duration of my long run. I want to be able to run for an hour, and I can now do that. Running for an hour makes me feel great. I like to attribute this to endocannabinoid production, although I don’t actually have any evidence for that. Whatever the cause, running that long makes me feel good in a way that running for 20 minutes doesn’t.

At this point, I don’t see much reason to ramp up the distance further. It might be that running even further would make me feel even better, but I hesitate to risk finding out. Where would it end? More particularly, would it end before my body broke down from the stress of running ever-longer runs?

On the other hand, I’d like to run a bit faster. In particular, I’d like to be able to run 6 miles in the hypothetical one-hour run that makes me feel so good.

To see whether I was in striking distance of that, I went out for a fast run yesterday, doing what I call a tempo run. (I run a tempo run simply by running a comfortable distance—the same as I might run for an easy run—but running pretty hard.) I ran my Kaufman Lake loop, which is 1.5 miles, and I did it in 14:12 for a 9:36 pace.

So that’s pretty promising. I can run the duration I want to run and I can run the speed I want to run. Now it’s just a matter of closing the gap—getting fit enough to run that speed for the whole distance.

I think that’s doable. Today I did my usual easy run of 2.2 miles, but I ran just a little faster than I’ve been lately, setting a 10:43 pace.

In fact, I don’t think I even need much of a plan. I’ll just go on doing a long run of about an hour every week or two, picking up the pace a bit as it feels comfortable to do so. And I’ll try to fit in a fast run every week, letting the distance creep up a bit as it seems like my fitness supports it.

With any luck I’ll be running an hour at a 10-minute-per-mile pace before the snow flies.

Running injury officially healed

This is just a quick post to note that my calf injury seems to have healed completely.

Last week I did two test runs—a 0.5 mile run with no turns, followed (after a rest day, to see if I had any delayed pain or swelling) by a 0.63 mile run with some turns.

When neither of those caused any problems, I went out later in the week and did my usual early-season short run of 1.5 miles.

Over the weekend, Jackie and I hiked nearly 6 miles at Fox Ridge, a state park about 60 miles from here. It’s another place where there’s elevation change available, and a set of trails to take advantage of it.

I took a rest day after the hike (having learned that lesson), and went out this morning for a 2.15 mile run, my usual mid-season short run.

All went well. No pain, no soreness, no swelling. There’s no tender spot in my calf when I poke at it.

I’ll take it quite easy as I ramp up speed and distance going forward, but I’m declaring the injury officially healed.

Hiking at Forest Glen

jackie-looking-back
Jackie looking back along the trail.

Jackie and I went for a hike at Forest Glen today.

There was a Spinners and Weavers Guild event there, and our plan was to go early, go for a hike that would take 4 or maybe 5 hours, and then get back in time for a late lunch and a couple hours at the event.

Turns out, our timetable was a bit optimistic.

For one thing, having failed to get all packed up the night before, we left an hour later than we’d intended. Plus, getting to the venue took a bit longer than we’d planned. So, instead of starting our hike around 8:00 AM, we didn’t hit the trail until about 9:15. On top of that, our hike ended up taking a full 6 hours, instead of the 4–5 we’d planned.

Our socializing after ended up being with just the last 6 or so die-hard spinners.

jackie-hiking-up
Jackie climbing a ridge.

Still, it was a great hike. Unlike our urban walks, Forest Glen is non-flat.

It’s kind of hard to see in that picture (click through for a larger version), but Jackie is there right in the middle, hiking up the side of the ridge.

There’s not a huge amount of elevation change, but the trail makes good use of what there is. According to Endomondo, we stayed between 407 and 644 feet above sea level, and yet we managed a total ascent of 1330 feet and a total descent of 1287 feet.

There’s quite a bit of wildlife in and around Forest Glen. In trips past we’ve seen owls, several kinds of woodpeckers, turkeys, vultures, pheasants, and deer. We saw several of those this trip as well, but we also saw something that was common when I was a boy, but has been quite rare in my experience for more than twenty years: a box turtle.

box-turtle-in-forest-glen
Box turtle just off the path at Forest Glen.

Apparently the Forest Glen box turtle population has been at some risk—a few years ago, tens of box turtles were found dead, all in the same area. They’ve done quite a bit of research on what happened without a definitive result, but the best guess is that some infectious disease took them, possibly passed to many individuals when a large number of turtles were caught and then held together for a local charity event that included a turtle race.

Apparently the local organizers have agreed to drop the turtle race, as a way to protect the turtles. (The race had been held for 49 years without incident, but so many dead turtles all at once was a strong sign that there was a problem.)

A great hike, albeit a bit tiring, and some very pleasant (albeit a bit brief) socializing after. Here’s the details on Endomondo:

If you’re familiar with Forest Glen, it might look as though we hiked the backpacking trail, but we didn’t—because that would have been against the rules, which require that you register a week in advance and pay a fee. Instead, what we did is scout several segments (well, all the segments) of the backpacking trail in advance of some future hike. Before trying this trail with a backpack full of camping gear, we thought it would best to know just how rugged it was and how hard it was to follow the markings. (And it’s good that we did. Our urban walking has not quite conditioned us adequately to manage this trail safely with camping gear. We’d have almost certainly made it, but several spots would have been tough—maybe even dangerous—if we’d been carrying heavy packs. Also, we did miss one turn. By the time we’d backtracked and gotten back on the trail, we’d added a good half a mile to our total distance.)

My sore calf never hurt throughout the hike, although I could just perceive the injured spot as slightly tight, slightly tender on some of the more aggressive downhill bits of the hike.

Tomorrow will be a rest day. If today’s activities don’t produce any soreness, maybe I’ll try a short run on Monday.

Enough exercise (and a calf update)

I recently came upon an old livejournal post about my struggles to get enough exercise.

It had been written in April 2008, some seven or eight months after I’d quit working a regular job, and was about how I’d always blamed the job for keeping me from getting enough exercise, and how I was unhappy that I hadn’t seized the opportunity that came from my new regular-job-free lifestyle to get into better shape. Here’s an excerpt:

The big advantage of not working a regular job ought to be that I can exercise anytime I want.  In the spring, I can run in the afternoon when it’s warm.  In the summer I can run in the morning when it’s cool.  I can pick the nicest day of the week for my long ride (minimize the chance of being caught miles from home in a thunderstorm) and then organize the rest of the week’s workouts around that.

I say “ought to,” because I haven’t taken full advantage so far.  Last summer I was still working until the end of August, and then I was trying to focus on my novel while still cranking out four or five Wise Bread posts a week.  I tried to get the running habit set up in the fall so that I could continue it through the winter, but didn’t really manage it.

Now, though, it’s spring, and I’ve decided to make exercise–that is, fitness–my number 1 priority.

Reading that post, I realized that I have, finally, succeeded. I now get enough exercise.

Brief aside: Except, of course, that I’ve scarcely run in a month, because of my injured calf.

I’ve tried three times to go out for a short run, and each time the result has been re-injury. After the third time, I realized that I was doing more harm than good, trying to get back to running as quickly as possible. I decided to wait until the symptoms were completely gone, and then give it at least a full week for further rest and recovery, before trying to run again. On that schedule, my first run would be roughly Saturday. In fact, it’ll be delayed at least two days further, because Saturday Jackie and I will go to Forest Glen and squeeze in a long hike in the morning, ahead of a spinning and weaving event there. (And not taking a day to recover from a long hike before a short run is how I hurt my calf in the first place.)

Basically, though, my calf is fine. It doesn’t limit either my walking (we walked 10 miles yesterday) or my taiji (I’ve taught my class on schedule every day). It has been completely pain-free, except when I re-injure it—then it hurts for a couple of days.

I wrote two years ago about my winter fitness regimen. (Three times a week I lift weights and then do an hour of taiji; the other four days I try to walk for an hour.) It proves to be satisfactory to maintain my weight and maintain a base level of fitness.

In the summers, I’ve been doing more. I preserve the lifting and the taiji (and much of the walking, which is mostly incidental to getting other things done) and augment it with running—before my injury, I had been running 7–9 miles most weeks—and have also added a weekly very long walk.

That livejournal post has a chart with the amount of time I had been devoting to exercise the last time I’d been in really good shape. Here’s a similar chart for what I’d been doing until a few weeks ago when I had to quit running:

Activity Minutes per workout Workouts per week Minutes per week
Lifting 30 3 90
Taiji 60 3 180
Short walks 60 4 240
Long walks 240 1 240
Short runs 22 2 44
Long runs 60 1 60
Total 854

The first thing that strikes me is just how similar this is to what I was doing in the past when I’ve been fit. I’ve replaced the bike rides with walking a very similar number of minutes per week. I’ve added the taiji, which adds 3 hours a week, and I’ve reduced the number and length of my short runs, to gain back maybe 50 minutes of that time. But the bottom line is that I’m now spending about 120 minutes a day on fitness-related activities.

Now, that’s great. Certainly it feels great—I feel great when I’m getting this much exercise. And having gotten here, I believe I’m prepared to declare victory, and say that getting and staying in shape is a solved problem.

But how could anyone with a regular job manage such a thing? And yet, much less exercise than this would not build and maintain the capabilities I want. If I want to be able to run for an hour, I need to run for an hour pretty regularly. If I want to be able to walk for four or six hours, then every week or two I need to walk for four or six hours.

I don’t really have an answer here for people who find that making a living limits their ability to be fit. I managed it temporarily a couple of times, but only by letting things slide temporarily—things that I couldn’t let slide permanently.

Still, just at the moment, I’m feeling pretty good. Thanks to the taiji, I move with more ease and control than I’ve ever had before. Thanks to the lifting and the endurance exercise, I have more power and stamina than ever before. I’m looking forward to Saturday’s long hike. And I’m looking forward (after a day or two to recover from that) to trying to run again. (Because, as Steven says, “Running is great exercise between injuries.”)

Running injury (minor, I think)

Last week I was perhaps a mile into a short run when I felt a sudden, sharp pain in my right calf. It hurt quite a bit, and hurt more on each of the two steps it took me to come to a stop without falling down.

My brother likes to say, “Running is great exercise between injuries.”

I’ve had pretty good luck with injuries. I did get hurt the first time I took up running, back in 1992. When I pushed my long run up to 6 miles, so I could run in the Allerton Park Trail Run, I upped the distance too quickly, irritating my Achilles tendon. It took over a year to heal completely, and by then I was no longer a runner.

I’ve taken up running several times since then, without injuring myself. When I gave up running those times it was simply because winter came and I couldn’t make myself spend enough time on the treadmill to stay in shape. Spring would come and I was no longer a runner. Some years I managed to get back into running shape. Other years I didn’t.

After I hobbled back home, I did a good bit of internet reading about strained calf muscles. The injury is most often caused by sudden changes in direction, such as in racket sports. My scenario is the second most common: even a very easy run, when the muscle is tired—I had walked 16 miles the day before.

I rested and iced the calf, and it got a lot better right away. By the second day after the injury it didn’t hurt to walk, I was able to lift weights (skipping calf raises), and I was able to teach my tai chi class without pain. After another couple of days, I was able to walk five miles without discomfort. Once the initial pain and swelling had passed, I’d been doing some massage of the injured spot, trying to minimize the adhesions that seem to be a problem for some runners with recurring calf injuries, and that had reached the point of being pain-free as well.

That all misled me into thinking it was more healed than it turned out to be.

On the fifth day after the injury I tried to go for a very short run, just to see if it was going to be okay. And it was. I ran a few blocks—maybe a quarter of a mile—and then back again, all without pain. Then, when I tried to turn onto my street: ouch.

That reinjury seems to be even more minor. A day of rest and icing and I think I’m back to normal as far a non-running activity goes.

Today I’ll try a mediumish walk, going 2 or 3 miles to lunch, with the option to switch to the bus if my calf hurts along the way. If it’s not sore at all after lunch, maybe I’ll walk home as well.

One of the web pages I read about calf muscle injuries said that after 10 days, scar tissue is as strong as muscle tissue. I’ll hold off on more attempts at running until 10 days after the original injury, and I’ll make sure there’s a day of rest after any other strenuous activity before my next run.

Then we’ll see.

Kal-Haven training walk #4

Continuing our series of long walks to prepare for a possible through hike of the Kal-Haven trail, Jackie and I walked 16.72 miles today.

We walked to the University of Illinois’s arboretum, and then on through south Urbana to Milo’s where we had lunch. Then we walked to Meadowbrook Park and along the trail that goes along the south and west edges of the park, then through married student housing to the old Motorola building (where OLLI is now) to refill our water bottles, and then on home.

Jackie has asked that I specifically mention that we got a very close look at three juvenile Stufflesbeam (the plural of Stufflebeam, which is what we call ground hogs), just on the west side of the railroad embankment where Stadium Drive crosses Neil. One in particular stood just a few feet away, eating grass with great enthusiasm, close enough to give us a great view of his little nose.

Here’s what my tablet captured via Endomondo:

Jackie and I took a couple of pictures of one another with one of our favorite sculptures. We like this sculpture for various reasons, but one is that the very first time we came upon it, suddenly and unexpectedly as we took a turn in the path, we both had the same thought—and we both knew that the other was having that thought: “Anya wouldn’t like that!”

The picture Jackie took of me is pretty good—that’s what I look like. It’s of some interest to me because we took pictures with this sculpture a few years ago, and I didn’t like the pictures of me because of my weight at the time, and there was no way to crop the picture to hide my stomach and yet keep the rabbit sculpture.

I like this one better.

phil-with-rabbit

And, although Jackie just got an ordinary good picture of me, I managed to get a great picture of Jackie.

jackie-with-rabbit

It’s a perfect picture of the Jackie I know—the Jackie I’ve been married to for 21 years.

Today’s walk: 12.35 miles, plus taiji

Jackie wanted to walk to the Savoy Recreation Center where we take our taiji class, and it was about time for another long walk, so we did.

Our training plan for getting in shape to walk the Kal-Haven trail calls for, I think, a 5-hour walk this week. We didn’t walk quite that far, but if you count the hour we spent doing taiji as part of our workout (which I think is fair, since we’re on our feet for the hour), I think we just about hit the mark.

I was a bit peeved with Endomondo, which seemed to have crashed the Samsung tablet I use to gather the data on our workouts, but I quickly got over it, because it doesn’t seem to have lost the data on our workout. The walk to Savoy Rec and then to Bo Peep’s where we had lunch is shown here:

The tablet rebooted while I was getting it out of my pack at lunch, but once it was up and running again I restarted endomondo and then started a fresh workout to track the walk home. That workout is here:

I paused the app during taiji, and then it turned itself off during the lunch break, so you’d have to add about two hours to the total time of 4:17 (2:40 plus 1:37) to get a comparable time to previous workouts (where I just left the ap running the whole time).

We left home around 7:10 AM just slightly later than planned, and walked the first leg quite briskly, covering each of the 5+ miles to Savoy Rec in under 20 minutes (and the first mile in just 18:04). After lunch we went a little slower, but still kept to a roughly 20-minute pace.

I think we remain nicely on-track for being in shape to hike the Kal-Haven trail sometime in July.

Fictional characters getting in shape

I’m a huge fan of a particular sort of scenes in stories—the scenes where the hero gets into shape.

I was reminded of this recently, after reading Greg Rucka’s Critical Space, a thriller I read after it was mentioned by Marissa in a recent post, which has an excellent instance of this sort of scene. The getting-in-shape sequence in this book takes the form of a montage (much as you might see in a movie with such a sequence) written in second person. You swim. You run. You do yoga and ballet. You take supplements and you eat lots of fruit. You lift weights. You see the changes in your body. You learn to be an assassin.

I have long been a fan of these scenes, both in books and movies. They’re a key part of the original Rocky movie, of course, and are practically all there is in Rocky III. I’m especially fond of the getting-in-shape sequence in the book Man on Fire by A. J. Quinnell, and I’m still bitter that the movie completely omitted the sequence. (Easily the best part of the book.)

A lot of sf and fantasy stories have versions of these. For example, Steve Miller and Sharon Lee’s Liad books often have characters learning a martial art. In these, as in a lot of fantasy stories, the hero or heroine often turns out to have an especially high level of natural talent for the art. I view this as a negative—it’s more interesting to me when the hero lacks any extraordinary skill, but manages to excel through hard work. Patrick Rothfuss’s Wise Man’s Fear does a particularly good job in the scenes where the hero learns a taiji-like martial art. Instead of the hero having preternatural talents in the area, his success comes from seizing an opportunity (and, of course, having preternatural talents in other areas).

A whole genre of its own is the boot camp story, where the heroes not only become fit and learn a lethal skill, but also learn something about teamwork and camaraderie.

Anybody out there like these sequences as much as I do? Can anybody point to books or movies with particularly good instances?

Tai Chi class I’m teaching

Tai Chi flyerI’m going to be teaching a Tai Chi class this summer for the Champaign Park District. Classes will be 8:30–9:30 AM Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. There’ll be a first session running from June 3rd to July 26th and then a second session from August 5th through September 27th. (This update to my post of a week or two ago is because the Park District has produced some fliers with class info: Tai Chi fliers.)

We’ll learn some moving Qigong exercises, an 8-movement form, and provide an introduction to meditation.

The class is appropriate for beginners, although other students are also welcome.

Register at the park district website or at any park district office.

Update 3 June 2013: The class has started, but the Park District is keeping registration open for another week or two, hoping to pick up another student or two.