Suburban Rain

I went out for a 5 mile run at 3 a.m. in my town, a typical Long Island suburb. As I stepped out into the cool (very) early morning air, I faced my first obstacle: my house’s sprinkler system. I quickly analyzed the situation, and decided that the path of least risk involved edging along the side of the lawn and leaping over a sprinkler head. Two very wet legs later, and I was on my way.

The sprinklers in front of my house seemed to set a theme for my run. As I headed down my block, a solitary figure reflecting off shiny wet asphalt, I noticed a sound filling the damp air. A sort of hum, a familiar swishing. I looked around and suddenly realized that every house on my block had their sprinklers on. The slight drizzle I had noticed was about half rain and half sprinkler mist, rain from the sky and ground (a Forrest Gump quote concerning ‘rain that goes up’ comes readily to mind).

As I continued my run, every block I passed had houses with sprinklers going. I thought it so typical, the suburban houses with the tidy lawns and all the sprinklers set to turn on at 3 a.m. when no one is supposed to be around. And there I was, breaking the rule, observing the sprinklers quietly going about their solitary business. It almost felt like the rain was no rain at all but entirely sprinkler mist, their rebellion to my intrusion.

But I took all the water, rain and sprinklers alike, in stride. And it was fitting when about a mile away from home I got thoroughly soaked by a sprinkler to which I got too close. The sprinklers, the suburban rain, had their final say.

The Good and the Bad of Boston Running

After a summer in Cambridge/Boston, I’m back home in New York. The end of my Boston trip also signified an end to my Boston running, a running scene which I sorely miss already.  Below are the things I loved and hated about Boston running.

The good:

1. The other runners! And not just on Sunday mornings, they were hitting the roads at all times. There was a large diversity of runners too, from those clearly on their bi-monthly slog to Boston marathoners.

2. Scenery. Okay, Boston is not exploding with natural wonders, but it’s a nice city, and the Charles River is pretty. Plus, I have a suburb of New York to compare it to, so it doesn’t take much for me to be impressed.

3. The bridge loops. The popular loops around bridges on the Charles River are nice loops with easy-to-remember distances. They were an easy default when I was too lazy to map out a new route. On a related note, I did manage to run just about every bridge over the Charles River within a 10 mile radius of Boston, an arbitrary goal of mine over the summer.

Longfellow Bridge in Boston, spanning the Charles River. A member of the bridge loop club. Picture by Matthew Miller, Wikipedia Commons.

And the bad:

1. The weather. This is to New England in general, actually: Stop raining already! It especially liked to rain when I was already on the verge of not doing a run already because I was tired and didn’t feel well. And I wasn’t even there for the New England winter.

2. The pedestrians. Maybe it’s because Boston has so many runners, or maybe I was simply imagining it, but pedestrians in Boston tended to not yield to runners. Some of them were good about it, quickly clearing a path, but others hardly moved, if at all. Maybe I simply had higher expectations for a running city, because now that I think about it I doubt New York is any better.

3. The god-damn street names. I swear to god, the city planners must have been smoking something when they laid Boston out. Mapping a run one day, I noticed Washington Street crossing Washington Street which a couple of hundred feet later crossed, you guessed it, Washington Street. This was by FAR the most frustrating aspect of running in Boston, and it was responsible for some rather painful extended runs.

Overall, though, the good outweighs the bad, and I’m hoping  to do some more Boston running soon.

Exploring the Running Clubs of Cambridge

I have never been a part of any running group. Not the small local club, not the somewhat larger New York Road Runners. So when I joined a running group based in Cambridge for a run this past Saturday, it was an entirely new experience. And a great one, at that.

After being in Cambridge for over a month and running nearly every day of my stay here, it finally occurred to me that I should check out running clubs nearby. After all, Boston is practically swarming with runners, and it is only natural that they on occasion get together for some of that running.

About a minute and a half into searching the interweb, I found a group that met three times a week about two minutes away from where I’m currently staying. After a short email exchange with the club I found myself with the group bright and early Saturday morning.

The group largely stayed together for the first mile, then broke up into pairs (mostly) who ran their own pace and distance around the Charles River. I’ll always maintain that running is a solo sport at its heart, but running with a partner can be extremely helpful. The fellow I ran with was right around my fitness level, so we were well matched.

The interesting thing about running in pairs is that crashing is rarely synchronous, which is actually a good thing. If one runner is struggling he can draw energy from the other and vice versa. When I’ve been on runs where my partner and I crash together, it is difficult, but even that can be psychologically helpful: sometimes it’s good to know that you’re not the only one having a hard time.

I’m an advocate of running partners, clearly, and a running club seems to operate on the same principle. Logic dictates I should therefore like running clubs, which thus far appears to be accurate. I suppose I’ll know better after this Saturday, when I run with them again.

My 22 mile adventure and ultramarathon dreams

The title is perhaps misleading. I did not see or do anything particularly adventurous on my 22 mile trek this past Sunday; rather it was the total experience of running 22 miles for the first time was the adventure.

One morning recently I woke up and decided I would do an ultramarathon before my first marathon. Why? A couple of reasons: To prove to myself that I can, and to enjoy the distance before I decide to start seriously racing it. If I decide to train for a marathon, I will push myself to do it fast- which, of course, is not a bad thing, but is a different sort of experience.

I know that if I decided to one day I could go out and run 26.2 miles (not today, mind you, my legs are still sore from the 22 miler). But I want to do a run where I don’t know starting out that I can finish the distance, where the worst-case scenario is not PR’ing. And that’s where ultras come into play. They make you race the distance, not the clock.

Granted, this is all very up in the air, since I haven’t even signed up for an ultra yet, but it’s a good goal to focus on. The 22 miler was just part of my ongoing theme of “let’s see how far I can run until I drop from exhaustion” (which is probably the mantra of many a runner). I won’t put you through the same agony it put me through by giving you a blow by blow (or rather a mile by mile) description, but needless to say, it was hard. Not the hardest run I’ve ever done, but it was hot out and it was psychologically difficult knowing I’ve never run that far. The 20-mile barrier is completely mental- I’ve run 18, this was physically minimally harder (race pace, of course, every mile counts more)- but it felt nice to break it.

Next up: the 30 mile barrier. Next week, maybe. Right now I’m enjoying a well-earned rest day.

 

It’s that time of year again… Rejoice, it’s National Running Day!

So apparently it’s National Running Day. I always find out after the fact or, in this case, with about two hours left to the fact (see my post “Today is National Running Day?? Why Wasn’t I Told?!?” for proof) . Why am I not intimately involved in a day dedicated to my fellow running brethren? Because, frankly, it’s not devoted to runners. It’s devoted to wannabe runners or beginners. Now don’t get me wrong, I fully support people in taking up running, and it might even deserve its own ‘day,’ but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not so much a “Runner’s Day” as an “I Would Like to Be a Runner Day.”

To all those aspiring runners and beginners out there, I will tell you this: it kind of, but not really, gets easier. Perhaps not the best motivation, but it’s true. Running is about pushing yourself. Yes, you can build yourself up to a certain fitness level and be comfortable maintaining it, but that’s not really the point. I think it’s exciting to see how far you can push your own body. Inserting speedwork and occasional races into your running routine is all part of the fun of the run.  But, then again, I’m not so intense that I don’t frequently go on runs at a comfortable pace and merely enjoy the act of running, the scenery, etc.

Breaking Your Feet into the Vibram Five Fingers

I’ve seen quite a few questions online concerning beginning training in the world’s favorite lizard-shoes, the Vibram Five Fingers. As a proud owner of said shoes and writer of a running blog, I feel compelled to address this issue.

As a disclaimer, though, I use them mainly for track sessions, rarely doing more than 3 miles with them. So if you’re interested in doing long runs in your Vibrams, I can’t give you any specific advice, though what I say may still be relevant.

First of all, and most importantly, take it slowly at first! Yes, I’m sure you’re excited to have the coolest shoes in town, but if you start out with a 15-miler, I assure you that your calves will hate you for a long time. I started with just one short run a week with them, even shorter than my typical short runs. If you still want to get in the distance, switching shoes midway is always an option (though I’d recommend starting with the Five Fingers, because getting them onto sweaty feet mid-run might be a challenge).

Secondly, unless you’re used to barefoot running/walking, expect some pain. My calves especially suffered, though nothing too terrible. I’ve seen recommendations to begin by walking in them for a while before running. It’s sound advice, though you can expect some stares if you plan on wearing them to work (they’re just jealous).

Thirdly, I do not recommend racing in them, at least at first. I raced the Fifth Avenue Mile in them last year, and it was not a smart decision. Racing the mile alone would have been fine- but I didn’t take into account all the walking around and warming up I do before races, which puts considerable extra stress on unprotected feet. (On a related note- the city has a lot of rocks! One of the many things you discover when your soles are less than a centimeter thick). So take into account all the pre-race walking around before showing your Vibrams off to the competition. If you do plan on racing in them soon after you get them, I recommend getting to the race in different shoes and putting the Vibrams on there. But give yourself enough time, you don’t want to get caught struggling with them when the horn blows!

As per running form in the Vibrams, I can only tell you what I do, which is pretty much a sprinting pose, landing and pushing off with the front of my foot. But I mainly wear them for speedwork, so if you’re doing longer, slower runs in them, or you’re typically a heel-striker (I land mid-foot in normal shoes), then it might be better to try something closer to your normal stride. Or simply do whatever is most comfortable. But don’t take my word on this issue, there may be better advice out there.

Races and River Running

It’s been a while since I posted last, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have running news to share! Well, personal running news, I haven’t heard of much international running news since the historic Boston Marathon a few weeks back.

On May 1st I raced the somewhat less historic Long Island Marathon, finishing with a respectable 5 minute PR despite not feeling my best. It was a beautiful day for a race, though, 65 degrees, sunny, breezy…. ahh. I haven’t raced since then, nor have I signed up for any races, I’ve been quite busy lately. I do plan to do some 5k’s soon, though, it’s that time of year again.

I’ve actually been feeling a bit burnt out lately, and probably as a result have been getting a few minor injuries. It’s interesting how that works- my mind doesn’t want to run, so my body somehow compensates to prevent my running. It’s frustrating, but probably beneficial in that it’s forcing me to take it easy for the moment.

I’ll be in Cambridge this summer and hope to do some running along the Charles River. There’s really something special about running by a moving body of water. Besides the distraction it offers, the flowing water always seems to give me strength. Interestingly, I sometimes feel the same way when running next to traffic, though of course that lacks the natural beauty a river offers. Anyway, I’m just excited to be mixing up my running routine. Suburbs are by far the worst running locations in the world. The extremes are much better- country running is beautiful, and city running is interesting- but the suburbs are just plain dull.