My Latest Not-Too-Bright Running Idea

I wanted to do a speed workout tonight, and nothing could get in my way. Not the fact that I was exhausted or that it was the middle of the night. Or the fact that it was hot and sticky outside. Or the nontrivial issue that my running shoes were quite literally torn apart after a recent trail running experience (coming soon to the blog).

The first problems were more inconveniences to me than serious obstacles; I could put them aside if I was determined enough. But the problem of my sneakers was a bigger issue, and I gave it some thought. I knew I could still run in them; last night I ran 7 miles (accidentally: I missed the turnoff in the dark that would have made it 5.8 miles instead) at a decent clip in these very shoes. But speedwork is different, and I knew that shoes in such disrepair would only slow me down.

Given the facts, what would you do? Accept a slow speed workout? Not do it at all? Well, bravo, you are a sensible person. I, however, am not.

When faced with this quandary, I saw only one viable solution: Run barefoot.

I’ve considered purchasing the Vibram Five Fingers; I have no abnormal obsession with the conventional running shoe. I’ve been told that barefoot running is good for your form and healthy for your feet. So, I figured, why not give it a try now?

So, with remarkably little preparation, I was ready to go (most time spent preparing for a summer run is on the shoes, after all). And so I went. Out the door and onto shockingly uncomfortable concrete. I headed to the street for a softer surface and rationalized my barefoot running by telling myself it’s beneficial to have a nice slow warm-up. Considering my pace, that must have been one super-beneficial warm-up.

I reached the track and expected to feel relief as my feet land softly onto the lush, wet (did I mention it had just poured?), shock-absorbing—

—disappointingly hard track.

It hurt. But, this was my choice, and I was going to stick to it. Well, the running barefoot on the track lasted only a couple of laps: soon I was only doing the sprinting on the track itself, and everything else on the inner grass.

About halfway through, upon stretching my quads, I looked at my feet. They seemed a little worse for wear. In fact, one of them seemed to have a deep gash with possibly a rock or other sharp object still inside. I didn’t even notice the monster blood-blister that was forming on my big toe.

The truth is not always pretty.

I suffered through the speedwork. My splits, as you may imagine, were not great, but surprisingly not that far off either. But my stupidity tonight taught me a valuable lesson: Don’t run on a wet track at midnight without shoes or socks. Stick to the grass.

If there are any Calvin and Hobbes fans out there, such a lesson may remind you of one of Calvin’s self-taught, ridiculously specific lessons (I believe it concerned deranged mutant snow goons).

As a testament to my stupidity, an open cut on my toe just stuck to the floor and I had to yank my foot up, creating a despicable squelching noise. And on such a lovely note, I leave you.


How I Discovered the Wonders of Cross-Training

Running experts are quick to point out the benefits of cross training. However, like much of the advice running experts give, I completely ignored it. But just this last week I discovered what I had been missing.

Throughout my running life, I rarely cross trained. Occasionally, when the weather was terrible and the treadmill was broken, or when I was injured, I’d hop onto an elliptical trainer. Also, when I biked as a mode of transportation (I did it once a week for a while, when the weather was nice), I’d be too tired to go for a run that day and declare that I had done cross-training instead.

That was all before I discovered swimming.

My knees have both been achy for a while, and I’m coming off a spate of other injuries as well. I went for a swim about a week ago, just for fun, and really enjoyed it. So I decided to go back, which I did last night (and tonight- I’m really hooked).

But last night, when I returned from swimming, the most incredible thing happened. I walked down the stairs. No, that’s not the incredible part yet. What’s amazing is that my knees didn’t hurt a bit.

My whole body was relaxed; none of my typical running aches were aching. It felt wonderful.

The experts can give you a whole gamut of reasons for why cross training is so good: it helps break up your monotonous running routine, employs different muscles, lets overused muscles rest, and so on. They also tell you the numerous ways you can do it: biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, etc.

But now I have a new appreciation for cross-training, swimming in particular, that no running expert could do justice to. It helps me walk down stairs. Pain-free.

Now that’s something.

The Race That Just Was Not Meant To Be

Someone had it in for me this past week leading up to the Long Island Half Marathon. There’s simply no other way to explain the terrible luck I had before this race.

It started with a sprained ankle. I was enjoying a peaceful night tempo run (see my blog on Night Runs for more on this fun activity), and had less than a mile to go when a jerk decided it would be funny to give a runner a scare and slammed on his horn as he drove past me. Needless to say, I did not find it funny. It scared the hell out of me, and as I jumped to the side as a reflex, I landed on a little brick wall, badly twisting my left ankle. This was about a week and a half before the race, and it sidelined me for a couple of days, but it healed reasonably well soon enough.

I’d have been ecstatic if that was all that went wrong this past week.

But, unfortunately, there’s more. I got sick. Just a few days to go now, and I’m sidelined again by a bad cold, which had the potential to give me asthma which I occasionally get. I still hoped I’d be better in time for the race, and as my ankle was feeling better, I even maintained my hopes of a PR.

Well, I was not meant to PR. Because on the Friday before the race, something ridiculous happened. This story will prove beyond a doubt that there was more than bad luck involved in this fiasco; it was some sick fate.

It all began with the jalapenos. As I was chopping up some jalapeno peppers for a (delicious) tofu recipe, I got a phone call. I took it, and at some point I must have wiped my face with my hands. My jalapeno covered hands. And man, did that hurt. It thankfully didn’t go into my eyes, but my face was on fire. I paced around my house trying to distract myself from the pain, and began to jog. I realized that running provided a distraction, so I went outside, barefoot, for a sprint around the house.

I never saw the recycling bin.

At first, I was glad I stubbed my toe, I figured it would further distract me from the pain in my face. But then, after a few minutes of non-subsiding pain, I realized that I might have actually done something serious to my toe. Well, I hobbled inside and lo and behold, my toe is swelling up like a balloon. At that point, even with the burning in my face and the pain in my toe, I started laughing. This was just too ridiculous.

And then I saw the weather forecast for race Sunday. 85 degrees, extremely humid.

Why me?!?

I don’t think I’ll ever answer the question of why fate treated me so cruelly before this race. But I ran it, suffered through my cold, my possibly broken toe, and the brutal weather. And hell, I almost PR’ed. 24 seconds off, in fact. But you know what? I don’t care about the time. I’m just happy I survived.

Why We Run

Approach someone on the street. Look him in the eye and ask, “if you had the choice, would you rather be in bed right now or breathless, nauseas, and in pain?” Odds are he’ll answer the former.

It’s a simple question: Why do we run? Why do we wake early, put ourselves in painful, uncomfortable situations, and continue to do it day in and day out? What drives this madness?

I believe there is a two-part answer: the first part involves why we started running way back when, and the second involves how we got hooked.

I can’t really speak for others, but I know why I started running: to lose weight. I was fifteen pounds overweight and hated dieting. Running seemed a nice way to lose some weight without doing too much in the dieting department. But the reason for that very first time we decided to go out and cause ourselves some pain is different for each person. For some, like me, weight loss. For others, a personal challenge just to see if they can do it. Or for general health reasons. Or a way to keep in shape when you’re involved with other sports. Or peer pressure (it seems like everybody runs these days).

Whatever the reason was, we all did it. We went out for that first serious run. For me, weight loss, peer pressure (my whole family was doing it), and setting a personal challenge all played a role. And to be honest, I didn’t make it through the first mile of that run. But it doesn’t matter anymore, because every 6 or 10 or 15 mile run when I pass that spot where I stopped that first time, I can smile to myself.

But regardless of the reason we initially started running, why do we continue? I lost my weight and showed myself that I was up to the challenge- so why bother doing it anymore? Haven’t I reached my goals already? We keep going, because, as we all know, running is addictive. It is more than a hobby; for many of us, it is an obsession. I struggled into shape by running, sometimes hating it but at other times appreciating what it was doing for me. But somewhere during my first few months of running I caught the running bug. I was hooked. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened. I can’t point to one particular run and say, “Yep- halfway through that run I promised never to cut short a long run no matter how badly my pulled hamstring hurts.” Or, “during that run is when I decided that dehydration should never be a good enough reason to stop a run.” It was a gradual process that pulled me deeper and deeper into running than I even realized. Those decisions I mentioned weren’t decided on as a policy when I started running, and if you had asked me when I first started running if I would agree with them, I’m sure I’d have laughed scoffingly and say “I’m no idiot.”

Well, I’m proud to say, running has transformed me into ‘that idiot.’ Of course I realize that I should stop when I feel an injury coming on, but I’m not alone in doing stupid things when it comes to running. In fact, I’m in fairly good company- Meb Keflezighi (better known as just Meb), winner of last year’s New York Marathon, kept running through a serious injury that came back to haunt him. A non-runner might look at that and think that he was stupid. But we runners know better. We know that he was just being a runner.