Friday, May 30, 2014

Books Update

In January, I proclaimed that 2014 would be the Year of the Classics & chose a book for each month of the year. Since we are getting on to the halfway point in the year (!!!???), I figured it was time for an update.

January: A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller. Isaac Asimov's Foundation meets Neal Stephenson's Anathem, at a third the page count. I'd call it more spec fiction than sci fi; it takes place in the distant future where the vast majority of science, technology, & culture has been obliterated by nuclear war & reactionary fundamentalist sects, so parts of it feel more medieval than futuristic. Brilliantly & shrewdly written, confronting questions of history, philosophy, theology, ethics, and the cyclic nature of human civilization, without ever getting preachy or didactic. As relevant now as in 1960. Fans of Asimov & the like should love it.

February: Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I started this book in February, but keep having to take breaks to read something else. It's easier to read than I thought it would be, but somehow still feels like hard work.

March: Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. This is what I'm currently trying plow through right now. Like Uncle Tom's Cabin, it's been easier going than I was afraid it would be and has a lot of interesting parts, but it's still looooong and slooooow and there are long stretches in which nothing much happens except protracted discussions of early 20th century Russian property laws & farming methods. I've taken a couple of breaks from it to read other things, but I'm hoping I'll be able to finish it by the end of May June.

April: A Room With a View, by E.M. Forster. This book seemed appropriate for the April since that's when we left for Italy. In general, it was a cute, engaging read, and I spent most of the middle of the book surprised & excited about where it seemed to be going. Then, after the last two chapters, I wanted to hurl it across the room. I mean I know it was 1908 & all & ladies still weren't all that far removed from just being property, but still. Beautifully written, but a disappointing ending.

May: Catch-22. This book was sold to me as "a classic that's actually funny" and "like 'The Daily Show' in terms of tone & political poignancy," so I thought it would make a nice break from srsbzns reading. Ha ha ha ha. Not. Yes, there are some funny parts, and the absurdist-satire-"hell is bureaucracy" theme has its moments, but it definitely ranks among the darkest, most depressing and harrowing books I have ever read, because war & stupid people.

Other Stuff I've Been Reading

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. This is probably the best book I've read so far this year. I'd been kinda-sorta meaning to read this book for a while now & putting it off because I wasn't sure I was up for the all the darkness, but recently a friend was like, "No seriously. Amazeballs," so I took it with me on vacation, and she was absolutely right. On the one hand I kind of think I'd say this is a great read as long as you're not going through dark, nasty stuff at the time, but on the other hand, maybe this is *exactly* the type of book you should read in that case because you might decide that things aren't really all that bad by comparison.

The Long Run, by Matt Long. The next time you start feeling sorry for yourself or like you're going through some hard times and are feeling frustrated & discouraged about how long the road seems, give ol' Matty Long a hundred pages or so. If you still feel the same way after, you are not human. I don't want to spoil the impact of the first few chapters, but the broad strokes are that Long was a Brooklyn firefighter, BQ marathoner, & Iron Man who got run over by a bus (LITERALLY LIKE A BUS DROVE OVER HIM) in December 2005 & suffered a litany of absolutely horrific injuries. The book chronicles is journey from a miserable, barely recognizable, barely functional, physical & mental wreck of a human to, well, the guy on the cover of the book. So yeah. This book basically convinced me I don't get to feel discouraged about anything ever again.

The Sound & The Fury, by William Faulkner. This was a challenging book for me, but I'm glad I read it, and I can totally appreciate why people are still reading & studying it xx years later. BUT, know going in that it is depressing as hell. On the other hand, it's only like 300 pages long. I'd advise getting some background on the story before actually starting it, because some of it can be hard to follow & definitely requires your 100% focus & attention. Don't be ashamed to consult Wikipedia/Cliff's Notes/etc. as you read.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, by Jenny Lawson (aka, "The Bloggess"). Do yourself a favor & get this one in audio book. Nothing beats The Bloggess herself narrating. I lost count of the number of times I nearly fell off the spin bike I was laughing so hard. The hijinks that girl gets up to!

Dad Is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan. Parents, you'll appreciate this one. Not *quite* up to the quality of his stand-up, but really the book is only maybe half comedy anyway & half about being a parent in general and being the parent of five (7, 5, 3, 1, & newborn) in New York City specifically. Reasonably entertaining overall, with a few absolute laugh-out-loud moments.

The Signal & The Noise, by Nate Silver (of Five Thirty-Eight fame). I loved this book for the same reason that I loved The Predictioneer's Game and Data, A Love Story. All of them lie at the intersection of math/statistics/data/modeling and psychology/sociology. While I still think Nate Silver is brilliant, after reading this book I have a better understanding of just how terrible at modeling and predicting so many other people are (& I'm talking about people who are paid for making predictions) & why it's so easy for him to look that much more brilliant by comparison. What it's really about is the use & abuse of statistics & data--what sorts of things can be predicted (short and/or long term) and which kind of can't, the most common mistakes people make when they try to use data to make predictions, and how living in the age of "big data" actually puts us more at risk for bad predictions.

What's left for me this year....

    June: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz.

    July: To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

    August: Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.

    September: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez.

    October: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

    November: Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne.

    **NOVEMBER BONUS READ**: The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka.

    December: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

    **DECEMBER BONUS READ**: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

This is where I solicit from you other worthwhile reads!! What else is out there that I absolutely must read? Oh also you can be my friend on GoodReads if you want.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I promise not to make that horrible pun about how I am "back on track."

Admit it, a little bit of your soul dies every time someone does that. I kid, I kid.

On Tuesday afternoon I dipped my pinkie toe back into the world of speed work for the first time since last December (when my finished my workout by limping off the track with insane pain in my left calf), and what a gorgeous day for it.

My main goal, really, was just to not collapse and die, and my secondary goals were to maintain structural integrity in the calf regions and not embarrass myself. So winning!

My workout was two sets of 3 x 300m at 6:15 pace (so about 1:09 each) with 100m recoveries. When I'm in decent shape I shoot to do this workout at 6:00 pace (or 1:06ish each), and when I'm in REALLY good shape I can do it in the 5:30-5:40 (1:01-1:03ish) range.

The 6:15 pace was based on my Spring Forward 5K time, so I didn't know how hard or easy it was likely to feel at this point. I do, however, know that I have a bad habit of running intervals too fast, so I decided that I would just try to run them by effort & take it just a tiny bit easier than normal & not try to kill myself trying to hit specific numbers my first time out this year.

Kind of all over the map, but really not too terrible in general! Overall, I was pleased.

I still have a bit of a twinge in my right calf. It hurt a bit while I warmed up, felt totally fine running fast, & gave me just the slightest dull ache during the recoveries and cool down. Nothing too overly concerning so far, but you better believe I am stretching & rolling the heck out of it every night.

Of particular note to SF folks, I also learned from Coach Ken (who coaches a kids' track & field team from the Tenderloin every Tuesday evening) that apparently the city will finally (FINALLY!) be refurbishing the thirty-year-old track at Kezar Stadium later this summer. It will be open through July, then closed for three months while for construction. AND we're getting an extra lane! For me the timing works out fairly well; after July I'll only have 3-4 more speed workouts before Santa Rosa, & it's no big deal to do those somewhere else.

Monday, May 26, 2014

SRM WEEK 2: The Slow Burn

On Sunday we cooked a whole pig in our backyard, and it was delicious.

We used to roast it out in the open on a spitz over hot coals. While that method does make for a damn tasty, fall-apart tender pig and there is nothing like waking up to a house permeated with the smell of bacon, that method takes like 15 hours for an 80 pound pig (talk about a slow burn), and after putting out one too many grease fires at two in the morning, we switched last year to the caja china method.

Cooking the pig in the caja has the advantage of taking only 4-5 hours, and also of fewer grease fires at two in the morning. And it still makes for a damn tasty, 95%-as-fall-apart tender pig.

The pig is pronounced tasty.

* * *

In non-pig-related news, most of my runs for the last two weeks have been about three miles. Some of them have been surprisingly difficult (particularly those on warm days and/or involving hills), but on other days they've felt pretty darn good. With week 2 now in the books, I've almost reached the point of finishing a twenty-five minute run & going, "That's IT? Really? When does marathon training *actually* start??" I won't lie and say that I have been super duper excited to run every single day, but there have definitely been times when spending twenty-three and a half hours out of a day not running has felt really strange and there have been a few mornings only twelve hours post-run when I've been so, so ready to lace up the shoes & head out. "Let me at that pavement. Bring it right the hell on."

Of course, those things are easy to say when you've got 36 miles down and 575 left to go.

I definitely have a history of being incredibly gung-ho at the beginning of marathon training (Every mile!! Every run!! All the cross-training!! No sleeping in!! Unplanned/complete rest days are for wimps!!), and then about six weeks in, realizing I am tired and sore and grumpy and unmotivated and screw it, I'm taking half the week off, because otherwise I may never feel like a normal human ever again.

This time around, I'm trying to remember the extremely meta advice that I've given several first-time marathoners: Marathon training itself is a marathon, not a sprint. The first few weeks aren't supposed to be that hard; if they are, you're probably doing something wrong. I keep reminding myself that Coach Tom scaled these first few weeks back for me, and he did it for a reason.

Which is to say, I am taking everything week-by-week, run-by-run. So far I've been able to do everything on the schedule (with one swap in Week 1), and though I've been slightly sore at times, there's been nothing insurmountable yet. Still, I'm making a deal with myself to remember how those past marathon training cycles have felt and not wait until I'm exhausted and burned out to take an extra rest day if I need to, skip the cross training occasionally, etc. It may seem counterintuitive, but it turns out (for me, at least) that skipping a few miles here & there early-on often means not skipping a whole bunch later down the road when it matters more.

* * * WEEK 2 * * *
(13 to go)

Grand Total: 21 miles, all easy


    * 30 miles bike
    * 1.5 hours strength/stretch/roll

Monday: a.m strength work / p.m. karate

    Not that I didn't already know this, but WOW have I lost some muscle in (basically) 5 weeks. 15 push-ups with the 25 pound plate is no longer a thing I can do; at best I can manage ~5-6. For the time being I've gone back down to the 10 pound plate. I went down 10 pounds for my back squats & deadlifts as well. The deadlifts felt about right, actually (sigh) but the backsquats felt too easy, so I may go back up to where I was pretty quickly with those. I wanted to get some biking miles in as well, but alas there was no way to fit it in with Monday's work schedule. Maybe it's for the best, though, considering that my legs still felt like Jell-O after karate.

Tuesday: a.m. 15 bike / p.m. 3 easy

    Barely one week back from vacation and I am So. Stinking. BORED of my usual routes I could just wretch. Finding novel routes to run that start at my house is tricky because I live in the land of a) traffic lights and b) hills. I am not talking about nice, friendly, domesticated, everyone-should-run-hills-sometimes-it's-good-for-you hills; I am talking about the big, nasty, feral, soul-destroying, barely-runnable-if-at-all behemoths of central San Francisco, the types of hills from which no real benefit can be gained, in terms of marathon fitness. (Not least of all because coming back down the other side puts you at not-all-that insignificant risk of tripping & falling & breaking your neck.

    Runnable in the most literal sense of the word, but not very useful training-wise.
    (This goes on for like 4 blocks, BTW; the sidewalk actually turns into stairs at one point.)

    It's less the going up & more the coming back down.

    So, on Tuesday, I went a different direction & tried to figure out a new route near home that wasn't too heavy on the traffic lights or un-runnable hills, and mostly succeeded! I even found a nice view to look at.

Not too shabby as urban running goes!

Wednesday: a.m. strength work / afternoon 3 easy / p.m. karate

    On Wednesday I went back to doing back squats with the same weight as before vacation, and they felt fine, so I'll probably stick with that for now. Hopefully I'll be able to add the ten pounds back deadlifts soon, too (and honestly...I keep being told I'm not using as much weight for either of these as I could / should, so maybe sometime soon I'll get brave & try adding a little more.)

    Continuing the spirit of finding new routes/places to run, I stopped on my way home at the north entry to Sawyer Camp Trail. When I lived on the Peninsula back in the mid-'00s, I used to do my runs out-and-back from the south entry of this trail all the time, but I've never run from the north end.

Easy on the eyes, but MAN, that grade! Those crazy turns! That insane camber! I totally sucked it up on this run, so obviously I will need to try it again sometime soon.

Thursday: 4 easy

    No bike this Thursday thanks to working from SF. Instead, I had a wicked sports massage in the a.m. I have recently procured a brand-new pair of Kinvara 4's as well as a pair of 5's & did my easy four-miler with one on each food. (Keep an eye out for a post comparing the two a la this one.)

Friday: a.m. 15 bike / p.m. 3 easy

    Since I missed my Thursday morning bike I went back & forth on whether to make it up Friday morning or do my strength work as planned. It seemed more fair to make it two-and-two than three-and-one, so bike it was. After work I took Tuesday afternoon's route through my neighborhood, and BOY do hills suck right now. Which probably means I should be running this route more often.

    Starting to have some annoying pain on the upper outside of my right calf. I've had it on & off over the years; what freaks me out is that that's exactly how the stress fracture on the left side started. :-/ Fortunately, running doesn't seem to be making it any worse, so for now it's watch-and-consult.

Saturday 3 easy

    A quick one through the neighborhood; same old, same old, more or less.

Sunday: 5 easy + stretch/roll.

    Squeezed this one in amidst pig roast prep & made it down to the Panhandle for the first time in five months, which was quite exciting! The pain in my right calf came & went, but never really got any worse, and actually felt a little better afterward, so fingers crossed.

On tap this week: 26 miles and (drrrrrrrrrum rollllllll) a track workout! On an actual track! Here's hoping I can remember how that sort of thing works.

Friday, May 23, 2014

"That feels like bone. It's not."

Ever since getting discharged from physical therapy in March and sloooooowly but surely picking up the mileage, I've made a pretty honest effort to keep doing all the things my PT recommended: extra strength work for right hamstring/glute & calves, rolling (actually, the word 'grinding' feels more accurate) my glutes, right hip flexors/adductors, & calves with a lacrosse ball, & stretching the heck out of them. I am far from perfect, but I do make an honest effort and usually manage to get at least some work on these things in every day.

But it never feels like enough. Rolling my right hip for 15 minutes barely feels like it scratches the surface, and my calves (though much improved through PT) are still knotted and gross inside, and after a run it seems like I can't possibly stretch them enough. Since these issues are what caused my hip strain & stress fracture, I've gotten increasingly wary of going to back to longer & longer & harder & harder runs when the underlying problem is clearly still there, particularly since the level of work I'm able to do on those issues myself seems woefully inadequate.

So, on Thursday morning I called in a pro, a massage therapist in San Francisco with a sports focus and extensive experience with runners and triathletes. I had heard only glowing things about him from other runners, and it seemed like the kind of work I needed was right up his alley, so I made an appointment.

The experience was fantastic. And by fantastic, I mean excruciatingly painful in all the ways that grinding and tenderizing chronically tight muscles should be. Like every other sports medicine/body work professional who's ever laid hands on my hip flexors and glutes, he was stunned speechless for a moment, and by the end of the session hypothesized that I am just genetically prone to getting SUPER tight after exertion. (My favorite quote, as he was digging his elbow into my TFL, has got to be, "Feel that? That feels like bone. It's not.")

He did some ART-like stuff, some traction, some passive and active stretching, some suction cupping on my calves like my PT used to do, and a whole bunch of what I can only describe as "tenderizing the shit out of anything that doesn't feel like it should." Afterward my right hip felt MUCH looser (so bizarre to have the left one feel tight by comparison); he remarked that he almost never works only on one side, even if the other is asymptomatic, but my right one was so completely FUBAR'd that he thought it was better to spend more time on that even at the expense of having me feel less balanced at the end. (He encouraged me to work on the left side on my own at home later to help even things out.) Honestly, he did such a wide range of work that "massage therapist" really doesn't seem to cover it.

I'm planning on going back in two weeks to let him take another crack at it; between now and then, he said that the hardcore work he'd done on it should open things up a bit and make it easier for me to accomplish more with the lacrosse ball on my own. Massage therapy is not cheap (and sadly, not covered by insurance) so it's not something I can do indefinitely (at least not with any regularity), but I'm hoping that investing in a few sessions while I'm training for Santa Rosa will help keep me out of trouble injury-wise, especially if I continue doing a lot of work on it on my own.

He also recommended looking into compression tights for wearing after my runs (even short, easy ones, given how tight my muscles get) and also potentially wearing my compression socks while I'm running as a preventative measure. (Honestly, that may not happen on warmer days, but I don't see how it can possibly hurt otherwise.) So there's that to look into as well.

So yeah. If you're in SF & looking for someone like that, I can make a solid recommendation.

Has anyone tried running/recovering in compression gear for counteracting muscle tightness/myofascial issues? I usually wear my compression socks after long runs, races, or particularly hard runs and they do seem to make my legs feel better more quickly, but I've never tried using them for preventing tight muscles.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

News On The Shoe Front....

Back in December I wrote a post about my search for the perfect shoe. The gist, really, was that I have several shoes that I really *like* but none that I am absolutely, 100% in *love* with. Saucony Kinvaras are my most reliable go-to's, and I have a feeling that that is probably what I will run Santa Rosa in, but if I could find something with with similar ride, fit, & flexibility with just a *touch* less cushioning & a *tad* more ground feel & just a *wee-bit* wider in the toe box for the 10K/half range, I'd snatch it up in a heart beat.

I gave the Mizuno Hitogami a try, to no avail. The Ekiden--next lightest in the Mizuno lightweight family--is not bad so far, but I'm afraid I'm not quite nimble & efficient enough of a runner to go for very long on concrete with that little support & cushioning. If anything I think it will end up being a track shoe / racing flat for me. (I haven't reviewed it yet because I think doing it justice will require doing some speed work in it, which I haven't done in months for obvious reasons.)

Mizuno Hitogami

Mizuno Ekiden

The Altra Ones, though ugly as sin (Don calls them my Donald Duck / clown shoes), also showed early promise, but after several two-to-three milers in them, I got over-ambitious the week before we left for Italy & took them out for one of my first post-injury four-milers. Sure enough, 2.5 miles in I took one wrong step & strained my left calf/Achilles (you know, the one that was so tight it effing broke my fibula) so badly that I could barely walk on it. I tried walking it off, ill-advisedly ran another painful half mile, then gave up & limped the rest of the way home. (This was the main reason I couldn't run while we were in Italy. It also made walking 5-10 miles a day, um, interesting.) So as much as I love them and would love to get comfortable in them & work up to longer distances, zero drop is off the table for me at least until after SRM.

Altra One. Why is this color not banned?

When I said hadn't yet found a shoe I loved, I actually kind of lied. I HAVE found one I absolutely love, one that was practically perfect in every way, the Mary Poppins of running shoes. The trouble is, it was a prototype that I wear-tested in February/March, so I am barely allowed to talk about it, let alone buy it. Rest assured, though, the *second* it goes on the market, I'm stocking up & will tell you all about it.

Until then, there is one more shoe I'm planning on trying out while I'm training for Santa Rosa, & that's the Brooks PureDrift.

My experience with the first iteration of the Pure line was not great. Based on descriptions of the shoes & who the different models were designed for, I picked up the first version of the PureConnect and tried So. Effing. HARD to like it. It was light and flexible but with more support than a racing flat, which was what I was looking for for the 10K/10M/half range. But it was also SUPER narrow, had an arch so high it gave me foot cramps, and the sole was so thick and bubbly-feeling that I couldn't feel the ground at all. I think I put all of 40 miles on them before I gave up & admitted that they just weren't going to work.

I've heard better things about the recent iterations, but because of that first experience, the Pure line really hasn't been on my short list of shoes to try. In the course of reading reviews about several other shoes, though, I ran across several that raved about the new Drift for many of the same features I've been looking for: lightweight, flexible, low-but-not-zero drop (it actually has an insert so that you can go 4mm or 0mm), ergonomically shaped, wide toe box, but with more support & cushioning than a flat.

They're currently on closeout so I'm not really sure what the point of reviewing them is, but I'll at least post something about how they're working out for me once I've had a chance to get some miles on them.

Monday, May 19, 2014

SRM WEEK 1: Get It Started

So. Vacation is over and I am back to properly training. I am registered for Santa Rosa & got my training schedule on Monday. I've been secretly dreading that day a little because the words "marathon training" conjure images of 16-18-20-22 mile long runs & 10+ mile track workouts & two-hour pace runs, whereas the words "recent stress fracture" bring to mind run-walk intervals and half-hour-at-most easy runs on soft surfaces and/or in funny shorts.

It's helpful to be reminded by my PT, who I still check in with occasionally, that "You didn't have a 'recent' stress fracture, you had a stress fracture five months ago, which, as of *three* months ago, was 100% healed." Even so, I was relieved to hear that Coach Tom had looked over the first incarnation of my plan & decided it ramped up too aggressively for his taste considering my not-recent injury & rather anemic base, & made a few tweaks in order to be extra sure that I don't re-aggravate it as I start doing harder workouts again for the first time in many many months.

In general, my weeks are structured like this:

    • a.m. strength work/stretch/roll
    • afternoon optional yoga or bike
    • p.m. karate


    • a.m. easy bike
    • p.m. speed work/light strength


    • a.m. strength work/stretch/roll
    • lunch time optional yoga
    • afternoon short easy run
    • p.m. karate


    • a.m. easy bike
    • p.m. medium easy run/light strength


    • a.m. strength work/stretch/roll
    • p.m. tempo/threshold run


    • medium easy run
    • optional cross-training (swim or light strength, most likely)


    • long run
    • optional light strength

And big-picture, the mileage looks like this:

    WEEK 1: 16 miles, all easy

    WEEK 2: 21 miles, all easy

    WEEK 3: 26 miles (16 easy, 4 speed, 6 long)

    WEEK 4: 31 miles (14 easy, 5 speed, 5 threshold, 7 long)

    WEEK 5: 38 miles (17 easy, 6 speed, 6 threshold, 9 long)

    WEEK 6: 45 miles (21 easy, 7 speed, 7 tempo, 10 long)

    WEEK 7: 49 miles (23 easy, 6 speed, 8 threshold, 12 long)

    WEEK 8: 55 miles (24 easy, 10 speed, 9 tempo, 12 long)

    WEEK 9: 49 miles (20 easy, 7 speed, 8 threshold, 14 long)

    WEEK 10: 58 miles (24 easy, 10 speed, 8 tempo, 16 long)

    WEEK 11: 55 miles (24 easy, 7 speed, 8 threshold, 16 warm-up/SF Half/cool-down)

    WEEK 12: 49 miles (20 easy, 11 speed, 18 long)

    WEEK 13: 58 miles (23 easy, 8 speed, 7 threshold, 20 long)

    WEEK 14: 49 miles (23 easy, 6 speed, 8 threshold, 12 long)

    WEEK 15: 47 miles (13 easy, 6 speed, 28 warm-up/SRM)

Looking over it feels really weird. Like, "Did I *seriously* used to do this? *Can* I still do this?"

Pink says:

I did. And I can. Time to get the party started.

* * * WEEK 1 * * *
(14 to go)

The story of Week 1 is jumping back into training & doing maybe just a tad too much too soon. To wit:

Grand Total: 15 miles, all easy


    * 10 miles bike
    * 2 hours strength/stretch/roll

Monday: Be sick / recover from jet lag :-/ At least there was no running scheduled.

Tuesday: 3 easy

    Tuesday afternoon I was feeling well enough to attempt running, & when I got back to SF the weather was so lovely that I couldn't wait to get my running shoes on. Of course once I started running it dawned on me that the reason it was so nice out was because it was like 85°, which once you've been running for more than thirty seconds quickly goes from feeling lovely to feeling like the taint of hell itself. It was only three miles, but even while trying to take it super easy, I frequently found myself needing to take breaks to walk / catch my breath / not faint at the traffic light. When I got home I turned the shower all the way to cold & just stood there in it for like five minutes.

Wednesday: a.m. strength work + 2 run / p.m. karate

    I woke up a bit sore from my Tuesday run, & ideally I would have preferred to wait a full 24 hours before running again, even for only two miles. But I knew I wouldn't have time for it between work & karate, so instead I just did my strength work & the run back-to-back, sore legs & all. And let me tell you, if you ever want to make a super short run feel a LOT harder than it should, do it after your first strength workout in 3.5 weeks. Oof. Probably the hardest standalone two miles I've run since I freaking raced that distance in high school.

Thursday: a.m. 10 bike / p.m. 2 easy rest

    I was so sore when I woke up Thursday morning that I could barely walk (plus my stomach was still not feeling 100%). I felt better by the time I got on the bike, but after 8.5 miles I felt so bad that I decided to call it good at 10 miles instead of the usual ~13.5 (or whatever 45:00 gets me to).

    For the rest of the afternoon I kind of half-pretended there was some way I was going to run even two miles when I got home.

This was pretty much my plan.
    I mean yes, technically, if a pack of hungry wolves had been chasing me, I probably could have run two miles. Assuming they were very slow wolves. But it seemed much, MUCH smarter not to run sore & instead give my newly-back-intro-training muscles some extra time to heal.

Friday: a.m. strength work stretch & roll / p.m. 2 easy 3 easy

    I did go to the gym Friday morning, but knowing full well I was too sore for doing any real strength work to be a good idea. Instead I spent 40 minutes stretching & rolling All The Things & 5 minutes doing clam shells (which did not hurt).

    By the time I got home I was still sore but feeling much better overall, so I ran a lovely three miles in beautiful weather & it felt marvelous.

Saturday 3 easy + stretch/roll

    Three easy miles in new shoes & a HELLACIOUS wind.

    Fill in the blank! Brooks ____________.

    Today was also the day I learned that RunKeeper sucks, which was necessary since I apparently failed at plugging my Garmin all the way in the day before. I may not be in the best shape of my life currently but if I'm running a 13:30 mile it's probably because one of my legs is broken.

Sunday: 4 easy + stretch/roll.

    I was still sore in the calves & glutes when I woke up Sunday morning, though not as sore as the past few days. Even so I decided to put the run off a few hours & see if my muscles felt any better. They did, but for some reason (probably because I haven't run this far in a month) I was still completely convinced that this run would be just horrible. (The crazy wind we've had here lately didn't help.)

    SUPER excited to run 4 sore, windy miles. Not really.

    Ultimately, though, it ended up being one of the easier runs I've had this week, and once I started running I didn't even feel sore anymore.

This week was a tough one. Partly because it was my first back after a break, and partly because I can't even remember the last time I ran five times in one week regardless of the distance. Hopefully next week will be a bit easier, & I'll be up to adding more cross-training as well.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Self-Defense Moves For Runners

Recently Runner's World published a video titled "How to Stay Safe on the Run", a topic we can ALL relate to, no matter where or when we do our running. Day or night, crowds or solitude, highway shoulders or urban sidewalks or forest trails, there are always potential hazards to look out for, and paying close attention to our surroundings isn't something we can ever let slip.

The Runner's World video addresses a particular type of hazard: another person who is potentially trying to harm you. In it, a police officer goes through several types of attacks (attacker grabs your arm, bear hugs you from behind, or comes at you directly). Speaking as a martial artist, I can confirm that all of the techniques the officer explains in the video are legitimate and likely to work, provided a) they are executed with skill & gusto & b) the attacker is not all that invested in hurting you.

But those are some pretty big "if's." And that is what worries me when I see or hear people talking about self-defense like it's something you can learn from watching a video or attending a day-long workshop: people see how easy and simple it looks & maybe try it a few times with a friendly, cooperative partner, and it gives them a false sense of security, which in some cases can even lead to people taking addition risks because they feel overconfident. The fact of the matter is that being able to use self-defense techniques like breaking someone's grab or escaping a choke hold effectively when someone is actually trying to hurt you requires A LOT of practice. There are couple of reasons for this.

For one, it's a skill, and you have to learn to do it properly. It took me several years to feel very confident in my ability to break grabs & escape holds & what have you immediately, without thinking or pausing to go, "Okay, I put my hand here, and grab you here...Wait, how does this go?" Just like you can't learn to play a complicated piano piece by watching a YouTube video, you can't learn self-defense that way either. (And in the heat of the moment when you're afraid for your life, what are the odds that you'll be able to call it to mind anyway?)

For another, you have to do it often enough to undo all the conditioning that civilized humans (especially women) have that tells us we shouldn't be aggressive & violent towards other people. Yes, some of the time we have a fight-or-flight thing that kicks in when we really need it, but you might be surprised how often people freeze up in the face of violence and can't bring themselves to get aggressive with their attackers. (I hate to say it, but this is often especially true for women. See Harriet J.'s amazing post on why, if we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways.) If you have it in your head that these self-defense moves are something you might need to do one day, get a partner & practice, practice, practice, until you can do it immediately & accurately, every time, without a second thought.

Don't get me wrong; backed into a corner, I'm not saying don't do whatever you have to to defend yourself. I'm just saying, don't count on something to save you in a stressful, chaotic situation that you haven't practiced a thousand times with full speed & power & can do on auto-pilot.

So if you haven't practiced that bear hug break a thousand times, what can you do? So many things!! Here is some straight-talk about combat & self-defense from someone who's been doing it for 12 years. I give you...

The Top 5 Self-Defense Moves For Runners
(and, actually, anyone, including martial artists):

MOVE #1: Stay out of situations where you might need to defend yourself. I can't say this enough times. The best way to get out of a dangerous situation is to do whatever you can not to get into it in the first place. Sometimes people have made remarks about how it must be really nice not to have to worry about walking down dangerous streets or being out alone at night or someone deciding to mess with me because "you know how to defend yourself." Wrong. If anything, my martial arts training has made me that much aware of how dangerous those situations can be and how much and how quickly things can go horribly wrong any time you have to resort to defending yourself with physical force. It's not a trump card; it's an absolute last resort, with dubious odds at that. All martial arts training does is give you a fighting chance, maybe, depending on the situation.

The best self-defense move out there is avoiding risky situations. If you must run in the dark, pick your route carefully & try to go with a buddy or stay where there are plenty of people. If you must run where there are no people, stick to daylight and stay in areas where you have good lines of sight (as opposed to lots of good places for potential attackers to hide). If you must run with headphones, keep the volume turned down so that you can hear footsteps and voices of those around you (or go with one headphone only). If you're already doing something slightly risky like running alone in the dark or somewhere unfamiliar or in an area where there aren't other people around, leave the headphones at home.

MOVE #2: Pay attention to your surroundings. This is a habit I developed through karate without even realizing it. When I walk into a store or parking lot or bar or BART station or whatever, I find myself pausing for a moment to take in the whole scene. Who is standing where? Where is their attention directed? Anything seem weird or out of place? Eventually that habit worked itself into running as well. Any time I feel like I'm already taking chances with Move #1, this spidey sense goes into overdrive.

I think it's hard for a lot of us to really pay close attention to our surrounding when we're out running because it's so easy to get caught up either in your thoughts or in paying attention to your body. It's easy to just put one foot in front of the other without much thought for what's going on around us. But try to develop that habit if you can. Try to look at people while you run. Try to listen to their voices and the other sounds they're making. Pay attention to where and how people are standing/walking and where their attention is.

This move is a double-edged sword, because not only are you more likely to notice something/someone out of place and/or dangerous, but it also gives you an aura of being alert & with it & generally having your shit together. The fact that predators choose their victims based on posture, body language, & other behaviors that indicate a person is timid/passive/not paying attention to their surroundings is extremely well-documented; being alert & with it is like wearing a sign that says, "Not the easiest target, maybe choose someone else."

(Incidentally, this habit has a lot of other side benefits as well. It lets me avoid running into people who are walking right at me who I can just tell by their demeanor are not really "seeing" me and not going to move. It's helped me avoid getting hit and/or backed over by cars. It's helped me dodge more dogs/children/drunk people/construction areas than I could possibly ever remember.)

MOVE #3: Listen to your gut. Getting a weird feeling? Hairs on the back of your neck standing up? Find yourself saying over and over again, "I'm sure it's nothing"? Do whatever you need to to get rid of that feeling--stop & look behind you, go back the way you came, take a different road, duck into a storefront, whatever. The good news about weird gut feelings is that whatever it is you're subconsciously worried about hasn't happened yet, so you still have time to avoid it.

And you know what? Most of the time, maybe even 99.9% of the time, that weird feeling really will be nothing. But people are good at getting weird feelings when something isn't right, and your safety isn't worth gambling with on the off chance that it isn't. Do whatever you need to to feel safe in the moment. Anyone who tries to make you feel silly or dumb about it is not your friend.

MOVE #4: Run away, preferably towards people. If someone really looks/sounds/seems legitimately threatening, put as much distance between them and you as possible as quickly as possible. (This is the great thing about being a runner--odds are good you can outrun anyone giving you the heeby jeebies!) Even though these types of situations are pretty rare, most of the time the person acting threatening isn't all that focused on you in particular or willing to put much effort into continuing to harass you. Most casual threatening behavior is opportunistic, so if you can gun it a bit for a few blocks/tens of yards & get some distance between you, that may take care of things.

If someone does seem pretty focused on you personally and committed to getting at you, run as fast as you possibly can to the closest safe place (again, preferably where there are people). Even someone with truly bad intentions isn't likely to follow you into a group or a well-peopled building. (This is the main reason why running alone, out of sprinting distance of other people, really skeeves me out.)

(Related -- Don't engage with someone who seems threatening, even if they're talking to you. Again, most of the time this stuff is opportunistic, and it's been shown over and over and over again--see Chapter 8 of Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear--that by ignoring it and not giving the person the satisfaction of responding, they're less likely to get invested in bothering you. Any attention you give someone in this kind of situation is rewarding the behavior and only likely to escalate it.)

MOVE #5: Make as much noise as possible. A great one to use in conjunction with Move #4. Like I mentioned above, you would be shocked to learn how many assaults take place within earshot of other people where the victim stays disturbingly quiet. (Again, see Harriet's post for the some of the reasons why.) Remember that most assaults are opportunistic, not personal, and most predators are looking for as un-challenging a mark as they can find and the absolute LAST thing they want is to draw attention to themselves. So if someone is acting threatening & you really want them to GTFA from you, scream your little head off & draw as much attention as possible.

Cool. But what are some physical things I can do if someone grabs/corners me that don't take hours and hours of practice?

There are some! Obviously any amount of practice/drill you do with another person is going to make you that much more confident should you ever need to defend yourself with physical force, but the moves below are pretty basic & forgiving in terms of practice or getting them *exactly* right.

  • Kick the shins. HARD. You know how much that hurts! No, this will not put someone on the ground, but it may distract them long enough for you to be able to pull away & run. Always cause a pain distraction before you try to pull away, especially from someone bigger & stronger than you. It's surprisingly effective! Truly, there is never a bad time for a shin kick.

  • Go for the nose! We have a saying in our dojo: No one has a strong nose. It takes remarkably little force to create a LOT of pain & a veritable FOUNTAIN of blood. (I know! I've bloodied noses! I've bloodied my *own* nose!) Noses are really, really easy to break and quite painful (again--I can attest to this personally!), and even if you don't break it, you'll likely distract them long enough to get away.

  • Similarly, fling your fingers at the eyes like you're flinging water off your hands. It has a surprising sting, & anything in the direction of the eyes makes an excellent distraction. I don't recommend trying to jab/claw people's eyes out, because getting involved with the body fluids of strangers is something to avoid if at all possible (though obviously, if you are feeling seriously threatened, you do whatever you have to).

  • Fingernails to the face in any way you can manage. Just raking your hand tiger-claw style down someone's face is pretty darn disconcerting and can also be a great distraction. Consider pairing with a shin kick.

  • Avoid punching if it is not something you have been taught to do & practiced extensively. Instead, pull your fingers back & go with the heel of the hand--just shoot it at at your attacker's face like a rubber band. BAM! It's hard enough to inflict a non-ignorable amount of pain but also padded enough that you're unlikely to hurt yourself. (Poorly executed punches have a habit of spraining/breaking fingers & wrists, and are also unlikely to do much if you haven't practiced it with something hard thousands upon thousands of times.)

  • If you're grabbed bear-hug style from behind, don't try to pry their hands up. Hands are strong. If you can manage a heel kick to the shin, start with that. (Always cause a pain distraction first.) Then, instead of trying to pry the hands away, start with a pinkie & bend it back as far as you can. As with noses, no one has a strong pinky. This is kind of magical in how effective it can be, but be prepared to follow it up right away with a shin kick, whack to the nose, etc.

  • Another possibility if you're grabbed from behind is to heel kick the shin (always cause a pain distraction first), then throw an elbow back into your attacker's ribs/sternum. How possible/effective this is really depends on how you're being grabbed/held, and sometimes it won't really work, but if you can manage it, it can be startlingly effective. Elbows are SHARP and make excellent weapons!

  • YELL. It seems hokey but I am not joking about this. If you have to defend yourself against someone who is trying to hurt you, scream in their face every time you strike or hit them. It seriously freaks people out & can sometimes even cause enough of a distraction to give you a chance to escape. Also, see Move #5 above.

  • ***Don't count on the crotch shot.*** I have lost track of the number of women who believe they are invincible to men because "I'll just kick/knee him in the balls." Maybe you will, and maybe it will work, but more likely you will miss, or won't be able to manage enough force, or he'll move/block you, or you'll make contact & cause some pain but rather than disabling him, it will only serve to make him angry & more violent as adrenaline tends to blunt pain but not emotion. In a chaotic, fast-moving situation, the targeting is trickier than you think, and dudes are really good at protecting the crotch region. Again, I'm not saying don't try it, but know that it is FAR from a trump card & have some other moves in mind to follow up with.

Last but not least, if you ever do find yourself needing to use physical force, remember that the goal is not to incapacitate the person--the goal is to run away. At the first opportunity. As quickly as possible. Do NOT hang out & try to start a boxing match.

Some Final Remarks

First, I want to make it super clear that I'm not suggesting most people are likely to be attacked/assaulted. In general, as far as my understanding of the statistics goes, the odds are very low, especially if you are on top of Move #1 up there. On the other hand, the stakes are staggeringly high, so it's still incredibly important to take your own safety seriously & do whatever you can to minimize your chances of becoming a victim, and to have given *some* amount of thought to what you might do should you get a creepy feeling or find yourself the focus of unwanted attention/unpleasantness.

I am not against self-defense classes (eh...mostly). I am not against learning & practicing self-defense moves (obviously). BUT, I am VERY much against giving people an unrealistic view of what they can depend on when it comes to protecting themselves, and I am very VERY *VERY* against presenting self-defense "moves"/physical force as if they should ever be the first line of defense. Fighting is chaos. There's no predicting how things will go. You never know when someone has a weapon. You never know when someone's buddies may be backing them up. You never know when someone may suddenly grab a broken bottle. In those situations, the odds of a favorable outcome for even the most highly trained martial artist plummet pretty quickly. (Seriously. The more I self-defense I learn and practice, the more terrified of weapons I become, which is a good thing because it means my brain is operating more and more in reality where the odds of an unarmed person successfully fighting off someone with a weapon are just about zero.)

Backed into a corner, truly afraid for my life? No question; I will do everything in my power to lay you out, inflict permanent injuries, & not even think twice about it.

But lemme tell you; first & foremost, I'm going to fight 90% of that battle by doing everything I possibly can to not to be in it in the first place.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


You don't know this but I have tried to write "Links Round-Up" posts many times in the past. My undoing, as it turns out, was adding a bit of commentary to each link; as you know if you've read many of my race reports or srsbzns posts, brevity is not my strong suit, & inevitably the commentary on some or other link round-up would become so long-winded that it ended up becoming its own post, & by the time I finished that & got back to the other links, they were hopelessly outdated.

Not this time! I present to you Cool Stuff From the Internet, with 100 200 250 words or less of commentary per link from me.

1) Honest Health and Fitness Advertising. I have only recently discovered Kat Whitfield of "Pinterest Modifications" fame, and she is totally my new favorite. In this post, she muses on what health and fitness advertising might look like if marketers had to be honest. Hilarity ensues. (Via Fit & Feminist)

2), which makes a good "no but seriously" follow up to Kat's post. Examine is an independent organization that presents un-biased research on supplements and nutrition, with over 30000 references to real, actual, honest-to-god scientific papers. (Read: not sponsored by anyone looking to make a buck.) I seriously lost half an hour on this site today just clicking around on topics ranging from "How Important Is Sleep?" to "What's the Deal With Fish Oil?" Fascinating and super informative! (Via LifeHacker: Why There's So Much Confusion Over Health and Nutrition)

3) Belief Effects and Post-Exercise Recovery. In recent years more and more scientific evidence has been amassing to suggest that there is no physiological reason why ice baths should improve either either performance or recovery. A recent study went so far as to show that although ice baths beat lukewarm baths (the control condition) as measured by performance in a high intensity interval test, they provided about the same benefit as adding a new "recovery oil" to the lukewarm bath. The upshot? The fancy "recovery oil" was just bath soap. A soapy bath literally provides the exact same benefit as an ice bath, which is pretty much the last nail in the coffin in terms of showing once and for all that any benefit from ice baths is most likely placebo.

In this article, though, Alex Hutchinson at Sweat Science discusses how we shouldn't necessarily give up things like ice baths just because the effect they have is known to be placebo. "In the past, placebo effects were thought of as a ‘fake’ effect, but today, the powerful performance-related outcomes associated with improved belief in a training program or novel intervention are seen as real effects that need to be harnessed...It's an important point to keep in mind. The ultimate goal of sports science is to make the athlete better, and that involves harnessing both body and mind." (Via Sweat Science)

Neat stuff! Any ice bath devotees out there? I did them occasionally while training for my first marathon & definitely found that they made me feel better after long / hard runs (which is something), but I don't have any evidence one way or the other that they improved my performance.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

I Am Alive!

Hey there space cowboys! I am alive and back from Italy, though really only sort of half alive, since for the second vacation in a row the universe has seen to bless me with some horrible food-poisoning-or-something-food-poisoning-ish malady before and/or during and/or after flying home. So instead of kicking off marathon training with a bang on Monday, I spent it mostly lying in bed whimpering, choking down whatever food my stomach didn't immediately reject (as of 5pm: a slice of bread & about 7 Triscuits), & desperately trying to stay hydrated with ginger ale & Gatorade.

Our trip was fantastic, and once I've had some time to go through the absurd quantity of pictures I took on my actual camera, I'll post a few here & there. Meanwhile, below are a few I took on my phone. (Facebook peeps, you've probably already seen most of them).

RELATED: Things I Learned In Italy

  • Don't believe anyone who tells you, "Oh, you don't really have to learn the language, everyone pretty much speaks English anyway." Not. True.
  • Splurge on the nice camera. You will thank yourself.
  • Business class is the *only* way to do international travel. (Thank you, credit card miles!)
  • Cash is king. Preferably in small bills.
  • Pay extra for a small-group tour of the Vatican Museums, Ufizzi, or Academia. Absolutely worth it. (I actually don't think we could have gotten into the Ufizzi at all otherwise.)
  • Don't try to drive in the cities. EVER.
  • Italians don't really do "breakfast" the way we do it here. Something is endearingly lost in translation when they try to do "American breakfast."
  • Bring the most comfortable walking shoes you can find & get your feet in shape before you go. (One word: Cobblestone.)
  • If you go in April/early May, be sure to bring All Teh Layerz.

PICTURES: The Wee-ist Tiniest Fraction:

The afore-mentioned #sexypants business class. Three-course meal from a Michelin chef, champagne/beer/wine/snacks on demand, all the movies/TV you can watch, outlets for all your toys, fully-adjustable, 180-degree lie-flat seats, and complimentary slippers. I am not kidding that I almost did not want to get off the plane.

Piazza Navona in Rome

One of about a thousand gorgeous ceilings in the Vatican Museum

The Colloseum

The House of the Vestals

The Temple of Apollo (or what's left of it)

View from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Wine tasting in Chianti Classico, Tuscany

Assisi (see "Francis of," ie, the original St. Francis)

The Siena Cathedral, which is in no way done justice by this photo

I read basically no blogs in Italy, so in between laundry, going through the mail, & trying not to die of dehydration, I'm also doing my best to get caught up with all the amazing things you've been up to while I was gone.

That's all for now. I am absolutely DYING for a run, so hopefully my body will cooperate today or tomorrow & I will have something to blog about related to running.