Archive for April, 2007

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#10 – Learn to Exercise Prudence

21 April 2007

It’s Saturday morning and I’m signed up for the Striders Saturday Classic 10-mile race. Sadly, I’m sitting here writing this entry instead. Why? I’ve decided to be conservative and rest a minor injury.

Last Sunday I ran 16 miles exploring the countryside, then Monday I ran 6 miles; after the Monday run my left achilles became quite stiff and sore. It seemed OK during the run but when trying to stretch out afterward, I had far less range of motion. Even walking was difficult the rest of the day.

Fortunately Tuesday it felt great and I even got through softball practice with no problems. So Wednesday I set out for a 5 mile run and after one mile the achilles got stiff again. I should’ve stopped right then, but I was running someone and didn’t want to leave him hanging, so I toughed it out. Oops. The stiffness and soreness returned.

This time I hadn’t regained full range of motion by Thursday, a day later. Still, I went to softball practice and survived, but this time I could notice that my ankle wasn’t 100%. By Friday the range of motion was back to normal, but not without a feeling of tightness when pushed to the limit.

Alas, reasoning that 10 racing miles on the road would bring the problem back as bad as ever, I decided last night to skip the race. My ankle feels good now, but if it’s only “Tuesday good” then trying to run 10 miles could lead to a more severe injury. What a bummer – I was really looking forward to this race as Striders puts on good events and the course is reputed to be quite hilly. I even got a cool bib number: 88. Reminds me of a certain quote from Back to the Future! “When this baby hits 88 miles per hour…”

I believe I made the right decision, but it’s not easy to pass up a fun race, especially when I currently feel OK and could probably have finished. Further straining my achilles, however, could have grounded my running ways for a long time.

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#9 – Explore the Entire Country

18 April 2007

Last Sunday I explored the local countryside in a 16 mile run. Meanwhile someone else is exploring the entire western half of the country in a 6,875 mile hike!

Andrew Skurka is a hiker who advocates packing lightly and moving quickly, usually covering around a marathon’s distance per day. He’s a former high school runner who fell in love with hiking during college, and now appears to have made hiking his full-time job. Pretty impressive.

Andrew’s Great Western Loop hike began on April 9th, and just two days ago his mom posted his first update from the trail. Amazingly he’s hiked even further before – his “Sea to Sea” trek from the Atlantic to the Pacific covered 7,778 miles in 11 months! Summaries, stats, photos and even gear lists from all of his hikes can be found on his website – he seems to be quite an obsessive planner and organizer, which is good for the rest of us to get an idea of how one would prepare for such an undertaking.

One good way to prepare is to run, which Andrew does often as part of his training. Since resuming running four years ago (after five years of minimal activity), I’ve noticed a huge benefit when hiking or even just walking around the office. I encourage you to notice these small but significant changes that running can add to your life because after all, it’s not only about the running.

Have fun, Andrew!

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#8 – Explore the Countryside

15 April 2007

Today I went for my weekend long run, choosing to explore some of the rural farmland here in west Michigan. I left home right at sunrise and the clear skies provided stunning views. Lots of wildlife crossed my path – deer, vultures, hawks, blackbirds, sparrows – but none were cooperative enough to pose for a photo. Fortunately the countryside itself doesn’t move nearly so quickly!

Out in the middle of nowhere I was surprised to come across a stash of water and Gatorade! Scribbled on the lid was “rungazelle.com“, a running club based out of the local running store Gazelle Sports. I figured they must be out for an organized training run. Since I had three liters of water on my back to use up, I didn’t touch their stuff… besides, I didn’t ask permission!

A couple miles later I was in the middle of some big, rolling hills when I spotted this picturesque farm. As I got closer I saw a sign proclaiming this farm to be 164 years old, having stayed in the same family since 1873! Pretty amazing. It’s such a great location that I’d want to keep it, too.

Across the street from the farmhouse was this view that that family has awakened to for the past 164 years. Yes, that’s my shadow in the low, morning sun.

Leaving the farm and descending a steep hill down into the Flat River valley, I crossed one of Michigan’s historic covered bridges, White’s Bridge. There’s just something really charming about these bridges, don’t you think?

The Michigan Historic Site marker describing White’s Bridge.

Climbing north from White’s Bridge out of the valley I was treated to this spectacular view of the Flat River. This is one of the prettiest views you’ll ever see (sorry, the into-the-sun photo doesn’t do it justice) and it’s visible from a simple isolated stretch of dirt road.

Continuing along the dirt road I passed by this interesting silo that has been converted into what looks kinda like a lighthouse. You can’t tell from this angle, but this silo is sitting on the bluff overlooking that stunning section of Flat River seen in the previous photo. If I ever own a silo someday, it would be this one.

Turning around, this is what I saw across the road from the silo – a flat, wide-open field. It’s amazing how the Flat River carved such a deep valley just a few hundred feet behind me yet left this stretch of land flat as a pancake.

I ran past cornfields, beanfields, hayfields, wheatfields, but my trek wouldn’t be complete without passing a Michigan apple orchard. Maybe I’m partial to them because my dad grew up farming apples, but I think they’re more picturesque than any other farm crop.

Speaking of farm “crops”, Michigan has its share of dairy farms, too. The sign says “Drink Milk for Vitality” and a glass of cold milk sure sounded good right about then – I was two and a half hours into my run at this point.

Here I am at the Flat River yet again, but several miles south of White’s Bridge now. This photo was taken from a modern vehicle bridge at the north end of Fallasburg Park in Lowell, Michigan. The North Country Trail has an access point just to the left of the photo’s field of view, but since I ran there last week I kept to the roads this time through.

My second covered bridge crossing of the day! Here is the Fallasburg Bridge, part of the park but at the southeast end. The sign says “$5 FINE For Riding or Driving on This Bridge Faster Than a Walk” – since I ran across three times while taking these photos, should I get fined $15? 🙂

This historical marker describing the Fallasburg Bridge.

Running up the hill away from the Fallasburg Bridge these four ducks crossed the road ahead of me. As I crouched down to get a duck’s-eye view, they started waddling towards me! It looks like the one on the right is the drill sergeant, quacking orders to the others to ensure they look good for the picture.

Moving just tad more quickly than those ducks were the RunGazelle folks nearing the end of their group run; about an hour earlier I had passed them up near that apple orchard, so I figure they were running about 1.5-2 hours. At this point I was three hours along but just as close to finishing as they were.

After taking that photo I ran less than five minutes before meeting Amanda, who was out for a long walk of her own. We walked the North Country Trail back to where she’d parked the car and headed home. Check out her blog, too, for some photos she took on her trek.

Where do you usually run? In town, near your home? That’s true for me – I walk out the front door with running shoes on and most of my runs don’t go far enough to take me into the countryside, but today’s 16 miler gave me the opportunity to bring the camera and see some new sights. Next time you’re up for a long run, I suggest you head “outward”, away from town, even if you have to drive a bit to get closer to the countryside. And don’t forget your pocket camera!

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#7 – Do Something Crazy

11 April 2007

Official season: Spring

Official weather: 32 degrees, 30 mph winds, heavy snowfall

If the weather wasn’t already crazy enough, I trumped Mother Nature by going running – in shorts – out in this stuff! Crazier yet, all four of my regular running co-workers showed up for today’s lunch-hour run ready to hit the streets. I wasn’t the only one wearing shorts, and one guy had no hat or gloves but cleverly wore his work socks on his hands.

When we began our 5-mile route the snow had just started falling and a 1/4″ coated the sidewalks. We remarked now nice and soft the concrete felt with this frosty padding, and soon the discussion turned to global warming and how Mount Tambora‘s 1815 eruption had some crazy effects on the weather in 1816. As far as I know, today’s weather wasn’t caused by volcanic ash in the atmosphere!

Our route is C-shaped… it begins heading south, turns west, then north, where we turn around and thus face south, east, and finally north. I mention this because the howling east wind stung our faces (and bare legs for a couple of us) with an incessant stream of ice pellets. The crosswind legs of our route weren’t too bad, and the downwind was rather comfortable, but mile 3.5-4.5 faced us directly into what felt like the onslaught of medieval longbow men.

My instinct was to raise my sword and charge, attacking the wind – I upped the pace considerably and battled onward. One of the guys joined me and boy, what a fight! He had no eye protection and the ice pellets were stinging his eyeballs and loading freezing mascara onto his eyelashes. I was wearing clear-lens sunglasses but they didn’t help much – the inside of the lens fogged up while the outside was completely covered in sticky snow that I had to wipe off every minute. We could barely see the sidewalk!

We didn’t give up. The harder we ran, the sooner we’d be out of the ferocious headwind. It seemed like forever, but we finally reached the intersection in 7:30! That’s fast for us, especially given the conditions. Once we hit the 5 mile mark, we turned around to pick up the rest of the guys who kept a more sane pace, then all five of us fearless warriors finished together, completely covered in snow. I had so much snow in my hair that when I ran my hand through it, I grabbed enough of the white stuff to make a snowball! The 1/4″ ground cover had become over 2″ deep when we finished – our tracks from the start of the run were no longer visible less than an hour later!

We must’ve been an impressive sight. During the entire run motorists were honking at us and a few rolled down their windows to shout encouragement. We wondered, though, how many of those honking drivers were saying “Way to go! You guys are hard core!” vs. “Get back indoors you crazy freaks!”

I may be a crazy freak, but when Nature puts on a show that is as amazing as it is rare, I’m going to be outdoors… and running!

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#6 – Photographing New Trails

10 April 2007

Yesterday I explored a new trail but forgot the camera. Today I went back to the Bradford Dickinson White Nature Preserve with both a camera and my wife Amanda. If you ever need a good reason to run a scenic trail, here’s two: 1) bring a camera, 2) bring your wife. 🙂

First we ran an out-and-back so that Amanda could experience the trail while on the move, then we walked around and took some photos. The sun was out today, giving us much better light than yesterday’s overcast with snow. Amanda took all the pictures – you can see the more artistic ones on her blog. Here I’ve posted a few photos to give you a glimpse of that little trail I’ve been talking about!


Log hopping as soon as you leave the parking lot.


Crossing a stream via a wooden bridge.


Looking down at the bridge after climbing a hill.


Rubbing shoulders with trees of all ages.

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#5 – Discover New Trails

9 April 2007

Sometimes a sour turn of events can result in something unexpectedly sweet. Today I was forced to miss my group run during lunch at work due to an “important” teleconference with our customer at which we concluded that the issue that required my presence was in fact a non-issue.

While waiting for that meeting to start I was surfing the local North Country Trail website (when I ran the NCT yesterday I noticed some new signposts with updated maps and I was searching for those maps). As can happen with the web I stumbled upon the Land Conservancy of West Michigan and discovered that they have preserved some land just a few miles from my house! I decided to leave work a bit early and explore its trails.

The Bradford Dickinson White Nature Preserve is a 45-acre patch of wooded lowland with a marked trail and a parking lot big enough for just four cars. Based on the preserve’s size I figured the trail wouldn’t be very long but it sure beats running alone on the sidewalks!

I set off at a medium pace and immediately had to start hurdling logs across the trail – nothing difficult to clear and in fact it made the run much more fun. While lifting my feet I also had to be mindful of my head, frequently ducking low-hanging branches. Along with these enjoyable obstacles the trail surface was in great condition – soft, leaf-covered ground with many slopes, twists and turns. Some of the turns were so sharp and narrow that I rubbed shoulders with a few trees!

Impressively this trail is roughly half a mile long, resulting in a quick and exciting one-mile round trip that covers a lot of features in its short span. Trees ranged from 50-foot red pines down to whip-like saplings of birch and maple. The trail crosses a sandy stream at the beginning, climbs a good sized hill then descends to follow the stream before gradually ending near a major road.

To get my miles in I ran the trail once, then ran and out-and-back along a nearby dirt road (where ironically, I passed a crew cutting down some trees), then ran the trail one last time. Fittingly during my final trip along the trail it began to snow! Yes, it’s April but it’s still snowing here in west Michigan.

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#4 – Running with Dogs

5 April 2007

If you love running and you love dogs, why not combine the two? My wife and I have two yellow labs – Haven and Beacon – and I run with them often. We also foster dogs for Vicky’s Pet Connection, a local dog rescue and today we happened to have Raven, a black lab mix. Being in the mood for a run, I thought I’d take all three for a run. Since I didn’t feel like getting dragged down the street, I took them each separately on a 1.4 mile loop.

First I ran with Raven, going slow both to warm up and because I hadn’t run with her before:

Running with Raven

Then it was Haven’s turn and I ran this one fast (at least, fast for me):

Running with Haven

Finally Beacon got his shot and I tried to run hard but as you can see, I was toast by the end:

Running with Beacon

After finishing my run with Beacon, I had to stop to catch my breath. Good ol’ Beacon politely sat down to wait for me, looking up at me as if to say “Thanks for bringing me along!”

After the run with Beacon

Three dogs, 4.2 miles, one great evening of running!

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#3 – Stinging Ice Pellets

4 April 2007

When I run, I prefer to run outdoors. I’m not opposed to treadmills and I’ll use them if I have to, but I’d rather run outdoors in any conditions. Today was a good example… Even though it’s April, this is Michigan and we got some snow! 34 degrees, 35+ mph winds, and precipitation – sometimes the precipitation was rain, sometimes snow, and sometimes ice pellets. Running into a 35 mph headwind with ice pellets stinging my face was well worth the price of admission! The price being lacing up my running shoes and remembering to wear gloves in April. One of the side benefits of running is that it keeps your legs warm – I was running in shorts today and my legs felt great, but I needed two long-sleeve shirts for my torso. Next time the weather is crazy in your neck of the woods, consider abandoning the treadmill and seek the great outdoors. It will be an experience to remember and you can impress the ‘millworkers when you return covered in ice.

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#2 – Rest Days

3 April 2007

I’m sitting here eating some chocolate when normally I would be running! This past week I’ve dealt with a lingering cold and soreness in my left hip, so even though it burns me to do this I decided to take a day off. It’s no fun right now – the devil on my shoulder keeps whispering to go run – but logically I know that this will be good for me in the long term.

It might seem oxymoronic to write about not running in a blog devoted to finding reasons to run, but the truth is that if you don’t listen to your body and rest when necessary, an injury will trump any other reason to actually run.

Cal Ripkin had a great career and The Streak was truly impressive, but even when I was a kid I would wonder just how good he could’ve been if he’d allowed his minor injuries to heal for a game or two rather than play through them.

I guess it comes down to what you want. Do you want to string together daily runs and move up the ranks of the Running Streak List? Not me. I admit that those streaks are cool, but for me I have other priorities with my running. Besides, you don’t see many world class runners on that list!

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#1 – Conserve Your Heartbeats

1 April 2007

One of the interesting facts about land mammals is that their life expectancy is the same – if you measure it in terms of heartbeats. All land mammals will live for about 1 billion heartbeats. A shrew has a heart rate of 600 bpm (beats per minute) and a life expectancy of just three years. An elephant with their 30 bpm heart rate can expect to live over 60 years. The hearts of each animal will beat 1 billion times in their expected lifetime.

Humans, of course, are the exception – we can last for about 3 billion heartbeats. I’m not sure why – maybe medical technology, nutrition, who knows. Marine mammals don’t follow the pattern either, but let’s stick with ourselves and our 3 billion heartbeats. There are 525,600 minutes in a year, and the average human has a resting heart rate of 72 bpm, so divide that into 3 billion and you get a life expectancy of 79.3 years.

I was talking about this topic with a co-worker when he asked me “So how many days of your life did you burn up by running that ultramarathon?” Holy cow. My heart rate was probably around 150 bpm for the 12 hours it took me to run 50 miles, so in half a day I used up just over a day’s worth of heartbeats! More than that, I ran for 180 hours total in 2006 – that’s 7.5 days of extra heartbeats spent on running! Is it really worth it?

Before I started running three years ago, my resting heart rate happened to be the average 72 bpm. Let’s assume that I lived my first 28 years at that heart rate, which means I used up 1.06 billion of my life’s heartbeats in that span. Now let’s assume that I keep running (or cycling or otherwise keeping in good shape) for the rest of my life. My current resting heart rate is about 56 bpm, so if I keep that up for my remaining 1.94 billion heart beats, I would live another 69 years… to the age of 94!

By getting into (and staying in) good shape, I increased my life expectancy by 15 years! Each year I spend as a runner costs me one week of heartbeats, but the improved fitness adds 13 weeks to my life expectancy for a net of +12 weeks. Another way to look at it: Every month of regular running adds one week to my life! Diving deeper yet… assuming I run 3.5 times per week, that means that each run adds 12 hours to my life. How’s that for a good investment?

Yes, it’s worth it. Assuming, of course, that my clock will tick 3 billion times…