Archive for the ‘running with dogs’ Category

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#48 – Understand the Value of Snowshoes

28 January 2008
Haven waiting on the NCT

Haven impatiently waits for me as I struggle in the deep snow on the North Country Trail 

Even though I’ve lived in Michigan for almost 30 years of my life, I’ve never owned or even tried out a pair of snowshoes.  During my last run I really wished I was wearing some!

My plan for Sunday morning was to run 8 miles on the North Country Trail with Haven, trying to extend my long run from last weekend’s 5.6 miles in the snow.  We’ve been getting snow all week so it was no surprise that the trails were now coated in 7″ of fluffy snow on top of a 1″ layer of uneven crusty snow.

What did surprise me, however, was the difficulty of running on such a surface!  It’s been a long time since I ran in such deep stuff and boy does it ever suck away a lot of energy.   At first I was feeling frustrated by my apparent lack of fitness, being forced to walk several times to catch my breath.  Building back up after an injury is bad enough but I was starting to wonder if I was back to square one.

Haven, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly so encumbered by two clunky feet; her four paws slipped through the snow with ease.  You can see in the photo above one of the countless occasions where she would stop and wait for me, looking back as if to say “Aren’t you coming?”

Reaching a crossroad (2.8 miles) in 37 minutes, I realized that there was no point in stubbornly pushing on for 8 miles when I’m still trying to baby my hamstring somewhat.   Haven and I turned around and settled for a 5.6 mile run that took us 1:13, so at least my pace was consistent.

I bypassed the last 0.7 of trails in favor of a dirt road (i.e. packed snow) and oh my gosh did that feel great!   No wonder I was so frustrated – deep snow is tough.  I was feeling pretty good mentally knowing that my 5.6 miles was probably near equivalent to 8 miles of effort.

That mood was tempered a bit when I spotted a bright blue koosh pillow on the side of the road.  Marks in the snow made it clear that it had been tossed from a moving car, and it hadn’t been there when I ran by less than an hour earlier.  How annoying.

Not wanting to end my run on a sour note, I picked up the pillow and carried it home.  If I can clean it up, then Haven and Beacon will have another cushion for their frequent naps (as dogs can do so well!) and if it’s too dirty, then at least the road is free of one big piece of litter.

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#46 – Running Goals

19 January 2008
Start Running

Start line of the 2007 Healthy Paws Healthy Cause fun run.

We all have to start somewhere. On January 1st, 2004 I went running for the first time in years. I made it just over a mile before I had to stop, gasping for breath and wondering if this former high school track and cross country guy could still call himself a runner! I set a few goals for myself and now here I am in 2008 with over a dozen running races and a few thousand miles underfoot since that humbling one-miler four years ago.

What initially set me down this path wasn’t even running – it was softball. In the fall of 2003 I played on my company’s co-ed softball team and was embarrassed to find myself out of breath just by jogging out to center field! Back in my college intramural days I could run all over the outfield without feeling winded, so I decided to get back in shape and I chose running as the means.

Running soon became the end, not just the means. I think a lot of runners can tell a similar tale of how just wanting to get in shape resulted in the discovery of a new passion for running. Ever since I have made sure to set many goals for myself, both for my running and for the rest of my life. These aren’t “resolutions”, mind you, but simply challenges to myself to remain focused in life.

The new year is a convenient time to review last year’s results and set new goals for the coming year. As early as last October I thought I had my running goals for 2008 all figured out – my plan was simple:

However, a deceptively severe hamstring strain has altered my plans. I don’t want to push myself to be ready for a spring marathon in case my hamstring doesn’t respond accordingly; plus, I haven’t been able to maintain an aerobic base over the winter like I’d been planning. So what do I do now?

No problem. Adapt my goals – after all, goals are challenges, not “assignments”. My 2008 racing goal is simply to finish the Wild West 100K, which will be my second ultramarathon and the first at that distance. My previous ultra was in 2006 when I ran the North Country Trail 50M as my primary running goal for that year. If all goes well, I’ll parlay that training into a sub-4:00 marathon, perhaps the Grand Rapids Marathon.

Clearly my time goals show that I’m not a competitive runner and my goals go beyond performance at races. In 2007 I ran 30% of my runs with a dog and I’m aiming to improve on that in 2008 with a goal of including a dog on at least a full one-third of my running sorties.

Along those lines I want to increase my trail running totals by logging at least 25% of my miles on trails. In 2007 I managed 22% of my distance with dirt underfoot. I toyed with the idea of bumping this goal up to 33% but I didn’t want to force myself onto the trails. I enjoy exploring (both the countryside and the neighborhood) during my long runs and that usually leads me out onto the roads.

It also leads me to my next goal: run a race purely for fun and photograph the experience. When aiming for specific finish times I don’t want to be distracted by a camera in hand, but seeing how much fun Scott Dunlap can have as a first-person race “journalist” has motivated me to try it out. While Scott is fast enough to document the front of the pack, my subjects will be from the middle of the field on back. 🙂

Lastly, I have the goal of running 2008 without injury. Realistically that’s near impossible – there are always aches and pains to varying degrees – but towards that end I plan to be much more proactive in preventing injury via cross-training, stretching, and responding more urgently to any tweaks. I probably could’ve cut a couple weeks from my hamstring recovery time had I actively sought treatment right away rather than waiting a month, hoping for it to heal.

Live and learn, which is another good reason for setting goals – it gives us a benchmark to measure our progress and allows for some instructive retrospective feedback for the next time we toe the line at the start of a new challenge in life.

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#45 – New Year, New Running Log

11 January 2008

Andrew and Haven during a trail run

No, not that kind of running log! Haven imitates a mountain goat during our trail run.

If you read my 2007 running stats then it was pretty obvious that I am one of many runners who tracks my training in some type of log. I used to think that my running log was fairly sophisticated – after all, I track my dogs’ miles, too! – but it pales in comparison to the running log developed by David Hays.

Being an engineer of my generation (growing up in the 1980’s) it should be no surprise that my running log is maintained in a spreadsheet on my computer. It started out innocently enough with just three columns: date, distance, time. I soon added a comments column, another for the weather, another for the route I ran, and, well, you get the idea. My running log now sports 17 columns and tracks road and trail miles, miles with dogs, miles per shoe, and calculates lots of averages and totals.

17 columns is nothing… How about 17 sheets of tracking? That’s what David Hays developed for his running log spreadsheet that can only be described as “wow”. A colleague pointed me to his site last fall and now I’m trying to use this impressive log for 2008. It’s somewhat complex and takes a while climb the learning curve but the potential for insightful graphs, charts, and summaries is hard to ignore. Some highlights of this running log include:

  • Weekly, monthly, yearly, and lifetime totals calculated and graphed automatically
  • Graphs of your running broken down by type (e.g. race, speedwork, long run, etc.)
  • Tracking of the mileage on your shoes
  • Heart rate tracking and calculation of your %max HR for each run
  • A training plan that automatically shows your actual progress compared to the plan
  • Pace calculators and a pace predictor
  • A graph showing you how close you are to running around the world or to the moon!

I can’t imagine how much work went into this running log but it’s pretty impressive. I’m modifying his spreadsheet to add the ability to track my dogs’ mileage but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I’ll have to keep using my running log for the time being but hopefully this old dog will soon learn some new spreadsheet tricks!

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#44 – 2007 Running Statistics

1 January 2008

Ella at the Computer

Ella updating her running log – she was my #1 foster dog running partner back in 2006. 

Some people are bored by statistics but I am not one of them. If you are of similar ilk then you’ll enjoy this breakdown of my running for 2007, by the numbers:

1018.5 total miles
207 runs
156 hours
4.92 miles average per run

13 races
7 5K road
2 5M trail
1 5K trail with Haven
1 4M road with Haven and Beacon
1 10K road
1 26.2M trail marathon

788.9 miles on the roads
229.6 miles on the trails
193.2 pounds average weight
56 bpm typical resting heart rate

181.7 miles running with Haven
85.3 miles running with Beacon
53.0 of the above miles running with Haven and Beacon together
4.3 miles running with foster dogs
218.4 miles running with dogs

51 runs with Haven
24 runs with Beacon
14 of the above runs were with Haven and Beacon together
2 runs with foster dogs, Raven and Reese
63 total runs with at least one dog
30% of all runs were with a dog

Congratulations if you’ve scrolled down this far and actually enjoyed reading the stats. The dogs will appreciate your effort since I’m now going to share their own personal numbers, which also include hikes and other walks that I didn’t include in my running tally. Note that “swimming” means time spent playing fetch in water or accompanying Amanda and I while we waded in the river.

Haven
327.7 miles total
107.7 miles on leash
220.0 miles off leash
92 outings
65 hours total
9.9 hours swimming

Beacon
226.2 miles total
65.6 miles on leash
160.7 miles off leash
74 outings
52 hours total
15.8 hours swimming

Foster Dogs
7 of our 17 foster dogs went running – Amber, Raven, Honey, Reese, Betty, Annie, Teddy
51.3 miles total
18.8 miles on leash
32.5 miles off leash
16 outings
14 hours total
no significant swimming

If you’re wondering why Haven racked up 100 more miles than Beacon, there are two main reasons:
1) Beacon likes running, Haven LOVES running. However, Beacon makes up for it with almost 6 more hours of swimming because while Haven likes fetch, Beacon LOVES fetch.
2) Beacon’s pads become sore rather easily and there are several occasions where Haven is taken for a run in place of Beacon because his paws are still recovering. We think the cause is a combination of Beacon’s naturally thin pads and his somewhat stiff-legged gait; in comparison Haven is a very smooth and easy runner.

Yes, I love running with dogs!

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#43 – 2007 Summary

1 January 2008

A year of good news and bad news, so I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way. 2007 ended not as I’d hoped thanks to my hamstring injury but at least it’s getting better with physical therapy. The downside was that I didn’t run a single mile during all of December, the first time I’ve missed a whole month since I started running four years ago today.

The good news is that I had a great year of running yet again. I ran 13 races including a post-high-school PR in the 5K and then lowered that mark with the help of my dog. It was all part of 1018.5 miles underfoot in 2007 so despite the injury, I was happy to crack 1000 miles even if it’s just a number. One of my goals for the year was to run 250 times but I only reached 207; however, I probably would’ve hit my target if I’d been smart enough to not overtrain into an injury. Live and learn.

Another positive is this very blog – since writing reason to run #1 back in April (which has been one of the most popular articles) there have been over 5200 visitors to Why Run?, much more than I would’ve thought my writing would attract. Thanks for reading!

Looking forward to 2008 my first priority is to get running again. Before the hamstring acted up I was hoping to try for a marathon PR in May and do some serious training for a sub-4:00 finish. Hopefully I can still go for that, but right now the prime race on my radar this year is my first crack at the 100K distance in August. Aside from that event I’m still working on sorting out my race schedule but I won’t be racing as many 5Ks this time around.

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#36 – Running with the (Dog) Pack

23 October 2007

My favorite race of the year is Bailey’s Doggie Dash 5K, a cross-country run for owners and their dogs to benefit the Kent County Parks Foundation. It’s not a large race, usually drawing around 50 participants, but it’s very well organized and one of the best races around where you can run with your dog.

Haven and I first ran the Doggie Dash in 2005 as my first ever organized running event since high school. That year we finished 10th overall in 24:39 and won my age group by virtue of being the only one in my age group (after they pulled out the overall winner, who had tied the course record in 18:17). In 2006 we improved to 5th overall, dropping nearly two minutes off our time with a 22:42 finish and winning the age group, this time a “large” group of four runners. How would Haven and I fare this year?

Just last week I set a post-high-school 5K PR of 20:56 in the Harvest Hustle so I knew I was better prepared to keep up with Haven in this year’s Doggie Dash. But I also had a plan to use canicross tactics – rather than hold Haven’s leash in my hand, I instead tied it to a belt around my waist so Haven could help pull me along. Haven and I trained in this setup for a few weeks before the race to make sure we both felt comfortable. I learned that it was necessary to have some form of shock absorption so I clamped an automobile tie-down bungee between Haven’s harness and the leash – it worked like a dream.

Saturday morning arrived bringing perfect weather – mid 40’s, clear blue sky, and near-peak fall colors that yielded some stunning photos by Amanda. The Doggie Dash sports a Halloween theme with a dog costume contest judged by the local weatherman and registration SWAG handed out in trick-or-treat jack-o-lanterns.

I think Haven remembers previous races – when everyone began lining up for the start this year one guy took off on a warm-up jog and Haven must’ve thought the race had begun. Haven started screaming in anticipation as I tried to calm her down – it was so cute and she was getting lots of smiles from the crowd.

At last it was “Ready, set, GO!” and we were off! The race director pedaled a mountain bike ahead of the lead runner to give his dog something to chase, a very keen idea. Haven bolted full steam ahead and we quickly settled into fifth position. One of the most difficult sections of the course was the beginning because it was downhill and paved – with Haven full of energy dragging me downhill, it was all my legs could do to simply not let me fall flat on my face! My feet and legs took quite a pounding right off the bat.

Next we slogged through a scenic wide-open lawn that was saturated with water and then up a short road to a wooded picnic area. Just before reaching the one-mile marker Haven and I passed two racers who were fading after a quick start. 20 yards ahead was a guy who looked way faster than me but I sped up a bit to keep close to him so that Haven would have someone to chase.

She loved it, almost too much! Whenever we rounded a bend Haven tried to cut the corner inside the course flags – she wanted to intercept the runner we were chasing. I repeatedly had to remind Haven to follow the rules but she didn’t want to hear it. 🙂 Every turn we’d lose 5-10 feet on the guy ahead of us since I’d have slow up to pull Haven outside the marker flags, but then we’d hustle to regain the lost ground.

At the 1 mile mark I was shocked to see 6:20 on my watch! Haven was definitely doing her part and it was fun to still have the leader in sight although I knew it wouldn’t last. Down a slight hill the course turned off into a wooded section of singletrack for a 1/4 mile before heading out and around the beach playground. Here Haven kept trying to stop for a drink in the large puddles of water pooling in the sand. I obliged her at one of them and she tried to lie down in the water to cool off! Sorry Haven but we have to finish the race first!

After the beach we ran along a dirt road and then onto a paved loop that carried us through the park’s campground. We were still close to the #2 runner at the 2 mile mark – our second mile was run at a 6:30 pace! I was getting pretty excited but I also knew that one or both of us were going to hit the wall soon.

It wound up being Haven; shortly after the second mile we started losing contact with the guy ahead of us as Haven no longer had the energy to pull my weight. Running is hard when my dog isn’t helping! Haven and I ran side-by-side for the next half mile as her leash was now slack – she was just trotting but I was trying to run as hard as I could. Dogs were born to run; humans, not so much. 🙂

With about half a mile to go as we approached a long hill Haven began to fall behind. Going up the hill we reversed roles as I found myself trying to pull Haven along! I tried yelling “RABBITS!!” to her, a word that usually gets her all spooled up (she LOVES to chase rabbits) but she was to tired to care. Finally at the top of the hill we had just a 1/4 mile to go and I still couldn’t get her to pull even with me.

Even though I knew we were losing time quickly, this wasn’t my race – Haven was every bit a part of this effort and it wouldn’t be fair to speed up and drag her to the finish. I did keep the pace fast enough to maintain some tension – I figured I might as well help her out a bit without pulling so hard as to bunch the harness up around her head.

Finally in the last 100 yard grassy home stretch I tried another “RABBITS!!” but Haven was done, so we maintained our pace to the finish for a very satisfying 3rd place overall. Better yet was our time: 20:17! That was the second-fastest 5K I’ve ever run in my life, even though I had some help. My high school PR was 20:08 and my next-best teenage run was 21:13. Haven is my hero!

Seriously, Haven was the hardest-working dog at the race. Both runners who finished ahead of us had humans that were much more fit than I am while their greyhound-mix dogs were running alongside on a slack leash; i.e. the guys who beat us did so without the canine assistance that I needed. Some other dogs behind us were certainly pulling their owners, but at 195 pounds I was probably the heaviest human cargo to be mushed by any dog. Those greyhounds couldn’t have outrun Haven if I was dragging them down!

Post-race food was great – bagels, cookies, candy and cider for the humans and water and doggie biscuits for the canines. Naturally Haven got to eat first before I took a crack at the goodies as we watched the rest of the field finish with the song “Who Let the Dogs Out” blaring on repeat over the loudspeakers.

After everyone finished we were treated to a demonstration of frisbee dogs by Pawsitive Vybe‘s professional dog trainers Apryl Lea and Ron Sutton.  Spectacular show!  Six dogs (IIRC) displayed their talents and some of them were insanely good leapers and blazing runners.

Following the frisbee demo was the awards ceremony.  Some very nice handmade dog beds were raffled off and for the third year in a row, I didn’t win one.  One guy that did win a bed and a free pair of shoes was Ron Durham who drove all the way from the east side of Michigan.  The reason I mention Ron is because he adopted his golden retriever Kasey thanks to reading my blog!

Despite our 3rd place overall finish Haven and I wound up taking 2nd in my age group as the guy we’d been chasing for two miles is in my bracket.  In fact the overall winner Joel Bierling – who also won in 2005 and 2006 – is in my age group, too.  Men 30-35 were representin’ at the Doggie Dash!

There was no way I could’ve caught either of those fast runners, but in retrospect I probably could’ve helped Haven and I get a faster time if I’d managed Haven’s workload more effectively.  For the first mile there was nothing I could do but hang on for the ride, but mile 1.5 through 2.0 I should’ve quickened my pace a tad to ease the drag on Haven; that way she may have sustained her energy long enough to keep the both of us on the tail of the #2 finisher for another half mile until finally running the last half mile with a slack leash and not having to pull her.

Nevertheless, we ran an awesome race, had a ton of fun, and we’re already looking forward to the 2008 Doggie Dash!

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#33 – Run Races

8 October 2007

Finish of the 2007 Chicago Marathon

Photo from Wikipedia

The finish of the 2007 Chicago Marathon was absolutely THRILLING – here’s a video of those two runners sprinting for the finish. Ivuti wound up winning the race over Gharib by a scant fraction of a second. Can you imagine running your heart out for 26.2 miles and then having to sprint the last 1/4 mile? Wow. I love to finish races like this, by kicking hard for a short final stretch to nip somebody at the line, even though I’m never a contender for any placing.

Racing is fun. After all of my races – whether it’s a 5K or 50-miler – my mood is elevated for at least the rest of the day. I can’t explain why, but there’s something exciting about being part of a race and not just going for a run. Maybe that seems superficial, but for me it works.

Next up on my calendar is the Harvest Hustle 5K in my hometown; in fact the race course passes within a couple hundred feet of my house! The steep hill up which I sometimes run repeats is part of the opening mile of this race so it’s going to be a painful couple miles after making the climb.

Just a week later my dog Haven will be joining me for the Bailey’s Doggie Dash 5K, a race that I’ve run the two previous years. It’s always one of my favorites, if not my very favorite race. It’s such a treat to run a race with my most frequent training partner as well as meeting lots of other furry friends and their owners. Usually it’s a very scenic time of year but this year’s drought has stressed the trees into dropping their leaves early, so it might not be as pretty as in previous races.

Those aren’t the only two races left on my calendar for this year, but I still haven’t decided what else to run. Know of a fun event in Michigan?