Friday, June 27, 2008

Reading about Running

I can always tell when my running is starting to pick up. I suddenly ‘need’ a new pair of running shoes, and all my singlets seem to be either ratty-looking or smelly, usually both. Running well is nice. Running well in new gear is way out there. You don’t need a runner’s high to enjoy breaking in a new pair of running shoes. So, predictably, after two back-to-back weeks of 40+ miles, I laid out some cash for a couple of pairs of Asics 2130’s. One yellow, one blue. Honestly, in the Houston summers, everyone - well every guy at least - needs to alternate between two pairs of running shoes. Most of us sweat so much that any long run turns our legs into a two-lane perspiration highway, straight down to the insoles.

It’s not just about buying stuff. When I am running well, I also want to read about running and about what is going to make me even faster or tougher, a smarter runner or a better prepared one. Having finally canceled Runner’s World after just one too many Cosmo-esque ‘great abs’ article, I resort to books. Mostly, I start re-reading my favorite chapters from old running books. Simply because there’s not been much good written about running recently. Except on the internet of course, but you can’t take the internet into the bath with you (one of my favored reading spots). My last two running books were really disappointing. Alberto Salazar’s Guide to Road Racing had ‘ghost writer’ written all over it, although I was mildly interested in his approach to strength workouts. Run Right Now by Joe Henderson was just lame, absolutely nothing new there. I had expected more from such a talented writer.

Amongst books that I go back to regularly are Hal Higdon’s well-written Guide to Marathon Running, Tim Noakes’ encyclopedic Lore of Running and Pete Pfitzinger’s Advanced Marathoning. Noakes’ book (I don’t have the latest edition) is badly organized and the main subject headings often don’t make sense. Even so, it contains an unbelievable amount of useful (and sometimes not so useful) running knowledge and the science behind it. Pfitzinger is inspirational, mostly concise and down to earth. I don’t much care for the various suggested training programs. They have a boiler-plate feel to them and the introduction to each and every training program is practically identical. Why bother to repeat the exact same stuff over and over again?

A few other books which I’ve found to be useful include the Runners Book of Training Secrets by Ken Sparks, Daniels’ Running Formula (also in need of editing), Maximum Performance by Michael J. Ross MD and Run Strong, edited by Kevin Beck.

Just for fun, I occasionally re-read ‘Spaghetti Every Friday’ by Bob Fletcher, a humorous tale about running 50 marathons in 50 weeks at age 50. Deep down, most serious marathon runners are just as obsessive as Fletcher; some of us are just more repressed than others. If we could get away with it, we would probably run twice a day and do a marathon every weekend. Reading Spaghetti Every Friday is as close as I’ll ever get to running 50 marathons in 50 weeks and still be able to smile – and walk.

So this weekend, I will be out browsing the aisles of Borders and Barnes & Nobles for something new about running, to feed my renewed enthusiasm. Apparently there is a new book about running injury free. Wow. That’s a first. Chances are that I will find something, no matter how obscure. The $60 gift card I got for Father’s Day will be spent in no time. The thrill of running I will treasure for as long as I can.

This week’s running: 43 miles.

Sun June 15: Easy 6 miles along Terry Hershey Trail. Mixed lemon-lime Gatorade from powder - need to be more frugal! Comrades Marathon took place in South Africa – this is something I need to do before I get too old. Between them, my two younger brothers have run it 6 times.

Mon June 16: Very warm morning; 8 miles along Terry Hershey, first 1.5 miles with Chris, a neighbor. It was nice to have some company.

Tue June 17: 4.5 miles including 3 X mile repeats (7:15, 7:15, 7:17) at Memorial High school track. Feeling pretty strong despite heat.

Wed June 18: Early morning medium long run – 9 miles at average pace of 9:20 – Terry Hershey Trail. About 74F at 06:00, cooler than yesterday, not bad!

Thu June 19: Brother in law Heinz’ birthday. 5 miles including four hill repeats, with several Houston Strider club members, from Terry Hershey Park to Barker Reservoir.

Fri June 20: Scheduled rest day.

Sat June 21: 10.5 miles at average pace, with Steve Shepard at Bear Creek Park. Very good outing, longest run in many weeks.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

On becoming an American citizen

Did you know that there are 27 Amendments to the US Constitution, four of which (the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th) have to do with voting rights? And can you name the original 13 states? These are some of the answers to about 100 civics questions that I am drilling into my head through daily repetition, for a July 1 date with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). It will hopefully be my final interview on the long path to becoming a US citizen through naturalization.

I am looking forward to becoming a US citizen as much as I have looked forward to anything in my life. Hopefully there won’t be too much of a delay between the final interview and the official swearing in ceremony, but who knows. I’ve waited 16 months already since first filing the N-400 application form. Another few weeks or even months won’t kill me although I am getting rather anxious. Even so, I won’t get too excited about it until someone tells me where and when to show up to raise my right hand and to swear the oath of allegiance for the very first time.

On the morning of that day, I will wake up with anticipation riding high in my chest. Donning my best suit and tie, I will leave for the ceremony a South African, which I have been for these last 56 years. Without as much as changing my shirt, I will come home an American, changed forever. I can hardly wait.

Last week’s running

It’s been another great week of running: 41 miles total, first time over 40 miles since several weeks before my ‘boston-marathon-which-never-happened’.

  • Very slow 6 miles on Sunday, Terry Hershey Trail along Buffalo Bayou
  • 8 miles easy along Terry Hershey Trail on Monday
  • 4.5 miles on Tuesday including 2 miles @ 7:15 pace at Memorial High School track
  • 4.5 miles on Wednesday afternoon in 100F+ in Austin Texas, running along the gravel trail west from Congress Street bridge, towards Barton Springs and Zilker Park. Lots of people, lots of dogs, fun!
  • 5 miles on the same trail in Austin, this time early morning on Thursday. Then made it two-a-day with 4 miles in celebration of Steve Shepard’s 30,000 running career milestone.
  • Scheduled rest day on Friday
  • 9 miles total at 8:34 average pace, with Steve Shepard in Cullen Park at 06:30a on Saturday. Very nice run.

I’m excited because one of the neighbor’s kids, a young guy in his 20’s, will be running with me tomorrow morning. He is also training for the Houston Half Marathon in January 2009.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A few days in Montana

I have been having so much fun running again! Last week was pretty productive, with a total of 36 miles including a tough seven miles last Saturday with Steve Shepard in extremely hot, muggy conditions at Cullen Park, just west of Houston. You won't hear me complaining about the heat. I am just happy as can be, to be back on my feet and logging some miles. On Tuesday, I went back to the track (Memorial High School) for the first time since March. Two repeat miles at just over 7:00 pace with a 400m recovery jog was about all I could handle. Six easy miles on Monday and Wednesday, along Terry Hershey Trail. Yet another six miles on Thursday, this time with a few Striders, and including 4 hill repeats at Barker Reservoir.

Talking of weather, I experienced some great weather on a 5-day visit to Montana a couple of weeks ago, on a birding trip. I flew into Missoula, Montana on a Thursday evening, having been staring at snow-covered mountain peaks almost all the way from Denver. Flying over Wyoming, I was told that the region had received significantly more snow this season than is usual, and it certainly looked impressive. Massive big mountain peaks just drenched in the white stuff. Not a sight that my Houston eyes are routinely treated to.

From Missoula, spending most of our time in the Mission Valley area, I joined a few other birders on a Montana Owl Workshop led by local scientist Denver Holt. We missed a couple of ‘target’ birds including the Great Gray Owl, but overall the trip was excellent. What a beautiful part of the country! The trip leaders and assistants were so much fun to be around and we saw many great birds, about ten or so of which were new to me. Always a thrill! The highlight was observing a couple of Long-eared Owls being mist-netted, measured, weighed, and banded. It was one of the most amazing nature experiences I have ever been part of.

In the Lolo Pass area we trampled around in 5 to 6 foot high snow pack, checking nesting boxes for breeding Saw whet Owls. Other than for a few miles in Missoula on the day of arrival, I did not get much running done, but we were working pretty hard all day, walking the valleys and forests in search of various species. Incidentally, the Missoula Marathon is coming up on July 13 this year. Western Montana is just a spectacular area to visit and I will definitely have to make it back there and try to include Glacier National Park and possibly Yellowstone as well.