Sunday, September 28, 2008

The dog that needs a health plan

This is Daisy, our young female Boxer. In her less than 2 years of life, Daisy has had more medical bills than I've had (since we got her) and I'm 56... Just this week it was another $180 for two brief visits to the vet, after she suddenly developed hives all over her body. What a pathetic sight, poor baby. She looked so miserable, complete with eyes so swollen she could barely see out of them. A cortisone shot, some anti-histamine pills, a follow-up visit with more shots and the $180 later, and she's apparently as good as new... The allergic reaction could have been caused by an insect bite, we'll never know. What I do know is that we had better not let this dog get away, she is close to being our fourth biggest investment after the house and the two cars.

I am running again for the first time in more than 2 weeks since my stupid non-running knee accident. On Monday morning, local orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jack Jensen of Athletic Orthopedic/Knee Center looked at my x-rays, manipulated my left knee this way and that, asked a few questions, had me do a squat and then said that I am ready to hit the road. Great. I have to do some more stretching for the ilio-tibial bands. No sweat doc, will do.

Four easy miles later, having run with one ear and a thousand nerve endings on the alert for any sudden pops, creaks or painful jolts, I came back to the house sweaty and happy. The dogs got a treat, for once Kathleen got a sympathetic ear for her office travails, and I immediately starting thinking about a long run on Saturday morning. And of course it is always a pleasure running in new shoes!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hurricane 'hangover'

I am having a tough time getting rid of the hurricane blues, if one can call it that. All this week I've struggled to get much constructive (office) work done, spending a few minutes on something, only to shift my attention to something else. Very distracted and without focus. I definitely think the entire hurricane experience has something to do with it. One thing is for sure: I never want to have to sit up again all night long, listening to and feeling such a fierce wind howl around the house. The seemingly never-ending assault just gets to be too much for anyone to take after a while.

Last weekend, when we were still without power at the house, Kathleen and I went to the local multiplex (a pretty nice new one at Memorial City Mall; doesn't have that old greasy popcorn smell yet) to check out the latest Coen Brothers movie, Burn After Reading. Reviewers were quick to rename this movie: Forget After Seeing, and I'm afraid I have to agree. Like everybody else, I admire the Coens for their many excellent films such as Fargo, Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski. Even their worst movies are better than much of the dreck which is served up as entertainment nowadays. 'Burn after reading' was worth the price of admission, but just barely. The story is ludicrous, and after a very slow start the movie never really picks up much momentum, only to end rather feebly. There are some hilarious individual scenes and sequences, and I will admit to laughing out loud at some inappropriate spots. Which goes hand in hand with most black comedies, especially of the Coen variety. However this one really comes up short in many ways. I realize that it is intentional, but I did not care to see Brad Pitt and George Clooney hamming it up like they do in this flick. Also the completely gratuitous and disturbingly violent scene towards the end of the movie is uncalled for. It would have been fine for Fargo, but not here.

Getting close to resuming running, I think. The knee is at about 80%; I am seeing a knee specialist Monday morning just to make sure that it is ok and to avoid doing anything stupid that might cause permanent damage. I've gained a few pounds due to the sudden aerobic exercise cessation - and of course the hurricane-induced 'frustation munchies' haven't helped. So it is time, once again, to swear off the candy and other junk and to concentrate on all good food, all the time...

Talking of food, Kathleen and I slipped off to my favorite restaurant - Field of Greens - last night. I am addicted to their vegan BBQ sandwich! The restaurant was just chosen as the Best Vegetarian friendly Houston restaurant, in the annual Houston Press 'Best of Houston' survey. Too bad because we like the place just the way it is, with no lines, never a wait. Last night we could not find a spot in the parking lot. Hopefully it won't get too famous. I doubt it. In Houston most people eat meat and fish and chicken and stuff like that. Very little of which is to be found at Field of Greens. There's a tuna sandwich and a couple of salmon items, if you absolutely have to have something that once moved around on its own...

Oh yes I did get myself a nice new little digital camera, but haven't had time to read the instruction booklet yet. Maybe by tomorrow I will be able to post a few pics!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The lights are on

Here in Houston, marking the moment when a household's power is restored, is like remembering where you were when the Berlin Wall came down, or when JFK was shot. The guy who picks up our garbage had his power back the first Sunday after the storm at 2:00 pm. So he told me with a big grin as he was dumping a huge trash bin filled with decaying food into the back of the garbage truck. He was not the nicest smelling guy in Houston - but he had power back at the house.

When Kathleen and I returned from the movie theater last Saturday night, the lights were on... What a relief. Some may say that we are 'spoilt' with all our appliances and electrical devices, but let's face it they have become a part of our very existence. And in this climate, air-conditioning is a necessity, not a luxury.

So in short order we made some tea, and turned on the TV news to watch hurricane footage. Even though we lived through it, we had no real sense of the devastation wrought by Ike in places like Galveston, the Bolivar Peninsula, and Chambers County, having only been able to listen to sketchy radio coverage for the last 8 days. The damage appeared to be even worse than we had imagined. Those poor people.

I got quite a lot of exterior painting done over the weekend and the place is actually starting to look pretty neat. One of the garage doors which had been knocked off its tracks by Ike has been fixed, and I've started prepping the garage exterior for a paint job as well. Now if we can get someone over here to replace the shingles on the roof, we'll be making some progress!

Still nothing to report on the running front: happy to say that the knee is getting much better now; I might be able to start some light jogging by Thursday or latest by the weekend. To overcome the post-hurricane depression, I might have to go and spend a little money. I think there are new running shoes in my not too distant future!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Electricity envy

When we came back from dinner last night, the adjacent townhouse complex had power. I can't say that we were happy for them, I certainly wasn't. It was more a case of why them and not us? Yes, definitely electricity envy. It is rampant all over the city of Houston, as power is s-l-o-w-l-y being restored in neigborhoods, one by one, sometimes street by street. Our very diligent townhouse board president (we refer to him as the 'mayor') advised that we should get power back any time from today (Thursday), which would be a best case scenario, through to Saturday, worst case. All along, I thought it would take about a week total, so I'm not very optimistic for today or tomorrow.

My recently purchased (for hurricane Gustav which never reached us) Coleman propane camp stove has been a lifesaver. We use it several times per day, boiling water for coffee & tea and to cook hotdogs (veggie version for Kathleen and I, kosher beef ones for the boys) and I've even made some black bean filling for enchiladas, and a very tasty African-style sweet potato & garbanzo stew, which we served over brown rice. The pressure cooker worked great on the little gas stove.

The best that can be said for this experience, other than that it brought us together as a community, is that I am finding time to do some long-postponed house repairs. Ahh, the joys of applying 'spackle', primer and paint... Just as well hurricanes only come around every 25 years or so, in Houston.

No joy on the running front yet. Still recovering from the knee injury. It is getting better but I don't think I'll be able to run until some time next week. Very depressing, on top of everything else. And then Wall Street takes a dive. It is just as well that we don't have electricity otherwise I would certainly have had sleepless nights from watching too much TV. Just when you think it has reached a bottom, the Dow falls down a cliff. Scary stuff.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Aftermath of Ike

Unlike many coastal residents who lost everything, or who experienced devastating losses, we came out of Hurricane Ike ok. A little traumatized, somewhat depressed and not at all happy being without power or regular phone service. But we are fine.

Our family won’t underestimate hurricanes again. Having experienced several near-misses over the last 10 years, we had grown somewhat skeptical of these storms, perhaps as a reflex reaction to the giant media hype which precedes each Gulf storm. Rita (2006) had Houston in a frenzy. Authorities advised thousands of people living in coastal areas subject to flooding, to evacuate the area. With visions of Hurricane Katrina in mind, thousands more people, from areas not subject to flooding of any kind, also jumped in their cars. The result was utter chaos. People found themselves stranded on the side of the roads many hours later, having run out of gas. It took 17 or 18 hours to make a journey which would ordinarily take just a couple of hours or so.

So when Hurricane Ike came swirling into the Gulf, we were concerned to the point where we bought extra batteries, non-perishable food, candles and filled up several containers with water. But we never seriously considered evacuating. Maybe we should have.

Experiencing the hurricane-force winds over a period of as many as 6 hours, from late on Friday night through dawn on Saturday, was a harrowing experience. In fact it was one of the worst nights I ever experienced. Kathleen and I did not sleep a wink, expecting to have a window or door to be blown in any second. I think what made everything worse was the darkness. We lost power just before 3 am, and not being able to see what was going on outside, while the wind was howling and the rain pelting down almost horizontally, was truly frightening. Other than for some relatively minor roof damage (shingles blown off), we did not sustain any material damages. We will have that fixed in no time. It will take a while longer to recover from the damage to our mental well-being.

On the positive side, the aftermath of the hurricane really brought our neighborhood together, with little groups of people sharing news, hot coffee, cold ice & speculation about power restoration. We even met a couple of neighbors down the street, for the first time. We have only lived in the community for 10 years... As for our urban camping experience, more to follow in a later posting. For now I have to deal with the 706 new e-mails in my in-tray.

As for running, I managed a brisk 9 miles on Saturday afternoon, running along Memorial Drive and some of the side streets where there was vegetation and debris everywhere. That bumped up my last week's total to 41 miles. Unfortunately, I had tweaked my left knee earlier that morning, while getting up from a squatting position, in the process of mopping up a water leak. At the time it appeared to be minor, but the knee stiffened up overnight and by Sunday morning it was quite painful. I don’t see any running in my immediate future, will take several days off to see if it improves. By Monday morning (as I am writing this), the knee is getting better.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike

Surprisingly, we still have power here on the west side of Houston, at just after 1000P Central Time, on Friday Sept 12, with Hurricane Ike just hours from coming onshore. Already, there is significant flooding in Galveston and other coastal communities. We will not have more details - or pictures - until tomorrow. By then we may not be able to see the TV pictures, as we are likely to lose power some time tonight. A minor inconvenience compared with the real hardship suffered by hundreds and possibly thousands of other Texans. The story of this hurricane will not be wind damage, which is not likely to be severe, but it will be the storm surge which is coming at a very bad time (high tide tomorrow morning at 0200A) and with a huge, widespread hurricane which has been pushing a veritable wall of water towards the shoreline.

I can hear the wind picking up now, so I had better get around to a quick running update, while I can still publish the post:

Total mileage for the week ending on Saturday September 6 was 41 miles. Highlights were a strenuous hill workout on Tuesday and a hard 10-miler on Saturday morning in hot & humid conditions. So far this week I have logged 31 miles which may end up being the grand total for the week, as our long run tomorrow morning (Saturday 13 Sept) has been cancelled. Unless I'm able to put in a few miles tomorrow afternoon, after the storm has cleared the area, this will be it for the week. Best run of the week was definitely Thursday's speed/interval workout, in George Bush park. A few of us from the KatyFit Green group ran 5 X 800 meter intervals, with a short interval of just over a minute between repeats. I ran four of the half miles at around 3:17 to 3:19, while the last one was closer to 3:25. Felt very strong and hardly any discomfort from my usually balky left hamstring.

What I need to guard against over the next few days - especially if we do lose power for an extended period of time - is 'stress-induced' junk food consumption. There is nothing like the anxiety of dealing with a hurricane to bring on an attack of the munchies.

Kathleen and I and the boys have our water supply, batteries, candles, lots of food (of course!), radio, flashlights and propane stove ready. If we have to do an urban campout over the next week or so, we're ready. ..

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

It is not my 'duhg'...

If you're old enough, you might get the reference to an old Peter Sellers movie, one of the 'Pink Panther' series, where Inspector Clouseau gets nipped by a dog, which turns out not to belong to the apparent owner. "Does your duhg bite?" I noticed that a remake of the Pink Panther movie is soon to be released, with Steve Martin in the role of Inspector Clouseau. The trailer does not look very promising.

Talking about movies, do go and see 'Man on Wire', a documentary about Philippe Petit, the French tightrope walker, who walked a cable between the two World Trade Center towers in New York City in 1974. Although the movie (a BBC production) is a documentary, it plays out like a heist movie, with some amazing old footage interwoven with newly shot material, to create a riveting, highly entertaining and at times 'laugh out loud' funny build-up to the main event. Not a boring second, especially when Petit is on screen. He is definitely a nut but in a harmless, life-enhancing way. Stuck in high gear, both mentally and physically. Neither his mind nor his body seems capable of relaxation. Which is probably why he sought refuge on a wire, hundreds of meters above the ground, without a net. Only place he could concentrate and get away from energy overload? The movie is showing at the River Oaks Theater. Go and see it!

I absolutely killed the hills today (Tuesday) with Katy Fit, at Barker Reservoir. One of the (much) younger guys I run with, asked me afterward if I had taken some 'energy pills' prior to the workout. Nope. My secret? Relatively fresh legs (two days of complete rest last week) and a light meal about one hour before today's run. A little left-over couscous from last night, plus a bowl of mixed green salad with some apple cider vinegar as dressing. Just what the doctor ordered. I will be doing that before all Thursday afternoon runs in future. Yesterday (Labor Day) was an easy day, just 3 miles with Kathleen along Buffalo Bayou, about 30 minutes on the rowing machine and a 30-minute weight-lifting workout. Nothing too strenuous. My typical workout includes a mix of barbell workouts such as incline, supine and decline fly and press, bent over dumbbell row, reverse grip pulldown, lateral pulldown, pec deck, lateral raise, standing overhead press, low cable pull, cable pushdown, reverse cable pushdown, hamstring curls and pullups. Mostly aimed at salvaging what is left of my upper body strength.


Don't have anything exciting planned for 6:30 pm on September 19th? Then come out to Sam Houston Park (Bagby and Allen Parkway Downtown) for the 3rd Annual Tour de Art Run. A tour of 15 of Houston's finest outdoor art pieces in a casually-paced 5 mile run. All are invited to this free event, no registration or RSVP required. Refreshments provided after the run. The race has no affiliations other than with the Road Runners Club of America. Just Roger Boak and Steve Shepard doing what they can to promote running in the Houston area.

The photograph, by the way, was taken in a suburb of Montreal. Apparently dogs are not allowed to poop in nice Canadian suburbs? I doubt that it will work here. I can't idly cross any grassy stretch on my way to Terry Hershey Park, for fear of ruining a perfectly good pair of running shoes with at least a 100 miles left on them. By now I know more or less where the worst minefields are. Only because dogs have an annoying habit of returning to the same spot day after day. And if they are anything like our two Boxers, sometimes THREE TIMES per day. What on earth do they put in those giant sacks of dry dog food? Put some of that in your over-priced box of cereal, and you will never have to worry about fiber to keep you regular.

Monday, September 1, 2008

How to over-train in three easy steps

Run most days of the week, run hard all the time, and don’t take any days off when you start to experience unusual fatigue. That should do it for most runners. How do I know? Personal experience. I over-trained a few years ago, towards the end of an overly-ambitious marathon training program. High mileage, running long runs too fast, doing twice a days, too many fartlek sessions, and just too much hard running did me in.

Some of the symptoms I experienced at the time were dead legs, chronic leg muscle pain & stiffness (it is not normal to have painful calves every morning!), having to run harder to maintain usual training pace, and not being able to elevate heart rate to previous highs. My resting heart rate was also much lower than before. From what I read at the time my parasympathetic nervous system was being compromised.

I knew I was in trouble when I would go out on a short 3-mile run, try to get up to my usual pace and then check my actual pace on my Garmin. I would be way below the perceived pace, yet feel like I am running as fast as I could.

This was in early December on a marathon training program which would have culminated with a marathon in mid January. I skipped the marathon altogether, and stopped running for nearly 2 months. Eventually my resting heart rate recovered, I started feeling better & slowly worked my way back. I am much more careful now to include a range of paces in every week's running program: some easy recovery type running, some tempo/strength work etc. but no twice a days and not all of it as fast as possible...

I used to think that increased resting heart rate is indicative of over-training, and it usually is, but that is not always the case. When your parasympathetic nervous system is affected/compromised (as it can be by overtraining), your resting heart rate (RHR) can also be lower than usual. Mine was in the low 40's, usual RHR was about 58 until then. The most striking thing, though, was my inability to push my heart rate as high as previously, during exercise. I would run literally as hard as I could, and no matter what, my HR would not exceed 135 to 140. Previously, it would easily go higher than 150 and even 160+ under heavy exertion. Even when pushing myself hard on the track, my heart rate would increase by only 20 or 30 beats per minute, and drop back very quickly as soon as I stopped running. I interpreted this as a reduction in heart rate variability. It was as if my heart (controlled by the parasympathetic system which slows things down) was trying to prevent me from doing any strenuous exercise.

Running update

About 10 days ago I was starting to feel unusually fatigued towards the end of some of my runs. On a Thursday hill workout, I fell significantly behind my usual ‘rivals’. I put it down to sleep deprivation (the Olympics!) and hot humid weather. But I had my doubts. During last Saturday’s long run, I felt very sluggish. When this happened again a couple of days later, I took two days off. No running, no cross-training. Nothing. By last Thursday I had some life back in my legs, and put in my best effort on the hills so far this year.

Total mileage for the week was 41, including a 1-mile time trial (6:29) which would have been a few seconds faster but for some heavy traffic on the trail. I will continue to use the training paces based on my current VDOT of 45. Might ease off a little bit if the fatigue crops up again.