Sunday, October 26, 2008

Half the distance and twice the fun

The half marathon is becoming my favorite distance. Today's Koala/Luke's Houston Half Marathon was challenging but fun and I am already thinking about tomorrow's run. Had this been a full marathon, it would have taken me at least a week to recover.

My time of 1:41:57 (7:46 pace) was pretty good under the circumstances, and actually a bit better than anticipated. Even so, a rookie mistake (forced stop to re-tie shoelaces), an unscheduled port-a-pottie stop and some dubious race planning resulted in me possibly missing a New York Marathon qualifying time. The first two issues resulted in a very slow start (8:01 first mile and 8:37 second mile). The race planning, which was to keep my heart rate around 150 or so for the first 10 miles, and to then accelerate if I had anything left, worked fine but left me too little distance to make up for the slow start. From miles 3 to 9 my average pace was about 7:40. Mile 10 was 7:25, Mile 11 a brisk 7:08 and Mile 12 still good at 7:18. The most telling statistics are the first and second half splits: first half was 8:08 average pace (ranked 24th); the second half average pace was 7:29 which put me in the #11 rank in my age group for that part of the race.

Although my average heart rate increased to 163 over the last 3 miles, I think I clearly had it in me today to run 7:40 average pace over the entire distance. Lessons learnt:

1) avoid an overly slow start
2) double tie your shoelaces BEFORE the start
3) start to push the pace a little sooner, if you're clearly feeling good and conditions are favorable.

A negative split is fine but not to the point where it undercuts your overall time.

Random notes:
* It was fun running with Cortney, a vegan buddie whom I bumped into around Mile 4 or so. We ran together until Mile 10.
* Very good weather - not overly humid and about 55F at the start.
* As always, a well organized run - good job Houston Striders! Nice design on the technical finisher's shirt.
* The racing flats experiment was a success. My left calf is a little tight tonight but otherwise no damage.

The bottom line: a fun and rewarding half marathon run. I'm a little miffed with myself for missing an opportunity to qualify for New York, but this gives me a lot of confidence for the next attempt which will be in San Antonio on Nov 16, weather permitting.

Monday, October 20, 2008

So where do you get your protein?

A well-meaning but (eventually) tiresome question which vegans hear all the time. Oh so you are not eating ANY meat, no chicken, fish - nothing? No cheese even, wow. Then where do you get your protein?... Grrr.

Almost everything we eat have some protein in it, even vegetables. And plenty of it. Whole grains, lentils, beans, peas, brown rice, broccoli, corn, asparagus, tomatoes, pumpkin, it's a very long list. You can eat a diet of just potatoes, and still get enough protein. The protein which omnivores get from eating meat comes from --- plants. So vegans are just cutting out the middle animal, and getting the good stuff straight from the source. Which means they don't have to deal with the packaging consisting of lots of unwanted fat, cholesterol and who knows what else that has been injected into or consumed by the animals. As an added bonus plants have lots of nutrients and plenty of fiber.

But enough about nutrition. It is Saturday night and Game 3 of the World Series is in a rain delay. Hope they get it underway soon; we are cheering for the Tampa Bay Rays even though Houston is a National League town. Nothing against Philadelphia but the Rays are just such a great story. Loaded with young talent, from last place to the World Series - how can you not like them.

On the running front things are going well. 27 miles so far this week, mostly at an easy pace but including 3 mile repeats around 7:25 pace and some tempo running at 7:40 pace. Counting tomorrow's half marathon race, I will hopefully be able to clock a total of 40 miles for the week. Tomorrow's race will be a good test for the knee: if it holds up for more than 1 hr 40 minutes I think I'm good to go. I will be running in my racing flats, which don't have as much support as regular running shoes. It will be an experiment. Might shave off a few seconds.

As for the prospects for the race, I had hoped to be ready to give the 1:40 barrier (which would qualify me for the New York Marathon) a good go. However the knee injury on Sept 12 and the resulting lay-off as well as relatively low mileage since then, has forced me to lower my expectations. I would be happy to equal or better my time of last year, which was 1:44:40, at a pace of 8:07. Depending on the weather and how I feel after the first loop, I will try to keep the pace under 8:00. Whatever the pace ends up being, I don't want to push my heart rate much over 150, at least not for the first 10 miles. We shall see how it turns out.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nervous times for world financial markets

I haven't been away over the last couple of weeks, or any more busy than usual, or incapacitated in any other way. Other than for the fact that the world's entire financial system almost came crashing down before our very eyes, I don't really have a good excuse for not updating the blog. What a couple of weeks it has been! Massive Wall street investment banks disappearing like beach houses in a hurricane, the Dow Jones exhibiting more highs and lows than the emotions of an infatuated teenager, and the very people that got us into the mess - the politicians - promising to get us out.

As of Sunday Oct 19 it looks like the center will hold, but who knows what tomorrow and next week will bring. With few exceptions, the mass media have been relentlessly negative, happily acting like cheerleaders on the path of financial self-immolation. Positive developments like the steep decline in the price of oil, which will put billions of dollars back into the pockets of US consumers, are either ignored or dismissed. Hopefully the advent of a Democratic administration will signal a different, more positive tone from 'the powers that be'. And if you've never read David Halberstam's 1979 book by that title about CBS, The Washington Post, Time Magazine and the Los Angeles Times, do so by all means. It has aged a bit, is still as long as ever at 1,000 pages or so, but remains a riveting and brilliantly written study of the power of the press.

I'm fully recovered from the recent knee injury and have slowly been getting back into training. For the week of 6 through 12 October, total mileage was 31 miles; longest run being 10 miles at an average pace of 8:36. Since Oct 13 I have been using the heart rate monitor which comes with the Garmin 305. For the week, results were as follows:

Mon Oct 13: 5 miles easy, average HR 127, max HR 141.
Tue Oct 14: 6 miles including 3 X 1600m repeats at 7:22 (avg HR 145); 7:27 (avg HR 149) and 7:10 (avg HR 156). Max HR was 170.
Wed Oct 15: Rained out.
Thu Oct 16: 6 miles including 4 miles at tempo pace (7:41/145; 7:41/154; 7:44/151 and 7:45/154.
Fri Oct 17: Scheduled rest day
Sat Oct 18: 10 miles with Katy Fit starting at 6:35A, temperature around 60F. Easy relaxed run, average HR 137, average pace 8:48. Also full set of weights.
Sun Oct 19: Scheduled rest day; 10km rowing on C-2 in 44:10.
Total mileage for the week: 27

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Of weather, running and opera

After 18 years of living in the Houston area, I've come to terms with the summer heat. It doesn't bother me as much now as it used to when I first lived in the city for a spell in the late 70's and early 80's. Even so, I still miss a real sense of season, which is largely absent here. Fall is often reduced to literally one night in November, when a fierce 'blue Norther' would whip through the plains, dropping temperatures here from balmy to near-freezing, sometimes in just a few hours. Winter in Houston is really just something which exists on a calendar. Other than the occasional cold spell, winters are mild and comfortable. Native Houstonians may disagree - I sometimes see them donning earmuffs when the mercury drops below 50F...

So what's with the weather report? All this adds up to lots of good running weather. From October through the end of April, running conditions in Houston are good to great. No worries about extreme cold, and forget about snow. Thoughts about the superb running weather of the fall and winter are what keeps us going during those long, sweat-soaked summer runs.

Well, this is it. The nice running weather is here; minimum temperatures dipped into the mid-fifties last week! With my goal race, the San Antonio half marathon in mid November, just 5 weeks away, I had better take advantage of it. Now that my knee is fine, I'm starting to log some decent mileage; a total of 33 for the week. On Saturday morning I logged my longest run in more than 3 weeks - a solid 10 miles at just slightly under my long run goal pace of 9:17. Our Saturday morning running group did 15 miles; that would have been pushing it for me. I'm looking forward to re-joining them this week.

Kathleen and I took some friends to a performance of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, presented by Opera in the Heights, last night. Opera in the Heights is a small local opera company, now in its 11th season. We love the intimacy of their 300-seat auditorium, Lambert Hall, on Heights Boulevard. In the tiny confines of Lambert Hall, opera becomes even more powerful than it might be in a larger venue. The proximity to the stage amplifies the impact of voice, music, story and setting. It is easy to find oneself being swept away by the experience, which is what opera does better than any other art form.

Last night's performance was staged in a much larger hall at Reagan High School, due to lingering Hurricane Ike issues at Lambert Hall. It didn't bother us, and it clearly did not bother the cast. They were stellar. Tenor Adam Flowers was so good as Pinkerton, that he received quite a few lusty boos mixed in with applause at the curtain call. That goes to show how well he succeeded in portraying the despicable Pinkerton, the American naval officer who marries and then abandons the young Cio-Cio San. Flowers has a sweet Italianate-style voice with plenty of power and nice clean high notes, and some good acting chops as well. Madama Butterfly belongs to Cio-Cio San and soprano Eleni Calenos did not disappoint in this role. In fact she was terrific, with a strong clear voice making the most of Puccini's stirring arias. She exhibited beautiful control and of all the performers, she was definitely the most impressive. The supporting roles of Sharpless (Yoon-Sang Lee) Suzuki (Dawn Padula) and Goro (George Williams) were all sung with conviction and great style by a trio of young performers who are clearly ready for bigger things as well. All round I would rate this as amongst the two best Opera in the Heighs productions we have attended, the other being a La Boheme a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The garage guy

There's a 'garage guy' in our townhouse complex here on the west side of Houston. Whenever I am about to go for a run, I warm up by taking the two dogs for about a half mile jog each, down to the pool (where the townhouse road dead-ends) and back. More often than not, I see the garage guy on the way back. He sits in his garage in one of those abominably ugly Walmart-type folding chairs, usually on the phone, sometimes barbecuing, sometimes just sitting. The garage itself is no contender for 'garage of the month': it is stuffed to the rafters with junk of every description. That may not be how the garage guy would describe it, but you get the point.

Anyway this didn't really bother me until yesterday. We all have a bit of garage guy in us, I think. It is nice to have a little breathing space somewhere. A place where people know not to bother you. There was a stage in my life that I spent quite a bit of time outdoors with just my thoughts to accompany me. Nothing wrong with a bit of solitude now and then. Becoming harder and harder to find nowadays, with intrusive electronic tentacles reaching into all our little secret getaways.

But back to the garage guy. Yesterday, as I was returning from the pool with dog # 1 (Daisy), the guy was shooting up something in his right arm. I did not want to stare, but it looked like it might have been insulin. At least I hope so. Not exactly what I am looking forward to seeing on my runs in the neighborhood. Then, with dog # 2 (Jake), the same thing! How many of those injections do people take? I don't think a garage is quite the place for it, anyway. What else can I expect to witness tomorrow and next week?

Running is just about back on track. 1 mile warm up plus 5 miles easy on Tuesday, 1 mile warm up and 6 miles easy on Wednesday. Today will be my first run with the Strider Thursday evening group, since September 11, when Hurricane Ike was just a slowly circulating blob on TV.