Monday, May 31, 2010

Back to back 50-mile weeks

Yesterday morning Kathleen and I battled our way to 10 'easy' miles on the Terry Hershey Trail along Buffalo Bayou.  Our pace was likely over 10 minutes per mile, not that it mattered. I concentrated on keeping my heart rate under 130 - it is very easy to overdo it under the very hot and extremely humid conditions that we were running in.  Kathleen was struggling a bit and she is reluctant to pull the trigger on the entry for the October Hudson-Mohawk Marathon, a potential Boston qualifier for her.  Having trained for the Marine Corps Marathon one summer many years ago (1996?) I know just how difficult it can be to log several really long runs in the Houston summer.

This morning we signed up for a repeat performance, but not quite as bad: just 6 miles along the same route.  Along the way, an ambulance passed us on the trail going in the opposite direction: either someone had succumbed to the stress or a biker had taken a bad fall.  It was sobering - makes you realize how fortunate you are to be in good health and serves as a reminder to keep it up.  Being fit to the point where you can run 10 miles or so at the drop of a hat, or to be competitive in your age group in shorter running events, does not come without constant effort and sacrifice.  Sure I would rather be lounging by the poolside or reading a book, but that is not going to make me break 21 minutes in a 5K...

I was quite happy to log back to back 50-mile weeks and to rack up 192 miles for the month of May.  More than I have managed to do in well over 2, probably 3 years or so.  It should be interesting to see how it affects my race times over the summer.  I am looking forward to a few very competitive local runs such as the Run Wild 5K on the 4th of July, the Lazy Hazy Days of Summer 5K and then one that I always go all out for, the Lunar Rendezvous 5K at Space Center Houston in August. 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Astros 'Race for the Pennant' 5K

It is really not ok to use 'Astros' and 'Race for the Pennant' in the same sentence, but that is the name of their annual 5K so I guess we will just have to go with it.  Today's race attracted nearly 3,000 runners and walkers, about as many as the Astros can look forward to having at their games soon, if they don't improve the team.  Despite being such a large race with many slower runners and walkers present, I must admit that it was actually quite enjoyable, if you discount the heat (much warmer than last year!) and the course which is slow due to the inclusion of the Elysian viaduct (hills!).  I managed a 22:18 which was ok considering the conditions.  I felt good though and not a peep from the left knee.  Kathleen just missed a 3rd place spot by a few seconds, with her 24:12.  Our running club, the Houston Striders, did exceptionally well with many age group placings including the following:

1st female 30 to 34 Marnie Staehly;
3rd female 45 to 49 Jackie Connelly;
1st and 2nd female 55 to 50 Yong Collins and Judy Rutledge;
1st female 60 to 64 Karen Bowler;
2nd male 35 to 39 John Yoder;
1st male 45 to 49 Lance Collins,
1st and 3rd male 65 to 69 Jim Peiffer and Barry Chambers.

Congratulations to all those speedy runners and to the many other Striders who made it out to this 'race of the quarter'.  Which means club members get $15 of their entry fee re-imbursed. Now there's a recession-buster for you! Not forgetting that the Astros throw in 2 free tickets for each entrant.  Put the value of that together with the reimbursement from the Striders and you've got yourself a really sweat deal. 

The post-race party was pretty good too, especially if you finished towards the front of the pack.  No lines for bagels, donuts or beer... Best of all?  Free Parking.  We will be back in 2011. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A visit to the dentist

With the exception of about 9 years or so when we lived in South Africa, I've had the same dentist since 1979.  I've seen him become prosperous, he's seen me losing my hair and replacing my real teeth with fake ones. In my next life I will be sure to trade places.  My dentist - Hans -  does have a very happy and loyal staff - after 10 years of service they get a Rolex watch.  In fact my hygienist just got hers - brand spanking shiny new with gold inlays and all - last weekend.  Wonder if it's too late for a career-change.

As they go, this morning's visit to the dentist was a breeze.  No real 'work' done, just a routine cleaning thank you very much!  I even got a semi-compliment for doing 'well' with the flossing thing.  I was just starting to feel good when the hygienist added that I really have no choice, with that many crowns daily flossing is pretty much obligatory... Ok.

Lately, my visits to the dentists have been a lot more uneventful, shall we say, than they used to be.  Back in the day (late 70's!) I would pre-anesthetize myself over a 3 martini lunch, and then go and see Hans.  Mind you, I cleared this rather unorthodox dental therapy strategy with him beforehand.  Put it this way: we were both very young and reckless back then.  So I'd show up at 3pm, feeling absolutely no pain, all smiles and flirting with the assistants (they were also much younger then - remember you only get the the Rolex after 10 years) and treatment would commence. Without the benefit of a pain-killing injection.  I guess it was a bit like one of those medieval surgical procedures where the patient has the option of downing a large tankard of mead or getting conked with a hammer.  Those were the days indeed.

Last night's hilly Tuesday run was great fun in Spotts Park, with all of us following Caitlin around the pillars and up and down the hills.  We didn't put in that many miles - probably only 4 - but it was an excellent workout.  My tally for the day was 9 so still on track for 165 for the month.  We enjoyed a few cupcakes after the run in celebration of my birthday.  When you are a fairly serious runner of a certain age, some birthdays become much more important than others.  I'm talking about entering a new 5-year age category of course.  This birthday didn't really 'count' because I'm still in the same 55-59 age group.  Am I looking forward to turning 60 in a couple of years time?  You bet.

 Houston Striders 'Hilly Tuesday' group on May 25

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Downtown 'pub' run

The Striders got together last night for their monthly pub run and in the interest of being sociable and of course to get a good workout in, Kathleen and I tagged along.  Our group of about 12 started out from a very dismal-looking Market Square downtown (totally fenced in), and managed a pretty good pace in a semi-circle crosstown along Washington to the edge of the Heights, and then via the Sabine Street Bridge back to downtown.  We ended up in the 1900 block of Travis, at a dive bar by the name of Lone Star Saloon.  There was only one type of beer on tap but it was good and extra cold and we had all doubly earned it, sharing a couple of pitchers.  A bit of chit-chat followed, sitting in 'captain's chairs' on the very rustic outdoor patio.  Then it was off again down Main Street, left all along the tracks to The Flying Saucer.  Quite a place with literally dozens (over 70!) different brews on tap, ranging from Sam Adams summer ale (which I tried) to Kathleen's Abbey de Leffe Blend and many many others.  You can join their UFO club - sign up to be a member ($18) for which you get a t-shirt and a magnetic club card.  Swipe it every time to keep track of your consumption and after 200 or so  beers over as long a time-frame as it takes you - you are commemorated with a special (flying saucer) plate. 

The group went to one other pub from there but in a concession to our seniority, shall we say, Kathleen and I called it quits and headed homeward, with a quick stop at Jenni's Noodle House along the way for some Rockin' Veggies (Kath) and Miso Soba with extra shiitake mushrooms (me).  I love their t-shirts with slogans like"  We are the Shiitake" and "I saw Brad Pitt at Jenni's Noodle House".

Having done 5 miles earlier on Monday (morning), I tallied 9 miles for the day.  Added another 5 this morning, an easy run (as easy as it can be in this weather) along Buffalo Bayou.  I feel guilty for not taking Daisy along but it would be just too uncomfortable for her after the first mile or so.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A 50-mile week

For the first time since I qualified for Boston - which was at the Houston Marathon in January 2007 - I managed a 50-mile week and that despite the heat and humidity of the last few days.  Very happy with that.  If all goes well over the next week or so, should finish the month of May with 165+ miles.  Without breaking down or over stressing the legs too much.  We followed up yesterday's slog with a much more manageable 6 miles this morning, split between a 1-mile warmup with the dogs, around the corner to Legend Lane and then 5 miles on the trails of Terry Hershey Park.  I wore the Vibram KSO's. 
Next weekend is the Astros 5K 'Race for the Pennant'.  It should be a good test, although the course is one of the worst of any of the city's premier 5K's, due to the inclusion of the Elysian Viaduct.  Why on earth would a race director want to slow down his/her 5K by including an artificial hill for no apparent reason?  Beats me.  Anyway, I will be able to compare this year's time with last year's, if nothing else. 

Here are a few pics taken last night at the hapless Houston Astros' game against the Tampa Bay Rays.  The Ray's Jeff Niemann - whom we followed closely at Rice as he was there and played concurrently with our oldest son - pitched very well and is now a perfect 4-0 on the season.  Even so, the Astros could have kept it closer if they hadn't bungled so much defensively.  Lance Berkman was as guilty as anyone. I did not take a long lens; this is pretty much what we saw from our seats in the club level.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Running with a heart rate monitor

I have been running with a fairly cheap (under $50) Polar FS-1 heart rate monitor for almost 5 months now, consistently.  Despite the price, it is very easy to use (just one button!) and gives me all the information I need in huge big easily readable numbers:  my exact heart rate, elapsed exercise time and the time of day.  The monitor isn't nearly as bulky as my old Garmin 350 and the strap which goes around the chest is more comfortable than the Garmin version as well. My only criticism - that you can't pause the stopwatch feature.  But that is minor.  I pretty much strap it on all the time and it has changed the way I train.  No more trying to hit a certain pace - I just glance down and if I'm not around 128 BPM on a long run, I slow down or speed up a little.  The only place where I don't use it is on the track as it would be rather pointless on short repeats such as 200 meters.

Where a heart rate monitor really comes into its own is on long runs and tempo runs, also during races.  On long easy runs I have figured out that if I keep my HR at around 127 to 130, I stay just below my anaerobic threshold.  So it is relatively comfortable (if you discount the Houston weather), I can keep going for a long distance while getting a pretty good all-round workout and yet - most importantly - I am not overly stressing my cardiovascular & pulmonary systems.  Or my leg muscles.  Which means that come the following Tuesday (hill work) and Thursday (track), there's some life left in these aging legs and I can still give it a go.  Ditto for races.  If you kill yourself with running too hard all the time, you will either get injured or over-trained. Well you would if you were my age...

This morning Kathleen and I did our longest run in several months - 12 miles - from Memorial Park towards downtown on the trails along Buffalo Bayou.  An hour out and an hour back.  Much of it felt like the second half of a death march.  Definitely not fun:  much too hot for being 0630A at the start, and of course unbearably humid.  We saw dozens of other runners, including many from Kenyan Way, walking towards the end of their long run.  Kathleen and I stumbled through the entire thing, stopping only twice, at the turn-around point and then again for water at a convenience store.  The next few months here in Houston will be an endurance test for most long-distance runners.  I take my hat off to the hardy runners who are training for a fall marathon such as Chicago or New York.  You will definitely have earned it come October and November.

Dinner last night was a chickpea tamarind stew - quite easy if you happen to have some cooked chickpeas and tamarind paste handy.  Together with some onions, crushed tomatoes, maple syrup, a bit of chili powder and cumin, and some peas, it was flavorful in a spicy, almost Moroccan kind of way.  With sides of brown rice and a carrot puree, we had a quick meal loaded with nutrients and fiber and practically no fat.   And of course zero cholesterol. The tamarind chickpea stew recipe is from 1000 Vegan Recipes.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Track workout at Reagan High

Last night, Kathleen and I took the short drive down Katy Freeway to the Heights for the weekly Thursday evening track workout.  For once, I had some bounce in my step and for the first four intervals (2 X 200M followed by 2 X 400M) I stayed with the 'fast' group.  Always encouraging!  Lagged behind a bit over the last couple of 200M repeats, but only because my recovery was a bit slower.  I still need to check the Garmin but the 200M repeats were around 41 to 44 seconds, the 400M's about 1:30.  Now if only I could string 4 of those together we'd be looking at a sub-6 minute mile!  Dream on.

It was a fun workout though and so was the usual vegan BBQ sandwich at Field of Greens after.  Earlier in the day I had put together a red bean and corn salad (recipe from 1000 Vegan Recipes) which we will enjoy over the weekend.  There was an interesting looking recipe for a chickpea stew with tamarind which I might tackle later.  And perhaps a carrot puree with some fresh herbs and a dash of soy creamer.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A first

I did something yesterday - twice - which I have never done before in my life.  I bit the bullet, gathered some account numbers, and paid a couple of bills online.  The house note and the Comcast bill.  Might even consider adding a few more as they come in - it was easier than anticipated.  Security concerns?  Not really.   I read somewhere that people who do at least some of their banking online are more likely to find out if there's something fishy going on, than those who don't.  Who hasn't had several unread bank statements pile up in the 'in' tray...

Personal checks are a thing of the past in Europe and even in South Africa and while they are still widely used here in the USA, it won't be too long before they follow telex machines and typewriters into oblivion.  I plead guilty to the charge of having helped to keep the practice alive, but at least I don't write checks in grocery stores.  Come on - don't those people have a train to catch?  Oops - I forgot.  There are no more passenger trains either. Well maybe one comes through Houston every second day or so.  All kidding aside, the check writing thing while in line stopped being funny with 'The Dude' writing a check for $0.67 at a Vonn's Supermarket in LA, for some half and half.  All the Big Lebowski fans will know what the half and half is for, too.

Running is going passably well.  I am on track for a 40+ mile week and hopefully 165+ for the month of May.  Probably the highest total for a month in more than two years.  I just wish my body would wake up and realize that I am burning hundreds of extra calories.  Why are the extra miles seemingly having no effect on the pesky abdominal fat that I have to drag around with me on every run?  Maybe, just maybe, I know the answer.  It has to do with food intake.  Duh.  Roasted peanuts taste great but eat just a small handful of them and there goes all the hard work of three entire miles of running.  At my easy pace (heart rate around 128 or so) it takes 30 minutes to cover 3 miles.  How long does it take to eat 2 oz of peanuts?  Maybe 5 or 10 minutes and that's pushing it. Life is not fair. 

Talking about food, the good people at DeLonghi sent me a replacement glass cover for the electric grill.  I accidentally dropped and broke (it shattered into a thousand pieces) the original one a while ago.  So a cookout seemed in order.  I steamed some potatoes, carrots and zucchini, and then marinated them for a few hours.  Must remember to include onion next time.  Some extra firm tofu got the mirin, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and garlic/ginger treatment and then went on the grill as well. Quite nice with a touch of chutney.  On the side we had a tasty, crunchy black bean and quinoa salad with mango, green onions and cilantro.  This one is a keeper - the recipe is from Veganomicon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Weekend recap

No marathons for us this weekend, but we did the pasta (carb) loading anyway...  On Friday I tried a recipe from Veganomicon - Udon with Shitake mushrooms and kale in miso broth.  Very tasty and quite easy too!  Having some miso in the 'fridge, we also tried a new (yet to be published) recipe for Miso Soba stirfry with greens and beans on Sunday.  Likewise a hit, and plenty left over for tomorrow!

Kathleen and I did get around to some running over the weekend, of course.  We were thinking about a race on Saturday morning but thought better of it due to Kath's strained calf muscle.  In retrospect it was just as well; a drenching rainstorm would have made things rather difficult. We did manage ten miles this morning along Buffalo Bayou: it was surprisingly cool, even a little misty, at the start but just more than 90 minutes later it was good and steamy.  Summer is back!

On Saturday night we saw The Big Lebowski (again) at the Museum of Fine Arts - part of their Jeff Bridges series.  The dude abides.  Biggest crowd we've seen in a long time at one of the MFAH film shows.  In two week's time The Fabulous Baker Boys will be shown - looking forward to that as I believe Michelle Pfeiffer is smoking hot in this movie - take a look at her famous red dress performance from the movie.   It's on YouTube.  Kathleen and I also briefly walked through the Alice Neel exhibition at the MFAH prior to Saturday's movie.  Wow - this lady could paint!  She had a rare talent for stripping away the superficial and exposing the essence of the subject in front of her.  There is not a painting in the exhibit that does not jump with emotional intensity and some are searing. Ms Neel painted them like she saw them.  A lot of the material depicts unvarnished sexuality which can be quite shocking even for us jaded survivors of the 70's and 80's.  The paintings must have been really controversial back when they first saw the day of light.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

More hardware for the family

Kathleen and I drove down to League City for the Summer Kick-Off Fun Run yesterday and the 90 mile round-trip journey was not in vain.  Kathleen came home with a brand new PR for the 5K plus a first place AG award.  Fortunately one of the regular speedsters who always runs this race - Jamal Jamalyaria - did not show up this year, so I managed to sneak into third place in my age group, despite having to stop to re-tie my shoe.  I have been making far too many rookie mistakes lately.  A few weeks ago it was running without the disposable chip, yesterday a loose shoelace.  Cost me at least 20 seconds, and then of course I had to burn a lot of extra energy to try to catch up.  Nonetheless we had fun and it was good chatting with race co-directors Mariglyn and Stephen Glenn.  It must have been a bitter-sweet experience for them to present the last in the series of 19 annual runs in memory of their son James Glenn.

Later in the day, we headed to the campus of Rice University for the running of the 2010 Bayou Bash Relay, with each team of 4 persons covering 8 miles in and around Rice football stadium and the adjacent parking lots.  Not the world's most scenic run, but it looked like everybody had a great time.  The Houston Association of Road Running clubs presented their annual family picnic after the run.  If you didn't mind standing in line for a while, there was a pretty good variety of food and drinks (including cold St. Arnold's beer!) to be had.  Kathleen and I shared a veggie burger - by the time we got to the front of the line, there was only one left...  I did take quite a few photographs of the runners speeding around the football stadium concourse, and will be posting some of the pics on my Facebook account and on the Houston Striders' Shutterfly page.

This morning Kath and I did an easy 10 miles along the Terry Hershey Trail, bumped into a few other Striders going the opposite way (Marnie and Miriam, amongst others).  Great morning for a run, unseasonably cool.  We couldn't take Daisy even if we wanted to; she has been limping for several days now for some unknown reason.  There does not appear to be anything in her paw, we suspect a strained shoulder muscle.   My total mileage for the week was 32.  Little bit on the low side, need to keep it around 40 or so if I am going to make a dent in the extra 10 lbs I'm dragging around.  Month on month the progress has been good though.  Around 50 miles total in February, just over 100 in March and 150 in April.  165 would be a good goal for May but it is probably over-ambitious considering the slow start.  

Friday, May 7, 2010

'Speed' night at Reagan High School

I was honked at by a Smart car yesterday for the first time. It sounded just like our dog biting a squeaky toy.  And while I am generally not amused to be honked at (nobody is of course), this time I let it go.  It was just too funny a sound.  Had I hit the diminutive automobile of course I would have had a ready-made excuse.  "I never saw you!  Really!"  And this time trust me it would have been the truth. 

Kathleen and I re-started the weekly Thursday evening speed work program at Reagan High School in the Heights, last night.  It was just the two of us at first and then a couple more Striders - John and Azita - showed up.  Ordinarily we have a good little group of about 10 to 15 runners mixing it up with various permutations of intervals & repeats, Kenyan relays, time trials and what not.  Last night we settled for 5 X 800 meter repeats, so-called Yasso 800's.  The theory is that given adequate training for a marathon, if you can run 10 X 800 meter repeats with a short rest interval, each in as many minutes as you plan to run your marathon in hours, you are ready for the race.  So for example if your goal marathon pace is 4:00 hours, you should be able to run all 10 the 800 meter repeats in 4 minutes or less.  As they say, your mileage may vary: it does not work for everybody but is a good workout nonetheless.  The important thing to remember is that adequate preparation for a marathon involves much more than running 800 meter repeats on a track: you need to pile up the miles - anything less than 40 miles per week really won't cut it in my opinion - and you need to do those long runs.

Anyway we did not do 10 repeats as we do not have any marathons planned.  We do have a 5K tomorrow morning so didn't want to overdo it on the track just two days prior.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hilly Tuesdays with Matt

Kathleen and I both look forward to 'Hilly Tuesdays' led by the Houston Striders' Matt Wright.  Guaranteed to be a good time, with a very steady group of about 15+ runners showing up every Tuesday to tackle a variety of trails, hills, bridges, fountain steps, overpasses and other structures sprinkled around Buffalo Bayou from Spotts Park and the Waugh Street bridge to downtown.  A couple of weeks ago we even witnessed thousands of bats flying out on their nocturnal feeding trip, from under the Waugh Street bridge.  We are quite familiar with the Sabine Street bridge too: thankfully no bats there, only about 100 steps which some of us take two at a time, up and down... Another favorite workout is the pedestrian bridge over Memorial - we double back over it, and include two other hills in a little mini-circuit, for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. As fast as you can go!  Matt always has a few new challenges up his sleeve:  last night it was a sideways shuffle uphill, heel first downhill... Stretch those calf muscles!  Some people pay good money for running advice and training of this caliber; all we have to do is show up. 
The 5 consecutive weeks of Thursday afternoon 'Tour de Bayou' races followed by two solid hilly Tuesday workouts - and increased overall weekly mileage - have improved both Kathleen's and my strength and speed.  Hopefully it will translate into a decent showing for both of us at the upcoming Summer Kick-off Fun Run 5K run this Saturday in Clear Lake. It will be the 19th and last run in memory of James Glenn who tragically died at age 19, 19 years ago.  His parents Stephen and Mariglyn Glenn have been putting on a very well organized race in his memory every year since then and have funded scholarships for more than 50 students over the years.  We've run this race the last couple of years and have found it to be one of the best (fast course and unbelievable after-party spread!) in the Greater Houston area.

Dinner today was easy and pretty much suggested itself.  I had some left-over brown rice and red beans from the weekend.  Together with a cup and a half or so of wild rice, a yellow bell pepper, some red onion, a few cherry tomatoes and fresh cilantro it made a tasty and nutritious main course salad.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The heat is on

Yesterday was apparently the first day in 6 months with an 'official' temperature of 90F recorded here in Houston.  Running at around 6:00P last night I could certainly feel it.  About time, and not too shocking for any long-time resident of the area.  Summers in Houston are hot.  They start early and they never seem to end.  Oh and I am hearing the first rumblings of the hurricane season.  Last year's hurricane season was a complete bust -  I am sure every last man, woman and child in Houston would be happy with a repeat performance. 

We kicked off the summer early with a cookout of sorts, some veggie kebabs and tofu grilled on a non-stick electric griddle.  Let's face it, it's not even close to a 'real' barbecue: there's no meat involved,  no coals, gas, flames, smoke, ash or any of the usual obnoxious and/or dangerous elements associated with a BBQ.  Just some good healthy food with a bit of color.

I marinated the vegetables all day in a mix of lemon juice, a little bit of olive oil, soy sauce and a tablespoon or so of a Moroccan spice mix, with a minced preserved lemon.  The tofu got the usual soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, sake and rice vinegar treatment, to liven it up a bit before sticking the cubes on a bamboo skewer.  We served it with some brown rice on the side.  Leftovers?  Not much. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Memorial City Run for the Arts 5K

Kathleen and I ran the Memorial City Mall 'Run for the Arts' 5K this morning.  Lots of walkers and several hundred runners too - total registered number of participants more than 2,200. Despite the muggy conditions we both did well. Kathleen actually ended up 1st in her age group!   Although I did not place (tough to compete with a 50-year old when you're pushing 58), I finished right at the 22 minute mark which is a lot better than earlier this year.   We probably could have run a little faster had it not been for some lingering fatigue from last Thursday's final Tour de Bayou cross-country race.  This was a 3.5 mile dash along the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Memorial Park, courtesy of HARRA, who sponsored a keg of St. Arnold's beer at the conclusion of the 5-part Thursday evening series.  On this last run I came in at #59, being passed by the always speedy Chris Adams in the last 500 meters.  Overall I think I improved my age-graded ranking to about #8 in the masters division.  Good enough for the spring, hopefully an incentive to do better in the Fall series.

Dinner last night was 'Julie's Spicy Peanut Sesame Noodles' from  One of our family favorites.  Vegan, but certainly not diet food with nearly half a cup of peanut butter.  On the side we had some green peas and plain polenta topped with  left-over 'Backyard Barbecue Sauce' (Veganomicon).  Plenty of leftovers for today!

This is what it looked like: