Thursday, June 23, 2011

Running Nowhere

Running in Circles

Recently, I've written about destination runs both near and far. Today's entry comes around full circle literally.

My wife just had a successful medical procedure. However, the recovery timing stretches in the months range. During the first few weeks of healing, leaving her without help in the house is not what the doctor has ordered. Fortunately, we have some great people helping her and me during this period of being house-bound.

Yet what is a serial runner like me to do when it comes to my various long distance training runs? Of course, Rebecca's safety and support takes priority, and I would not run if that was what I had to do. Yet, I decided to find a solution that works for both of us.

Normally on a weekend, I will disappear from 2-4 hours on long jaunts. I do huge loops around Santa Monica, Brentwood, Venice and the Marina. Sometimes I go into the Santa Monica mountains onto the fire roads. Regardless of the destination, my goals are about miles covered, the fresh air and a complete change from my normal computer-based life style. All of these paths take me miles - sometimes up to 13 miles - away from home.

So, I've come up with a variety of routes right in my neighborhood. Fortunately, we live in an area that has a lot of smaller sections attached to one another as the homes weave around the bluffs of Pacific Palisades. I have a 5 mile route that basically is a figure-8 with our house at the center. This course never leads me more than 1.5 miles from my front door. As I have a nice belt clip case for my iPhone, I can be summoned and am always within 12 minutes of getting home - and on average less than 8 minutes. I can run to my hearts content and not shirk my responsibilities at home. I don't get anywhere but at least I'm still running.
Here are some tips and tricks I've developed:

5 miles can easily be repeated. The course is long enough to not get too boring. Sometimes I'll go out clockwise and then go counterclockwise on the next loop. Or I can go one way on the lower half of the figure-8 loop and the other on the upper half. What if I want to put in 12 miles? Well, that's 2 full rotations and then just one portion of the figure-8. Because I pass home 3 times, many combinations exist for variety. My course has about 150 feet of elevation change, so I can also do hill repeats mid-way through. The key is to find a nice few mile circuit and loop it back and forth around your front door.

If you live near a running track, that is another great way to get in good runs without venturing too far. (If you do use a high school track, be sure to check their hours for public use. Also, most tracks prefer you to run on the outer lanes to preserve the inner (faster) lane surfaces. Some tracks alternate directions of running on various days as well. Again, check local signs and websites or ask the usually present security staff.)

But what if you need to stay even closer - you don't feel that 12 minutes is an acceptable response time? Even a couple long blocks can form a nice circuit. You could be home in a walk in less than 5 minutes. I would try to map out at least a quarter mile circle; anything shorter will quickly wear thin. This highly repetitive course sometimes require one to listen to music, podcasts (I recommend the IndyCast since I contribute to that) or audiobooks to break up the boredom. Since you have your phone with you (so you can get called in an emergency), you can use that as a player and still hear the phone ring. And again, switching directions can spice the cycle a bit.

Back in April, I prepared for an Ultra by running 28 miles over about a four mile course in Santa Monica. That day I didn't need to be close to home, but it rained all day and I wanted to practice on grass and dirt. So, between the grass median on San Vincente and the dirt Palisades Park path, I found my solution. Without the rain, I probably would have gone in the Santa Monica mountains.

Take advantage of continually passing your home base. You can stash water and snacks for those long runs, and of course a toilet is easy to get to.

Lastly, work on your stride and form. The home circuit will get tiring as you know the scenery already. So, use the run for other parts of your training. has a lot of running exercises you can try. You could even add in push ups and sit ups every lap.

Oh yeah, don't worry about those odd stares from your neighbors. They already know you are crazy. Running in circles will just add another confirmation data point.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Origin Story

Five years ago this month, I decided to run my first race. That idea leapt into my head in Boston. Let me set the scene by relating my latest run.

On Friday, I took to the pavement of Cambridge and Boston on one of my favorite runs. Lining both sides of the Charles River basins, bike and running paths link the various bridges spanning the river boundary between the two cities. The paths wind past MIT, Harvard, Boston University and the famous Boston Half-Shell (where the Pops play on Independence Day each year). Depending on which portion you run, you might also pass by the Boston Science Museum, Harvard Stadium and even some awesome old common areas. Back in 2009, I ran about 22 miles (11 out and 11 back) which gives you an idea of how far you c
an venture.

Today's run measured a more bite sized 8.5. Departing from my hotel in Kendall Square, I headed west next to Memorial Drive. I passed the Mass Ave bridge, waved hello to my college dormitory, swept past the old Polaroid headquarters and continued on to Harvard. There, I turned left onto and over the Harvard St. Bridge, and then another left to head back east. This side borders Storrow Dr. I past through BU and then around the Half-Shell. I took the bridge back towards Kendall Square, the Red Line T trains rattling past as I crested the incline up and over the river. I rejoined the Memorial Drive bike path back to Mass Ave, turning right and finishing at 77 Mass Ave, MIT's front door. I then walked down the Infinite Corridor as my post-run cool down and a chance to enjoy being on campus.

Yet I made one stop during those 76 minutes. You see, the birth of my running races occurred almost exactly five years ago on the Boston side of this same track. That seemed like a worthwhile event to commemorate with a few photos. So many of my ways of thinking developed in my years at MIT that I find the notion refreshing that my racing career started here too.

Let me wind the clock back and tell you exactly what happened (well as best as my mind can remember). I started running in February 2006. My nutritionist told me I needed to get more (ahem "any") cardiovascular exercise. While
a change in diet had proved successful in shedding some pounds, only an addition of exercise would fully help me maintain good cholesterol levels and long term health. My genetics do not bode well with heart disease, so my defense requires multiple preventative treatments. A friend in HR suggested I try running, and despite my misgivings that my knees could not take it, I laced up and tried it. I barely could go half a mile. Yet, I persisted and built up over the next few months to a couple of miles each time out the door.

Up to this point, the notion of running for anything more than exercise did not occur to me. I knew things like marathons existed; I had even been an actor in film school in a farce shot in and around the 6th LA Marathon. While at MIT, I spent a night in Hoptinkton MA and saw the start of the Boston Marathon. As a kid, I marveled while watching ABC's Wide W
orld of Sports at the multitudes crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to start the New York City Marathon. Yet, I did not connect those events and myself.

One reason I could even start running in February 2006 related to my stepson Justin who factors into this month's anniversary as well. Justin developed a passion for outdoor activities like rock climbing and hiking. His high school offered a chance to spend a semester at a program high in the Rocky Mountains in Leadville, CO. Elevation: 10,000 feet above sea level. With Justin out of town starting in late January, I no longer needed to take him to school before I went to work. And I knew when he got home that he would obtain his driver's license. So, my morning carpool days ended for good when Justin departed.

Now flash forward to June of that year. Justin, fresh from conquering the passes at 14,000 above Leadville, has met me in Boston. We commence a 5 day North East and Southern college tour. Wanting to run around the Charles, I announce I am going out to do so on our first morning. When not hiking around those peaks, the school in Colorado required the kids to run for physical fitness. So, Justin and I both started running at the same time - but he did so in thinner air and with a 16-year old
body. Justin asks if he can go with me on the , and of course I eagerly agree.

We run down Mass Ave and turn right at the bike path. Our goal that day consisted of just a lap to BU and back. Heading west, we cross over the BU bridge to Boston. Another left and Storrow Drive slides under our feet. At about the half-way mark, all of sudden something happens.

Justin asks - can we walk a bit? Of course, I agree to, and we drop to a fast stroll. I had no sense of besting Justin - happily we are not competitive
with each other in that way. In fact, I would say we both have a much stronger desire to collaborate and share. Yet all of a sudden, I start wondering about my running abilities. Had we even run 1.5 miles? How could a nearly 40 year old be in better shape than a mid-teen with more miles under his belt - and miles in very thin air up in the mountains? Could I actually be good at running?

That little piece of pavement in Boston changed my thinking about my running. I gained confidence immediately in my abilities. And I don't know why, but I wondered if I could run a 5k. I knew the Palisades Will Rogers race was that upcoming weekend on July 4. I did not know if they would take a registration that late (but I found out with a quick web search that they did). That short run and then walk changed my view of myself and inspired me to try something new. 14 marathons later, I am still appreciative of this new found passion.

And to be fair to Justin, we did resume running shortly after we stopped and made it all the way back to the hotel.

Would I have tried racing eventually? I am fairly sure I would have. But regardless of perhaps an eventuality, the origin of my racing story all began on a warm June morning along the backs of the Charles River. Five years ago this month.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Destination Running

Destination Running.

Destination Running? What exactly do I mean by that?

Well, I find two forms exist. Both have merit and often the local variant is a subset of the larger version.

Let me start with the larger version which a search of the internet will return
various articles and blog entry search results. Destination Running quite simply involves traveling some place to run. In my case, these trips tend to include actual races - primarily marathons. Like a destination wedding, an event defines the reason for traveling. This year I went to Antarctica on a cruise designed around the notion of running a marathon on the Southern Continent.

However, I have certainly taken advantage of traveling to run races. Last year, I had meetings in Chicago, IL on a Friday and in Albany, NY on a Monday with our CCO and Studio EVP. Not relishing 10 hours and three flights from the Windy City to LA to upstate New York, I instead made a loop through South Dakota and Minnesota to run a half marathon and a 10k. Total flying time was about 5 hours (still three flights), and I ran my personal best in the half marathon (1:29:45). That time allowed me to qualify automatically for this year's New York City Marathon. One destination apparently leads to another.

Destination Running in many ways throws challenges at the runner. He must contend with a foreign (sometimes literally) environment, a strange bed, different food and time zone adjustments. Running at peak form requires everything to be aligned, so other than for pampered elite competitors, we mass runners need to absorb these changes on our own and in stride (again sometimes literally).

Yet the rewards, at least for me, outweigh the downsides. Seeing a new place can be magical. In fact, with the right race or even fun run, you can find hidden nooks and crannies the locals cannot fathom exist. Because the speed of even the fastest runner allows for some pretty nice sightseeing, this form of exploring beats most others. Cars and bikes - way too fast. Walking - too little distance per hour. Running is a Goldilocks middle ground.

This brings me to the minor form of destination running. The beauty of the lowercase cousin involves no planes or intricate plans. A map may be involved and possibly a short car ride. Yet the benefits exceed the minimal planning because so little planning is needed.

What I am talking about is a local destination run. Have you ever run to your best friend's house? If not, lace up and do so. Your best friend will likely let you shower and give you a ride home (if you don't want to make the round trip on foot). Too close? Have your best friend drive you 10 miles away and run back to her house? Or maybe run to a park you played in as a kid? Or find some neat path an hour outside of your city and run that. Any town, large or small, will have interesting places to run and see.

One destination run I often do is called the "Home Run." The course starts at my current home and winds itself east through Santa Monica, Brentwood, West LA, Cheviot Hills and back through Ocean Park. On the course, I pass a house we rented briefly in 2004, the apartment where my parents lived when I was born in 1967, the first house we owned and my current office. It's 23.5 miles and a perfect tune up for a marathon. I even get 1000 feet of up and down elevation. Yum.

Whether your ambitions are short or long, for sure, don't be a slave to the running. Stop and take pictures or just enjoy the view. Smell the roses if they don't turn away after smelling you. Smile. Say hi to people. Look for paths that may be hard - hilly or narrow. Be safe though.

Some tips
Take a cell phone that has mapping and stash enough money to get a cab back if you get lost. On hot days, take a few bottles of water. With a minimal of planning, you can make your own destination running adventure to reinvigorate your runs, take your mind off those 22 milers or just find a new hidden gem around the corner.