Paint Creek long run

Saturday, I had my first run on Paint Creek trail, which runs between downtown Rochester and Lake Orion. I’ll be back.

My support team (above) for the 18-miler met me at the parking lot. It was cold, about 30 degrees with gusty winds, but they were die-hard. 20120130-082033.jpg You can see the yellow sign pointing toward the bridge to the trail entrance in the background.

Paint Creek is a rail trail, a recreation path along a former railroad line. It rolls out in front of you until it disappears into trees. Beautiful. Although there’s no one in the picture to the right, joggers, cyclists and people walking dogs were out in force despite the weather.

I planned initially to go all the way to Lake Orion, which is shy of 9 miles, then double back, but around 7 miles I realized I’d dropped a glove.20120130-082151.jpg I had taken off the wool fingerless gloves I put over my running gloves, and apparently dropped on, so I turned around shortly after this archery range. I figured I’d dropped it between miles 4 and 6. This also kept me on the trail, rather than veer off for hill work as suggested by one of my Twitter peeps. Thanks, anyway.

Two miles after turning back, I came to a pair of women with a pair of dogs. They had my glove, thankfully. I hate losing kit.

I pressed on, heading all the way back to Tienken Road, about a mile short of where I started. There’s a stop light and pedestrian crosswalk for the trail, so I figured it was a good time to turn around again — midway through mile 12 and feeling strong.

The winds picked up. I think the gusts hit 20-25 mph, and they cut right through my clothes. But I pressed on. I savored the sunny spots and moments of low wind, an took comfort in a half-marathon time in the 1:44 range. Not my fastest effort, but respectable given the rough conditions.

I made it to about mile 16 before the suffering began: A “what the hell am I doing out here breaking myself in this freezing cold” attitude set in and I couldn’t shake it. I turned around knowing I was several miles from the car back in Rochester. Then, I got a strange tightness in my left calf. It wasn’t a cramp, but wasn’t helping either.

I stopped to rest about mile 17. 20120130-082138.jpg The train bridge gave shelter from the wind and let me warm up a bit. I stretched, tried to recover and read graffiti to get my mind out of the wallows.

After about 10 minutes, my attitude improved and I felt pretty good so I took off. Only 4-something miles to the car. Well, about a mile later, my calf issue returned. I took a walk break, tried again, and took another walk break. It just wasn’t working itself out. Major suckage.

I stopped my Forerunner at 18.2 miles, 2:32 minutes. The slow last few miles brought my average pace down to about 8:45. The problem: I was more than 3 miles from the car. I sucked it up and kept walking. 20120130-082121.jpg The only way to keep warm was to keep moving, even if I couldn’t run. At least the scenery inspired my feet to keep going.

Like 45 minutes later, I crossed the bridge back to the parking lot. The ducks greeted me as I shivered myself into the car. I started the ignition and turned the seat warmer on bake. Fifteen minutes later, I was waiting in line at Chipotle after burning about 2,000 calories and salivating at the thought of a giant burrito to replace some of them.

In the back of my mind, I had wanted to do full 26.2 Saturday. Getting a first marathon of the year out of the way, even an informal one, had a lot of appeal. Plus, I had a great window with the wife and child out of town. But whatever. I made it 18 miles, had a great time and explored a cool new-to-me trail. I’ll tackle that one again soon.

Good fundamentals

The last few months find me shifting my approach to running. I’m getting more personal.

Yes, I still track everything. I even do it on the Web. But I’m not as focused on the Web bit, and a lot more interested in reflecting on how I do what I do, and how to keep doing it and even improve. To that end, much of my thoughts on running now go in a Moleskin.

Yes, it takes more time, at least compared to just hitting “Done” in Runkeeper. But after each run, I sit and look at my times, my pace and how I felt, and I jot a few notes. I’ve never aced journaling (you can tell by how often I actually update this site), so we’ll see how long this lasts. I’ve been at it since early November. Sometimes, I forget, and catch up a few days later. And that’s OK. But I think it’s a worthwhile habit. Plus, years from now, after I’ve forgotten what Daily Mile is, this Moleskin will be sitting on a shelf somewhere for my daughter to open and chuckle over.

At right is an example page. No mystique. No bull. Just rambling thoughts about how the run went. In this case, it was a look back on the first run I did with my new Garmin FR210.

And while I’m on the subject of the FR210, another thought. Call it a minor rant. The Runkeeper site, which I had used to log miles from my iPhone, doesn’t work with the FR210. It apparently works with every other Garmin, but not this model. Boo. I do like Runkeeper, and was hesitant to change. I find the Garmin site more useful when I want to get granular. But I’m now mainly using the data to get analog and analyze in my Moleskin. And I’m liking it.

Happy runner gift

Finally. I promised myself I wouldn’t buy a GPS watch until I could confidently say “I’m a runner.” Three marathons, a half marathon and almost 2,000 miles* later, I can’t deny it any longer.

I’m a runner. And now I have a shiny new Garmin Forerunner 210 to celebrate.

I hemmed and hawed for a a week over which to buy, but in the end went for the cheapest GPS watch I could find that would:

  • Display current or average pace.
  • Show distance.
  • Do automatic mile laps (so I could see where my feet get heavy over long runs).
  • Allow for intervals with warm up and cool down periods.
  • Have a relatively small profile.

The FR210 does all of these, and a bit more (like work with a heart monitor if I want to go there). It doesn’t do as much as the Timex Run Trainer. But, my G+ running peeps all poo-pooed the Timex and I couldn’t find it at local stores to at least see how big it was in comparison to the 210. 20111228-162508.jpg

I also thought seriously about the Soleus 1.0, which is about as basic and cheap as they come. At $99, it has all the features on that list except intervals. The Soleus doesn’t work with a computer (to offload your data), but I’m finding I care less and less about that. I guess it’s nice to have maps to refer to, but I hardly ever refer to them. That said, the Garmin does upload workouts to my computer, so better to have and not need than need and not have. Really, though, it was the intervals that pushed me toward the Garmin.

The FR210 so far is stupid-easy to use. I took it out of the box, tossed the instructions aside, charged it for 10 minutes and hit the road for 5 miles. I find the interface intuitive and easy to read. I worried a bit about the controls being goofy for a left-hander who wears his watch on his right hand. Not so. The buttons are big enough to find and press without much effort, and once I memorize where their locations/functions, it’ll become brainless.

I look forward to having it as a digital companion.

*An estimate. I could find a record of 1,758 miles dating back to June 2008, but started running the previous fall.

Big things

This month, I ran a marathon and saw my little girl turn 2. How’s your October been?

I told Mrs. Blocletters recently that I still can’t believe I can run 26.2 miles. I find it surreal. Four years ago this fall, I hadn’t run longer than a half mile. Now, I’m a marathoner three times over and counting. Not trying to brag, but I have trouble believing it myself.

Also in the disbelief department, our girl is 2. How does time travel so fast?


Girlie, on the warming table minutes after she joined the family.


Girlie, a few days ago, dressed up as an ice cream cone for a Halloween event. She won a little trophy for funniest costume.

At 2, she:

  • Responds to most directions with “No!”
  • Still isn’t fully potty trained, but whatever.
  • Loves to sing and generally make noise.
  • Likes swings. A lot. And slides.
  • Could probably watch YouTube videos for hours.
  • Has only broken 1 iPad.
  • Has a bigger vocabulary and more sass than I would have thought.

My wife and I are truly blessed to have such a bright young lady in our lives.

Back to running, I have no idea yet about a next goal. I know I want to keep running marathons, and expect to do at least two in 2012.

The biggest goal for next year: run without injury. I got over that pesky stress fracture in time to race Detroit, but a week later have an unexplained pain running through the top back of my left leg. No idea. I don’t think it’s running related. I just woke up a week after the race with an odd pain. It didn’t bother me to run with it Sunday (5 miles, 8-minute pace), but it does hurt like hell to bend at the waist.

Meh, walk it off.

Aside from marathons, I’m intrigued by ultramarathons and triathlons. Running marathons has left me wondering what else is possible with this body of mine, and amazed at potential I didn’t know was there until I looked.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying what life holds, from family to fatherhood to running to whatever. Thanks for reading.

Detroit Marathon debrief

After this race, I feel both great and grateful. The recovery three days on matches my higher fitness level now versus the first road marathon in 2009. The first half hour or so after the race was rough for my legs. Later Sunday, I was moving around fine. The soreness lessened Monday, moved a bit into the calves on Tuesday, and is almost gone today — thanks in part to a 30-minute trip through the YMCA sauna.

I’m thankful I got to the starting line, let alone the finish line. The foot I injured held up well and I actually ran the whole race (save for a 100 foot or so break on Belle Isle).

So, on to the race report. (Here’s the map, if you want to follow along.) It was slow to begin: The crowd didn’t thin out until after the Ambassador Bridge, about mile 4. I will remember running over the Ambassador for a long time. It may live on as my only exception to hating running in wind.

(Tangent: The day’s most ridilous sight — a relay runner on the bridge wearing a Camelbak for a 5ish mile run.)

Windsor was drizzly, but crowds made up for it. I also saw my favorite sign there:

Ice cold beer,

reasonable prices,

21 miles  —>

I liken the Windsor Tunnel experience, miles 7 to 8, to running through a stinky sauna. And on the way out, the cool air offered an unpleasant contrast. Not my favorite part of the race. There was, however, good crowd support on the way out.

The route wound past Cobo Center, down Lafayette and west into Mexicantown. Here I found two highlights of the race — a mariachi band and a block were I could smell nothing but cooking pork. I think it was from Honeybee Market. After 11 miles or so, it smelled like heaven.

We wound through Corktown (seeing another favorite sign: “Run faster, we’re cold”), dipped over to Campus Martius to wrap up the first 13. At this point, my energy was still good, but I had the first inklings of GI issues. Nothing major (yet) just a busy stomach.

About mile 15, I saw a neighbor on the sidelines. He was a welcome sight, and seeing a familiar face boosted my energy a bit. By this point, I was starting to dread my Sports Beans. I knew I should probably keep taking them, but I stomach roiled when I did.

In Indian Village, I had the best Pabst ever. About mile 17, a couple people handed out tiny Dixie cups of beer with polka music blaring. I think a little bubble actually helped my angry belly.

It seemed like forever from mile 17 to 19. I kept expecting to emerge onto Jefferson within sight of Belle Isle, but my head was playing tricks with time at this point. I knew I was tired, and my calves ached. I tried my best to relax and remind myself to hold proper form as closely as possible. Midfoot, midfoot, midfoot. Light strike. Short strides.

Jefferson paved the way to mile 19, and then I turned onto MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle. The bridge has a much softer grade than the Ambassador, so it wasn’t too much of a problem, even for tired legs. I remember feeling intense relief to see we bisected the island, doing only about 2.5 miles as opposed to the 5-mile loop around the coast. The math didn’t add up for the whole loop, but my head wasn’t making a lot of sense by then.

Halfway through mile 21 I took my only walk break. A cramp had threatened to tie up the back of my right leg on the way over to the island, but subsided. Now, it felt like it would make my whole leg seize up. I had to stop, and had to apologize when I realized I stopped with another runner right on my heels.
I spent about 50 paces walking and rubbing the back of my leg just below my butt. I must’ve looked like a complete idiot, but I’m sure other runners streaming around me at least understood.

It took real effort to get started again, and I knew I had to dig deep to reach the finish. I passed mile 22 on the way back to the bridge, the back of my leg still twinging uncomfortably.

On the way down to Jefferson, I dropped my water bottle — twice in the span of about 20 feet. The second time, I almost left it.

Coming off the bridge tired and dispirited, I passed my neighbor again. Strange how a familiar face can bring you back to center. I chugged on toward mile 23 and, to my surprise, passed the 4:10 pacer. I pushed harder thinking, there’s no way I’m letting this guy finish ahead of me.

We wound toward the Riverfront. Mile 24. We turned onto Atwater for a long straightaway. I kept the pacer in my rearview until we turned onto Rivard (the corner I volunteered at in 2010). Rivard slopes steeply up to Larned and mile 25. My gas tank sputtered. I had fumes left. As the pacer passed me, I asked if he was on target. “About a minute and a half ahead,” he said.

“That’s the best news I’ve heard all day,” I replied. At least if I can keep sight of him, I could finish under 4:10, I thought. I trudged on with whatever little energy I could muster.

I passed mile 26, turned the corner onto Fort and was greeted with shouts of “Go, Jeremy!” It was my aunt and uncle, and I knew the rest of the family/street team couldn’t be far behind. I lifted my arms over my head in a wan sign of accomplishment and pressed toward the finish.

The medal from the Free Press Marathon must weigh 8 oz. It’s two or three times the size of my other marathon medals, and my neck sagged as a volunteer placed it on me at the finish line. My final time was 4:02:54. Even better news: The 4:10 pacer was counting from the first heat’s gun, not my heat, and it had taken me 7 minutes to cross the starting line and activate my chip.

Video of me crossing the finish line, courtesy of my brother.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on too long, so I’ll digest the rest. Reunited with family. Shaky, crampy, unable to eat. Worked out GI issues (don’t ask). Zombie walk to the People Mover. Best. Chocolate milk. Ever. Trip home and (after appetite returned) the inhalation of a double Bagger Dave’s burger with an egg on top, a whole bag of fries and a well-deserved Two-Hearted Ale. Nap.

Marathon No. 3, in the bag. Thanks to my wife, family and friends for support.

Encouraging signs

I set out to do 3 or 4 miles today, and felt great out on the road. So great, in fact, that I pushed through for 6.5 miles at 8:45 pace. It’s the longest I’ve run in more than four weeks, and I’d grade it an A-. I still feel the healing fracture, but today’s run was better than even two days ago, when I ran 1.7 miles.

During Sunday’s run I had some gait issues. The sore spot on my foot forced me to heel strike with my left and slowed me down. But I could run (and fared better on grass), and because of that I rated that run a B-.

Today’s run went even better. If I dial back my gait and maintain a ruthlessly neutral strike, I can keep it up. Well, at least I can keep it up for a quarter of the distance I want to clear a week from Sunday at the Free Press Marathon.

So, based on today’s results, I’m going to try a long run this weekend (long being relative). I’ll see how far I can get, maybe 10 or 12 miles. That’ll be the decisive run.

Steps toward strides

Jeremiad: n A long, mournful complaint or lamentation.

I’m sure my two readers have long since given up, fed up with a long tale of woe I’ve spun about my stress fracture. Rest assured: The end is near.

Walking no longer hurts. Walking down stairs, I barely notice the spot where my bone is healing. And for the last week and a half, that was when discomfort most showed.

The healing continues, so I look forward with guarded optimism. Hell, I might even try a run this weekend. You can get back up to marathon fitness in two weeks, right?

Three weeks and counting

It’s three weeks to the day since my latest stress fracture, and recovery continues to trudge along. I now walk without much discomfort. For the first two weeks I would step wrong at least once a day, and get rewarded with shooting pain. Today, I made a painful misstep, but it had been two or three days since I’d done that. I can stand on the foot, but can’t yet hop.

Dancing as much as I did at a wedding this weekend probably didn’t help. But, I spent almost as much time recording video of girlie attempting the Cupid Shuffle as I did on the floor myself. I tried to balance fun and recovery, and think I did a good job.

I remain optimistic, mainly because by Thursday this last week the baseline pain went from a 2 or 3 on a scale of 1-10, to a 1. At this rate, I feel like I could attempt a run soon. We’ll see. Obviously, I want to err on the side of caution.

The Free Press Marathon sits anxiously ahead of me, three weeks from today.Three weeks. That’s not much time. I won’t hesitate to decide against running, but I can’t even think about that right now. Another long run would be nice, but I could even sacrifice that knowing my current fitness. So, unless I’m still injured the day before, I think I can still finish. Any time goals, of course, would be out of the question.

Three weeks is a long time without running. I miss it (and really needed it today after a rough weekend). But when I return, I’ll appreciate it that much more and hopefully be a smarter runner for it.

Oh, and here’s today’s reminder to donate. It’s quick, easy and tax-deductible. I apparently suck at fundraising, so even $10 would give me a huge ego boost.

Getting back out

Did a few small walks over the last few days to test out the sore foot. Sunday, I strolled around the block with girlie, slow and in foamy flip-flops. Went great. Monday, I did a mile walk around downtown on my break from work.  Overall, didn’t feel too bad. Foot felt a little tender at the end, but I attribute that to the heat and dress shoes.

Also did a mile today on break. The foot was a little sore after, but no more than Monday. I remain optimistic about chances for getting to the starting line of the Free Press Marathon.

Baby steps.

Icarus running

Um, yeah, so think I did it again. Only this time, not nearly as badly. “It” is a stress fracture.

During last Sunday’s long run, a planned 18-miler, I felt a sharp pain in my left foot just after mile 13. I stopped, tried again, stopped. Then I hobbled home cursing myself. Sure, I can train for and run a marathon in Vibram FiveFingers. Other people can, so why not me? Well, ask my third metatarsal.

The two people who read this blog may remember I got a stress fracture last summer running in Vibram KSOs. That led to several doctor visits and eventually a fitting for a boot that’d make Frankenstein’s monster green with envy. It also derailed plans to run the Detroit Free Press Marathon.

I vowed to not repeat the mistake I thought I made: ramping up too fast in the Vibrams, which I read everywhere can cause injury if not used carefully. I spent months building up to even beginning my marathon training, in KSOs then Bikilas. Either a) it wasn’t enough, or b) my poor foot bones aren’t cut out for both distance and super minimalist shoes. It could be both, I guess. I don’t know. I ran too close to the sun, after swearing not to, and got burned again.

Without a doctor’s diagnosis, I’m not 100 percent sure what I have now is a fracture. But, it sure feels like the pain I had last summer, and I’m 100 percent sure it sucks.

On the bright side, the injury doesn’t come close to the severity of the one last summer. Last summer, my foot blew up like a balloon with swelling the next day. I could barely stand, let alone walk, for weeks without sharp pain. This time, little swelling. I had a noticeable limp the day it happened (aggravated by calf pain in the other leg), and that continued into the next day. By Tuesday, I walked normally, albeit with discomfort. And that’s where I stand now.

It’s early to tell, but I don’t think this one’s going to keep me out of the race. I can stand on that foot and raise up onto my toes without much discomfort. That’s encouraging. Last summer, the doctor said I could run again when I could hop on the injured foot without pain. I hope that point comes in the next week or two. I’m fairly fit, so catching up with a couple long runs after getting back on the road should put me on track to at least finish.

In the meantime, I’m shopping for new shoes, and considering the New Balance Minimus Road which, despite its name, has quite a bit of padding for a low-fi shoe. There is something to the idea of stripping a shoe down to basics, but I need more padding for long distances and will relegate the Bikilas to short jaunts and cross training. Despite the injury potential, they have value, particularly for leg strength.

And taking a break can help me get a better grip on my fundraising for Team World Vision. Click here to donate.