Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Adjusting Easy Training: Running the Right Kind of Easy

One thing runners often err on is their easy pace. They run a great workout, average 7:00 pace per mile, and then come back the next day and run 9:00 minute miles in recovery. This type of training, something I would never condone as a coach (click here for more information on coaching).

So why is the establishment of such pacing essential? Why can’t one just go out and run without giving the pace a thought? The fact of the matter is, most articles that cover the plateau effect, where a runner sees diminishing growth in their performance and fitness, comes from the fact that the spend too much time running too easy. They are capable of running at 8:30 pace for a long, long time, but because 8:30 requires an alteration of their comfort zone, they run 9:30 pace and then complain that their 5k time will not improve. This is not to say that running easy is not recommended, in fact it is the majority of your weekly miles, but what is important is to understand that your easy pace, the pace you run long runs in, warm-ups, cool downs, and steady runs in, needs to be at a level that also creates and promotes fitness.

Skora Bases
With this in mind, consider converting your easy pace over to something that meets the above criteria, something that is not easy but easy enough not to overstress the system. Our legs need to incur stress during these runs, but not workout stress. I place runners all over on E runs based on their goals and adjust this pace as they improve. Currently, I have an easy pace of 8:01 per mile. Not too fast, but most definitely not slow (depending on the runner that is, I make all of these judgmental statements about myself). This pace will elevate my performance in a multitude of distances and ultimately allow for a faster easy pace.

Now I have a per run goal, a need for all runners, and a way to avoid junk miles. This pace is to be replicated over the course of runs, whether I feel fresh, fast, and thus able to go, or if I am beat up from a quality workout. This is to apply a proper amount of stress to my system, to force my system to adapt, and in doing so, force my overall level of fitness to increase. Off course, I have to work into it. Some days this effort comes easy, others I struggle, but my goal is to hit this mark more often than not a per run average (regular runs not workouts). As a runner adapts and becomes more serious, such training should be taken into account.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The 50 Word Experiment

In an effort to both improve my voice and find more topics to consider, I have ventured into the avenue of microfiction or nanofiction or ridiculously short fiction. Do such titles even matter? The point is, I pulled a card out of an old playbook that one of my college writing instructors had—he had suggested that we bring in stories of the following lengths: 50, 100, 250, 500 words, at random, throughout the year. We could just drop them in, workshop them in five minutes, and have a pleasant experience. I never took advantage of his plea, but ventured down this road many times afterwards.

In February, I started a series of flash fiction pieces, all aiming to be 500 words or less, all focus on a similar topic (to be omitted until the collection is finished). Then, a couple weeks ago, I challenged a writing friend to produce four viable 50 word stories in the next week. He did, so did I, but he has gone to town with them, creating a series of them revolving around Richard Nixon. Yes, that Nixon, and they work. So why do this? Why limit yourself?

First off the experience is invigorating. You have to cram a meaningful fiction experience into a short space. Much like I often discuss with running economy, you have to have an economy of language. Every word counts, senseless lines, tags, and articles must be excised. Dialogue must be pointed, characterizing. Overarching themes have to be expertly placed so as not to punch the reader in face and turn them off. Characters must still be complete and round, but without pages of characterizing exposition. You debate over commas, repetition, and stylization. Repeat an adjective or verb and it will be glaring. Use an empty word and it will irk you to no end.  In the end, these pieces may be the seeds of future growth, seeds that grow into something larger and more complete, or they may stand on their own, but they are completed pieces.

Adding to the appeal comes today’s society in general. People still like to read, but often lack the time to complete novels in a timely manner or tackle longer short stories, especially since the short story genre does not lend itself to segmented reading. It is hard to stop midstream without having to restart a story. Fiction of the 500 word variety or less is single serving by nature. You can read it on your phone without scrolling. Adding to these facts, the genre allows the writer to fine tune their abilities, to find a voice, which is what I’m trying to do again. Most of my limited publications have been short, 175-1000 words in length, and thus the experiment is twofold, I seek to refine and produce.

If you have taken the time to read this piece, I challenge you to create your own 50 word stories. No more than 50, less is acceptable, and either email them my way for conversation or post them as a comment thread. You will be pleased with the result.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Listening to Your Body

With multiple races scheduled for the next few months, I have recently upped the intensity of workouts, working to add both pace and mileage in an effort to convert a successful season of training for track (while I coached it) into a race season worth remembering. Yet the introduction of a stressor has a dark side. As an athlete, you want to improve, so you introduce stress into your regime, forcing your body to adapt and thus improving your performance. But each new agent of change can attack and destroy your body, leaving you injured and on the sideline. If you add too much, too soon, you can break down. If you induce additional change before your body has adapted to the previous change, you can fall apart. Thus you walk a fine line between achievement and facing the dark side of increased training loads.

In terms of my increased training load, I found injury, something that for the most part has eluded me. I woke up on a Friday with pain on the top of my foot, extending down to my toes, pain that grew worse with toe flexion and the application of any shoe. It abated as the day went on, and I snuck out for a quick five miles, feeling little to no pain during a speed workout. The injury was not gait changing, and thus I felt I could run through it and did. I should have listened to my body or even the advice of one of my Skora Teammates.

Saturday offered a different feeling. During a morning run, the foot refused to loosen up, it offered no give, instead aching, forcing my foot to slide a little. My gait felt off—things were not right. This was a problem. I was actually forced to limp throughout the day and entered into an icing regimen. I should have slept in on Saturday, rested my foot, and put myself on the path to healing, instead I exacerbated the problem.

So I was forced to ask myself a question: go on the 15 mile run scheduled for Sunday or take the day off? Hit the road on Monday or do the same? I listened to my body and skipped Sunday, taking it easy, icing frequently, and working to massage the kinks out of my legs. I want to run the race schedule I have planned. I want to have success. Pushing myself now, could result in further, worse injury, thus I need to be focused and pay attention.

I did the same Monday, skipping my run, and waited until rather late in the day on Tuesday before endeavoring out, keeping my movements mostly to soft surfaces and off of the roads. As the two days passed, the foot felt better, my walking became more normal, and I became antsy. Should I have run on Tuesday? Probably not, but the injury ceased to be gait changing and form was my focus, landing patterns had to feel normal or I would stop at any time. In the end, the goal is achieve, but now I must alter my plan. My body has spoken, something did not work, thus I need to listen to it, examine my stressors, my sleep patterns (I had a horrible few nights leading into the injury), my hangnails, and the other indicators that my body is breaking down. In the end, a training plan matters, but listening to your body matters more in order to achieve success.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Find a Topic in Fiction Writing

One of the more enjoyable moments of writing fiction comes in exploring a topic. Finding a topic is just plain fun—you get that spark, that idea, and then take the need to flush it out and explore it to the written page. With that in mind, I like to write about real life, but not typically the everyday events, but rather the weird and the strange—the things that occur in Florida. Florida offers a rich selection of the odd and perplexing—flesh eating drug addicts, priests who induce overseas riots by threatening to burn the Koran, people who wrestle alligators, that time it rained iguanas in Miami (freak cold snap forced them into a point of stasis and they fell out of trees and off houses, cleanup crews were startled when they sprang back to life hours later, jumping out of pickup trucks into traffic), and of course the large shipment of cocaine that washed up on shore during a storm just yesterday (5/3/13). These things are splendid fodder for writing, but only a small means to an overall end.

In writing fiction, the end (in theory) is partially a well-constructed, entertaining and stimulating story. At the same time, a writer is often exploring events of his own life, coming to grips with the bumps in the road, the aging process, the inevitability of death, or getting a hangnail. As one writes about the dangers of bath salts, they could be exploring their indecisive nature or their need to rebel against the powers that be. Drug induced Zombies are only the orifice used to arrive at a destination, a place that they may not have even set out to explore.

This whole ramble sounds a bit cheesy right now, but my overall thesis rests in the idea that writers need to be interested in, entranced by, and familiar with their topic. Familiarity can come from research, but either throw experience or Google, they need to understand what they are talking about. Thus they should pick the topics that scare, disgust, or irk the reader, and present them in such a way that the reader will not abjectly run from them, but rather will cling to them in squeamish delight. Entertain, inform, explore—write about Floridians.

Side note: My short piece, "So Much Like You," will appear in the Fall issue of Emerge Literary Journal.  The flash fiction deals with the mental trauma of losing a limb. Another short work, "Cow Dog and Swift" has been accepted by Fiction Southeast for one of their next two issues. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Altra Zero Drop One Shoe Review

I have had my eye on Altra Zero Drop from the company’s beginning, but I have always been hesitant to pull the trigger on one of their models. As I’ve written about before, I have been a minimalist runner for a few years, seeking flexibility first, ground feel second, and concentrating on zero drop last due to the fact that I have been a forefoot lander my whole life. Unless I’m exhausted, heel strike has never been a thought or issue. For a few years I used a rotation between Nike Free Runs, Merrell Trail Gloves, and Vibram Five Fingers Bikila, but I’ve been searching for a full answer. Around November of 2012, I made the decision to dump the Nikes on eBay and work on going Zero Drop all the time. Today my primary shoe rotation includes the Skora Form, which gets the bulk of my miles, the Skora Core, which I use for speed work, and now the Altra One, which I use for road runs and recovery.

Why hadn’t I pulled the trigger? At first they were a hard shoe to nail down and put your foot in, plus they had a reputation for running small (the One fits true to size). Another part of the issue was vanity. Altra had yet to make a shoe that piqued my interest stylistically. I loved the idea of a wide toe box, could deal with the odd look it provided, but I wanted the rest of the shoe to have a dose of swag. Enter the One—this shoe looks the part, a bright lime green color composed of mesh that gives excellent breathability, a fact I actively seek out in Florida. Next I had apprehension over flexibility, especially after having a negative experience when I tried Newton Running out (the shoes were too rigid for my tastes).
Flexibility was the first feature I looked for when I left traditional shoes, and it allowed me to run primarily injury free once I acclimated. While the One doesn’t flex as easily as my Skora models or the Nike Frees, the shoe has a good amount of give, moving the way it should and bending as I go. The shoe does not move as one box, but in sections, just as a foot does. The lightweight, racing design (under 8 oz) adds to the shoe’s flex, for the shoe is Altra’s racing model. All this in mind, I ended up with a pair.
So how does the One perform? In terms of road running, I was very impressed. I use this shoe when my feet are sore and worn down. The padding, a stack height of 18mm, gives them a reprieve and a chance to aid my recovery. They are a shoe of choice for one run on days I run multiple times. The padding took some getting used to, and on my first run, I almost felt constrained by the lack of road feel—it is there, but not to the degree I was used to. Yet, my legs felt good, there was no random pain, no undue side effects, and all in all, the run went well. As I worked to incorporate the shoe in, I grew to enjoy a day of less feel, a day to get my feet back. At the same time, I loved putting my Skora’s back on, to feel the ground again. I can’t describe why the juxtaposition feels so good, it just does.
In terms of speed, I’ve used the One for multiple Tempo workouts, and a couple interval based treks. Impact wise, the shoe flexes, allowing my forefoot to land and my heel to the kiss the ground. The shoe has a bulkier feel than my other models, a fact that can be attributed to their build—they are a racing flat, not a foot glove—but you can still move in it. They feel fast, which is a darn good thing considering they are a racing model. I’m still reluctant to take it on the track, a surface where if I don’t use spikes, I want a shoe that hugs my foot like a glove, and with the numbed ground feel I would avoid the trails, but if you are a road runner, one who wants to run fast, try this shoe out.

  1. The patented Altra Zero Drop toe box. They make a toe box that is wide, spacey, and foot shaped. Your toes are not to touch, are not to crammed together, and I often use one of their graphics, one showing the x-ray of a foot in Altra shoes and one without to illustrate the differences in conventional versus minimal, realistically shaped toe boxes.
  2. A great zero drop shoe for those who want to have some padding under their feet. Typically I run in shoes with a lot ground feel—these are not those shoes. They are made for road running, have solid flexibility, but they do not push every pebble, stick, or bump into your foot. If you want a soft ride with a zero drop experience, this model is for you.
  3. At $99, this shoe is very affordable. I am unsure on total durability, and typically shoes with this style of padding tend to fade away around 400-500 miles.
  1. The tongue drives me nuts. It is composed of a thin fabric and pulling on or adjusting it seems to have an adverse effect on the cloth at the toe of the shoe, pulling it a bit taunt. 
  2.   In with the tongue, it took a few runs before the lacing felt comfortable. I like a tight shoe, but this shoe doesn’t conform to foot easily, thus I often felt that I laced them too tightly and would have to spend time adjusting the lacing system. On one run I had to stop and loosen them completely do to pain on the top of the foot. A longer run in them resulted in a small bruising of the top of my foot.
  3. Lack of ground feel. You have very little, thus keep this shoe on the road and off the trails. I know I listed this as both a positive and negative, but it is. 
  4. Rain. In a few recent rain runs, the shoe slipped a lot, you could hear it not holding on the way it should and my stride felt off.
  5. The turn my feet green, as in the dye leaks off of them into my skin. That cannot be good.