Friday, August 30, 2013

Limping in the Mission (Again)

Today: 3
Present: 443
Count: 64

A week off barely helped my reaggravated Achilles. So I took it extra easy today, a really light jog around the Mission, mixing in some real estate diligence. Fortunately I made it through the run without much pain, but I can tell my leg is not even close to 100%.

I'm thinking that double day last Sunday wasn't a fantastic idea, but the flip side is that it was a reminder that I am not at full strength, and just because I can grit through 23 miles of running in a day doesn't mean its necessarily a good idea.

With 60 days to the marathon, I am going to back off the running to heal, working instead on strength for the next month. I know there is exactly a zero percent chance I am going to not leave it all out on the course in New York, so I may as well be as strong as possible. I'll push through the pain, it won't be a good idea, but I'm also not raising $3,500 from my friends and flying 3,000 miles to jog through Manhattan in the biggest road race in the world.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Double Days Are Here Again

Today: 6
Present: 440
Count: 63

Maybe not the best idea for a sore Achilles, but I met up with my friend Tyler this afternoon for a second run. He has been getting into running lately and lives down the street, but this is the first time we've run together since I moved to Potrero.

He led me through some of the neighborhood back roads, even onto some trails, then we plunged down through DogPatch to Terry Francois and out to the ballpark. The initial ups were pretty bad, my legs weren't thrilled with the idea of a second outing. But after a couple miles I settled in and reached back into my experience of running tired, and kept plodding.

I worked on my nose breathing, something you don't really want to tell your running partner when you've already run 17 miles, he's working hard, and you are diligently keeping your mouth closed to practice running without much oxygen.

We cut back along Mission Slough, past houseboats and through the wave of construction at Mission Bay. Then up De Haro doing my best not to be too chatty, powering through one of the steepest hills in the area.

The most annoying part about this Achilles problem is that rest of me is so damn fit. I go through periods where I lapse into unhealthiness and can feel a little bulge pushing over my waistline, but for the most part I am in really good shape. In many ways, the best shape of my life -- or certainly since I was a teenager. So when the Achilles shuts off and I grind up a hill, mellow breathing up what should burn your lungs, I tend to push it too hard and aggravate my sore leg. Its a frustrating cycle, but a new aspect of the mental side of running I'll have to learn to live with as the years meander on.

Sunday Tour de SF

Today: 17
Present: 434
Count: 62

I don't understand people who can't run alone, or who have to run with music. To each his own and all that, but I still don't get it. How better to bounce around your mind, explore the depths of your own soul, to truly get to know yourself than venturing off with nothing else but your own two feet and the will to keep them moving.

And no better way to get to know a city than to run around it. Through its quiet avenues, over its lonesome hills. Take in its vistas, see its people, feel its buzz. San Francisco lends itself to endurance running better than most cities, but that's the beauty of running: You cannot shape the trail, you have to run it.

The warmth of Potrero yielded to clouds as I crested Bernal Hill and descended into that no mans land between Bernal and Glen Park. Up and over San Jose on a pedestrian bridge I had only ever seen from below. A new route, blocks from one I'd run maybe a hundred times.

I crested Mount Davidson, slid down through St. Francis Woods, mansions of decades past when money connected these estates to downtown through a subway now long since gone. Down Sloat, my familiar path to the beach. Running along The Great Highway, you could barely make out the oil slick ankle biters through Ocean Beach mist, a perfect day for gentle long boarding at one of the world's most treacherous breaks.

Another right and I was into the Park, winding up past the buffaloes and hundreds of runners out for their morning jogs. Pass everyone, get passed by no one. This is my training mantra, hard to follow on these easy long runs -- especially when I'm supposed to be rehabbing.

My legs felt miserable, no spring, no juice. To be expected, given my erratic training of late, getting used to Potrero's steep climbs and a general lack of anything resembling consistency for the past couple months. Another running wonder, how you feel on any given day doesn't matter. You weave it into the run -- feeling lousy is just another chance to train your mind to run when you don't feel like it.

I started to tire towards the end of the Park, but found a pony tail to chase down through the panhandle. She ran well, and we coasted at six-minute pace along the gentle slope.

I curtailed my run for the sake of expediency, catching up with Luchi and Jess at IndyMart, a local craft fair in the Potrero Flats where Jess was setting up to sell clothes. I grabbed the keys, bolt cutters from the office to use on the front fence which would come out later in the day, and drove home.

Not my fastest 17 miles but my Achilles survived, sore but not hurting. The only problem with the run is that it reminded me how much I love being out there for hours on end, getting to know myself. And how when I can't do that, the rest of my life suffers.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Looping Bernal

Today: 5
Present: 417
Count: 61

San Francisco is not a city conducive for nice, easy runs. At least not the southern part. Plenty of jogging happens over in the Marina, where eye candy is bountiful and the way is flat.

But over here, its just not that easy to find a flat run save fighting through the Mission crowds.

Luchi and I climbed Bernal Hill, my first time back since moving. And I remembered why I enjoyed running up there so much. Stunning views, quiet streets and friendly people. We looped twice and wove back through east Bernal, the hidden 'hood nestled against a hillside perched above 101.

Good to be back home, if even for a couple loops.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pier Buzzing

Today: 11
Present: 412
Count: 60

From my (thankfully) limited experience, the hardest thing about coming back from an injury is not trying to come back too early. You go out and feel OK, which compared to limping feels amazing and you think you haven't lost a step.

So you buzz piers on a Tuesday morning thinking six minute miles and lactate threshold are one in the same. And you wake up the next morning with sore calves. Go figure.

But man was it worth it.

Every once in a while you have an epiphany on a run. It could be about running, or maybe something entirely different. Maybe you solve a riddle at work or realize something that makes you love your wife even more than you already do.

I learned this year what a lactate threshold is. Since I don't understand science, I most easily understand it as the point at which you start breathing hard. More technically, its the maximum pace at which you can run aerobically and thus sustain for a long(ish) period of time. More specifically, its your marathon pace.

And if San Francisco is to be the judge, my marathon pace is around 6:50. But running along those piers, dodging tourists in the morning and for the first time in weeks feeling like I was out on a real run, I started to wonder if that really was my lactate threshold. Or if I was just being a pussy.

So I started pushing it. And what do you know -- I clicked off four or five miles sub 6:30 and at one point found myself cruising comfortably at just above 6:00. I've run that fast for an extended period before, during a 10k and half marathon. But not during a training run. Not for that long.

And I felt great. I felt smooth. I focused on my form, on running without effort. Sure, I was pretty tired when I mounted 20th Street on the way back home, but I could have kept going. And if I could keep my mind on track, who knows how much further I could have gone.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hill Charging in the New 'Hood

Today: 4
Present: 401
Count: 59

If you live and run in San Francisco, and you don't embrace the hills, why bother? I mean sure, weaving through tourists on the Embarcadero is great, but if you fail to take advantage of our peaks and valleys you're denying yourself all sorts of freely available running pain pleasure. Not to mention, its a damn good workout and makes running the flats seem like downhill.

Moving from Bernal to Potrero, I made a few trades. The biggest downgrade for me is not having the Bernal Hill trails just outside my front door. A single track proving ground, the narrow, slanted trails teetering on the edge of the park make your average single track feel like a fire trail. And while I certainly did run hills in Bernal, the narrow, windy, steep roads just never tempted me to charge.

Potrero is a different animal, almost begging you to charge. Wide streets, runways up and down.

I started with Vermont Street, the south side's answer to Lombard and the real twistiest street in the world. But its short and just when you get going, its done. Meanwhile the Potrero grid on all four sides of the hill has nearly endless hill charging options. So I picked one off the Strava segment map and went after it.

20th Street from DogPatch to the top is a true urban charge. You immediately set off on a freeway overpass, cars whizzing below just past the three-foot guardrail. Not too steep, its quite runnable and even offers a little flat midway through. But then the charge begins.

Its only two blocks, but from the freeway to Mississippi is really steep. And when you foolishly pick the mid-afternoon west wind to run into when trying to take the course record, its uphill into the wind all the way and a real test of the strong mind. That last block is like running up stairs, but on the road, clocking in at a more than 45% grade.

I hit the top and my lungs burned ... for the next 10 minutes.

Hill charging is one of those things you kind of don't want to think about. Because if you do, you'll stop. So I try not to think too much about the climbs until I start them. And certainly not when I drive them.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

To The Park

Today: 14
Present: 397
Count: 58

With a few good, painless runs under my belt, an easy jog out to Golden Gate Park and back with Maura sounded like the perfect way to test my legs. My dad and I had talked about doing a trail run at Diablo in mid-September, but I had held off on signing up until I knew I could do it.

I don't exactly have a 9-minute pace gear, but it still felt great to just go out and run for a couple hours. We wove our way through the Mission, up the Wiggle through the Haight and into the Park.

Living in the southern part of the city, running in the Park is a rare event. Too rare. Wide streets, trees and quiet winds, Golden Gate Park is a road runners paradise. We hit the Bison and headed for home. Downhill, all the way.

Its on these runs I get to practice my form, visualizing the cotton ball on the needle, hips drifting back and forth, engaging the core as the engine. Relax the legs, let your chi do the work.

I felt the run for the next day and into the following, but without pain and without undue soreness, I signed up for the half marathon up and down Diablo.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Potrero-DP Loop With Luchi

Today: 5
Present: 383
Count: 57

Half a mile from my new house is the real twistiest street in America. But the tourists don't flock to Vermont Street by the freeway, cracked concrete replacing adorable red brick along the curves. Where I am King of the Mountain.

Hit the liquor store at 23rd and go. Steep but gradual to a Kansas Street plateau, SF Gen to the west and racing cars below. Its far from serene, true urban racing. Totally runnable, my GAP dips towards four minutes as I bend left, catch my breath and ready for the climb.

I hit the stairs laboring, knowing that I have a few sets yet before the burning sets in. Maybe I'm not pushing it hard enough. But this is not a heavily trafficked route and if someone has run this faster than me, all the better and I'll get 'em next time.

I dragged Luchi out to Pier 70, weaving in and out of abandoned factories and warehouse where developers, neighbors and the city do battle over how one of the city's last wasted waterfronts will be transformed. A decade from now, I'll fight through crowds for the privilege of a glimpse of the water. But for now, I own these quiet streets, where the only thing filling the air are visions of the future, scraps of metal and broken windows evolving into glittering towers.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Morning Paper

Today: 5
Present: 378
Count: 56

No matter how infrequently I actually do it, there are few better ways to start a day than a run. It doesnt't have to be far or fast, just getting out into the wind and shaking out the kinks puts me in the right state of mind to face the day. I leave on my own terms, not dictated by morning emails or weekend drama.

My sister Lisa, a budding mindfulness guru, once advised that rather than waking up each morning and immediately reaching for email, write down three goals for the day. Take control, rather than allowing the wants and needs of others dictate your priorities.

One of the joys of running is complete control. You can speed up, slow down, mail it in or push yourself to the limit. There isn't anyone else making those decisions. You answer to no one but yourself and get all the blame, all the credit. There are of course coaches, race crew, volunteers and supportive spouses, but out on the course, up in the hills you are truly your own master. Will, fighting against pain, embracing the hurt and testing your mettle.

You find out what you're made of, how tough you really are. Or you can just skip the coffee and lace up.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

First Hard Run in Way Too Long

Today: 6
Present: 374
Count: 55

Last weekend at the Giants race, 8-minute pace has never felt so good. Jogging over with Luchi I felt tight, uneasy. But when I fell in line with Maura, running loose, thinking about something other than my Achilles, I felt right again.

So after a solid four miles with no pain, I took off after this afternoon on a run. A real run. Easy first mile to warm up and then I picked it up. Tailwind didn't hurt and I cruised to Terry Francois at sub-seven pace for the first time in way too long. Real muscles, unused in weeks, groaned to life. I felt smooth, even effortless as accumulated rest looked for release.

I looped AT&T and, not wanting to push it too far too fast too early, doubled back through Soma on a stoplight run of sorts home to Potrero. Charging up Rincon Hill, I knew I was back. Still not 100%, still not at full strength but I was back. I can run again.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Food is For the Weak

Today: 4
Present: 368
Count: 54

I ran today with no pain. No tightness, except for the very top of the hill. I went up a hill. I went down. And I didn't have any pain. I won't say I'm back, but I am getting there. Amazing what a little rest, ice and Advil can do. Or maybe its just being midway through a juice cleanse that's dulled all my senses.

I'm still getting used to routes from the new house -- rough start near the freeway unless I want to launch straight up the hill. The hill would be fine, and will be, but right now I am still in slow warm-up mode so need to start on the flats.

I hit the Mission grid and wove my way to Harrison, following the bike path up to 17th Street and out under the freeway. I picked up the pace a bit, remembering my run Sunday and how faster actually felt better. My legs were a bit stiff and had no spring, but I had no pain. So I couldn't care less. Sailing down 17th, marathon visions flashed by, how good I felt that late in the race. How empty the streets were.

I hadn't expected to feel this good so didn't really have a plan for getting back. The safe route would be to loop all the way around Potrero, cruise up through DogPatch then skirt Cesar Chavez back home. Not terribly scenic, but flat and easy on the Achilles.

So I decided to go straight up over the hill. I'm hitting the trails tomorrow with KJ for some film shooting in Marin, and I wanted to see what I had. Turns out, more than I thought I did. My leg tightened up a bit at the top, but in general felt great. My legs even felt moderately strong.

Its good to be back.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Giants Race Support Crew

Today: 7
Present: 364
Count: 53

Chilly race day, dropped Maura off near the starting line at 6:30am. I wasn't racing today -- pulled crew and cheering duty. Cloudy, mid-50s: perfect running weather. I hustled back home to pick up Luchi, Maura's brother, so we could drop the car off near the finish line and run down Embarcadero to meet her on the way back.

Warming up with a slow jog, the Achilles felt good. But it was cold, and as I picked it up a bit passing 10k finishers at AT&T, it started to tighten up and I felt a tinge of pain. Crap. I backed it off, focusing on my form. It felt a bit better so I kept going, further than I had originally planned.

The one blessing in disguise of a bum Achilles is that it really makes me focus on running correctly, minimizing impact.

I sent Luchi off on his own around Pier 39, expecting to walk for a while waiting for him to track Maura down, turn around and run with her back towards the finish. They arrived sooner than expected -- typical Maura, one month into training and already trying to beat her PR. I can't say I blame her though, may as well.

I fell in stride and promptly forgot about my sore Achilles. Amazing what a little race day adrenaline will do, even if you're not racing. Maura was holding a strong pace, even at mile 11. I was really proud. I know exactly how you feel at that point and it isn't good. She asked me to stay ahead of her so she could follow, which I was happy to do. My leg felt great. No pain, no tightness. Its as if picking up the pace a bit actually helped. It didn't hurt to be back in the pack again.

We strode along the Embarcadero and I felt like I was escorting a celebrity. Me running point, Luchi behind (really he was struggling to keep up after a year of traveling and eating his way through South America). Luchi and I peeled off just before the runners entered the stadium. And as we stood for a while cheering on the finishers, I witnessed a strange incident.

The finish being inside the stadium, security was pretty tight getting in. They were checking bibs on the runners as they went past and sure enough, a girl didn't have her bib. And they wouldn't let her in. She had her race shirt, had clearly run the whole race but they wouldn't let her finish. 100 yards from the end. She could literally see the finish line.

She pleaded. She had lost the bib. She begged. She cried. A lot. But they wouldn't let her in.

And even though most of me wanted them to let her in (I even jeered the security guard a bit), I get it. He was just doing his job, and more to the point, after Boston you just can't break the rules. Its a sad commentary on the world we live in, but its the only one we've got.

She came back 10 minutes later with a fresh bib, flashed it in the security guard's face (as is her right), and sped off to the finish line. I heard the guard later tell a colleague, "I made a girl cry, man. I made a girl cry." But ultimately he did the right thing, as much as I hate to say it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Keep the Limp Away

Today: 4
Present: 357
Count: 52

I feel like I've turned a corner with my Achilles. Ran almost four miles today without pain. Tightness is still there, but not pain.

I took it easy on a stoplight run around the Mission, scoping our properties along the way. Cruising past the Napper, our next potential target, I passed three French tourists in full backpack traveling gear, having clearly just taken Bart in from SFO. This on 24th Street and South Van Ness. The neighborhood is moving at warp speed, and we are right in the middle of it.