Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Finding My Running Coach

For about as long as I remember, I've wanted to be a coach. I think it goes back to my time in middle school when I had a great baseball and basketball coach named Chuck Schierer, a guy who just by being himself and believing in me made a big impact on my life.

Mr. Schierer was a pretty chill guy who at one time held the record at the University of Illinois for the highest career batting average. I think he liked "projects", which was why I think he took a particular interest in me. I've always been a good athlete but just didn't always have the confidence to go with it.

At the start of one basketball season, I was one of the last guys on the bench. In fact, we had more players than uniforms, so every two games I had to give up my jersey to another boy and watch the game from the stands. But Mr. Schierer noticed that I always hustled and I always played hard given the opportunity, so he molded me into a defensive stopper and by the end of the season I wasn't starting but was playing more minutes than anyone on the team.

Later on, during baseball season, he helped turn me into a pretty good outfielder and our team won a conference championship. What I got from my time with him was that you give everyone a chance, especially the kids that want to work hard.

Though I didn't become a high school basketball coach like I had hoped back in the day, I've coached baseball, basketball and track over the last several years, and have enjoyed every minute. Like Coach Schierer, I like taking kids who have some rough edges and helping them find their potential.

As my running career has progressed, I've thought of becoming a running coach. I enjoy reading about that aspect of the sport, and would love to help people who have goals to meet them. I'm in the middle of the long process of getting certified -- by the way, holy crap that stuff is expensive! -- and hope to focus on middle distance running (like the 800 and mile) for younger kids, and half-marathon/marathon training in adults.

I feel confident that I could be a good coach thanks to my own personal experiences, as well as the reading, research and discussions I've had with high level runners. I believe in certain theories and tenants that have worked for others, but in the end I would coach people the way they need to be coached, using a more free-flowing training program that adapts to their strengths while improving their weaknesses.

I'm really a believer in adjusting on the fly and not handing someone a complete schedule from beginning to end, instead chopping the training cycle time into blocks and adjusting from there. One way doesn't work for everyone. For example, in the past I've coached basketball teams that for some reason or another just couldn't score. While I would prefer the game played at a quick pace with lots of scoring opportunities, my team couldn't work that way. We focused on defense and while we didn't win a lot of games, we were competitive and gave ourselves a chance to win. Running is no different.

So just the other day, I decided to take on my first client.


I decided that I am going to coach myself for the St. Jude Marathon in December. I am going to write my own program while making adjustments along the way. Because my trip to Italy in October will make long runs on two weekends hard, I'm going with a 20-week program broken down into four different five-week segments. I have a general outline as to how I want to work the whole program, but after each block I'll make adjustments to the next block as I see fit.

With the first week of training starting on 7/20, I'll share my thoughts and ideas as time rolls closer. If at any time you like what you are reading and would like to join in on the project, I'd be more than happy to have you! It would truly be a leap of faith, I know, but if someone wants to join me in the lab for this, I'd welcome you! I truly think I can make people better runners while enjoying their running more than ever.

I'm excited, and will definitely be blogging a lot about this experience. I hope you join me!

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Visit to the Podiatrist

When it comes to my running, I'm a bit stubborn, especially when it comes to injuries. I've been fortunate that in my time running most of my aches and pains have been taken care of by rest, a couple of chiropractic adjustments or a new pair of shoes.

But lately I've had one that just won't go away. When I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2013 the uneven streets did a real number on the Achilles tendons in both of my ankles. The pain has been off and on since then, so I've just run through it and dealt with it, because it didn't bother me THAT much.

As I've increased my mileage this year -- or, more to the point, increased the frequency of my running -- the pain just seemed to hang around longer, and even hurt when I'd pinch the tendon with my fingers. It seems like I'm good for about three miles or so, but longer than that and my body starts compensating in different ways, the Achilles in my right leg gets really sore, and my stride gets short and choppy.

So, for the first time, I made an appointment with a doctor for what appears to be my first real running injury. When Matt was having foot problems his senior year of high school, his coach suggested we go see Dr. O'Brian, a podiatrist and surgeon in Roselle. It didn't take long for him to get Matt back up and running well, so I hoped he could do the same for me.

Dr. O'Brian is a true running doctor...he was once a runner himself and specializes in running injuries. When you enter his office, his waiting room is full of signed pictures and articles from local runners (mostly high school and college runners) that he has helped during his career. Even more impressive is one wall that is completely dedicated to All-Americans, as close to 20 certificates adorn the space.

I was ushered into a waiting room, and Dr. O'Brian arrived a few minutes later. I don't know how much he runs now (he's in his 60s), but he is still slightly built and looks to be in great shape. He first looked at my shoes and then began probing my feet and ankles.

What I like about him is that he is very thorough, he takes the time to ask a lot of questions, and spent a lot of time explaining the anatomy of an Achilles. I know of a few friends who have torn theirs and expressed my concerns about the same thing happening to me. He said the crazy thing about the Achilles is that often times there is no rhyme or reason as to how or why it tears.

He told me that he recently did surgery on a girl who was lining up for the final 400 meter race of her high school career, and her Achilles popped as she pushed out of the block. His own daughter tore hers running around the house playing with her cat. Kind of crazy!

One of the more interesting things he did is he had me stand flat on the floor. The bones in our feet have an alignment where each bone is in a perfect position and the entire foot is working together. Unfortunately, most of us can't position our feet this way! In my case, my hips are a bit misaligned and my right foot pronates, which isn't the most efficient way of doing things.

So he went to work on a homemade set of orthotics for me. Taking a leather insert and using some foam, he carefully cut the foam with a knife and even added a lift in my right shoe to help with my hip alignment. They feel a bit weird but I've worn my shoes around today and I feel like I'm getting used to them. Actually my Achilles feels better!

He also gave me some stretches, some hot/cold therapy stuff and explained an idea to me that I hadn't thought of before. He said that as we age, the amount of maintenance it takes to keep running goes up, so that looking at it as a whole, the stuff we need to do to keep running: the stretching, injury prevention, sleep, nutrition, etc. takes on just as much -- if not more -- importance than the running itself. That certainly makes sense to me.

I went for a run tonight with the new inserts and didn't feel a huge difference in my Achilles -- it will probably take a bit to stretch it out and the soreness go away -- but I did feel more stable and everything else felt better! I'm going to really try and be vigilant with this as I'd like to have felt like I made progress by the time I start St. Jude Marathon training in the next few weeks.

It's a start, and I feel like I'm on the right track!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tuesday Tidbits

Hey there! I hope everyone had a great weekend, especially you dads...I hope you enjoyed your day! Mine was a lot of fun, I took Kevin to paintball camp in Wisconsin and then spent the day with Darcy's family at her brother Adam's house. We ended up playing some soccer in the back yard, I hadn't played soccer in years but it was so much fun.

With Kev going to camp I spent Saturday night with my guys. We went bowling (I rolled a 152!) and did some hitting in the batting cages...we wanted to go karting -- we love karting -- but there were some intermittent showers in the area and the track was never dry enough. Bummer. Oh well, we ended up going to dinner and having a great night.

By far being a dad is the hardest thing I've ever done, but nothing in this world has ever brought me so much joy. Seeing the people my boys have become just makes me so proud. Here are a couple of photos of us: the first picture is the three of us at the Indy 500 last month, and the second is the first picture of us together, taken in September, 2000. It's crazy how those little boys have grown into men right in front of my eyes!

Here are a few other things I have on my mind!

*I made an executive decision Saturday and decided to enter the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis on Dec. 5. Darcy had been talking to Brent, who I ran the Viking Half Marathon with back in March, and he had committed to the marathon, so after a few minutes of thought I decided to do the same!

I hadn't planned on running another marathon until next fall, but I'm feeling better about my weight and my running and times are slowly improving, so I thought it might be a good time to run another one. Plus, it seems for the most part the temperature is near perfect (the average high is somewhere around 53), which makes it a great race to run. I liked Memphis a lot when I spent an afternoon there back in March, and am looking forward to seeing more of the city.

*Speaking of weight loss...I'm down about 15 pounds this month (30 if you go back to my heaviest point a little more than a year ago) and am feeling lots better. I also scored a small victory over the weekend when I was trying on some clothes, as I fit comfortably into 36-inch waist shorts and bought an XL shirt. I'm also down two holes in my belt! People are also starting to notice and I'm getting some nice compliments, which is great too. My goal is to be down 50 pounds by the time we go to Italy in October.

*Vacation! I'm lucky that I have been at my job for close to 18 years and I have gobs and gobs of vacation time. In fact, right now I'm sitting on just under seven weeks! During the summer I mostly take my days in onesy-twosy fashion and use longer stretches for when we travel.

Still, over the last couple of trips I have learned a few things about how to enjoy running while on vacation. I'll be sharing those sometime over the course of the next few days as a guest blogger on fellow runner Carlee Padot McClurg. Carlee threw out an invite on Twitter and I accepted to add some content while she's on vacation. I'm looking forward to it, and will shout it out when it drops.

Don't forget to look for Two-Minute Tuesday later on...I'm going to talk about how to handle the heat of summer running!

Friday, June 19, 2015

I've Been Enjoying Myself Lately!

In my past running life, I was a sort of get-off-my-lawn person when it came to my running. Yeah, I hate to admit it. While I was never fast, I considered myself "serious", the type of person who went on training runs and went to races without engaging in the shenanigans many others did.

Needless to say, I didn't have many friends.

As you can tell if you follow my blog or social media feeds, I've changed my ways, and I've enjoyed it a lot more too. This running thing is just way better when we are doing it together, isn't it?

Over the last several weeks I've been taking that to heart more than ever. Part of it is because I've had a couple of nagging Achilles problems -- which I'm seeing a podiatrist about next week -- but also because I'm not really "training" for anything right now. While there are a couple of 5K's in July that I'm aiming for, I'm just focusing on base runs right now, with plans of doing some faster stuff in the next week or two.

It's been a really fun, relaxing time, and I'm enjoying my running a lot. Not necessarily the heat, mind you, but I'm feeling motivated a lot more and look forward to getting out every day. Which has been nice.

Most of my runs have been the run/walk variety, where I'm mixing in a little of both. It's a bit of a change from the way I normally (or sometimes stubbornly) do my runs, but I've liked it. I've even come up with a new workout, which I call the "Oakenfold". That's where I take an hour-long podcast from the techno DJ Paul Oakenfold and I run during one song and walk during the next.

I actually think I stumbled onto what could be a pretty hard workout if you run the whole thing. It would end up like a fartlek or speedwork session, where you run hard during one song and jog slowly during the next. I can't wait to try it!

It's also given me time to stop and enjoy things a little bit too. I've posted a lot more mid-run selfies than I ever have before, including this one from the other day. Along one of my routes is a railroad bridge that goes over the path, so I climbed up there to check out the view. Pretty cool, huh?

I've taken a few pictures in a few different places, but I guess you'll need to follow me on social media to see them!

I also think in a way this little break has been good for my running, too. While it has at times been a struggle in the heat -- I'm not great in the heat -- I went on a run last night after dark that was just fantastic. It was a 4-mile "Oakenfold" run (I'm telling ya, it's a workout I could start digging!) and the conditions were really cool, the humidity was down and it was very, very dark!

During the time I was running I was going really hard and felt really racy. I'm not sure what my pace was because I wasn't on the clock -- oh yeah, I should mention I'm not worrying about time or pace either -- but it felt a lot quicker than it had been in quite some time.

I'm realizing during this that it's something that everyone should try every so often. Sometimes we get so focused on goal races, or jump right from training from one race to the next, that we forget why we do this in the first place. Some people are just in that training/racing mode all of the time, and that sounds more like work than fun. I'm realizing more and more that the less seriously I take myself, the better runner I could possibly be.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Why I Love Running

The other day I was on a run through Hawk Hollow and was descending the huge hill that sits in the middle of the path. Coming up the other way was a guy doing hill repeats, and he was hammering it.

He was also fast, and looked the part, running in just a pair of shorts, lean, tanned and with epic abs. As we passed each other I gave him a smile and a wave, and he responded with a bit of a nod. Nothing much, but understandable given the pain he was probably in.

It was at that moment that I realized that he and I were no different. Just like you and I are no different, and Mo Farah is no different from the rest of us. The beauty of running is that it is such a singular thing that no matter how fast or slow we are, how many miles we run, or where in the world we are, we are all the same.

It's the beauty of the sport, and it is what makes running so unique and so inclusive. Most sports aren't like this. Like golf, for example...I have played all my life and at one time was pretty good, but nowadays breaking 90 would be a great day. My brother, meanwhile, is a club pro who has a plus-handicap (meaning he gives strokes on the toughest holes) and plays in tournaments all over Georgia.

We may both play golf, but we don't play the same game. He hits bombs off the tee, his irons go high in the air, straight and true, and can make puts from the parking lot. Me? I just keep moving the ball forward and hope the ball falls into the hole every so often.

Other than what time shows up on the clock, I don't feel any different from anyone I run with, because we got to this place the same way -- we put one foot in front of the other and logged miles. Maybe we ran different paces, or different workouts, but the end result was still the same, at the end of the day it's an entry into our running journal.

If you were to look at the running logs of elite runners, you'd find they don't do these elaborate workouts that the rest of us aren't capable of doing.Check out Bill Rodgers' 1977 training log for proof. You'll see easy runs, hard runs, intervals, ladders and tempo runs. That's pretty much it. This is how the best runner in the world at the time trained, and how the best runners in the world currently train. Things are certainly a little more advanced now in terms of diet, nutrition, hydration strategies, and altitude strength training -- and for some, unfortunately, performance-enhancing drugs -- but once the shoes get laced up there is little change from then until now.

Running is simple, and it is a true meritocracy. We are measured on distance and time, and that's it. You get out what you put into it, and that simplicity makes it possible for everyone to succeed. When my sons were growing up playing team sports, so many things factored into playing time, and actual ability and talent wasn't at the top of the list. Sometimes it was about who knew whom, who was the coach's son (I experienced that from both sides) or who was chosen as part of the group of players that needed to play in order to "develop".

With running, it's simple: fastest runners run. The Top 7 of a varsity cross country team is usually made up of the seven fastest runners, and if you want to be in that top seven, all you usually have to do is run faster than the person ahead of you in the pecking order. My oldest son, Matt, went from running in JV races as a sophomore to the No. 2 runner on both a state ranked cross country and 4x800 relay track team. All because he ran faster than everyone else. To me that is just beautiful.

What really inspires me is the thought that somewhere in the world, other people are doing the same thing I am, that they are out on a trail, or a track, or wherever, and are logging miles in search of whatever they run for in the first place. It might be to win a race someday, set a PR, or figure out who they are or where they are going. I love the thought that while I am grinding through a hill workout or pushing through some intervals, somewhere else is doing the exact same thing.

And with that comes respect. Outside of a small, snobbish segment of the running community, there is a level respect among everyone that just doesn't exist in other sports. When you go to a race, especially at longer distances, and look around, there is a knowledge that everyone there has put in the work and deserves to be there. I have been fortunate to interview several elite runners, including people like Bob Kennedy, Brian Sell, Deena Kastor, Alan Culpepper and Dathan Ritzenhein -- Olympians all -- and they get genuinely excited when they find out I am a runner, and have never failed to offer encouragement to me. Lots of you have probably had the same experience! By contrast, I told a professional baseball catcher during an interview once that I could relate to catching games in the heat because I did it in high school, and he looked at me with total disdain, because in his mind the two didn't compare.

As runners, we get each other, which is why the community is so close. I was in Dubai back in February and joined a couple of runners for a few miles, and I was amazed how easy it was to make conversation. Running so far from home certainly gave me a different perspective about things, and it was funny how, just like us, runners there hold the Boston Marathon in such sacred regard. All over the world, qualifying for and running Boston is a really big deal, and to them, Chicago and New York are goal marathons, just like they are for some of us. No matter the place on the map, the culture, or the language, it's all the same.

Bill Rodgers once said: "Our sport, is the sport of possibility. We all have our quests in life, and for some running is that quest." For many of us, the possibility of what could be is what keeps us going. I wish I could someday play in the US Open golf tournament, or play Major League Baseball, but those will probably never happen. But you know what I can do? I can qualify for the Boston Marathon, and I can line up behind the elite runners in a World Marathon Major. Never forget that it's a special privilege to get to do what we do.

I'm going to finish this post with another quote from Bill Rodgers that I find so inspirational:

"At first, it’s this unimaginable thing. Like climbing Everest. The journey is hard, and riddled with setbacks, but it can be conquered . The unimaginable becomes the imaginable. The impossible dream becomes just the dream. The important thing to remember is that the quest to win a marathon, or even to finish a marathon , starts where all great quests are born— within the heart. That’s where it started for me. The heart is always the true starting line."

When you head out on your run today, take a minute to be thankful for the fact that you run. You are part of a special group of people from all over the world, and whether you know it or not, we are all rooting for you!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Three Things Thursday -- Early Edition

I'm using today as an off-day and have no plans for lunch, so I figured I could get ahead of the game and get tomorrow's post now!

OK, the title is a bit misleading, but there are two reasons for that: 1) if you haven't figured it out by now, I'm kind of quirky and 2) I couldn't find a catchy title for Wednesday, so there's that.

Either way, the words are still the same, so enjoy!

*I finally picked a fall goal race. This was a harder decision than I had originally thought it would be. I didn't feel like training for a marathon, so all of those were out, and had planned on going to Rock N Roll Las Vegas, but that falls just a couple of weeks after we go to Italy, which didn't work out either.

So I decided to stay local and going with the Chicago Half Marathon! You can read more about it on the race's website. It's a really cool event that goes through some of the more historic areas of Chicago's South Side, and includes a few miles on Lakeshore Drive. Even better, it's very flat and VERY fast! What also appeals to me is that the race is on Sept. 27, which is a couple of weeks later than it used to be. That will help weather-wise and give me a couple more weeks' worth of training!

I ran the race in 2000-01 when I first started running and really enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to going back. It should be a lot of fun. If any of you are running as well, let me know...it would be great to have a meet up of some kind!

*In the meantime, I've got a few 5Ks lined up. My next race will be the Bastille Day 5K in downtown Chicago on July 9. That was my "comeback" race in 2012 so I have a certain affinity for that event. It's a night race that goes through Lincoln Park and along the lakefront, and at that time of day the skyline is a stunning view as the sun is setting. I've also run it with my good friend Scott the last couple of years, and now that he is married, has a new baby and lives in the city I don't see him a lot, which makes it a nice excuse to get together.

I really enjoy night races in the summer, they seem to have a little more energy to them and since I'm not a morning person it's nice to not have to get up early! There are two more later in the month in my area that I like, and I will probably do one or the other...who knows, maybe both!

One is the Summer Sunset 5K in Geneva, which is one outstanding event. It's well organized, has races for everyone (including a youth mile and sprint races for younger kids) and typically brings a fast crowd. The race brings in a lot of high school kids who show up to see where they are at with summer training, and the course record is held by Daniel Huling, who is a world class steeplechaser. The Fox River Trail Runners club puts on several great runs every year, and this is one of them.

Another race I'm thinking about is the Detweiller At Dark cross country race in Peoria. The race is run on the legendary Illinois High School Association state meet course, which they bathe in floodlights for the race. They offer middle school, high school and open races on a course that is seriously fast. Matt's high school team went down there twice for the run, and Kevin will be going down there with the team this year. As a cross country fan, I hold the Detweiller Park course in pretty high regard and have always wondered what it would be like to run it. So I think I'm going to!

*Two-Minute Tuesday! I haven't gotten a lot of traffic to my first two posts, but I'm undeterred! You can view them on my YouTube channel, and I suggest subscribing because I plan on putting a lot of new things up there in the future. I just discovered the Periscope app and if you are into that sort of thing you can find me at letsrun4ever.

*Bonus: Run Chat. I had planned to do a run chat last night but didn't find any takers. I'm guessing my biggest problem was the fact I scheduled it right after the Bib Chat website had theirs, so I'd like to try it again at 9 p.m. (CDT) next Monday night. Let me know in either the comments section here or over on Twitter if you would like to participate. If I could get enough people interested I'd like to make it a regular thing.

The weekend is almost here! Have a good rest of the week!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Two-Minute Tuesday, Episode 2

It's Tuesday already! Hope your week is off to a good start.

This week I am talking about "small victories". Sometimes we get so bogged down by miles, workouts, paces, etc -- especially when we are going through a bad patch -- that we forget the cool things that running does for us in our lives. We need to spend some time focusing on the small stuff, like a stellar run, or that we have lost some weight, or that we ate healthy for a week. Running helps make those small things possible?

So what kind of small victories can you celebrate?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Happy National Running Day!

Isn't it so awesome that we get our own day? How did you celebrate? Tonight Kevin and I headed out to Hawk Hollow for a 3.1-miler. It was a lot of fun, and Kevin ran really, really well. Since it was his first run since school finished last week, it's was also his first summer training run as he gets ready for high school cross country in the fall.

I also decided to try something new tonight in an effort to expand my growing social media empire. Introducing 2-Minute Tuesday! Each Tuesday I'm going to post a 2-3 minute video about various topics in my running world. It could be just a training tip, a race report, or just a post on one of my favorite places to run.

I know it's Wednesday and all, but I came up with the idea this morning and really didn't want wait! Plus I figured it would be a good way to rock National Running Day.