Saturday, October 29, 2011

Riffin' on the Rinty of Sue Orlean

If you are familiar with the Arlo Guthrie rendition of the song, then the title is absolutely the best part of this post. You can stop reading now. Go on, shoo.

For the rest of you...

Tonight I got to meet Susan Orlean, a 2D Facebook friend and now an honest-to-gosh 3D acquaintance. Susan (may I call you Susan?) first came to my attention because of the mind-bending movie Adaptation. If you haven't seen it, just see it. Don't read about it, don't read the blurb on the DVD case, just see it.

Adaptation is a movie about adapting a book into a movie. After seeing it, the obvious question is: who the hell writes a book like this? It turns out the answer to that is Susan Orlean. Sort of. The movie is based on her book The Orchid Thief. I read it. It's not the movie. I don't mean the movie takes poetic license like in, say, To Kill a Mockingbird or Breakfast at Tiffany's, I mean it runs the book through the shredder, throws the confetti out the window, then runs outside, grabs a single handful of paper off the lawn and glues it back together like a ransom note. The book is wonderful. The movie is bizarre.

However, if for nothing but providing the inspiration for that movie, Susan Orlean will always hold a special place in my heart.

But after I'd seen the movie and read the book, Susan sort of drifted out of my mind. Life is busy and that's the way things go.

A chicken
A different chicken
A couple of years ago when I first started making entries in this blog I was going to write a story about chickens. Suburban chicken farming was quite the rage, and I have several friends who still keep chickens. I even went so far as to take pictures of them. The chickens mainly, though I do have a picture or two of the neighbors as well.

I was almost ready to write a couple of thousand words when this article by Susan was published in The New Yorker. I mean it was published between the day I took the pictures and the day I sat down to write my post. Now, if you take the time to read her article and compare it to any of my posts it is quickly - and to me, painfully - obvious that she is a writer and I am a programmer who likes to write. I'm not in her league at all. I would always have compared my post to her article and found mine wanting, so I never wrote my post, though I do have a trove of chicken pictures.

I had forgotten about the chickens until tonight. Susan is currently on tour promoting her new book on Rin Tin Tin. Here in Seattle, at least, this included a talk by Susan, an autograph session, and sandwiched in between a showing of a recently recovered 1925 Rin Tin Tin film, Clash of the Wolves down at the newly reopened SIFF Uptown theater. The silent film has had a soundtrack added, though, sadly it was a bland piano accompaniment (I had hoped for a honky-tonk rendition, or maybe a pipe organ). Nominally a dramatic film, it had intentional moments of humor (buffonish sidekick falling into a barrel of flour), along with certain once-dramatic scenes that are now humorous because they recall Farrelly brothers movie scenes (an obviously stuffed dog hurled across the room). I don't think I've ever watched a feature-length silent movie before. It is an accidental time capsule of a long-gone age. I rather enjoyed it.

During her talk before the film she read a couple of excerpts from her Rin Tin Tin book. And that's when I remembered the chicken story. You see, I've watched people draw things. I can't draw a straight line, or a curved one, for that matter. I certainly can't take a bunch of lines and turn them into a recognizable picture of anything. Don't even talk to me about color. Because of my complete lack of competence I stand in absolute awe of those who can draw or paint or sculpt. And when I listened to Susan read her excerpts I was in similar awe. Her descriptions are lucid, personal, and genuine. Words flow through her keyboard to the page the way an image flows through a painter's brush to the canvas. A joy to listen to.

After the movie I lined up with most of the audience and got to meet Susan and get my copy of her book signed. I kinda met her - could have talked with her - before the talk, actually. I was walking through the lobby into the theater, my mind elsewhere because it took an hour and forty-five minutes to drive into Seattle and park, about twice as long as I had anticipated, and I was relieved that I wasn't late. Susan was walking the other direction across the lobby and even said hi to me - which threw me so much that all I could do was smile in return. A shame, really, because a longer conversation would have been nice.

I don't have a lot of experiences at book signings. Really haven't been to one since my John Irving/Hulk Hogan experience a couple of years ago. So, not having too many authors to compare her to, I will compare her to those two men in this way: she speaks as well as John Irving and is as personable as Hulk Hogan. She is genuinely interested in the people she talks to (even vaguely recognized me from Facebook, which surprised me). She likes animals, has a nice sense of humor, and she runs (though not barefoot, at least not yet).

You know how sometimes you just like somebody? That's the way I felt when I met her. I'm not sure I can pay her any higher compliment than that. It was a very nice way to end my week.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Bit of the Old Run-Walk

Well, I did run the Portland Marathon barefoot. All went well at the beginning. Did not go well at the end. I had been doing my long (19+ mile) training runs at right about 10 minutes per mile. I finished the marathon in 4:26:49, a 10:11/mile pace, so it was a little slower than my training runs, but not a complete disaster.

Unless you look at the last 4.4 miles. The last 4.4 miles took me 58:40. That translates to 13:20/mile pace, and trust me, it felt slower than that. That was a complete disaster. (Other depressing stat: after the 20 mile mark I passed 34 runners...but 512 passed me.)

The reason I know my pace for the last 4.4 miles is that there were several timing mats along the course. Some of them were for common distances (10K, 1/2 marathon), some were at odd distances, just to make sure people weren't cutting the course. My splits were:

Distance   Total Time Interval Pace Total Pace
10 km         55:32       8:57         8:57
8.6 mi      1:17:38       9:12         9:02 
Half        1:57:17       8:49         8:57
17.5 mi     2:41:42      10:06         9:15
20 mi       3:11:16      11:50         9:34
21.8 mi     3:28:09       9:23         9:33
Full        4:26:49      13:20        10:11

I ran with the 3:55 (~9 min/mile) pace group for the first 15 miles, but couldn't hold the pace after that. The highest point on the course is midway across the St. John's bridge at 17 miles. The approach to the bridge is the only steep climb of the course, and I was still doing okay at that point, but after I crossed the bridge - BAM! - I was toast.

I had seen this kind of pattern in my training runs, too. I was hoping that on race day the adrenaline and the fellow runners and the cheering throngs (including the folks of Occupy Portland) would pull me let me extend my 9 minute miles beyond the 16 mile point, but it was not to be.

I don't usually time my runs. For the longer (19+) runs I'd just check the clock in my car before and after for a rough idea of how long it took, but for shorter ones I did wear a watch a few times. I didn't write the times down, but I do know my best times this year for a few distances:

5K: 21:56 (7:05/mile at the Fall City Days 5K)
11 miles: 1:28 (~ 8 minutes/mile)
13.1 miles: 1:50:28 (8:26/mile at the Labor Day Half)
16 miles: 2:25 (~9 minutes/mile)
22 miles: 3:37 (just under 10 minutes/mile)
25 miles: 4:10-ish (~10 minutes/mile)

Looking at these times, my Portland results are depressingly in line with them. My problem is how to maintain pace beyond that 16 mile mark. There is no shortcut, of course, I have to take it out beyond 16 miles and push the pace. I know that. It's obvious. Obvious, but easier said than done.

Going longer is probably not going to help me. First off, how much farther can I really go on a weekly run? I'm already doing a 20+ miler most weeks. I need to raise the intensity at the end of my long runs somehow.

Today, 12 days post-marathon, was my first long run. I've run most of the days since the marathon, including three 11 milers, the last one two days ago. (NOTE: yeah, I thought about backing off my mileage to recover after the marathon, but then I realized that it was no faster and not much farther than my weekly training runs, so I'm just treating it like a normal week.)

But I needed to do something different.

If you read my previous post, you know that I met Jeff Galloway at the Portland Marathon expo. He is a big proponent of doing a run-walk mix for distance runs rather than trying to push all the way through without stopping, so I thought I'd give it a try. I figured that, though my run will be a little slower over all, I will have some higher intensity miles at the end. It's basically just a long interval workout.

I picked a 4:1 ratio of running to walking. I opted to make it 20 minutes of running followed by 5 minutes of walking.  I pulled those numbers out of a hat and reserve to change them in the future.

So this morning I woke up and it was raining. Bleah. Not cold (low to mid 50's), but 4 hours in the rain did not sound inviting. Still, I forced myself to drive down to the trail, forced myself to get out of the car and over to the 5.5 mile post, and forced myself to take those first few steps south towards Marymoor Park.

Knowing that I would get to rest 20 minutes in I set out at a pretty brisk pace (for me). I hit the first mile about 7:25 and 2 miles at about 15 minutes. Not the way I normally start out on my long runs, but rest was coming!

The first rest seemed odd. My brain was still stuck on the idea of a long run, and my legs still felt quite fresh. But walk I did, then set out again. I hit the 5.5 mile turnaround at Marymoor in just under 45 minutes, only a minute slower than my best 11 mile pace in spite of walking for 5 minutes. Interesting. Time to walk again as I turned back towards Bothell.

I got back to my start point (now the 11 mile mark) at 1:33:24,  about a 9 minute mile pace, only 5 1/2 minutes off my fastest 11 miler this year - and I had walked for 15 minutes of it.

I kept heading north. Blew by the 13 mile mark at 1:53 and dug deep but couldn't quite get to the 14 mile mark before it was time to walk again; I passed it walking at about 2:03. The next 20 minute run took me to within about 50 meters of the 16.5 mile (turnaround) mark. Hit it under 2:26.

I want to pause here for a minute. I'm doing intervals. Everyone knows that interval training is slower than running a steady pace, right? Except at the marathon I hit 17.5 at 2:41. Even if I stood stock still for 4 minutes at the turnaround I would still have 11 minutes to get to 17.5 miles in my marathon time, and at this point my running miles are still sub-9 minutes. Huh?

And look at my best 16 mile training run: 2:25. When I hit the turnaround I'm almost half a mile ahead of my best 16 mile training run! With no rest, no taper, no special diet. Running in rain that makes my shorts wrap themselves around my legs and chafe. Not ideal weather or diet or rest, yet I am beating my best time by half a mile. And I've walked 26 minutes of the workout.

I'm definitely slowing down on my way back, but I'm not dying, not by any means. I hit 20 miles at 3:03 (yeah, 8 minutes faster than the marathon), and stop to take my first drink of water - not the brightest way to run, but I didn't need it before then - and still get well beyond 21 miles before it's time for the last walk at 3:15.

I hit 3:20 with a little more than half a mile to go, push myself and finish 22 miles in 3:24:37. That would be about 5 minutes ahead of where I was in the marathon, and more than 12 minutes faster than my fastest 22 mile training run. And I walked 40 minutes of it.

And here's the kicker: I feel fine. After the marathon all I could do was lay in bed the whole afternoon. I was so stiff I could barely walk downstairs that evening to get food. I won't say I'm not sore (I am - hell, I just went 22 hard miles!), but I could run again. Right now. Three hours after that workout. The first half mile would be tough, but after warming up I could go on to do an easy five miles, no problem.

So my interest is piqued. I ran faster and recovered more quickly than doing a long, slow 22 miler. The farther out I went, the better this method worked for me today.

This could be an outlier, though. Today could have just been a good day for me. I might have done well, maybe even better had I run straight through at a slower pace. It will take a few weeks to see if this really does work for me.

If it does, it might be enough to get me under 4 hours for a marathon, something I haven't done for more than 25 years. That would be really cool, and certainly enough reason to give this run-walk stuff a try for a while.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Old Guard

I am in Portland for my first barefoot marathon - and first marathon of any kind in nearly a decade. I'm not concerned about finishing. I put in over 300 miles in the six weeks before this one, with one long (19+ mile) run each week, with a long of 25 miles. The distance doesn't intimidate me.

Or it didn't.

At the expo I met three American distance legends: Bill Rodgers, Jeff Galloway, and Frank Shorter. They each signed my number. Kinda cool.

All three spoke before an audience giving out anecdotes of their running experiences and giving advice about running in general.

And got the chance to ask each of them about barefoot running.

Bill Rodgers was the first. I got to talk to him down on the expo floor where he was signing books and posters. I almost walked past him. There was one woman and her son talking to him but no one else was there (I think I just hit a lull because there was a big line there a few minutes later).

Rodgers listened, said he knew people who run barefoot, but was genuinely surprised when I said I was running barefoot tomorrow. He even gave me his business card and asked me to look him up if I ran Boston. Pretty cool.

I then went up to the room where they were going to give the talk. Galloway was already up there talking to people about his run-walk philosophy, nutrition, and such. His individual talk ended and I spoke with him briefly before the joint talk with Shorter and Rodgers.

I asked him what he thought of barefoot running, and Galloway said, "I think it's a great thing...for podiatrists and chiropractors." The line generated a laugh later when a similar question came out of the audience. He went on to say that he's heard from thousands of runners who have gotten injured doing minimalist running, some who did it for a long time, but then had a catastrophic breakdown that caused them to miss months of training. Clearly, Galloway is not a fan.

I also got to briefly speak with Shorter after the joint talk. When I mentioned that tomorrow would be my first barefoot marathon, he responded with a non-English verbalization closer to a grunt than anything else. He was somewhat less enthused than Galloway.

So now I'm nervous. Though I really shouldn't be. I've trained on pavement, and the cool damp weather predicted for tomorrow morning suits me well.

And I've also been thinking about the other things they said during the talk. Galloway talked about how he was constantly injured when he was running competitively, rarely putting together more than 3 week without getting hurt. Could his shoes have had something to do with that?

Galloway also preaches the run-walk method for working up to long distance running, allowing your body time to adjust to the distance. Listening to your body and being cautious with your distance is also a tenet of barefooting. Is Galloway really that different from Barefoot Ted in that respect?

And Frank Shorter. Goodness. Two things he said make me think barefooting is nearly what he did anyway. First, the question came up, what kind of shoes did he wear in his first marathon. Turns out he used a pair of track spikes that had the plate removed and sole put on. Sounds pretty minimalist to me.

And then there is this: Frank Shorter has lousy feet. Because of his lousy feet he had to run lightly, generating very little friction as he touched the ground. Honestly, I wanted to jump up and down and say: but that's exactly what experienced barefoot runners do! I didn't. He had pretty much dismissed minimalist running out of hand during the talk and I didn't want to be confrontational, but it sure sounds like he used a barefoot philosophy when he ran, not because he chose to, but because it was the only way he could run.

If only I could have a disability like Frank Shorter.

It's interesting to me. These are the guys who really brought distance running into the American mainstream. They were the different guys of their era. They were the ones who changed and we followed. Is their way the best way? Or have they just stopped experimenting? Are minimalists leaving them behind the way they left their predecessors?

Doesn't matter much, I suppose. Tomorrow I will run my first barefoot marathon. We'll see how it goes.