"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Oh. (....oh [... oh {... oh}])

I suppose the silver lining to having someone break up with you and tell you exactly what's wrong with you is that you get to see yourself as others see you, rather than how you think they see you. I would guess that people would describe me as "smart, a bit aloof, with a weird sense of humor." What I heard instead was "You set unreasonably high standards for yourself, try to reach them through perfect adherence to some elaborate plan and then quit early because you're not getting immediate results. Plus, you have a condescending attitude toward anyone who doesn't understand what you're trying to do or who isn't doing the same thing."


So.... I'm planning on going for the over-50 record at the Afton 50K next year.

Yeah. I'm ignoring the irony.

Here's the contenders:

Scott Ross, the current record-holder. 3:07 marathon in 2012.
John Maas, this year's winner. 2:59 marathon in 2012.
Jeff Miller, 3rd this year. 3:02 marathon in 2015.
Others that could mess things up:

John Horns. 3:08 marathon in 2006 (but won Sawtooth 100 outright recently)
Dave DeHart. 2:46 marathon in 2004, 3:15 in 2014.

Hi, Double!
Jim Ramacier 2:52 marathon in 2015 (2:37 in 2004)

And then there's me. Last marathon: 3:18 in 2005.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Brief Quandary

I was in great shape in 2007. My training looked like this:

Saturday: 30-40 miles @9-10 min./mile
Sunday -Tuesday: 12 miles @ 8-8.5
Wednesday-Friday: 4 miles

I'd love to get back there, if I could (I'd only run long every other week, though). I figured the thing to do would be to just grind out what miles I could, to get used to running fairly long day after day, with 2 days off per week as a concession to age. I just kept getting slower. The idea of "the grind" was to keep glycogen levels low, so I'd start running more efficiently on fat. That doesn't work for me, though others swear by it. I just do less, slower, until I grind to a halt.

So how did I get there in 2007? In 2004, I was trying to break 5:00 in the mile, was running about 50 miles per week, ran about 7.5-8 min./mile (and was about 162 pounds, rather than 150 today). I can't find my records of 2005 or 2006, so I don't know how that build up occurred.

There's a few basic approaches to consider:

1) Long and slow and add speed later (e.g. Van Aaken and Maffetone methods)
2) Start fast and short and add volume later (e.g. Hanson bros. method)
3) Work from both extremes to the middle (e.g. Hudson method)
4) Do a little of everything from the start (most other systems)

None of these seem to work for me any more.

Where do I go from here?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Derek and Derek

Two universal truths of running:

1) Everyone thinks they succeed because they work hard and everyone who beats them is simply more talented.

2) No one ever works harder than they think they need to.

[You're more talented and lazier than you think.]

When I started running, my running heroes were Derek Ibbotson, the British miler of the late 1950's and Derek Clayton, the Australian marathoner of the late 1960's and early 1970's.

Derek Ibbotson

Ibbotson showed promise as a teen, but never ran spectacular times. He joined the royal navy and did his training running laps on the deck of a ship or on the sandy beaches when they docked; while that seems a handicap, because he lived, worked and trained in the same place, he could train whenever he wasn't on duty - and he always had an audience and people knew if he took a day off.

Early in his career, he broke the world record in the mile. He never ran close to that time again. When I saw the workouts he ran, my first thought was that he was exaggerating, because they were almost exactly what 3:46-3:49 milers run today. It's common to not just give one's best week as typical, but give the best example of each type of workout, even if one never would do them in the same week.

I now believe that he did the same thing I did. After running a very fast time, he started training like he thought someone that fast should train, leaving his best efforts in workouts, rather than in races.

Derek Clayton

Clayton was known as a hard training 10K runner with no kick when he started running marathons, usually between 2:17 and 2:25. Word got out that he was running 200 miles per week (which he later said he might've done twice) and everyone thought he was going to burn himself out, especially as he was working full-time as well. He became the first runner to break 2:12. And 2:11. And 2:10. And 2:09. His record stood for 15 years.

Clayton's maximal oxygen uptake was measured at 69.7, which is typical of a 2:28 marathoner. What he lacked in pure aerobic ability, he made up for by being able to run 5 minute miles indefinitely with no real effort, which came from his high mileage. He was criticized for never winning a "big" race, like the Olympic marathon, because he didn't ever really peak. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

What you don't know about living on food stamps

Every once in a while, a politician or celebrity tries to go a week spending only the $28 SNAP/EBT average disbursement; they inevitably quit after a few days, saying it's impossible. Yet, people who have to rely on food support do it. I decided to take the challenge for an entire year and I learned some interesting - and paradoxical - things along the way.

It's not $28 and it's not supposed to cover costs

In 2003, the government spent millions of dollars to find the absolute least a person needed to spend to eat a healthy diet and they came up with $31.54, meaning they couldn't find any way to do it on $31.53; the rationale was that they wanted to be absolutely sure they were not squandering resources. Food costs today are much higher, largely due to transportation costs, but the average SNAP benefit currently is about $28. The "S" in SNAP stands for "Supplemental;" it's not supposed to cover all costs. If one has no income whatsoever, the maximum benefit currently is $194 per month, about $6.25 per day, rather than the $4 people have been trying to use (when I started this project, it was $188 per month). That's difficult, but not impossible.

The last days of the first few months are miserable

I recall once Tweeting "I have $6 to spend on food for the next 6 days." It is a monthly stipend and one has to think in terms of a month; it's very easy to overspend in the first weeks, especially when one's not accustomed to eating cheaply. At the end of the month, you'll be shopping to get through a few days; instead of buying a gallon of milk at a cheaper price per ounce, you'll buy a pint at a much higher price - because you don't have the $1 difference to spend.

Thank God for junk food

It's bizarre. You run out of money, but need a lot of calories and you're tired of the same food every day. In my case, a bag of flavored potato chips saved the day. There's been a push to remove junk foods from things that can be purchased with SNAP, but that push is by people who have never tried living on them.

Follow the USDA guidelines and use free nutrition apps

When the government figured out how to eat healthily most cheaply, they also gave away how they did it in a 112 page report. It's a long dull read, but there's some useful charts. To make sure I was getting the nutrients I needed, I used a free web nutrition tracker. When I ran into problems with what I still needed to obtain and what I needed to avoid, I found a useful site. It's incredibly time consuming, especially at first and I doubt many people would do it.

There are some odd things that crop up. The USDA recommends dairy products, green leafy vegetables and red/orange vegetables, but the combination easily leads to way too much Vitamin A. One carrot has all the vitamin one needs for a week, but if you buy a bunch of carrots, they spoil before you could ever use them and two is already too many.

Buy from bulk, not in bulk

You always hear how you can save money on groceries by buying in bulk, but that doesn't work well with SNAP. One month, I found great bargains on blueberries and almonds, so I bought more than I needed, but I had too little left for everything else. You can buy two - at most three - month's worth of something and only at the beginning of a month. Coffee goes on sale in 12 week cycles and that can wreak havoc on a budget.

In the bulk foods section of a supermarket, you can buy just one olive, one dried apricot or one ounce of oatmeal. That can be a lifesaver at the end of the month. Plus, the bulk foods are usually priced lower than elsewhere in the same store (but not always! You have to check).

Dried, frozen, ethnic

Dried and frozen foods are usually much cheaper than their fresh counterparts. Canned and boxed foods tend to be loaded with salt and/or sugar (tomato paste and fish are the only things I bought canned). You can often find the same thing at several different prices in the same store and the cheapest is often in aisles marked "world" or "ethnic." I bought sesame seeds marked as ajonjoli at 40 cents per ounce, when they were six times as expensive in the spice aisle. Fresh produce in season is cheaper, but still more expensive than frozen.

Portioning meals and freezing them for later use is a great idea and, if you're buying for one, you will freeze things you wouldn't expect. Frozen orange juice is the cheapest citrus, but it goes bad in the refrigerator before you finish it, so you make it and then refreeze half.

You will miss what you can't have, then forget it exists

No restaurants. No alcohol. You can't shop the deli at the supermarket, because SNAP doesn't cover the preparation costs; the roasted chicken is especially hard to walk by - which is why it's always where you have to walk by it. You also can't supplement your nutrition with vitamin pills or meal replacement products like Ensure. You can't buy seeds to plant your own garden in a hope to bring down costs. Dried cranberries, for reasons I do not know, are also out - there will be surprises.

You could make your own wine, but it won't be very good. Purchasing a whole chicken and roasting it yourself sounds like a great idea; you can use the bones, with whatever vegetables wilt on you before you eat them, to make stock, and flavor things with chicken fat, but I never got the hang of it.

Farmer's market conundrum

Farmer's markets have great produce, in season, at low cost, but create a new problem. Individual vendors cannot accept food stamps, so one has to buy vouchers which cannot be used elsewhere and which cannot be redeemed if not used. You end up wasting about as much money because of the bureaucracy as you would save, plus it's an extra trip.

Baking gets problematic

Flour, eggs, oil, salt and sugar are all relatively cheap, so baking seems like a no-brainer. The problem comes in when you assemble all the ingredients you need and find the total runs to $20, which means not buying some other foods. Are you going to live on cookies? In order to make something and have it be healthy, I ended up making an all-rye sourdough bread that I used mostly to thicken soups.

Eggs used to be the cheapest source of protein, but avian flu changed that (it's now chicken breasts). This goes to show you that you have to have plans to change what you eat on occasion. Also, if you're buying groceries for one, a dozen eggs is way too many - you end up wasting half, or you accept that you're not going to eat healthily for a few days and down them quickly.

Spice world

Once you figure out what you can buy, your foods become monotonous quickly. Spices can take care of that, but they're very expensive, so you have to buy only what you plan to use a lot. In my case, cinnamon made oatmeal palatable and oregano (or basil) saved tomato sauces that accompanied the eternal pasta meal. Curry powder and red pepper can cover a multitude of sins (but, if you like black pepper, get used to pre-ground, as fresh is expensive and a pepper grinder is not covered by SNAP).


You will never use manufacturer's coupons, so "double coupons" are a thing for others. There's no manufacturer for, say, potatoes. Store coupons, however, are a lifesaver, if one buys only what one would've bought anyway. Buying something "extra" because it's on sale might mean you're on a diet on day 31 of the month.


The SNAP benefit is the same every month. February will be your favorite month, as it's shorter, and you can buy a rare treat or two.

The final word

You can eat healthily and cheap, you can eat with great flavor and cheap, you can eat healthily and with great flavor. You cannot do all three. If you eat healthily and cheap, you can save enough for an occasional splurge on great flavor.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A slight increase in mileage

Recent training:

June 27: 5 miles in 44 minutes.

That night, I fell and broke a rib.

July 5: Walked 7 miles
July 9: 3 in 27
July 11: 12 in 123
July 12: 11 in 117
July 14: 11 in 109
July 15: 7 in 69
July 16: 12 in 117.

What do they say again about increasing mileage 1750% per week?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Two weeks after breaking a rib, I ran 12 miles, my longest run this year (I also ran 12 on Jan. 1). Today I ran 11, increasing my weekly mileage by about 500% with two runs. After falling apart in the heat (it's Minnesota, but the dew point was 70), I saw my friend Barb and we started talking. I mentioned that I was running with a broken rib and she said, "Oh, I've done that. You have to either hold your elbow up really high or hold it against your side." She hasn't missed a day of running in 30 years - the only person who can't be impressed with running with a broken rib.

Choose your friends wisely.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

T-361 days

If you do the prep work, success or failure becomes just a matter of circumstance, but to do the prep work, you have to first be willing to do it. You have to be willing to not just work harder than everyone else, but harder than anyone else believes is possible, to put in superhuman effort repeatedly, continuously, until the goal you've set seems a foregone conclusion, almost an afterthought. Then you have to make sure you're not just working hard to work hard, but toward that goal.