Monday, November 24, 2008

Capitalism & Conservation

While I was at work today I was rolling a couple of ideas through my head.
The first was the typical obsession with running and my current injury and the impending MRI tomorrow AND the hope that I don't have a meniscal tear, etc.

But the other thought sort of made me a little sick. It isn't a new thought and I wouldn't chalk it up there with the revelatory moments of life, but it was something that was spurred by recent developments in the town I grew up in, and really is a tell tale sign of an overall American sentiment when it comes to the environment.

Recently, the town of Plymouth, MA voted to allow the beginning of planning and construction of a Movie Studio that is aimed at rivaling Hollywood, CA for American filmmaking. Where I do see this as a great opportunity for the town to gain needed tax revenue, it just brings to a head the issues that are certainly plaguing our society as a whole. If you'd like to read more about the new plan for a studio you'd do well to search the terms "Hollywood East" or "Plymouth Rock Studios".

I have to laugh because months ago the town was wrestling over zoning issues, and studying the "Environmental Impact", and using those issues as major barriers to the project and the plan. To me it just seemed like posturing and an act to appease the portion of the population that likes to wave a flag of environmental responsibility out the windows of their SUVs while bringing their kids to soccer practice. I think a better project would be to consider the countless acres of forest and open space that the town has laid waste to in the last 5 years alone to erect commerce centers in areas that were once habitats for numerous animals.

Literally, five miles apart, exist two shopping centers that have the same function. All of the ammenities of having an Olive Garden, Sam's Club, Super Walmart, Panera Bread, and the list could go on and on. I know both developments were in the same interest of generating tax revenue for the town, which seems to be the overwhelming choice for communities all over the U.S., especially when it doesn't necessarily involve directly going into tax payers pockets, but the paving of vital woodlands seems ridiculous when one takes the time to think down the chain of cause, effect, and consequence. One consequence came fairly quickly after the construction began, when people started noticing their small dogs and cats disappearing because of the residential invasion of coyotes. The reactionary result was, of course, a public outcry for a campaign to limit the coyote population, not even thinking for a second that perhaps this was all because the coyotes were displaced because developers decided one Mall was not enough, and in the process of destroying the coyote habitat, also removed their natural food sources.
Eventually people got hip to having their animals contained inside the house at night, and slowly the coyotes are starving to death.

What disgusts me even more is the push to build all of these commerce centers, movie studios, and, another pet project planned for Plymouth, a minor league baseball stadium, without even considering the economic times. The amount of spent dollars will eventually dwindle down, the promised jobs will dry up when the business goes away. Even if the slow down is partial, some businesses will still fail, and all we'll be left with is expanses of pavement and empty box stores that took as little as six months to build. Odds are there are no provisions in the contracts of these stores or centers that explains that if the businesses go under, the developer is responsible for the demolition and re-forestation of the area. I can hear the laughter over that thought! Even if trees were planted, it would take hundreds of years to regain what it took perhaps 3 months to destroy. It is embarassing.

Plymouth isn't the only place this is happening. Saugus, MA just demolished a bunch of land to build a plaza with a Trader Joe's. Five minutes up and down the road you can find numerous other commerce centers and grocery stores. Trader Joe's was basically built to appease the yuppie need for having a trendy store in the neighborhood. Even outside of Massachusetts, while we were living in the Midwest we'd drive up the interstate and see numerous areas of open space that were being converted into subdivisions and commerce centers, nearly identical to one another.

I am not saying that I am glad to see the economy slowing down because I don't want to see people lose their jobs, but the hope that some of these mega commerce centers will be passed over because they are not affordable, wouldn't be such a bad thing. Living in a free market society is wonderful, but responsible development would be great. Preservation of land shouldn't be up to special groups like land trusts and the like, it should happen out of a respect for the fact that once a piece of land is stripped and paved, it is VERY difficult to ever bring that back to wilderness in our lifetime.

Just thinking out loud...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Just Keep Moving... The Best Philosophy

I love reading just about anything Ultra-Running Related. I think I have mentioned in earlier posts that I have Running Through The Wall by Don Allison from Breakaway Books. It is essentially a collection of vignettes from Ultrarunners of all levels, and their encounters with the long run. A common thread through many of these stories is the moment where one encounters the pinnacle of adversity during there ultra runs and must decide how to cope. Unless there is something extraordinarily wrong with the runner (and in some cases there is something extraordinarily wrong) they decide to do one thing: "Just keep moving".

Additionally, I also had the opportunity to finally sit down and watch JB Benna's documentary The Runner last night. The film documents Dr. David Horton's challenge of the speed record on the Pacific Crest Trail. Throughout the whole experience, through the highs and lows, Horton is challenged by the terrain and his own emotions, but he resolves to keep running, and moving forward.

Throughout the last 5 or 6 weeks I too have been dealing with my own issues, only my challenge has not come through the challenge of getting to the finish of an Ultra. Instead I have had to deal with the inner struggle of dealing with ratcheting down my training, even to the point of complete idleness.

The last couple of weeks have been good because I have felt well enough to start incorporating longer distance runs lately. I have not been able to resume a higher weekly mileage, but I have resolved that the best way to deal with the situation is to, at the very least, attempt to preserve one aspect of my training plan going forward into next year. My hope is to conservatively build my long run each week. I was able to run 20 minutes two weeks ago, last week I was able to run 30 minutes without any pain from my knee, so this weekend I was hoping to run 40 minutes.

The basic philosophy is that when one is out on the trail, the measure of a runner is not necessarily gauged in the number of miles he or she can complete. I have realized that many events advertise a certain distance from point A to point B, but, in the end, it is about a distinct length of time one can be on the trail. For instance, my race at the Blue Hills this past summer was a great challenge. I was certainly in shape to cover the 7.2 miles of distance, but I was not in shape to negotiate the terrain and did not anticipate the 2 hours of run/speed hiking I was doing. It isn't a complaint, rather, it is a testament to the adventure inherent in many trail races.

Not that my injury was caused by such a miscalculation, but I think I made the jump from middle range distances to longer distances way too fast this Fall. I was pleased I was able to handle my first attempts at running 3+ hours, but I think I made a little miscalculation in thinking I could run over 3 hours because I was comfortable running 2.5 hours. I really should have built to three as opposed to just jumping up. I also drastically changed my philosophy of sticking to the basic training plan I was using, namely because I wasn't comfortable going into a marathon with my longest run being 20 miles.

I may increase weekly long runs by 20 minutes, instead of 10, for the sake of getting to a certain level in a shorter amount of time, but the basic goal is to get comfortable enough to run a 50k or 50 miler at some point next year, along with the general goal of becoming more fit an faster at shorter distances (I'd also like to bring my half-marathon and 25k times from this year down next year).

So today I planned on running 40 minutes. Of course I waited until after the sun went down, and as I took a peek at the temp outside I was not happy to see the "22" on the LCD display. Hat, gloves, headlamp, three layers, reflective gear, running pants... the works. I actually sort of enjoyed the whole process because it was the realization that winter is here, and I really believe the line is drawn between joggers and crazy-as-a-loon runners in New England. Certainly not an indictment of those that have treadmills and choose to train indoors in the winter, because, lets face it, if you are training indoors in the winter, it is most likely to be able to race in the winter. Winter running just proves to me that I really am serious about the sport.

So I headed out an ran along one of the State Routes near where I live. Lots of traffic, but ample shoulder to run on. Plus, if on coming traffic didn't see my with my headlamp and day-glow yellow, reflective jacket, they have no business driving after dark! Nonetheless I always run defensively, because I have never read a 'runner versus car' article that has ever turned out in favor of the runner.

My head was full at the beginning of the run. Why am I going out after dark, why am I not running a quieter route, why do I feel the need to run when the temp is so stinking low... but after a while I just settled into a collected pace, thought of running ultras, and just settled in. The knee seemed a little tight at the beginning, even with the stretching, but that seemed to abate after the initial ten minutes. I was also able to run on some of the dirt paths along the side of the road - not quite trail running, but with little ruts here and there I was careful to make sure my knee didn't take too much stress.

As I made the turn to come back home I really felt thankful that I was able to again enjoy a little taste of being an endurance junkie. The knee seemed to hold up well over the 40 minutes, and though I am confident I don't have any serious damage to my meniscus or any of the ligaments, I am not about to put anything in jeopardy by going overboard. We'll see what the MRI reveals next week, but as far as I am concerned, I am still simply moving forward.

Before I end this, I want to send a few props out to my friend, Mr. Breakheart himself, Dan for his great results in the Eastern New England Trail Running Series! Not sure how official the results are, but being in the top ten is certainly an accomplishment in itself, especially considering Dan has been on the comeback trail this year. It is definitely an inspiration to me!

I think the Eastern New England Series is one I hope to frequent more next year if I am able to be on the trails.

Cheers, y'all!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Quick Update: Yin and, of course, Yang.

First of all, I use the concept of Yin and Yang loosely for sure. An interesting bunny trail is to various locations where the concept of Yin and Yang is described and developed. It really is a cool concept and philosophy.

Just got back from the doctor and the great news is that X-Rays came back looking normal. The "eh!" news is that I need an MRI on the knee to see if there is evidence of a Meniscal tear. The doctor was postive and encouraging about my training, giving me the green light to continue to run, but I am banned from trails and high intensity until I have the MRI and see if there is anything that needs extended rest, or, and I am hoping not, repair.

I have a great deal of observation and gripe to unpack right now, but I need to hold off on that right now.

My initial thought is that my "pushing through the pain" is really the issue with my knee. I am paying for stupidity, and the subsequent trauma is what has me on the shelf to a certain degree. I completed three half hour runs in the last 4 days, and feel well enough to perhaps run another 30 minutes tonight. We'll see, I was just hoping I'd get the old "Yep, it is IT Band Syndrome, no MRI needed" answer, but in the grand sceme of my yearly medical expenses, this is probably the one thing I'll need to pay for over the next year, so it'll all work out.

Maybe this is just a sign that next year is the year I should do the road series... but all my friends are trail runners! :-)

Cheers, y'all!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

USATF-NE Road 2009 GP Series

Okay, so it isn't trail related, but it is a great series of running events in the New England region, and a challenge. It is definitely one of the challenges, much like trail running, that brought me back to training seriously enough to race. If I do take on this challenge it will definitely not be to win any of these races or score any points for a club. For the most part it will be all about finishing each race in order to earn the designation of USATF Road Series 'Iron Runner". Sounds easy, right, running seven races to earn a jacket, but as my attempt to train and run the Cape Cod Marathon will clearly show, getting past the last race in the series is always the hardest part. A close second is staying healthy for the year to be able to finish all of the races in the series, which this year are spread out over 10 months from February to October.

The seven races that were recently voted on and awarded the designation of USATF Championship and GP Series races:

DH Jones 10 miler - Amherst, MA - Febraury 22nd
New Bedford Half Marathon - New Bedford, MA - March 15th
Bedford Rotary 12k - Bedford, NH - May 16th
Rhody 5k - Lincoln, RI - June 7th
Ollie 5 Miler - South Boston, MA - September 12th
Lone Gull 10k - Gloucester, MA - September 20th
Bay State Marathon - Lowell, MA - October 18th

The Pros:
- It doesn't interfere with running any Autumn Ultra, in fact, having Bay State as the Marathon installment, provides a nice 'training run' for Stone Cat if I go that route.
- It leaves July and August wide open for trail racing.
- All of the races could essentilly be training runs... Essentially I feel comfortable running most of these distances with a very limited amount of training if need be.
- It provides a great way of gauging improvements in speed and endurance.

The Cons:
- It is focused on road races, not trails.
- Race #1 is in Febraury on the SAME day as the Hyannis Marathon, which was going to be my answer to not being able to run Cape Cod this year.
- Pineland Farms Races, traditionally on Memorial Day weekend, would fall between and close to two of the GP races. Pineland is one ultra I have been considering, but do I have enough time to train for a trail ultra in May?

In any event, it is all for the fun of taking on a challenge, no matter what I decide to do. There is the Eastern NE trail series and the Grand Tree, but where both of those series' are great takes and offer some real adventures, there are lots of them.

Then there is my fascination with races of pure masochism like the Jay Marathon, which I would love to do at some point, but it fills quickly and well ahead of the date of the race, so you have to be darn tootin' sure you'll be in shape to take on that grueling 30+ mile trek.

Until next time, Cheers!

"Beware: Here there be Dragons!" - An Update...

The last couple of weeks have produced a slow improvement.

I have been able to run 3 days out of each of the last two weeks, which is a step up, but of the last 6 training runs I have been running only about 2 to 3 miles. Oddly, I have been happy with this because I have not felt really any lingering pain, but there is still that odd feeling in the knee I injured back in the first week of October. It is weird how time goes by so quickly. It just amps up my feeling that you have to take chances and run races when you have the opportunity and the fitness. The strangest part of the whole ordeal is that I thought I was injured the middle of October, but the run with Dan and Brenda was on October 4th. Not that it really matters, but all the same, it has basically been six weeks of being on "grounded" status.

Today I was able to complete back to back runs of 30 minutes, which is a great feeling. Today's run I added in a shorter section of trail running, not sure if the deviation from flat roads would amplify or aggreviate whatever is wrong with my knee. Nonetheless, it was great being able to get just a little taste of some autumn trail running as the sun was setting. Fortunately, I came to an appropriate turn around point right where the Beaver population has all but destroyed the footbridge across an oft flooded swamp section of the Bay Circuit trail that connects Willowdale to Georgetown Rowley State Forest. With the recent rains the water was very high and beautifully reflected the canvas of colors in the sky. As I came back, the wind howling through the barren branches of the now naked trees was really comforting as I hopped rocks and roots, trying not to twist my knee any more than was needed. I can't wait to be back at 100 percent and training for the next trail adventure.

Basically, I am thankful to be back running on a limited basis, and if it takes longer to get my knee acclimated to the rigors of longer trail running.... again..... I am cool with that.

OH! The good news too is that I have an appointment with an Orthopaedic Surgeon this week, and should have some sort of clue about what is wrong with my knee, and, better yet, what I need to do to get back to health. I am well aware that diagnosing knee injuries is not an exact science unless X-Rays or MRIs produce some sort of evidence, but I am hopeful I'll get some news, good or bad.

I have some thoughts about training and how I plan on building my long run endurance for my pursuit of an Ultra next year, as well as my thoughts on specific goals for 2009, but more on those later!


Monday, November 10, 2008

Reflection Pool...

There is a longer entry here somewhere for anyone that cares. Maybe it will get written, much like that Blue Hills Skyline Trail Run I still have yet to write, but at this very late hour I am in the proper mood, so I'll just send out a piece for now, and essentially write a longer reflective entry when I have a few things sorted out.

Not being at Stone Cat this weekend was very hard for me. I had intended on going to volunteer and see other trail running friends make their way over the Marathon and 50 mile distances, but sick children provided enough distraction (and sort of a welcoming excuse) to not be there. My nerves kick in here because I had sort of half-assed said I'd be there, and didn't show, so I fear I may have burned a few bridges. Maybe I didn't, but I still suffer from some of the issues of social anxiety that I have been dealing with since adolescence. Again, not an excuse, but whenever I find that I am taking steps in the right direction I have to do with something like this. Part of adopting a carefree, carpe diem, love life approach has helped in some ways, but there are still demons.

Running plays a huge role in providing stress-relief and a sense of accomplishment. I am convinced my success as a college student was linked to the fact that I was a Cross Country and Track athlete. It was only when I was pegged as the team captian that I started stressing about races, and even then, when the gun went off, all you really have is one choice - Run. Aside from that, running showed me I could accomplish anything, so those research papers, presentations, and teaching experiences were gravy.

This past year has seen so many great things - finally a job that I am settling into and holding, thoughts of going to Law School, and leaps of improvement in my fitness. I am very thankful for the great string of healthy months of running that I have had - It almost got me to a marathon, I ran an amazing trail race this summer that showed me there are challenges that have nothing to do with time. I ran my first half marathon and 25k, completed a 25 mile training run on the roads, a four-hour trail training run, and met so many cool people along the way.

I still have things to work on - a couple being the emotional/social/commitment issues. Being a better husband and father are a couple others that need work. I need to slow life down a little and try to find some sort of spiritual connection again. Finding this connection is important to me, I still have my organized religion issues, but I know finding some sort of peace in that realm will help in other areas.

I guess this is the yin-yang moment for me. My knee is still not 100%, I have run the last two days, two miles each time out, which is nice, but it is a far cry from what I had been hoping for. I am pissed about getting injured so close to Cape Cod and Stone Cat - mostly because of all of the training I put forth, which at points were really hard, but I'll be calling the Doc tomorrow to get an appointment, and probably a subsequent X-Ray and MRI - whcih I am sure will not be covered by my trailer park insurance plan, but it is a necessary means to a solution that will help me get back to a place where I want to be: Out on the trails and roads. Yep, I know I sound like a whiney jerk, but I now remember fully how much of a role running plays in my life. It doesn't rule my life, but it certainly helps stabilize the outside things that make this whole thing 'liveable'.

Simple right? Put down the refined sugars, get the knee looked at by an orthopaedic, and get on with life.... Unfortunately, for me anyway, I tend to be my own worst enemy.

I'll have a more optimistic running based ramble later on, perhaps around Thanksgiving, as it is sort of a mile marker for me as far as accomplishments go. Perhaps I'll drop back in if I get to see a doctor sonner rather than later, but I am not holding my breath on that one. Nonetheless, I will be strapping on my knee brace and running 2 milers as long as it doesn't cause soreness or pain until I figure out how to get from two miles to two hours in good health.

I'll get there, patience I guess.

Monday, November 3, 2008

IT Bands are STOOOOPID!!!!

So a brief update.

The good news is that I think I have a decent handle on the issue with my knee. This past week I was able to run twice (3 and 4 miles) on the roads, and had decent success with minimal pain. At first I thought it might have been because of the knee brace (and it may have helped), but everything seems to add up and point to the IT Band - biking irritated the injury, it hurts most on hills and uneven surfaces, etc. Really, the offending training run was the 20+ miles of running in Willowdale with Dan and Brenda a few weeks back, which was chock full of uneven terrain for sure - perfect conditions for an IT Band situation to occur. Because I pushed through it I think I made the general recovery time longer. Knowing it is IT Band Syndrome is actually sort of a relief for me, way back when I ran my first season of XC I developed ITB issues, and most optimistically, I came back from the injury. I am going to treat it like IT Band syndrome, get healed, and start dreaming about the Fat Ass 50k, which has been confirmed will be run on January 10th at Bradley Palmer, Hyannis Marathon in February, and all the adventures I hope to take on in 2009!

Obviously. it looks like Stone Cat is definitely going to be scrubbed for me, but I am sure I'll be over there volunteering and taking some snapshots.

Happy Trails!