Tag Archives: Running

An Important Issue

And now, for a change of pace (yes, that is a running pun; an ‘rpun,’ perhaps?).

I’ve just finished reading Trail Runner’s 2020 ‘The Dirt Annual,’ an extra-thick magazine filled with stories about running and runners, and want to shout its praises.

While it naturally contains impressive tales of distance and exertion, this year’s selections have clearly been chosen to illustrate what the cover’s tag line aptly calls “The Soul of Trail Running.”   Mira Rai’s upbringing in a remote Nepali village nearly untouched by industrialization or ’modernization’ is eye-opening, and contrasts wildly with Ricky Gates’ crew sharing a magic-bus style run adventure starting within arm’s reach of Silicon Valley. The free-spirited deep-dive of Italy’s exhausting Tor Des Geants is buttressed by the ritualized extremities of Japan’s Mount Hiei monks, whose run/walk feats dwarf any ultra-marathoner you have ever heard of.

Claire Walla’s quick anecdote about abandoning all pretense of good sense for a spur-of-the-moment R2R2R of Arizona’s big ditch and then the ‘Parting Shot’ page featuring a child’s inspirational note during her father’s Bigfoot 200 endurance run both dilute any taint of hero worship with their humanity, reminding us that humor and connection are critical ingredients of the trail running recipe, as well.

Throughout, the stories place the head trip above the physical. Whether it is Tom Riggenbach dedicating first his teaching career to the Navajo Nation and now his post-career life to running as a way of enhancing their community, or Jim Eisenhart sailing the world to find new places to run in solitude and nature, the point is clear and the evidence broad: running regularly, and long, is a common feature of human culture, a way in which diverse folks experience the world in all its variety and a path (rpun alert, again) to becoming and remaining as fully alive as one can be during our brief strut upon the stage.

It’s not for glory, it’s for the journey. Trail Runner issue 139/2020, ‘The Dirt Annual.’ Get it. Read It. Live it.

Breathing Has Three Sides (at least!)

A recent post encouraged runners to try out different breathing intervals; two step, four step, six step, etc., to see what works best for them at different levels of speed or intensity.

There’s nothing in The Book of Nike though, that says we have to always breathe in for the same duration as we breathe out, or go right from one to the other without a pause. Start messing with those variables and you enter the world of asymmetrical breathing – yet another chew-toy-for-the-brain, to drown out your inner couch potato.

The simplest asymmetry is a three count – in on one, pause on two, out on three – which lets the lungs mine that air for a bit longer before pushing it out, and also reduces the number of lung expansions over any given length of time, thereby saving some energy and stamina in your core. A useful tool when you want to push hard, but with more efficiency and for than breathing in/out on every two footfalls would allow.

Way more intense is a seven count: long, slow in on one/two/three, pause on four, then long slow out on five/six/seven. Keeping that up for an extended time can be a useful way to force a slower pace – and maybe trick the body into efficiency adaptations that will come in handy in other situations.

Sounds arcane and complex, I’ll admit, so why bother? Well, I’m convinced there are at least three potential benefits.

One, asymmetrical breathing gives us lots more options to match respiration to effort. Is a two-step interval too fatiguing on that gentle grade, but a four-step feels like oxygen starvation? Try a three- step and see how that fits.

Two, Our core muscles create different motions and stresses on inhaling than on exhaling, and if you breathe symmetrically, you’re always making inhale motions on the same foot/leg and exhaling stresses on the other.  Yup; symmetrical breathing can actually lead to asymmetrical fatigue and even injury. Asymmetrical breathing distributes stresses more equally – which is well worth a try if you ever find yourself with a pain or glitch on one side and not the other!

Three (and my personal favorite, though I have no scientific basis for it): Try filling your lungs with air and holding your breath, and note how long before you start to feel desperately in need of exhaling. Now, try emptying your lungs and holding there. If you’re like me, the horror movie sensation comes a lot quicker. My guess is, our bodies are hard-wired to suck in air, but not so much to push it out. ‘Full lungs good, empty lungs bad. Ugh.’  With that in mind, my tendency is to exhale harder or longer so I get as much of the old, stale, oxygen-depleted air out, and then let the body’s reflex take care of pulling in the fresh stuff.


These days, my sweet spot seems to be hard-out on one/two/three, and let the body inhale naturally on four/five. When I find my pace lagging on a long run, choosing to breathe that asymmetrical five-count works wonders to bring me back in range.

I’ve even found myself getting into a mode with a hard exhale, quick partial inhale, another hard exhale and then a big full inhale, all in a five count.   Difficult to describe, but whenever I fall into it, I find my pace has improved with little to no increase of effort.


So mix it up, chop it up, find out what works for you, and when. There’s more than two sides to breathing in and out!

And the Beat Goes On…

Plenty of runners use a GPS watch, and plenty of those offer heart-rate monitoring. As a mid-pack runner, I didn’t give it much attention for years, but lately I’ve found that, even when not using it as a primary guide for training and progress, this data offers a window into what’s going on inside our bodies as we run.

The most practical info I’ve gotten so far is about warming up. Over time I’ve noticed that if I just lace up and start running, even at a very easy pace, my heart ramps up quickly to a rate that usually comes with a full-on sprint. If I keep running, it takes quite a while to settle down to a normal cruising rate, which is fatiguing and seems like it must waste energy. If, on the other hand, I stop running for even a little while, the rate drops down quickly and when I start up again it settles right into normal cruising range. I can’t speak to the exact cause here, but what it feels like is that, to run efficiently, my body needs to adjust its internal settings and biochemical processes from what they are in lighter activity. When I jump right in, the machine is trying to put out high power while still set to ‘idle,’ and that over-work makes it take longer to reset itself. Signaling the body that an effort is coming by just a little bit of running, and then allowing it a brief pause, provides time for biology to catch up with intent

With that info, I’ve been trying a new warm-up on days when I’m aiming for my best performance. Instead of just starting slow and increasing speed as I feel more loose, I alternate a minute or two of running with a similar period of walking around, then run some more, then walk, and so on. Over ten or fifteen minutes, I work those short spurts up from very gentle to almost a sprint. None of that is enough to drain reserves or feel fatigue, but when I start the day’s real work all the internal dials and knobs are on their ‘RUN’ settings and I can put out whatever level of effort is desired at a reasonable heart rate, not the frantic over-revving I’d get from a cold-start. I used that strategy before a recent 5-K and had a really satisfying run, so I’m gonna keep at it.

Another thing I’ve noticed: as a long run goes on, my heart rate slowly goes up, even though I’m holding the same pace (or, more likely, slowing down!). In other words, the longer I run, the higher the heart rate for any given pace. Again, I’m no physiologist, so I can’t say exactly why that is, and I haven’t figured out how to make use of it, but it’s definitely interesting.

Each body is unique and so is each person’s heart rate profile. There are tables out there that say what the resting and exercising rate is likely to be for a certain age (rates generally decrease with age) but they may not apply to you. I happen to be a smallish person and my heart rates run considerably higher than the tables indicate for my age – I call it hummingbird syndrome. To get the most out of any heart rate monitoring, follow it long enough and frequently enough to have a good idea of your own individual resting range, steady-state-running range and high-exertion or maximum range.

(Besides, checking heart rate now and then is a useful way to get your mind off of how hard you’re is working and sweating!).

And the beat goes on…

Pushing Down

The arrival of spring this year found this runner looking-forward eagerly to a long event that started up in the mountains and ended down in town. With a couple thousand feet of overall drop, I figured it was a sure formula for a fast pace and an ego-boost to start the season. Sure enough, I crushed my goal pace on the first half (which contained nearly all the downhill) but when I got to the flats…ouch! Turned out my enthusiasm had gotten the better of me and my legs were already shot. By the last few miles I could barely get my feet off the ground as I watched shufflers pass me by and ended up with the worst finish I’d had at that distance in years.

Looking back on it now, I see several things I did wrong. First off, after years of living and training in a mountain region where up and down is a fact of life, I’d taken my fitness in that regard for granted.   Ignoring the fact I’d spend half the last year living in a city where a highway overpass counts as a scenic overlook, I just assumed running all that downhill at an eager pace would still be my thing. Wrong!

Second, because that city sojourn had been at sea level and my regular home and running are all above 6000’ elevation, since my return I’d focused my training on pace work to get re-acclimatized to thin air with less oxygen. Add in the long runs needed to prepare for the event distance, and I completely ignored the kind of up and down runs that would have prepared my legs for this event.

As I mentally beat myself up for that overconfidence, I recalled that an event in which I’d DNF’d a few years ago also had a big downhill in the first half, and that time too, I’d been proud of my pace on those drops, self-image swelling as I wove my way around slower runners and watched the valley floor come rising up to greet me. There too, once we got back on the level, my legs were noodles, only that day, on top of the fatigue I discovered I had no idea how many miles were left to run, thanks to poor signage and a course that looped around and crossed-over itself like a pre-schooler’s shoelaces. Pretty sure my car was closer than the finish line, I bailed and snuck away in shame ( well, maybe just embarrassment…). So much for that earlier flash of ego!

Putting those two together, I’ve resolved to spend this winter on uphill runs and treadmills with the incline set high. And, never again to be deceived by an early downhill. It’s one thing to let it all hang out on a downslope at the end of a run ( thank you to all those race-planners who lay out their courses for a downhill finish, you let us mid-pack runners feel like heroes!). From now on I’ll read the entire elevation profile (another thank you to all the race directors who include that vital info on their web site), and take just a little help from gravity’s boost, while preserving my legs for what comes after.

Pushing downhill, I’ve discovered, is a drug best-taken in controlled doses!

Running with a Nine-year-old

“Never go on stage with a kid or a dog,” some famous actor once said ( I think it was W. C. Fields, but I’m not sure, and it’s probably a paraphrase, anyway, so who’s counting?)

The sentiment comes to mind after taking part in a local Turkey Trot which had been set up in tight back-and-forth over a grassy meadow covered by about two inches of stale snow and which attracted over 400 participants despite temperatures in the 20’s. Seeing the start line occupied by the usual lean young men (in t-shirts despite the cold), I set myself back among the ‘faster than a walk, but definitely not going to take any awards’ crowd and awaited the gun. The first mile was purely a matter of traffic control; weaving a path through runners who were already losing their initial steam, and trying not to impede those who thought the same of me, as we all hogged the thin strip of muddy grass we were carving into semi-secure footing among all that snow.

By the second mile, things had thinned out as we each found our pace, and somewhere along the way I found mine matched very closely by a slight young woman in a pink jacket, huffing along with admirable intensity.   Focusing on steady level-of-effort as the course rolled up and down around multiple hairpin turns, I found myself easily passing this youngster, and offered a heartfelt ‘way to go’ as I did. Turn-about being fair play, she passed me a little later, which was when I began to really take note. Over the next mile, we traded places several times and I began to appreciate that besides strong lungs and legs, this kid possessed a spirit that did not readily accept being left behind.

Approaching the last turn, she was just ahead of me, within easy reach if I hit the pedal for a good finish. There’s neither honor nor pleasure in passing a youngster in the final yards though, so I told myself if I did not pull past her naturally before the last hundred, I would hang back and follow her in. Around the turn, her pace slackened and she fell behind, with about two-hundred yards to the finish.

Secure in the notion I was not going to make a fool of myself competing with ‘a little kid,’ I accelerated, savoring release from the discipline of pacing (and anticipating the joy of stopping…) when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a shiny pink object not only come near, but quickly pulling ahead!

Long story short, I could not have matched that finishing sprint even if I’d wanted to, so gladly followed her across the red line spray-painted on the snow. A few minutes later, after making sure she had been joined by an adult, I made my way over and offered very sincere congratulations and encouragement to the smiling youngster and her parents.

Only when the results were posted, did I learn that the person who’d kept me honest and made sure I did my best that day was all of nine-years old.

Any day we can run is a good day; and well worth a Thanksgiving.


Running is Different –

Life is big, and life is complicated.

Running is simple: one foot in front of the other, as quickly as you like, for as long as you like.  Everything else is optional.

Adult human life is deeply entwined with others – whether job or family, neighbors or government, or just trying to establish a place for yourself in a crowded world of not-enough-of-everything – most humans spend an overwhelming proportion of their time trying to satisfy others.

Running – especially for us MPRs, who are not paid or sponsored or skulked by the press – is about satisfying yourself. 

In so many parts of life, you must invest years to get anywhere – to earn that diploma, work up that job ladder or write that symphony, to raise those kids from infants to adults, to reach that golden anniversary.

As an MPR you decide today to be a runner. You can stop being a runner tomorrow – and start again the next day, month, year, whenever.  A new start every day if you want it.

In many sports, you compete to get on the team, compete to play a certain position, and even then get rotated in and out depending on how well you or someone else perform – or just the lucky chances that do or do not come your way.

As an MPR, you choose to run.  You choose the distance, trails or road, event or solo, day or night, local or far away, tried-and-true or new-and-unknown.  You are in control.

In any kind of group pursuit, even if you don’t do well, the enterprise may succeed, and you may still benefit. When the group succeeds, you share the glory (or maybe not – if you or they do not feel you contributed as much as you’d have liked).  And when the group does not succeed, it’s pretty hard not to share the disappointment, even if you performed your very best.

As an MPR, success depends one hundred percent on you.  There’s no one else to steal the limelight, no one else to share the blame – but remember:

Success and achievement in most parts of our lives are measured against external yardsticks – standards met and requirements fulfilled.

As an MPR, all that matters are your own goals; your own ambitions or lack thereof, your own satisfaction. 

Running is Different – Running is Yours!

Who’s Faster – He’s or She’s?

A recent article* about the possibility of someone, someday, breaking two hours in the marathon, contained what seems a contradiction.  Despite citing several reasons women’s physiology might be better suited to endurance running (smaller bodies for better heat rejection, longer legs in proportion to total height and mass, slender calves that take less energy to swing, less upper-body muscle-mass to carry around, etc.), nearly all the discussion about breaking the record was focused on men.  Which scratched-up an old pet peeve: the tendency of casual conversation to assume that, because the men’s record in a distance is faster than the women’s, it means that “men are faster than women.”

Actually, all it really demonstrates, is that the very fastest men are faster than the very fastest women; but those are the exceptional individuals, and ‘exceptional’ means just that – the ones for whom the rules do not apply.  For ordinary folks like us MPRs, the rules do apply, and in this case the operative rule is: the range of variation among either group (men, women) is greater than the difference between their extremes.  Or, put the way humans really speak, “some women are faster than damned near every man.  (How many men could equal Paula Radcliffe’s world record marathon time of 2:15:25?  Or Tirunesh Dibaba’s 14:11:15 in the 5K?)

If you’re a male MPR, you can count on plenty of female runners disappearing into the distance ahead of you.  Just as, if you’re a female MPR, you can reliably anticipate finishing ahead of some men.

For this dog, in fact, that’s one of the joys of the sport.  None of your old ‘boys on this side, girls on that side,’ gym class segregation; we’re all in the run together.  Androgen-fueled-aggressiveness has nothing on estrogen-paced-persistence, and vice-a-the-verse-a.  Lining up for a start in the Middle of the Pack, the gender of the runner off your shoulder tells nothing about where they will be by the end.  Any more than it tells who will be the one shouting ‘way to go,’ as they get passed, or ‘you’re kickin’ it’ when another runner seems to be flagging.

(Speaking of gender neutrality benefits: ain’t it grand that running is one of the few public activities where men wear Lycra and women sweat profusely – and sometimes even spit – and hardly anyone takes note!)

A runner struggled to the top of a Himalayan peak (on a rest-day, of course), to ask the fabled hermit a burning question.  “Who’s faster, oh Wise and All seeing One, men, or women?”

After many hours of meditation (during which the runner kept busy with gentle stretches and mental calculations of how much faster the run down might be than the hike up) the ancient gray-hair replied.

“Yes,” was all she answered.

What Will It Take To Run A 2-Hour Marathon?, Alex Hutchinson, Runner’s World, November 2014

The Measure of a Run

In 2014, Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon, the first American man to do so in 31 years.  Millions watched intently, thrilled and awed by his victory. His winning time? in 2:08:37.

In 2011, Ryan Hall ran the same course in 2:04:58, the fastest marathon ever run by an American, anywhere.  But Ryan Hall didn’t win; he didn’t even get to stand on the podium, because three men ran even faster that year. So his run, nearly four minutes faster than Meb’s, didn’t bring anything like the acclaim – or rewards – of that performance.

Is beating every other runner who shows up for a particular event on a particular day the best measure of a runner’s performance – or is hitting a particular time the more absolute and lasting achievement?

On one hand, winning seems dubious when the time required to do so can vary so much from year to year…

On the other, there was reportedly a tailwind in 2011, which may have boosted the entire field’s times – though how much that affected them is undetermined; and undeterminable. Swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction, 2015’s winning time was 2:09:17, widely thought to be attributable, at least in part, to headwinds; but again, how much so is impossible to determine.  Consider that Robert Kiprono Cherulyot had won – and set a new course record – in 2010, but if his 2:05:52 had occurred one year later, it would only have been good for – fifth!

Clearly, actual time isn’t the absolute objective criterion it seems to be, either.

And is an individual’s performance really due solely to their efforts, or do drafting, switching leads and the emotions of the chase contribute – how much did the pacing of others play into those astounding 2011 times?   Speaking of intangibles, seven of the 2014 men’s field had previously run a 2:05:30 or better somewhere.  How readily do we conclude that it was only Meb’s personal commitment to making a statement after the tragedy of 2013 which set him at the head of such a phenomenal group – or were their efforts moderated, as some have claimed, by Hall himself, lulling them into a relaxed pace until Keflezghi had opened a gap which was to prove unbridgeable? (Apparently the same factors that can skew finishing time can affect placement as well – and make my brain start to hurt…)

When confusion reigns supreme, seek refuge in the simple: and one simply indisputable truth – especially for an MPR – is that both Meb’s and Ryan’s performances are spectacular, inspiring, and borderline incredible.  When your own marathon times hover around 4 hrs. (or five, or…), it is almost beyond belief that someone out there can do it in just over two – and those who can do so seem so superhuman, it makes little sense to differentiate between one or the other.

Another thing we can be sure of, is that neither of these runners –  among the very best in the world – really knows before a given event what they will achieve.  They may run a new PR and win – or run an even greater PR, and not win. Someone else may not run their fastest race – and still win. Or not.  All they or any of us can really count on is the satisfaction that comes from knowing you did your best; for that day, for those conditions, for all the factors that play into what seems like the simplest of sports (run from here to there, as fast as you can) but is in reality, fraught with complexities.

Doing your best is the most reliable measure of achievement, whether you’re an MPR or an elite champion: another way in which there’s not as much difference between us as one might first suppose!


(By the way, why is the US running conversation so focused on ‘American’ runners.  Lelisa Desisa won the event in 2013 and 2015;, where were the magazine covers, cable TV profiles, and full-page sponsor-ads for him?  Or for Geoffrey Mutai, leader of that blistering pack in 2011, with a 2:03:02 that still stands today as the course record? And we cannot go without mentioning Dennis Kimetto, whose 2:02:57 in Berlin 2014 is the fastest marathon to date; anywhere, in any field.

And why is this post only about the men?

More to come.)

Run-up to Boston – Part 7 – Turning On To Boylston

Hypothesis: for an MPR, running Boston is not about the finishing-time, but the experience, and when one takes that view, perhaps the ultimate moment is not crossing the big yellow line (yes, it really is big enough to see on Google Earth); the real climax is when you round the corner from Hereford St. onto Boylston and see that last .2 (it’s actually .36, but who’s counting?) stretching out, straight and simple and piece-of-cake, lined with roaring humanity, to the banners and bridge that will mean it’s over; and realize you wish this run could last forever.


And so:

To the 27,000 who came from around the country and around the world to run…

( you saw them sprinkled around airports, train stations and highway rest stops across the country Friday, Saturday and Sunday, proudly displaying runner-shirts or jackets from years past, a pop-up community coalescing more and more, the closer each one came to the epicenter of its strange ambition…)

To the family and friends who humor and support them in their obsession…

To the organizers (the Boston Athletic Association, and its many generous sponsors), who put this enormous celebration together so seamlessly and well…

To the police, military, EMTs, firefighters and nobody-but-them-knows-who-all, who did so much to keep all of us safe, with as little visibility or inconvenience as they possibly could,

To the photographers, who captured moments and memories of what can otherwise seem an ephemeral experience…

To the volunteers, smiling with astonishing good cheer through –

  • Seemingly-endless lines of registrants to be checked-in, bags and shirts to be handed-out
  • Ushering dazed and hapless crowds around the expo
  • Dishing out tons of pre-race past in the bowels of City Hall
  • Preparing a safe and un-miss-able course from rural woodlands to city center
  • Accepting drop bags and shepherding thousands of manic, jittery would-be-racehorses onto busses in the early morning hours
  • Handing out coffee, water and smiles under drizzly tents in the runner’s village (even when we couldn’t figure out which side of the tables was for servers, and which for servees…)
  • Dispensing hydration, energy, first aid and encouragement every mile along the route
  • Draping medals over sweaty necks, thermal ponchos over about-to-become-hypothermic shoulders and handing out still more hydration, calories, first aid and encouragement after the line
  • The after-party – which many of us (like this one…) were too full of the experience by then to attend, so we’ll never know what it was like…

And did it all with patience and courtesy and heart-warming generosity…

And most of all, to the crowd, who came out in droves – despite the rain, wind and cold – to once again cheer a bunch of self-absorbed migrant-strangers as we exercised this odd compulsion, disrupting lives and clogging the streets of their cities and towns for hours on end, and made us feel completely and utterly welcome…

To anyone I’ve overlooked (as I’m sure I have, someone)…

There is only one thing to say:

Boylston Corner Tight Crop



No, this is not about running when you’re hungry, it’s about when you’re hungry to run. That feeling you get when you:

– almost made a goal, but not quite, and can’t wait to take another shot at it.

– have spent weeks recovering from an injury and are aching to take the hobbles off, and run the way you did right before it started to hurt.

– just surprised yourself – with a time, a distance, a moment of runner’s high – and want to see where it will lead

– had a disappointing run, but you’ve got an idea what might help improve the next one (or build to better runs sometime down the road)

– had a good run, but the next one isn’t scheduled for two days (your next workout) or two weeks (your next event) or two months (your next BIG event).

– invited a friend to join you on a workout or familiar event, and can’t wait to share it with her

– signed up for something new and different (and maybe a bit scary)

– gave yourself a day (or two) off from training, and woke up more stiff and sore than when you exercise every day…

– just got a new (whatever) and can’t wait to try it/wear it/show it off, or simply find out if the damned thing really works…

– haven’t run at all fast or well, but can still feel how making the effort boosts your energy for everything else you do, how knowing that you did run can lift your spirits and confidence all day, and how much more likely you are to get a good night’s sleep thanks to the healthy fatigue of real whole-body exercise

It’s anything that reminds you that your next run can be great regardless of where you or anyone else finish, because you have your own goals, your own reasons for running and your own yardstick to measure what you’ve done.

Feeling Run-Hungryone more reason to love being an MPR!