Cold Shmold

Progress! This week has felt much better than last week, and I can definitely feel that foundation starting to take shape. Running in the teens is hard. I realized that with an experiment on the treadmill. Instead of doing Monday’s walk 1-run 2-walk 1-run 1 all outside, I did the first mile walk outside, and then the 2 miles running on the treadmill, and it felt waaaaaay better than my last outdoor 2-miler. This is probably less noticeable once one is in better fitness, but I think in these early stages its using too much of my available energy to just stay warm.

Other than that, I have been having fun finding the hilliest places I can to get solid walks in. I did a mile brisk walk in Croft Farm on Wednesday, followed by ten laps up and down the steep little hill near the bridge, reversing direction after five. That felt very similar to a good hike on rough terrain. Then I finished with a brisk walk around the park. I know that most runners balk at walking, but later that afternoon I felt like I got a serious workout in. I believe that if the route and intensity is right, a three mile walk can be just as beneficial as an easy three mile run.

Let’s talk about about the weather!

Someone on one of the many running groups I follow recently asked people to share their favorite forms of motivation for getting out in the cold weather. Of course my first thought was riddled with sarcasm (a life-long problem that I blame on my parents and birthplace), but as I muddled over the question I realized that I truly do believe in this one: buy expensive clothing.

Now to be clear, I rarely ever spend a lot of money on running gear, but I certainly own a lot. Thank you Haddonfield Running Co and your sidewalk sales! There is nothing like getting to don your newest high tech jacket on a chilly January day.

This might seem like an obviously good idea, but when I was younger I barely had the money for personal hygiene products let alone fancy running pants. But a shift occurred after I was fortunate enough to spend a solid year living in Hawaii in the mid-thirties. On my first day on Oahu I surfed. Yes, it was straight out of a movie. I checked into my youth hostel, and without unpacking my suitcase I grabbed my board and headed down to Waikiki Beach for some tasty waves. All the locals were wearing half wetsuits, so I figured I should as well. It was October, and I guess they felt a chill in the air. Who was I to argue.

That was the last day I wore a wetsuit in Hawaii. I even surfed at midnight during the full moon. No chill. Ever.

One year later I was heading back to the east coast, and I was downright petrified of what the cold would do to me. I never liked the cold, and I knew that I had become a massive wimp living near the equator.

Since I began this story on my first day in Hawaii, I should tell you a little about the last day, even though it has nothing to do with running or the cold. I easily surfed over 300 days that year. I would have surfed 365 if it weren’t for working 60 hours per week as the beverage manager at the Hilton, some days spent hiking, and some intra-island travel. I never once paddled out to flat surf. There were less than epic days, and there were some totally freaking epic days, but never a complete lack of waves. That is, until my very last day on the island.

I made sure I was completely ready for my flight the day before, planning to spend the whole entire day surfing. I had a big breakfast, then walked down Liliʻuokalani Avenue one last time to the Queens break, where I saw . . . nothing. Flat as a sheet of glass. I had suspicions that Hawaii was messing with me that whole year, and the view off the beach that morning left me with no doubts. She had quite a sense of humor.

I paddled out, and spent a solid eight hours swimming with the turtles. I had seen turtles on occasion that year, but I realized that the calmness of the ocean brought them closer to shore. Of course no one else bothered to paddle out that day, so it was just me and the turtles. All day. We had a fantastic time.

And then I was in New Jersey.

In October.

More or less penny-less.

I took my last pennies and went to the mall where I bought the warmest winter coat I have ever owned. Then I bought some thick socks, which I never really owned, and good ski gloves, and a couple of thick hats. I think it was a mild winter, but I was warm all the way through, and I have never looked back. In the years since I have learned to love the cold, and a big part of that is being very well prepared. It is really interesting how priorities shift as we age. I would now say that warm winter clothing is one of the first things I spend money on, as opposed to the very last.

So how do I dress for a run in temps in the 20s? Layers of course. Lots and lots of layers of high tech fabric. Something I learned after developing some reynauds syndrome is that it doesn’t make much sense to wear layers everywhere except your head, hands and feet. So my winter wardrobe begins with lightweight, synthetic socks, gloves, and hat. Then its thicker socks, outer gloves, and a thick hat. From there I wear SportHill running pants under lightweight, stretchy pants (don’t get me started on running in pants without pockets), synthetic t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, and varying thicknesses of jackets. If its really cold I throw some mitten shells over the gloves.

Small Steps

Coach Craig’s Training Blog, Week2

Well, that was interesting. Starting over is always a challenge, and after a certain age, each new start seems a little bit harder. But success is success, which is why I know to start out slowly, notching small accomplishments and building a foundation.

Last week involved a simple plan; five days of 3-mile walks, with two walk/run sessions of 3 miles. The walk/runs were only 1 mile walking, 1 running, and 1 walking. The first of those sessions was awesome; a very cold, but beautiful day, with plenty of gas in the tank, and the simple joy of moving again. The second, two days later, was a solid punch in the nose! It was colder, and grayer, and maybe windier, or perhaps that was all just the turmoil in my brain as I slogged through the run segment. I am not going to use this as an excuse, and will try not to repeat, it but that was one of several recent experiences that have made me wonder if I am dealing with long COVID. It was only two months ago that I was very comfortably running three miles with my club cross country kids, so it was a bit shocking to feel such discomfort. Then again, back to that age thing, and the fact that I have never started a new training plan at the age of 52. Life is all about adjusting to new normals.

I finished out the week with some more casual walks, along with some fun at Cooper River with the club kids doing our Winter Running Program. Completed the week’s plan with 20 total miles. I could definitely feel it in my hips, but just some mild, symmetrical discomfort in both sides. My weight stayed steady at 185, as I definitely matched the new activity with some more calories. I also broke my dry January for with one night of beer drinking.

One of the things that is really great about starting a new program after a lay-off is that it forces me to wade back through what every new runner experiences. As a coach, it is so easy to forget the raw experience, or the fullness of the struggle. It is humbling as well as deeply informative. It is a process of  re-searching, and re-learning. If you find this blog somehow, and care to share thoughts on your experience of starting out, or starting out again, please consider leaving a comment.

Thanks for joining me,

Coach Craig

Coach Craig – Follow Me on My Annual Plan

New year, new annual training plan, and some new, crazy goals!

I want to begin this post by being clear that I am not really into sharing the nitty gritty of my own training. I tend to cringe when I see such posts on social media (unless they are part of a private group — that is totally appropriate!) My ego, especially the part related to my athletic accomplishments, has been beaten into submission, and I have no desire to earn anyone’s admiration via my latest workout or race finish. Don’t get me wrong, I feel my own sense of deep, deep pride when I do follow through and accomplish any goal, but my self-promotion days are long gone.

Well, kinda. I have this personal coaching side-gig that I have been growing, more or less “organically,” for the last, oh gosh, maybe 20 years?! I would like to keep developing this practice, as it brings a ton of satisfaction helping other athletes accomplish their goals, but at the same time, I am not fishing for more clients, as I am more or less at capacity. So what’s up with this then?

I remember my mentor, Danny Dreyer, talking about the concept of a practice many years ago when I first delved into learning about and teaching running technique. Danny explained that a practice involves gradual progress over a lifetime. A commitment to learning over a long period of time. I immediately connected his words to my previous indoctrination as a teacher and researcher in graduate school; the hermeneutic circle is a context many of us live in without really thinking about it. We engage in education and become more knowledgable, and then interact with others in some type of teaching capacity (actual classroom teaching, coaching, ministry, guidance counseling, sales team management, etc.) And if we see what we do as a practice, then we also keep engaging in more learning. Most of us blend the learning with the working, but sometimes we get to take sabbaticals, or even “go back” to school (or go forward?)

That aside is partly my answer to “what’s up with this?” I am a teacher and a coach, and at the age of 51, with a combined experience of something like 50 years of both, I have to admit that I am not sure where one job title ends and the other begins. My lifelong practice is ultimately coaching, whether I am in a college classroom or at a track. I take proven concepts and teach them to others, testing them out, discovering their nuances, and creating my own unique methods for getting ideas to stick in brains, and getting brains to fire the right synapses to the right nerves. Teaching communication skills in a classroom is not all that different from teaching someone how to sprint faster, if you’re looking at it from a certain perspective.

So I am going to launch this new project where I will share my experience of following my own annual training plan. I am hoping a few people will find it interesting or valuable enough to follow along. The overall goal is to teach/coach others about how training plans work, how they relate to goals and help us work toward them methodically. It is also to share the nitty gritty; the struggles, doubts, aches and pains, new plateaus, perfect moments on the trail (because I know they are out there waiting!), and any other curiosity about the process. I would like to demystify things. Debunk some myths. Show that the coach doesn’t always know everything, because he is always learning.

There are coaches out there who get angry at people who don’t think they need a coach. I recently read a fascinating thread about this in one of the many coach communities I am part of online. “What do you say to someone who doesn’t think coaching is worth their time or effort, or who thinks they can find whatever they need online?” You might think I would share the clear bias in that question. I am a college professor, so I certainly hate the internet, right? Not at all. I think we should all find as much information that we can about anything we choose to invest our time in, before calling an expert. There is a ton of valuable information available to all of us, and yes, a lot of it is garbage, but part of being a thinking adult in 2022 is having the ability to discern credibility, while testing out we read, watch, and hear for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong — coaching is incredibly helpful, but I would rather have a student, athlete, or client that is coming to me with informed questions than one that just wants to be told what to do. I also believe there are people who do not necessarily need a coach, depending on their own specific goals. If your primary goal is to run a xx:xx.xx in your next 5K, then sure, hire a coach. But if your goal is partly to learn about yourself, learn about bio-science, training and performance, while chipping away at your 5K time, then maybe you should go the DIY route. Of course, this is coming from someone who, as a novice carpenter, chooses to do all his own home remodeling, which does not always go so well, so again, be a thinking adult and use your own judgement!

Here are some screenshots of my annual plan. The first is the annual overview, which is absurdly complicated. You can pour over it and bask in its overly technical, obsessive compulsive glory, if you want. The second shot is Microcycle 1 (a microcycle is a weekly plan).

You can see that my plan for the first week of this annual plan is very sparse. I share this to emphasize that the plan is a work in progress. The crazy, complicated overview is more or less set, and serves as a guide as I build out the weeks. My race goals are taking shape, with some commitments. But an annual plan has to be dynamic (ever-changing and evolving). What happens this week informs next week. What happened last month informs adjustments to this month. Always assessing and adjusting.

I also share Microcycle 1 to emphasize that I am starting out from 0. This might be a detail that encourages someone to follow along. If you are curious about how a 51-year-old coach/athlete will navigate going from a fairly sorry state of affairs, to running/hiking a 30-Mile mountain trail race in September, and possibly the Batona 55-Miler in November, well jump on board! It is sure to be a wild ride, if not just funny.

Here are my goals for the year:

  1. Zero Injury (this is always my top goal)
  2. Finish Breakneck 1/2 Marathon in under 5 hours. (Previous mark is 5:57)
  3. Finish Shawangunk Ridge Trail 30-Mile
  4. Finish Batona 55-Mile

I have no time goals other than for Breakneck. The Breakneck time might sound off, and before you think I am way out of my league for a 1/2 marathon, that race is considered one of the toughest in the country. It climbs five peaks, with one involving some moderate, four-limb climbing skills.

My training for these events is a little unconventional. I hate wasted work or miles, so I am very specific about what I am doing at any point in the process. I want to train my body to alternate from walking to running to walking, which I have learned is different than simply training to run non-stop. Mentally and physically, the changing of speeds and intensities involves some specific brain work. The first and only time did Breakneck, four years ago, I was in great walking shape, and was only comfortable running about six miles. I cramped up badly in the last 3 miles, and that added at least 30 minutes. Even before the cramping, it was the single hardest thing I have ever done (much harder than the iron-distance triathlon I did in 2007). The only reason I got through it was because a very-loved extended family member passed away a few days before the race, after a lifelong battle with a disease that should have taken her as a child. Every time I thought I had to quit I just thought of her. I am sure I will automatically be thinking of her again this next time, but I definitely want to have some more training supporting me as well!

My plan will include a lot of body weight training and hill climbing.

One thing I have learned over the years is that weight loss and training never mix. You simply cannot make significant physical gains if you are denying your systems the calories they need to function optimally. That said, the training will suffer with too much extra weight. Put simply, my joints will endure more stress, and it will take more blood flow to get oxygen to muscles, if I am carrying extra weight. With that in mind, I will be dropping pounds during the first two moths of the training plan. 15 to be exact.

I will try to focus on specific topics in future posts. I will also work on video versions.

Thanks for following, and feel free to share comments and questions!

Coach Craig