Sunday, November 01, 2009

Deep (Long) Thoughts on Running

As readers probably know, I've done a bit of running in the past few weeks. October 10 I ran the Dick Collins Firetrails 50-miler, October 18 I ran the Diablo 50K, and October 24-25 I ran 95.5 miles at the SF One-Day. Actually, I technically only scored 94.4 miles because, despite hauling apples one last time to try and get another lap done in under 8 minutes, I missed it by a half second. (See pic below, which I yanked from DC-H's facebook (thanks!) via a shift-apple-4 screenshot)

All during these races my knee has been hurting, pretty badly at times. That's made me think more deeply than normal about running, and I've come up with two things. One, running is fun, but sometimes only type-2 fun. Two, running on pavement sucks.

First, is running fun, and do I want to keep doing it? Of course, and of course. But with my knee hurting, I haven't really wanted to do much training, and when I have gotten out, I haven't been enjoying it as much lately. It's a good thing the daylight is running out and winter's coming; I could use the off-season. I ran 8 ultras in 2008, and I've run 7 so far in 2009, with two more 50K's nearby before year's end. Of those I'll probably run one, in two weeks. Then I'll probably do the usual and take a break until February or March, when I'll run a 50K or two to get ready for Diablo in April. Right now I'm not that excited about running that race for the 6th time, but hopefully I'll feel different in the spring.

As to the SF One-Day in particular, while running it, I very much enjoyed it from 9AM to about 6PM when the sun went down. I managed to keep going at an OK pace (14-15 minute miles, which was plenty given the cushion I'd built) for the next few hours until a friend showed up at 11PM. After he left I started to lose it and slowed to 20 minute miles. A friend came from 3AM to 6AM, but by the time he arrived, I'd already given up on making 100 miles. He basically helped me keep going and for the most part we walked 20-minute miles, but before and after his help I did 29, 38, 51, 28, and 52-minute laps, mostly because I sat down and rested, and possibly fell asleep briefly. Once the sun came back up, I finished strong, just like last year, doing (in order) 18, 17, 16, 13, 11, 10, 9, and 8-minute miles. I had another 8 minutes left to try to get one more in, resulting in the above photo.

It felt great to finish strong, just like I did last year. But I also hated it pretty much all night long, just like I did last year. The Cure song Policy of Truth came on my iPod and I told myself to remember the oft-repeated lyrics: "never again is what you swore the time before." This is fascinating to me having heard so much about behavioral economics and hyperbolic discounting at school (that's fancy-speak for saying people never save enough for retirement). At 2:00 in the morning when I was abandoning the 100-mile goal, I absolutely did not care about it. Also, I remember hating pretty much everyone and everything (and telling my sister who called from Indonesia to STFU). Then the sun came up and I felt great and finished with almost 95.5 miles, 5 laps shy of breaking 100, 5 laps shy of winning my age group (this was my best and last shot to do this--PCTR has a calendar-year race series and next year I'll be in the much tougher 30-39 age group), and 5 laps shy of winning my first race mug instead of my 13th race coaster. ARG.

It's not like those extra 5 miles (which would take me an hour in good circumstances) would've been easy, but they were likely possible. In retrospect, I wish I'd sucked it up a little, but it's only easy to say that after the fact instead of in the middle of the night after running 75 or so miles. The real problem is the lack of a commitment device. It might have been nice if, ahead of time, I'd told my buddy that came out in the middle of the night if there was any chance for me to break 100, then he was to scream at me and tell me "I didn't come out here at 3 in the morning to walk with you, you f---ing pansy. Now let's MOVE!" But at the time, I would've hated him for that (see discussion of phone call above). So what I really should have done is, ahead of time, gone to economist Dean Karlan's website: There I could've written a binding contract with myself (verified by a neutral 3rd person) that if I failed to run 100 miles, my credit card would be charged any amount I chose for a donation to a charity that I despise (you can choose either side of abortion, environment, marriage equality, gun control, or Bush/Clinton presidential libraries to be your despised "anti-charity"). Having $200 potentially go to a loathsome anti-marriage-equality group would have been enough to get me those extra 5 miles.

Maybe next year. Except I hated it. Except I like it in retrospect. Except next October I better be busting my ass to get my research done for the job market.

Now, finally, to my second point: pavement sucks. Ever since my knee started hurting, I've been thinking a little about why. I read a couple more articles about barefoot running, watched some videos online (see below)
and looked into two (ridiculously expensive) methods, chi running and pose running.

My first reaction upon hearing the name "chi running" was my "just because it's thousands of years old and from Asia doesn't mean it's true" bias. (See this explanatory Onion article.) But I must admit that doesn't mean it's not true either. All the sources seemed to say that running barefoot, you take shorter strides and land on the front of your foot, whereas with shoes you point your toes up and land on your heels. Also, we may have evolved running long distances, so you'd think runner's knee and all these problems would have gotten weeded out, and running with shoes changes your form and takes you away from the way you evolved to do it. The only flaw I see with that argument is that we certainly didn't evolve running long distances on pavement. Last week this NYT article mentioned this fact. The article also mentions Christopher McDougall's book Born to Run, which advocates for barefootedness. I'd like to read this soon, but I'm 24th on the wait list at the library.

Anyway, I was convinced enough to give it a try, so during the last two races I tried shorter strides and landing on my front-foot. Like everybody says, it makes your calves tired. I also got a pair of Vibram five-fingers. Or rather one pair of KSO's and one pair of Sprints, neither of which I'm sure fit right, and one of which I'll surely be returning (you're supposed to order one size down of the KSO's, but REI doesn't carry size 40, and the Sprints in size 41 seem to fit fine, but the rubber heel sticks out oddly far in the back.) I haven't really tried them out running yet, but at least we can be sure of one thing: they look ridiculous.


  1. I know you didn't ask for advice, but fwiw I had knee issues that were going to potentially end hiking for me. I tried various treatment options, but it was slowly getting worse (the doctor told me it was just age). Eventually I found a very cool chiropractor who studied the problem carefully, did a very small number of adjustments over a few weeks, and (with monthly visits) my knee has been totally fine for 2 years now.

    And also, the captcha for this message is "quings" which is going to be my new favorite word.

  2. my friend, "policy of truth" is a depeche mode song, (not the cure).

  3. Ugh. Good call. I'm ashamed of myself.

  4. I also got KSOs out of curiosity, and have been enjoying hiking in them. I usually wear a 12 in hiking shoes, and I went with a 10 in VFFs.

    I injured myself (knee, hip pain) trying to run and recovered after several tries with the help of a chiropractor. (I credit the detailed observations and physical therapy he gave me, but I got the adjustments too). The VFFs tempt me to try running again, but I'm still hesitant.