Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Running: done this time. No, really...

On Sunday, I headed out the door for the week's long run, as scheduled in my ultra training program. The morning was already hot, and growing steadily more so as I ran. But even more to the point, a question was growing louder and more insistent in my head, eventually drowning even the very loud music in my earplugs (no small feat; I listen to serious, headbanger hard rock). The question was simple: why am I doing this?

More specifically, why am I yet again trying so hard to run an ultra-marathon?

Anyone who took the trouble to read the entries in this blog going back, say, five years would see that I have constantly tried and failed to run an ultra of some kind. And it is quite a record of failure--I've started who knows how many ultra training programs, chosen (and sometimes registered for) numerous ultras, begun with determination and high expectations--and failed. Over and over again. I've never even come close. Injuries, distractions via job issues etc....something always de-rails my ultra goal, I feel embarrassed and ashamed, resolve to try again, reset, and repeat.

This particular Sunday morning, I was brought up short by an obstacle that involved no injury or other distraction. It was a mere question: why do I want to run an ultra? I stopped eventually, at around the eight mile mark, turned around, and walked the eight miles back, using the time to figure this out.

And the answer I found was simply this: I don't really have a good reason to run an ultra. This whole thing has been one big, long distraction, a blind alley I keep wandering down, again and again. Trying to run an ultra--heck, even succeeding in running one, if I ever could--really does nothing to advance my particular fitness goals or enhance my fitness life. In fact, it just makes my running a miserable experience. I have totally lost the joy of running, not just lately, but really every time I try to train for an ultra.

Worse, it is a distraction in my kendo goals, which are every bit a important to me as my running. I try not to think of this as a zero-sum game, but somehow it is, at least where ultras are concerned. I can run and train for marathons without seriously detracting from my kendo. But every time I try to train for an ultra, and to summon the necessary physical, mental and spiritual energy for that goal, my kendo suffers.

I think the problem here is my admiration for many ultra runners: Scott Jurek, Charlie Engle, etc. I deeply respect what they do. But it's time I realize, I'm not put together, mentally or otherwise, like an ultramarathoner. After reading their books, magazine interviews, etc., I realize that what makes them tick is not what makes me tick. I'm not after what any of them are after, and I really don't relate much to their goals or aspirations.

This is not to say I entirely understand my own goals, aspirations or larger existential purposes in running (or kendo, etc.). Nor am I denugrating these ultra runners in any way--far from it. But as I walked those eight long miles back home, I ran through my head how they asked and answered that question, "why am I doing this?," a question they nearly all address in their books, interviews, etc., and the simple truth is, I myself don't share any of it. My purposes are different, my journey to where I am at this point in my life is different...and while I don't know quite how to articulate it yet (no doubt the subject of future blog posts) where I'm going in my fitness life doesn't look like where they have been or want to go.

I'm just different. So different in fact that running an ultra just doesn't make sense to me. And maybe that is the underlying, subtle reason for all my many past failures. Maybe they aren't failures, so much as my body and perhaps even my spirit trying persistently to tell me something: this is not for you. And I've just been too darned stubborn to listen.

I have a serious stubborn steak, which has proven to be an asset in many respects. It got me through the ups and downs of earning my Ph.D., for example, and has powered me to the finish line during more than one marathon. But it can be a problem, too. I don't like to fail; and I have kept trying in my ultra goal because I don't want to give up, to quit, or to feel like a failure.

But I've come to think that this is the wrong way to see things. Instead, I need to find my own, probably pretty unique path--my own "way," in the kendo/Japanese sense of that word. Running marathons seems compatible with that way; running ultras does not.

So, I'm done. Fully and finally done with the ultra goal.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

June 25: beating the heat

Kendo: off day. Kendo has been a real source of frustration, lately; not because I'm losing interest or doing anything wrong, but rather due to my lack of any meaningful training time (other than home suburi). In the month of June I think I've only been in bogu once, during my visit to the Louisville kendo club back on the 6th. Otherwise, it's all suburi, all the time. This in itself isn't a bad thing, but on the whole my kendo has been a bit limited.

This is all about to change. Starting next week and running through the rest of the summer, I should be able to attend Mudokwan classes twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays; and I should be able to attend the annual MWKF summer seminar in Madison at the end of July--all of this leading up to what will hopefully be much improved kendo by the time the fall promotion exams and Johnson Cup are upon us. So, things will get better. But from now until Monday, I plan to just shut everything down for a couple of days, pause and gather myself for a renewed commitment to my kendo.

Running: 8 miles (10:14). An average 8 miler along Lantern Road/116th street. I managed to beat the heat this morning and get my run finished before things really heated up in the late morning. A good run, albeit a bit crowded, as I ran by the Fisher's Farmer's Market and through groups of cars, revelers, etc., who are headed to our town's annual Freedom Festival, also along my normal route.

Nutrition: tried a new pizza place, Brixx Pizza in downtown Fishers, which has some good veggie options.

June 24: no dojo (again).

Kendo: yet another day without the dojo. I had planned to (finally) get back into Mudokwan after several weeks' absence due to the AP and my car woes. But my car wasn't ready until 6:00pm this evening--too late to make the class.

Running: off day.

Nutrition: spent the day at UIndy, getting my son ready for college this fall. Got to sample the campus food, which wasn't bad, not just not altogether healthy.

June 23: fast run

Kendo: morning suburi. Pretty much same routine as yesterday.

Running: 8 miles (9:45). An unusually fast run today. I rarely drop an average below 10:00 these days, and in fact one of my miles--the last one--clocked in at 8:57. I'm not really sure why, except that the temperature was perfect this morning, and I just generally felt strong and injury-free.

Nutrition: blew it for dinner with a rare meat meal--pulled pork at City BBQ--but otherwise normal veggie day.

June 22: a bit different suburi

Kendo: morning suburi. My usual routine, albeit with something a bit different. Normally when I do my 50 sho-men strikes, I do groups of ten, after which I stop, think about what I'm trying to accomplish, and then move on to the next ten. But this morning, I did all fifty at once, trying to maintain as much single-minded focus and concentration as possible without pause.

I'm doing this because I very much need to work on my mental focus and application of seme (pressure). These facets of kendo are both of course best addressed with practice partners in a dojo; but I'm not getting much dojo time, lately, so I need to devise ways of addressing my various kendo issues at home, as best I can.

Running: 6 miles (10.12). A pretty standard run along Lantern Road/116th street.

Nutrition: solid veggie day here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

June 21: back running

Kendo: morning suburi. No class at Mudokwan this evening, which feels odd--Tuesdays are always devoted to kendo. But my morning suburi session went well.

Running: 10 miles (10:19). Pretty good long-ish run on my usual Lantern Road/116th street route (with a good stretch of Allisonville road thrown in for good measure). This seems to be my basic pace these days: around a 10:00-10:30 mile for most normal (8-12 mile runs).

Nutrition: mixed day here. Very good breakfast and lunch--working kale into my daily nutrition, with a nice salad for lunch--but not so much for dinner, a catered affair by a local BBQ place that is actually outstanding food, but certainly not meatless.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

June 20: good suburi

Kendo: morning suburi, around 7:00am. My routine right now:

1.      Rei, seiza: focusing on details here, sitting and rising with economy of movement, mental focus, proper bowing while in seiza (from waist, don’t slump shoulders).

2.      Sonkyo: doing pretty well here, but need to keep back straighter; like smoke rising from incense.

3.      Kamae: checking tenouchi here, and especially feet; want proper spacing.

4.      Joge-buri (20): coordination key here; lately my sword has not been properly coordinated with my footwork, especially when moving back.

5.      Sayu joge-buri with hyaki-ashi (20): need my feet to be pointed in correct direction, and tsuru turned at proper angle.

6.      Sayu joge-buri (20); tsuru at proper angle

7.      Sayu-men (20): really need to work on this; my wrists flatten out too much, and I need to extend without hunching shoulders.

8.      Katate-suburi (20): pretty good here, but sometimes my left hand comes off center slightly.

9.      Kirikaeshi: breathing going well, but otherwise still needs lot of work; as with sayu-men, I flatten my strikes too much, and (as always) weak fumikomi.

1     Agility exercises: sensei showed us these in the dojo several months ago; not sure what they are called, but the idea is better, smoother range of motion in my shoulders.

1    Sho-men (50) relax and extend, relax and extend—my mantra, as per Titus-sensei.

  Kote-men-do (10); same as above.

In the afternoon I found about thirty minutes to at least begin to try to work on a routine for fumikomi. After usual warmups (joge buri, etc.) I did 30 large men and 30 small men with as much fumikomi as I could muster—which really wasn’t much. I have never been able to do good fumikomi, and I have no very clear idea why. 

Running: active recovery day; no running. Still toying with idea of scrapping the North Face and going with the Nashville Ultra.

Nutrition: good veggie day here.

The week ahead, June 20-26

Kendo: need to get my head back into kendo this week. I haven’t been to my own dojo now in three weeks, due to the long stay in Louisville (nine days, which happened to fall across two Tuesdays), and my car breaking down literally as I drove into the parking lot of Mudokwan last Tuesday; I ended up dealing with the tow truck, etc., rather than class.

More generally, I haven’t had my head in the right place with kendo. I’m just not sure what the "right place" might be. I need to figure out what the point is regarding my kendo. Is it attaining rank of sandan? Making the ECUSKF team for the U.S. Nationals? Something else? Or maybe there shouldn’t even be a “point,” in the sense of training for a race is the “point” in my running. 

On a more pragmatic level, I just need to get back in my own dojo. I’ll miss Tuesday’s class (again); my car is still unlikely to be fixed by then. But I will be in the dojo Friday and my plan is not to miss any more classes at the dojo if at all possible until the end of August. I also plan to attend the MWKF summer seminar in Madison, Wisconsin at the end of July; so while I’ve been in a bit of dry spell of late where actual bogu work is concerned, this appears to be close to an end.

And of course, I’ll work on suburi this week. I need to regain my habit or arising early and doing my morning suburi routine. Also, I would like to come up with a second suburi routine that I could do later in the day (when I can make more noise; I have to be pretty quiet in the early morning, with the rest of the household still asleep) that focuses on fumikomi and footwork.

Running: need to retrench and renew here, too. I’ve had to rework my 24 week plan twice, and I’ve alternated very good weeks with not-so-good weeks. Last week was the latter. I actually did quite well, until Sunday, when I busted out on the most important run of the week, my 18 mile distance run. I couldn’t drag myself out of bed in the morning—we just came off a grueling travel baseball tournament in Lexington—thinking that I could always do the run in the evening. Big mistake. The heat was just too oppressive, and frankly I had zero energy for the run.

Must admit here, too, that my focus faltered. The ultimate goal here is to run the Western States 100 someday, but I experienced some serious self-doubt about this over the weekend; it just seems like too much. Maybe I should aim for another race, one less ambitious and frankly a bit less scary. The Western involves bad heat, some significant health risks, etc. As I write this Monday morning, I’m still in doubt here. I’ve even wondered if the North Face is such a good idea; it is now only thirteen weeks out, and while I’ve done some good runs (two weeks ago I did 48 miles with an 18 miler, more than I’ve done in a long time), I’ve had some bad weeks, as well, and really struggled with consistency. I’m still toying with the idea of chucking the North Face and aiming instead for the Nashville Ultra, a 50 miler I’ve wanted to run for some time now. It would be a good ultra, and it is one of the very few paved ultras in America; I love trails, but I find training on dirt to be difficult.

So I’m struggling here with my running, at least in my head. But, one thing at a time; take a kendo approach to running. Break it down to just the short term, the details, kihon, so to speak. Right now, I’m going to just fix my attention on what’s in front of me. I’ve reworked, for the third (and I hope final) time, my North Face Plan, compressing some weeks, etc., and coming up with what I hope is an adequate 13 week training plan—roughly based on the template I’ve been using, from the book Relentless Forward Progress. I’ll do a pretty ambitious week: 54 miles, with B2Bs of 20 and 8 this weekend. 

Nutrition: the one thing going well right now. My generally vegan/vegetarian approach is working well. 

June 15-19: more Kentucky time

Not much time for blogging--or anything else--the rest of this week, as I was out of town until Sunday: Kentucky again, this time the Lexington area. I very much enjoyed the trip, but it posed its share of challenges, fitness-wise.

Kendo: nothing here at all.

Running: I actually managed to stick to my normal training plan, and did some decent miles in Lexington, including a good 8 miler Saturday morning in the area around our hotel. But then came Sunday and my scheduled 18 mile distance run for the week--I overslept (we had just returned home, and I was frankly wiped out from all the driving, etc.), and ended up missing the run entirely. So the week ended on a very sour note.

Nutrition: actually didn't do too badly here, other than an ill-advised dessert at a Lexington Logan's Roadhouse. I actually rarely order any of these high-end restaurant desserts, but for some reason it seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn't. I felt super-stuffed and bloated, and really I think the decreased sugar intake I've undertaken in the past few weeks makes me rather intolerant of such things.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June 14: dojo disappointment

Kendo: no class at the dojo tonight for me, after all. My car broke down just as I was approaching the dojo parking lot--the clutch return linkage literally fell on my foot--so I had to deal with that problem (tow truck and whatnot) rather than practice kendo. Bummer.

Running: 8 miles (10:24). A bit of a slog along my Lantern Road/116th street route. No particular problems, really; just bit more soreness than usual.

Nutrition: did very well--totally vegan, in fact--until dinner. Ended up doing a rare meat dish (meat loaf). I have to admit it was a lapse, but I suppose I'm allowed one of those on occasion.

More generally, I think I must be doing something right here. My energy level is good, my training for the North Face is going fine, and I've had no discernible gastrointestinal issues. And while I'm not weighing myself regularly, I think I've actually dropped a couple of pounds since returning from Louisville. I wouldn't say I'm following anything resembling a "diet," but my overall approach of going vegan-ish seems to be working well.

June 13: more "active recovery"

Kendo: morning suburi. I'm pretty happy with how my suburi is helping my kendo, in particular my mental focus, smoothness and attention to detail. But I really feel the need to work on other things, as well, and in particular I want to get back into the dojo.

Running: active recovery day. I'm still not entirely sure what this should mean, ideally speaking, in terms of my overall training plan. But in the spirit of "recovery," particularly for a runner my age, I've used these days (Mondays and Fridays) to just do quite a bit of walking.

Nutrition: a good, vegetarian day

Monday, June 13, 2016

The week ahead, June 13-19

Kendo: last week wasn't bad at all; I practiced suburi every day--even during the end of my stay in Louisville--and I feel as if my making progress in certain key areas: relaxation, focus and smoothness. Still, I was not able to make it into the dojo this week--the schedule for the AP grading fell right across two Tuesdays--so it's been a while since I've been in bogu (last Wednesday, to be exact, at the Louisville club) and even longer since I've been in my own dojo. I should be able to get back this Tuesday.

On the other hand, suburi may prove to be a bit of a challenge. I'm taking another trip back to Kentucky--Lexington this time--from Thursday through the end of the week. I'll bring my shinai bag with me in the hope of finding time and a place to practice, but I really don't know quite what to expect in that regard.

Running: last week was quite solid; I made all my training goals and, aside from that calf cramp thingy Saturday, experienced no undue soreness or pain. Best of all, my head is in the right place. After so many attempts and failures, I'm really beginning to think that my first ultra is going to happen this time. As one of my favorite ultra runners (Ray Zahab) is fond of saying, ninety percent of this is mental, and the other ten percent is all in your head.

So life is good on the training front. Still, I have some challenges that require attention. I do not need a repeat of the calf cramping, so i'm working on upping my game in the hydration department. i'm going back to using Nuun pills--a product I used to add to my water for longer runs--and I'm going to try another product called Tailwind, recommended to me by a friend (who is also training for a 50 miler) and looks intriguing. I also absolutely need to do more trail running.

My training plan for this week calls for an exact repeat of last week: 48 miles, with B2B's of 18 and 8. Totally doable, though the aforementioned trip to Kentucky will be a challenge in the scheduling department. I had thought about moving the 18 miler all the way up to Wednesday, getting in those miles before we leave, but I don't think that's a good idea. So, I think my options are either to try for an 18 miler in Lexington (very difficult) or (more likely) save the 18 miler for Sunday when we return home. Whatever happens, I'll make it work.

Nutrition: good things here, too, though the truth is, I'm far more vegetarian than vegan. But I'm feeling good, and fueling some good training miles.

June 12: good way to end the week

Kendo: morning kata practice. I always set aside Sundays to practice kata. My dojo is actually one of the few that practices kata every class (a fact of which I'm quite proud; kata is the heart of kendo and its budo spirit), but I also feel as if I should work on it at home. So this morning after my normal warmups (with bokuto), I worked on the uchidachi parts of the kata.

Running: 8 miles (10.37). The second of my B2B runs for the week, successfully accomplished as a late evening run along my bread-and-butter Lantern Road/116th street route. My pace was a bit slower than I'd prefer, but this was still a solid run. No cramping/hydration problems, which I would not have expected anyway on such a short run. Not much soreness either, all things considered.

Nutrition: good day here, too. We got a new cookbook and tried out a new pizza-ish recipe for dinner this evening, vegetarian with chickpea flour used for the crust.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

June 11: long run and calf problems

Kendo: morning suburi, right before I went on my long run, which was a good idea; helped me get my head in a good place before heading out the door.

Running: 18 miles (11.16). Distance day, along 146th street (the "Highway to Hell"). I got a bit of a late start, so I ran into some serious heat issues at around mile 15, but I got it done. And generally speaking, it was a good run, until around mile 17, when my old friend calf cramp arrived. Both my calves began to seize up, and I ended up half-shuffling, half-walking (and entirely cursing) during that last mile. Finny thing is, it only happened when I ran; I was fine when I walked.

This isn't a new problem; I've had calf cramps like this in the past. I suspect it is a hydration issue. The air temp during the last few miles of my run was pushing 90, and I was really hitting the fluids--around 32 oz. of Gatorade during the last three miles. I tend to sweat a great deal, and lose salt in the process (my shirt usually has a lot of white on it, even during just somewhat warm runs). Probably I need to increase my potassium and sodium intake, but to what levels I don't know.

At any rate, I hope it was just a hydration/heat issue. Whatever the case, I don't need this to happen again, and certainly not during the North Face.

Nutrition: quite a good day here; vegan all day, and salmon at Texas Roadhouse in the evening.

June 10: baseball day

Kendo: morning suburi. Lately I've been doing good, daily work here. I think my suburi helps me get my mind focused for the rest of the day.

Running: active recovery day. I did do quite a bit of walking, which I suppose is a good, light day.

Nutrition: spent a fair part of the day at the Westfield sports complex, watching the first games of what will be a very busy travel baseball summer. These things are always a challenge, nutritionally speaking, but I managed pretty well today--snuck a few Clif Bars into the place.

June 9: almost perfect

Kendo: morning suburi. Doing well here, I think, feeling smoother.

Running: 8 miles (10.25). This has become a standard run for me; an 8 miler at around a 10 1/2 minute pace.

Nutrition: really made an effort to do an entirely vegan day; and I would have made it, too, were it not for that last remaining piece of birthday cake, darn it. Still, a very good, nearly perfect day.