Monday, May 23, 2016

May 23: not all that "active"

Kendo: morning suburi. Another one of those struggles with focus. I'm not sure why, but I just can't get my head in the right place where my kendo is concerned. I practice, and actually do so with some success in addressing my various problems. But lately I just seem to lack a sense of conviction, of purpose.

Running: active recovery day. I should be using this as a time to do light cross-training, especially activities that help me improve my flexibility. But with the broken toe (which for some reason hurt worse than usual today, though I still think I'm on the mend) and especially the sciatica injury, I'm more inclined to forego "active" for the "recovery." I did do a long walk this evening.

Nutrition: not bad, though I did indulge some meat (chicken) this evening, by way of a lack of better options.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The week ahead, May 23-29

Kendo: I must admit, my mind still isn't as engaged with my kendo as I'd like (though last week was better in that regard). I had a good class at the dojo last week, and some good suburi. But my various injuries have caused me to really cut back on some aspects of my kendo I need address--especially anything involving fumikomi, which really aggravates the sciatica injury in my thigh.

Still, last week wasn't a bad week, and I think this week will be better. Class at the dojo Tuesday, as always, and daily suburi. Relax and extend.

Running: I had to redo my 21 week plan a bit (now a 17 week plan). While I only missed those two runs, making up the lost ground required some recalibration of mileage, off days, etc.--that, and some other changes to my schedule over the summer.

My new and slightly revised training plan calls for a 44 mile week, with B2B runs of 16 and 6 miles. The toe is healing, and the sciatica pain is gradually improving. So, I think I have a decent shot at this--especially that all-important 16 miler at the end of week. A trail run would be nice, too, but the sciatica is going to need to be pretty much healed for that,since even when it numbs up, I can't lift my right foot very high at all.

Nutrition: hanging with my Vegan-ish plan.

May 22: slightly better

Kendo: off day.

Running: 9 miles (12.18). Slightly better today--but only a bit. As usual, the first few miles were really painful, but the sciatica numbed up pretty well by around mile five. Still, the entire run was no picnic; even at my best, I'm achy, and my stride is very short, with no push-off, which is I'm sure costing me speed.

The plan calls for my distance run today: 18 miles. I had thought to do a split run, 9 in the morning, 9 in the evening. The evening run, I had hoped, would be aided by the compression sleeve I ordered, and arrived via Amazon this afternoon. I tried, but it just wasn't happening.

I suppose the glass half full view is that, given my broken toe and sciatica issues, I'm lucky to be training at all. And the thing is getting slowly better--the toe is just a minor irritant, and I think the sciatica is improving. And, had I chosen a less strenuous plan from the source I used, I'd actually be pretty close to on target.

And the glass half empty? I've only missed on two runs so far, but both were my distance runs--the most important runs of any given week. And I'm so, so slow right now.

But I'll go with the half full option. I've had a couple of setbacks, but as the week comes to an end, the owies big and small are getting better, to the point that I think I have reasonable hope of making my goals next week (48 miles, with an 18 mile distance run). And if I can just do that, I'm right back on track.

Nutrition: repeat of yesterday, even down to eating another veggie sandwich at McAllister's again.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

May 21: running misery

Kendo: I'm laying off suburi for the weekend, trying to put all my focus and energies (at least temporarily) into my running, which has become a real struggle.

Running: 8 miles (13.00) Horrible, miserable run. The problem isn't so much the broken toe--though that certainly doesn't help--but the sciatica issue that continues to plague my right thigh. The first couple of miles were nearly impossible, but it did numb up enough to at least make the pain bearable for a while. But I can't really extend my stride, nor lift my right foot very high (making tripping a real concern) without serious pain, so I'm just glacial--I've never run this slowly or this badly in my life.

I'm doing what I can to compensate. I do extra stretches, of the sort I've read can help a sciatica issue, and I'm doing the Jacuzzi as well as icy/hot patches. I looked into acquiring a compression sleeve for my thigh, but after trying several running stores and Dick's Sporting Goods in the area, I struck out. So, I ended up ordering one from Amazon, which (with my Prime membership) should arrive tomorrow; hopefully in time for my run.

Nutrition: actually a good day here; pretty close to vegan, with veggie option at McAllister's for dinner.

Friday, May 20, 2016

May 20: resting the toe

Kendo: afternoon suburi, still avoiding anything that much involves my right foot. Relax and extend, relax and extend...

Running: my training plan calls for Fridays to be "active recovery days," but today I focused much more on the "recovery" than the "active." I'm really trying to get this broken right toe in a better place, given that I have an eighteen mile distance run set for tomorrow. It still hurts, but maybe not quite as bad as yesterday. I'm trying to keep barefoot as much as possible, since scrunching the broken toe into a shoe--even my running shoes, which are two sizes larger than my normal footwear--is painful. Really hoping this feels better by tomorrow morning--otherwise, I ay need to move that eighteen miler to Sunday.

Nutrition: better here. I'm eating some pretty healthy fare at Panera's, where I go every morning to write for several hours. Lunches and dinners have been a bit more sketchy, lately, but still, on the whole I'm eating right.

The running canon: Ulrich, Running on Empty

Marshall Ulrich, Running on Empty: An Ultramarathoner's Story of Love, Loss, and a Record-Setting Run Across America (2011).

There is a certain elegance to the main idea behind this book: run across the entire United States of America. The ultimate ultra, point-to-point, coast-to-coast, sea-to-shining-sea. It has such a grand simplicity. It even has its own shorthand label, a "trans con," and its own (very loose) set of rules. Run from the city halls of either San Francisco or Los Angeles to City Hall in New York, without ever once being carried by anything other than your own two feet (or what's left of them), and you've run a "trans con."

You've also entered some very elite company. To date, according to this website dedicated to the deed, 252 people have done a trans con: more than you might think, but still a tiny handful of very tough, dedicated runners, supported by very patient, dedicated crews.

Arguably the most famous of these trans con runners is Marshall Ulrich, a man who was a legend in the ultra running community long before he set out to run across America. He has run the toughest ultras in the world with an almost gleeful extremism: the Western States 100, Badwater, Leadville,  the Hard Rock, sometimes running one grueling ultra only to hop in a car, drive like mad, hop out and run another.  Oh, and he summited Mount Everest, along with the other Seven Peaks. He also achieved a fair amount of fame for having had his toenails all surgically removed, to spare him the ongoing inconvenience of losing them on his runs. By rights he should be more famous for his running exploits, but to a casual fan, it's the toenail thing that sticks. Go figure.

Running on Empty is part autobiography; and as Ulrich describes his tough childhood in Colorado, and the various personal tragedies he endured as an adult (most prominently the death of his first wife from cancer), his reasons for pursuing such extreme runs and other adventures becomes clearer: this is a man who dealt with pain and tragedy by running, and by pushing his limits mercilessly. This is throughout an unflinchingly honest book. Ulrich is crystal clear regarding the toll his ultrarunning has taken on him personally, and on his family.

He is also frank regarding the toll exacted by his trans con, undertaken in 2008 in partnership with another favorite ultrarunner of mine, Charlie Engle (who is also, by the way, currently doing a trans con as part of a larger team highlighting awareness of addiction and mental illness; I recently blogged about this). The logistics of a trans con are daunting, and Ulrich chronicles them in detail: issues of food, hydration, injuries, navigation, weather, even an angry Ohio farmer who took a potshot at Marshall with a gun. He also chronicles the rather sad falling out he and Engle experienced during the run, a controversy that seems to have permanently and tragically wrecked their friendship.

But there are also many tender moments and triumphs in this book: breathtaking scenery, repeated victories over challenges and difficulties great and small, and Ulrich's at times almost poetic invocation of the sheer, almost incommunicable grandeur of a run across the entire country. Most of all, Ulrich celebrates the importance and triumph of teamwork--seemingly curious, perhaps, in a pursuit that seems most of all to reward solitary perseverance. But Ulrich makes clear, repeatedly, the absolutely indispensable roles played by his crew, the film production company (this run is the subject of a documentary, Running America), various helpful strangers along the way, and his wife Heather.

So why does this book belong in the canon? I admire Ulrich's accomplishments, of course, but maybe most of all, at least where the book is concerned, I greatly admire his straightforwardness and his direct honesty. This is a simply written, straight-to-the-point book, apropos of Ulrich himself--like a no-nonsense run, stripped of all pretense. I suppose one could argue that it contains good, practical information regarding how one would undertake such an endeavor (which it does), but the appeal to me is not its nuts and bolts of ultra-running, but rather of its author's ongoing, direct connections between running, adversity and overcoming limitations. It is a rare running book that states, simply and honestly, that runners spend as much time running away from things as we do running towards things. And that's okay.

My running "canon": essential books

This blog is for me primarily a daily running and kendo journal, but I would like to do a bit more with it than just logging miles, suburi, etc.

To that end, I've decided to create what I call my "running canon": a list and description of what serve as my essential running books, the ones I tend to read repeatedly by way of finding renewed inspiration. Being an academic and a writer, I find myself reading incessantly (of course), and I find that reading a good running book can help me keep my head on straight with my running, more so even than a good running movie or playlist on Spotify (though I often turn to these for inspiration, as well). Reading about running keeps me thinking about my running even when I'm not actually out running.

This is important; I've found that I need to keep my running (and my kendo) pretty consistently in the back of my mind, or I lose motivation and focus. Deena Kastor once observed that running is an activity but a lifestyle; I totally agree (and again,even more so with kendo), and reading helps me to do this.

Lately I've been re-reading what are for me seminal running books. There are so many good running books around; and I realize that my definition of "seminal" will be quite different from other runners. My particular list will be heavily weighted towards ultra runners, and since I'm not much of a fiction reader, I'm probably missing out on a few very good running novels. My list will reflect my running interests, which I admit are peculiar to me; nevertheless, the act of compiling the list and reviewing the books has personal value to me, and perhaps others as well.

So I'll be posting occasional reviews and additions to my running canon over the next few months. I'm thinking in terms of a very compact group--no more than ten books--and in no particular order.

May 19: more gutting it out

Kendo: suburi, though lately I've found it more expedient to practice in the early afternoon. I'm still not doing anything involving fumikomi because of my broken toe, but I can work on other aspects of my kendo--primarily trying to relax and extend my arms in my strikes.

Running: 8 miles (11.33). Another gut-it-out type of run, much like yesterday. I went out to the Monon, thinking a change of scenery wasn't a bad idea. And it wasn't: the weather was perfect, and the Monon wasn't at all crowded, not on a weekday morning. But the run was a slow, painful slog, much like yesterday. I'm pretty sure my toe is broken, and the sciatica issue in my right quad, though better by degrees every day, is still a problem.

Both injuries hurt like heck for the first two or three miles, but afterwards things did numb up a bit. Still, I never did have a really pain-free mile, and the whole affair is seriously slowing my down, adding about a minute per mile. That isn't something I'm too terribly worried about right now; I'm sure I can get my pace back down to my usual 10:15 pace, once all these various owies heal.

Nutrition: not bad. I found that Chili's actually has a fairly healthy selection of options, including some excellent fish tacos. I'm still eating too many sweets, but otherwise a good day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

May 18: gutting it out

Kendo: off day. Pretty much anything involving my right foot hurts like the dickwns right now.

Running: 8 miles (11.55). Just had to gut it out this morning; eight hard miles along Lantern Road/116th Street. A combination of my sciatica quad thing and my mashed toe from last night's kendo class made running a miserable and very slow experience. Still, my training plan called for 8 miles, so that is what I ran.

Nutrition: not too bad; generally healthy, though I basically just ended up grazing in the evening.

May 17: back in the dojo

Kendo: nice to be back in the dojo, after a week's absence (a real rarity for me). The class was super-crowded, around fifteen people. For our relatively small dojo, this made for quite a gathering. We have a lot of beginners, but we also had several high-ranking senseis.

Taken altogether, it made for a good class, one of the best I've had for a while. I was able to do good kata with one of our senseis, which was a refreshing experience: I've been teaching kata to our beginners pretty much without exception for the last several months, and while I enjoy the experience, I rarely get a chance to work on the various things I need to correct in my own kata. We were also able to do all ten kata, with me doing the shidachi (student) side--again, something I've not had an opporrunity to do for quite some time.

The rest of the class was a bit more of a challenge. My lower quad/sciatica problem is getting better, but it really hurts whenever I do kendo strikes that utilize fumikomi--meaning, pretty much anything other than kata. I tried a few times during warmups and drills, but it just hurt too much. So, I decided to use a slide-step without fumikomi for the rest of class and during jigeiko. This was far from ideal--I really need to work on improving my fumikomi--but it was the best I could do. I also had the unfortunate mishap of having one of our larger members land squarely on my right foot, badly bruising my toe (hoping as I write this on Wednesday morning that it isn't broken) and making the last few bouts of jigeiko rather difficult.

So I was pretty sore and banged up by the time class ended. But it was actually a good class, and I think I'm making progress in jigeiko in seeing openings, sensing my opponent's purpose and intentions, and striking with more conviction. Still too tight in the upper body, but that I think is starting to improve, as well.

Running: 6 miles (11.04). Tough, slow run along Lantern, with the sciatica/quad thing hurting like hell by around mile 5. But I got it done; and afterwards starting doing a new post-running stretch routine, using some yoga stretches, that I hope will help. Counting all of this as a "win" today.

Nutrition: I have to admit, I've been a little sketchy here, lately. Not overly so, but need to avoid the sweets.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Running: Charlie Engle's worthwhile new project

Running the Sahara is probably my favorite running movie. Chronicling the almost unimaginably long four thousand plus mile run undertaken by a team of three ultra-runners across the Sahara desert, this wonderful 2007 documentary has a little bit of everything: inspiration, drama, cultural complexity, a worthy cause (water conservation and production for central African peoples), and even a cool soundtrack (not to mention narration by Matt Damon). I've seen it probably twenty times; it is my film of choice when I must run on a treadmill. And even after all this time it still has the power to pick me up when my own running enthusiasm flags. My ultra goals are far more modest, but I still found these men and their journey inspiring in a multitude of ways.

All three of the runners had different personalities, each winsome in his own way. Kevin Lin brought a high level of marathoning competence to the undertaking, as well as a touching vulnerability: his struggles with the various difficulties of the run were entirely understandable and made him seem very human--and his successful completion all the more admirable. Ray Zahab just seems like a very nice guy: unrelentingly optimistic, bubbling with enthusiasm, smiling even through the worst difficulties of the expedition (his memoir confirms all of this; he tells an interesting and uplifting story of finding purpose in life through adventure running).

And the third member of the team, Charlie Engle? An interesting, complex man. In some ways he was my favorite runner in the film: articulate, driven, probably at times a rather difficult person with which to spend a lot of time (say, 111 days running across the Sahara desert), and fascinating even in his most mercurial moments. My favorite part of Running the Sarah is a picturesque montage of images as the three runners run across a featureless, nearly endless landscape of sand, the sand and the sky so flat they seem nearly two-dimensional, Pearl Jam's "Given to Fly" is playing in the background. At one point Charlie lifts his arm and points forward as they charge across the dunes. It's perfect: defiant, determined, maybe a little corny, but oddly endearing.

Ever since I watched the film, I've followed Charlie Engle's career; and as anyone who knows anything about him is surely aware, his life has been full of some pretty serious ups and downs. I'll not recount all of it here (if you're really curious, you might Google his name), but suffice to say that Charlie seems to have faced more than his share of obstacles, some of his own making, others not. As an aside, I wrote about him on this blog several years ago, and was pleasantly surprised to receive a very nice email from his father.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Charlie has now undertaken a new project, an appropriate mix of altruism and soaring endurance running ambition. In a project called the Ice Breaker Run (a link to their website is here),
Charlie is captaining a team of runners who are engaged in a cross-country run to raise money and awareness for mental health (May being mental health awareness month). They just started yesterday (May 15), and their route takes them across the south central United States, garnering hopefully a lot of support, enthusiasm and money along the way.

From what I understand, a prominent subtext of this journey is the value of running as a way to combat addiction. Charlie has fought his own demons in this regard, and it seems that running has in many ways been his salvation. I can totally relate to this: not so much for myself, but my own mother, who used her running to successfully overcome a life-threatening alcohol habit. I was always extremely proud of her for this (she passed away from breast cancer not long ago), and I firmly believe that the way she lived her (running) life was a testament to her courage and perseverance in the face of an addiction that has laid low many other people. So I'm very sympathetic to the cause for which Charlie is running.

And more generally I wish Charlie Engle well, as one of my running heroes. I get that not everyone likes him, and having never met the man, I cannot speak to what he's like as a friend, family member or running companion (though I'd have to say, I'd give anything to run with him). All I know is that, observing from a distance, I find him to be an inspirational figure for my own running, pale as it does in comparison with his own much, much more impressive exploits. Here's hoping he succeeds in his current cross-country endeavor, for his cause's sake and his own personal fulfillment.

May 16: rest day

Kendo: morning suburi, my normal routine. Lately I'm struggling with my focus in kendo. So many other things are crowding in for my attention: various non-fitness issues related to work and family, my running injuries and the disruptions in my training program, etc. I need to use my early morning suburi to calm my mind, center myself and get my energies focused for the day. This was my key goal this morning.

Running: active recovery day in my training plan, which is just as well, because while my back is pretty much back to normal, I still have that sharp localized pain in the back of my right thigh. I decided to make this a total rest day--not even much in the way of walking. I absolutely must get my training plan back on track, so getting this leg thing healed is imperative.

It is also important that I find ways to avoid yet another recurrence of this damned sciatica thing. So I spent some time today researching the subject, and I think I've come up with some stretches that will help. I plan to try them out first thing tomorrow morning, probably right after suburi.

Nutrition: sketchy day here, I'll admit. I didn't eat anything especially unhealthy, just a lot of grazing without regular meals.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The road ahead, week of May 16-23

Kendo: last week was another light week; pretty good home suburi, but a rare week with no class time in the dojo. It wasn't a bad week, really; my home suburi practice went well, and I think I'm making some good progress with tenouchi, and a relaxed upper body.

Still, I'm feeling a little unfocused in my kendo; probably a facet of my running, which has been dominating my thinking lately--especially given my sciatica injury late last week. At any rate, this week I really want to get my head in a better place. I should be able ro get back in the dojo, and I really want to do consistent, daily home suburi.

Running: last week was a very good week--until Friday. My sciatica problem reared its ugly head yet again, and so I ended up at the Urgent Care, and by Sunday I had shut my running completely down. My first missed run on Sunday, and the first week in my North Face Endurance Challenge training plan in which I failed to meet my goals.

These are setbacks, no doubt. And yet it could be much worse. As of Sunday evening,the back is pretty much normal--a little stiffness, but not much more. The pain in my lower right quad is still pretty severe, and it keeps me from doing any running (or even much walking). But I think some rest will do the trick.

So, my plan is to rest Monday (an active recovery day, anyway), and this, combined with a total rest day on Sunday, should suffice to get me back in gear. So, my week should look like this:

Monday: rest
Tuesday: 8 miles
Wednesday: 6 miles
Thursday: 8 miles
Friday: active recovery day
Saturday: 18 miles
Sunday: 6 miles


A little ambitious, I know, making the jump all the way to an 18 miler Saturday; and if I feel as if this too much, I'll dial it back to 16. Otherwise, this is the same week I drew up for week four, injury r no injury. I plan to rest, then get past this sciatica thing, and back in gear.

In that vein: I also plan to spend the week doing some serious research on my sciatica injury. It is clear now that I must have a strategy in place to both avoid this type of injury, and treat it when it occurs. I really am very lucky: this sciatica issue is the only chronic, recurring injury problem I experience as a runner. I've never had plantar fascitis, knee or joint pain, any of the common running maladies. But I do have this sciatica difficulty, and I really need to work out an informed strategy to deal with it.

Nutrition: more of the same. I had a good week last week. Do need to get in a little more variety--I tend to stick with the same few foods.

May 15: backing off a bit

Kendo: Sundays are always my days to practice kata. After doing my initial warmups, I focus on the details and minutiae of my kata--the sorts of things that have been a bit difficult to address in the dojo of late: we have many beginners, and I almost always end up as uchidachi and focusing most of my attention on helping my partners. In fact, it has been a while since I've done the shidachi parts. Not that I'm complaining; it's always good to see new people trying kendo.

There are disadvantages to practicing kata at home, of course, chiefly the fact that I have no training partner, and therefore cannot well practice things like distance, seme, etc. But I do what I can. This morning I worked only on the first three kata, trying to eliminate as much extraneous movement as possible.

Running: nothing. I made it about fifty feet down the street before the very same sharp pain in my right quad kicked in; I could barely even walk back home.

I'm convinced this is related to the same sciatica nerve issues that injured my back Friday; the pain in my quad is pretty localized, but it's right where the sciatica runs down the back of my leg. And it can't be a coincidence that injure the sciatica in my lower back, and then suffer a second injury in my quad.

At any rate, I've decided to just shut everything down today, and tomorrow (a rest day in my training plan, anyway). This means I'll miss a run for the first time in my training plan since I started three weeks ago. On the other hand, I think if I can just get healed up, I can get back on track pretty quickly.

Nutrition: a decent day. Lots of Ezekiel bread, and fish for dinner

May 14: and it gets worse

Kendo: a rare off day. Trying to take it as easy as possible with this sciatica back thing; even swinging a shinai hurts.

Running: 6 miles (13.56). My training plan calls for B2B (back to back long runs) runs on weekends, with the longer run on Saturdays: for this particular weekend, 16 miles today and 6 miles on Sunday. With my sciatica injury, I thought it would be best to flip the runs, doing the 6 miler today and giving my back  little longer to heal before tackling the longer run. I also waited until pretty far down into the afternoon, did the Jacuzzi and icy/hot bandage, and took the Naproxen I was prescribed.

And the back felt quite a bit better as I headed out the door on what was a very unseasonable, blustery cold day that felt more like October than May. Everything was fine with my back for the first four miles--including a fun little encounter with a DeLorean, in the process of being unloaded for an 80s concert at the Fishers Town Center this evening. But at around mile four a sharp pain in my lower right quad, back of my thigh, turned into a serious problem. The pain grew so awful I had to actually walk the the last mile and a half or so (hence my terribly slow splits). I did finish the run, but it hurt like hell.

I'm not sure what this new owie might be: probably related to the sciatica issue in some way, though it could just be a severe muscle strain. It was very sore all night, and will likely jeopardize my long run tomorrow. We'll see.

Nutrition: generally good day, though I didn't eat so terribly healthy at a restaurant for lunch ("pan-seared" fish apparently is just another word for "fried"), but did a good guacamole wrap for dinner, and avoided sweets.