Give Yourself a Break – with Caveats

Take a Break!

Whatever you are working on to improve, there will be days when it is the very last thing you want to do. It doesn’t matter if you are training for a marathon or a spelling bee.  So what to do?

You can always give yourself permission to duff. I do this with some of my workouts. On some days, I burn straight through these drills and the sweat feels great. Other days, not so much. So, I slow down. What they hey – I’m not training for the Olympics. And doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.

Or you can take a break for a day. Or a few days. Sometimes, a couple of days off helps you return with a vigor and enthusiasm that you had forgotten. Be careful, though. The key to improvement is mindful, incremental plodding toward a goal. There is a fine line – you will have to decide where it lays – between a rejuvenating break and giving up.


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Running, Avoiding Cars, and Staying Alive in South Carolina

A couple of decades ago, I lived in Vidalia, Georgia, which I still consider, in my most humble experience, to be the end of the world where all good things fall off the edge. I was racing bicycles at the time and out for a training ride. I didn’t see the vehicle but I could hear the whirring of huge tires coming up behind me. Before the truck whizzed past me at eighty or so, I saw a beer bottle fly past my head. An instant later the truck drove by honking with the passenger flipping me off out the window with both hands. Ha! What’s the big deal about trying to peg a bike rider with a beer bottle while moving at eighty miles an hour? Had that bottle hit me in the head it’s unlikely that I would be writing today and they would have sped off, happy in making the world a better place. I suppose it could have been the Lycra – not a fabric of choice for Southern backwoods good ol’ boys – but I suspect it was just their stupidity and common disregard for any other human being. No doubt the were on the way to the local militia meeting to protect my rights.

I live in South Carolina now by way of Seattle and New York and have taken up running. I haven’t put my finger on it but South Carolina seems a world away from South Georgia though I still periodically fear for my life while running. One problem is that there is simply no side-of-the-road. I can’t really blame anyone for this. There is scant municipal or state money in these parts and, well, roads are for cars and tractors. Not runners or bicyclists or other foreigners. This puts me smack on the asphalt whenever any vehicle comes up. From this vantage I have made several very unscientific observations based on poor vision through the windshield and on vehicle type:

  • The more banged up the vehicle is the more generally polite the drivers are. They slow down, move over, wave, and smile. Maybe give me a thumbs-up. I like to think that these are just more humble folks who don’t equate their vehicle with their self-image or personal worth but I can’t say. At least that’s what I tell myself while I cruise at ten under in my 1995 Toyota Wagon held together by rust and decals.
  • Young women driving normal sized cars are generally accommodating. Probably not a surprise in the genteel South. They smile, move over, and wave. No doubt impressed by my flexing quads.
  • Women driving SUVs? It’s a crapshoot. If the car is empty, meaning that the kids are in school and they are coffeed up, and if they are not looking down, then they happily move over. If not, and I believe that this is generally without malicious intent, they ignore you and would hardly notice if they bumped you off.
  • Black Mercedes with tinted windows? I just move off the road when I see these. I don’t know who drives these things but the road belongs to them and they’re not up for questions. They go fast and never move over.
  • Trucks of any sort call for heightened awareness. Most move over but never slow down.
  • running 3
    Move it on over or get bumped

    You can guess what vehicle bothers me the most. The drivers look like they are stunt doubles on Duck Dynasty. They need a ladder to get into the truck. I would like to think that the steering in the truck is a little loose because I find it hard to believe that they would purposefully swerve toward me just for the fun of it but without a mechanical inspection I can’t be sure. They never slow. They never move. Never give one rat’s ass as far as I can tell. I think they might have a running man with an ‘X’ through him stamped on the driver’s door for each hapless sap they bump off.

    I’ve noticed that ‘slowing down’ is a weird thing. Most folks here do the Carolina 35 which is code for going as fast as you can whatever the posted speed limit. The problem with slowing down is that you have to slow down. No South Carolinian of any gender or label slows down. Slowing down in South Carolina implies a compilation of untoward character traits:

    • You cry a lot and wear skinny jeans
    • You have balls the size of freezer-burnt peas
    • You are gay (and yes, there is something wrong with that…)
    • If you even go to church you probably go the that weird Universalist place
    • You will save the life of one whale or seal and let an entire state go to waste
    • You believe in global warming

    No red-blooded Southerner would voluntarily put themselves in such an awkward social position.

    Only one time have I ever had anyone stop. It was an early morning run and a truck – huge, blue-black, ominous – swerved toward me at four times the speed limit. I jumped into the ditch waving my arms and inventing swear words. He slammed on the brakes and jammed that thing in reverse so hard I thought he busted the transmission. My life flashed before my eyes. I scanned the fields for the best place to try to outrun a bullet or a dog. He came up with windows down practically crying out an apology. The sun – I admitted it was huge and bright – was in his eyes and he truly didn’t see me. I waved him on, not wanting to prolong our little meeting (I hadn’t paused my run timer!) and was thankful for another day to run.


10 Reasons You Should Run A 5K – Even If You Can’t Run

5k1Make exercise work for you

Some of us are lonely soldiers when it comes to exercise and fitness. In all the years I’ve run, I’ve only gone out once with someone else. For me running is a way to reset a little bit and let the dross of daily living wash down the road behind me. I prefer to do this by myself. I have no beef about running with someone else but neither do I have any real desire to do so. Now my wife? Exercise for her should be a group affair. Preferably with catered dessert and aperitifs. If there are other people involved then it’s a go. If not. Ugh. Not her cup of tea.

Whichever side of that line you fall on, if you are working on improving your fitness then please consider signing up for a local 5k run/walk/race and play along. I can almost guarantee that you will find one near you on almost any weekend of the year. I use Running in the USA to look up races. Bring some friends along and dress goofy if you want. Walk a bit if you’re tired. But get a sweat going and get some oxygen pumping. You’ll have a great time and will feel better for it. (Note: ‘5k’ is shorthand for five kilometers which translates to 3.1 miles.)

The 10 reasons

Here are 10 reasons why you should run a 5K in a local race no matter your level of fitness:

  1. It gives you a tangible and reachable goal.

    There will come a time when you enjoy your work outs. You will look forward to running. You will schedule your day around yoga. You might even pass up a date because it’s leg night at the gym. It took me about a year to come to that place. Until then? Well, it can be a bit of a grind. One way to get through the it’s-not-really-that-fun phase is to set small and easily achievable goals and this one is perfect. It’s easy, requires a minimum amount of training or equipment, provides a real benefit, and can be lots of fun.

  2. You’ll see that there is nothing to be intimidated about.

    See that woman running on the side of the road? She how fit she is? That woman is just like you. She worries about all the same things. Some days she likes her workout and some days she can barely make it out the door. She will embrace you fully at whatever place you are. There is an almost universal attitude among the running crowd that ‘doing’ is the goal. The goal is to get off the couch. Walk, trot, or push a walker. If you show up then you are one of the cool kids. You’ll be accepted and encouraged wherever you are in the continuum between couch and finish line. It can be nice to find a group like this.

  3. You can walk that far if you can’t run – and no one cares.

    Lots of people walk at 5ks. Lots of 5ks are advertised as a run/walk event. There will be speedsters there but they’ll be so far ahead that you can ignore them. You probably don’t even need to train for a 5k. If you can work in the garden, or vacuum the house for an hour then you can walk 3.1 miles. It’s not that hard. And if you go with a couple of friends it will be even easier.

  4. 5k2
    Okay. Maybe too much fun!

    It is fun.

    Dress up like a turkey if you like. A lot of local 5k races are themed. It’s entirely acceptable and encouraged to goof off, dress up, and have some fun along the way. So dress like a turkey or wear your Santa stockings. Put on a wig. Wear a tutu. Enjoy yourself! Why the hell not?

  5. You will get a huge shot of confidence.

    How many times have you set a fitness goal and felt lousy as it slipped right by you? This one is easy. Pay your entry fee, show up, have some fun walking or trotting, and mark it off your list. You’ll feel good, you’ll feel motivated to accomplish your next goal, and you had fun doing it. It’s a win all the way around.

  6. It’s easy and not too time consuming to train for.

    This is one of the reasons I run 5ks. I know folks who start out with the goal of running a marathon. Running – by necessity and I’m not complaining – takes over their free time. It has too. They will learn all about toe nails falling off and just how stiff you can be the next day. They will either miss the birthday party or run laps in the dark around the neighborhood for two hours. “Gotta get my fourteen miler in!” This is why I don’t race over 5k. I have that kind of personality and pretty soon I will be weighing a nice lunch with my wife vs. a sixteen-mile training run. And I’ll be in trouble for making the wrong decision. If you haven’t run before then you’ll probably want to do some kind of training plan. Even if you are fit enough to do the running it’s a good way to train your mind for the task of putting foot in front of foot for half an hour. There are too many good running websites to count but a good place to start is Runner’s World  where they have advice for everything from diet to clothing to running plans. If you’re a more serious beginner consider reading Build Your Best Running Body. It’s a great book that covers the gamut of fitness running. Go here for my quick review.

  7. It’s easy on the body.

    This is especially important if you’re just starting out. I suppose it’s possible to run marathons or half-marathons without undue stress and injury but it’s tough. Everyone I know who runs marathons deals with foot, knee, and hip aches that I just don’t feel when training for a 5k. Aches and stresses come with any workout but you just aren’t beating your body up on short runs like you would for marathons This is just easy math: compare possibilities for strains and stress between running maybe six miles a week vs. twenty or more. Probability is on your side.

  8. You’ll feel like an athlete.

    There’s some truth to the adage that you start to look like the people you spend time with. If you do a bit of training and then run a race or two you just might begin thinking of yourself as an athlete. And if not an athlete then at least as someone interested in fitness. This will bleed over into eating habits, sleep habits, confidence, and might just make you better at conversation. Do it enough and you’ll start looking pretty good in your sweatpants?

  9. Your brain health increases

    Over the last couple of decades, we see more and more research that shows how much exercise contributes to brain health. Your brain – that little eight-pound ball of fat in your head – is only a small portion of your body but uses over 25% of your oxygen and nutrition. The more clean blood you can get pumping through there the healthier it is. Strengthen your heart, clean your blood vessels, lose a few pounds, and oxygenate your brain and you’re onto a new you who can live longer and enjoy life more.

  10. You can build new memories with friends

    The component of health that we rarely hear talked about is the importance of happy and meaningful relationships. Getting together for a race is a great way to enjoy each other’s company, do something a little bit difficult, encourage each other, and accomplish goals together. Maybe my wife is right? Maybe the best exercise is done in a group with cannolis served afterward?


Blazing asphalt – how to workout and avoid heat stress

I grew up in Tacoma, Washington, where a nice summer day starts out chilly and inches toward seventy-five. Who cares about the week in August when we shield our eyes from that blinding thing in the sky and watch the thermometer push toward ninety? For runners it’s so infrequent that you can take the day off without any effect to your running program.

Not so here in sunny South Carolina. Not for me anyway. I barely made it through May last year and by June I was done. I couldn’t even make it through short runs without turning to lead halfway through. Beating sun and heat stress were doing me in. I finally just quit running and did yoga inside with the AC blowing. I came out of the summer lighter and more flexible but I’d like to keep up with my running this year. I’ve found several things that allow me to feel much more comfortable in the heat. I’ll have to wait and see how they work when I wake up to 90 degrees and dripping humidity but I’m hoping to make it at least through June this year.

If you’re going to run or workout in the heat this year please consider the following to stave off heat stress and sluggishness:

    • Run shorter routes and add a second lighter workout. It’s the sun that seems to kill me. Working out in my garage doesn’t have the same effect. If it’s blazing out I might cut my run in half and then finish up with some kind of workout in the garage. Or you can do another workout later when you’ve cooled off. Misery in small doses seems a little more bearable.
    • Ignore this and your legs will feel like spaghetti a mile out: ensure you are hydrated before you run. If you pee before heading out notice the color. It should be clear pale yellow. Any darker and you are not hydrated. Drink some water and chill for half an hour or so.
    • And please. Do pee before you run. When it’s this hot your body becomes a water processing plant. The need to pee hits like a truck. Take care of it beforehand to avoid being both baking hot and completely uncomfortable. It’s hard to run with your legs crossed and around here they shoot strangers running into the woods.
    • Ramp up your time and miles slowly. This year I started running during the middle of the day as temps began to increase. And if it’s really cooking I cut my miles. I will run a shorter loop that I can do twice or three times depending on how I’m feeling. A ten-mile out-and-back is too much of a commitment.
    • Slow down or walk. There have been times when I have slowed to just a running heat1form. There have been times that I’ve walked. I burn the same number of calories and enjoy the same workout. And there is a mental reward for finishing your distance. Remember that unless you are training for the Olympics you are just out enjoying your body and nature. It’s more fun to enjoy it standing up rather than laying down after you pass out from pushing yourself in the heat.
    • Where a hat. I’m not a hat guy but have learned to like the small bit of shade it gives my eyes. Toss the canvas trucker hat. Wear a lightweight hat meant to wick moisture and you will definitely feel the relief.
    • Run as close to naked as you can get. I wear the least I can and not get arrested. I also invested in some running togs made to wick moisture away and keep me cooler.  I’ve been surprised to learn how well they work.
    • Get a hydration pack. I bought one on a whim because I was so baking hot and because it was on sale. Now I can hardly leave the house without it.  A must.

And a couple of things not to do:

  • There’s more drama.  I think – and feel free to fill in the blanks here – that your body is more strained and you’re having a little less fun. So tiny things that don’t normally bother me begin to loom large. I take an extra minute or so to make sure I’m all set knowing that a little pinch in my shoe or the battery in my headphones dying will irritate the crap out of me. Be proactive.
  • Wear sunscreen. An absolute non-negotiable.
  • Avoid the rain. At least here in the South. I held off on a run once last year waiting for the black clouds to open. When the rain came I ran out expecting a nice Northwest style run. Good bloody gawd. It was the worst run I’ve ever had. It was still ninety degrees and when the rain hit the pavement it turned the entire street into a steam bath. I have never been on such an uncomfortable run.

So take it slow. Take it easy. Let your body acclimate. Remember that you do this for fun and that you would like to do it again tomorrow.

You Want To Be a Runner? Start Here.

Book Review, Build Your Best Running Body

It’s January and spring is around the corner, I’ve done one race, and I know that everyone wants to get outside and get moving. Toward that end, I review what I believe to be the best general running book I’ve ever read for beginning or intermediate runners.


From Amazon

I run for enjoyment and fitness. Occasionally, to measure improvement and to keep up my interest, I run a 5k race. I have not read a better book for my level of running than Building Your Running Body.  I know there are better books for specific kinds of training or racing but for a beginning to intermediate runner this is the best. You will need to advance pretty far in the sport to run out of useful information here.

The topics run the gamut from shoes and clothing through specialized training plans. Included are lots of well lit and clear photos showing forms for stretches and lifts (I hate books with photos that look like they were shot in the kitchen after dark).  There is a surprising amount of detail intermixed with the stuff you expect to read. All of these kinds of books give nutrition advice but I’ve never once read about ATP and mitochondria in one. Several chapters use a checklist style presentation making highlights easy to grasp.

For my money it’s the best if the bunch.

Four stars.

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