Running Training Travel

Life Has a Funny Way

I’ll blindly stand behind most things nineties — Lisa Frank, Tamagotchis, that puppet dinosaur show that briefly aired on TGIF — but Alanis Morissette’s hit single “Ironic” has always annoyed me just a bit.

A traffic jam when you’re already late. A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break. It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. It’s meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife.

Catchy, sure, but the misuse of the song’s titular theme drives me a little crazy. Pick up a dictionary and irony is defined as incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result. Rain on your wedding day isn’t ironic, Alanis — it’s just unfortunate. Also, it’s probably time to thin out your silverware drawer, you spoon hoarder, you.

But while a black fly in your Chardonnay is arguably more unsanitary than ironic, I believe I actually did experience some de facto irony this past week. You may recall that after two years of injury-free running without any supplemental strength training, I finally decided it was time to stop pushing my luck and build some lean muscle mass. Countless studies have shown light weightlifting and strength training can help prevent common running injuries, and with my second marathon training cycle fast approaching, I figured I really shouldn’t leave myself so susceptible to wear and tear. So I woke up early on Wednesday, trekked to the gym, squatted and lunged my way through a 60-minute strength class and returned home proud of my preventative efforts at keeping myself injury free.

I then packed a suitcase with tons of running gear and a surprising lack of 80s paraphernalia given I was on my way to my five-year college reunion, grabbed my boarding pass and hopped a plane to the always hideous Maine coast.

Worst. View. Ever.
Worst. View. Ever.

I knew my reunion weekend would be busy between beach trips and lobster bakes and dance parties and — let’s be honest — the caliber of hangover only a 27 year old pretending to be a 21 year old can muster, but I still figured I’d get in a few gorgeous runs beneath the pines before returning to New York City tonight.

My right knee, however, had other plans. Fast forward to Friday morning, and I suddenly couldn’t walk.

Now I’m not talking run-of-the-mill-sore-muscles-couldn’t-walk. I’m talking couldn’t-bend-my-right-knee-without-agonizing-pain-couldn’t-walk. Somehow between going to sleep on Thursday night and awaking on Friday morning, my right knee had forgotten how to straighten or transfer weight or traverse stairs, leaving me with excruciating pain, a noticeable limp and my first debilitating exercise-related injury since my second-grade self fell off her bike and broke her leg.

I skipped my planned Friday run in hopes the pain would pass, but after waking up to find my knee just as stiff Saturday morning and still not 100 percent today, I’m afraid maybe I really did do some damage. I guess it’s possible my unidentified injury didn’t have a darn thing to do with the weight training class at all, but since I hadn’t changed anything else in my routine leading up to it — and had even reduced my mileage in recent weeks — I can’t help but think my “preventative” workout was to blame for this weekend’s pain. Oh, the irony.

I know the first rule of sports injuries is to take more rest than you think you need — that, and eat a lot of RICE, or something — so I promise to take it slow this week as I focus on my recovery. The plan for tomorrow is to hit the pool for some slow, kick-free laps, and we’ll take it from there.

Still, while I’m disappointed not to have worked out even once this weekend — and will be downright distraught is this becomes a recurring issue — spending four days on my former campus doing nothing but sitting around stuffing my face with the No. 1 college food in the country felt pretty darn right. My NYC marathon goal — and waistline — would prefer not to take four consecutive rest days ever again, but at least if I had to be sidelined for an extra-long weekend, I was surrounded by my favorite people in the process.

No, it wasn't an all women's college. Why do you ask?
No, it wasn’t an all women’s college. Why do you ask?

Have you ever been sidelined for an unidentified injury? How did you cope? If your answer is “eat more blueberry cake,” then you and I are more similar than we ever knew.

Running Training

Heavy Weights

I’ve done a lot of reading on the inception of running, and while the etymology of the word jog is reportedly unknown, this much I know to be true:

When distance running came into fashion in the 1970s, much conventional wisdom surrounding the sport was misguided, sexist or downright wrong.

Take a quick glance back through the past five decades of casual and competitive road racing—fine, I’ll do it for you—and it becomes painfully clear that in the 70s, sports science related to my favorite pastime was still in its infancy. Also in their infancy in 1970? Current forty-three year olds, if my math serves me, the odds of which, uh, requires more math.

Take, for example, the following popular misconceptions of the early running boom. These since-refuted claims—while not held by everyone—were oft repeated nonetheless in the literature of the time, or so this non-time-traveling 1985 baby has read:

  • Marathon running causes sterility in women.
  • It’s best not to hydrate at all during a 26.2-mile race.
  • Weight lifting has no place in a runner’s training schedule.

The first two have been overwhelmingly refuted in both scientific study and anecdotal evidence in the generation since, but the third—that weight training and running are mutually exclusive—has somehow persisted.

Many runners—including this one—shy away from strength training even in today’s day and age because:

  1. We don’t want to gain bulk that will weigh us down come race day.
  2. We don’t want to injure ourselves or increase muscle and joint soreness.
  3. We don’t want to waste precious time in the weight room when general consensus says the best way to run better is to simply run more.
  4. We can’t do a push-up. Oh? What’s that you say, other runners? Huh. Well, good for you. I guess that’s just me then.

Or in other words, for the last two years of race training, every time my schedule read this:


I saw this:


(I could upgrade to Photoshop, sure, but the rebellious teenager in me would miss Paint’s spray paint tool too much.)

Skipping strength training (and, let’s be honest, stretching as well) didn’t seem to do me much harm as I trained for my first marathon, having little goal in mind except to finish. But with my race times having since plateaued, I’m starting to think running alone isn’t going to cut it for me anymore as I look to improve. Enter strength training.

Although common knowledge used to dictate strength training was detrimental to the distance runner, science now suggests the addition of some lean muscle can actually improve a runner’s VO2 max, strengthen joints and connective tissue, ward off injury and prevent muscle imbalances, particularly when it comes to the smaller stabilizer muscles that are often underutilized when logging flat mile after flat mile. With that in mind, I rolled up to a group strength training class at my gym last week, and while the bicep curls left my forearms screaming, I’m optimistic the net benefit will be well worth the strain.

Weight training scares me, sure, but just like corralling up at the Verrazano Bridge this November 3 isn’t going to make me sterile, I think pumping some light iron on a weekly basis can only serve to improve my overall fitness, making me a better runner at the end of the day. Yes, it might leave me aching, but I think given the reported benefits, I should just grin and bear it.

Grinning and bearing.

Do you supplement your running with weight training? Have you seen improvement and/or been elected California governor as a result? 


40 Days of Fitness

Very few holidays fall on Wednesdays, and those that do as part of their calendared schedule usually elicit widespread revulsion for their brazen decision to situate themselves midweek.

Seriously. Raise your hand if this sounds familiar:

“Can you believe it?! Halloween is on a Wednesday this year. A WEDNESDAY. Ugggh.”

If you’ve been alive for more than seven years, I guarantee that rings a bell. (And if you’ve been alive for less than seven years, congratulations on your exemplary computer skills but please stop reading my blog.)

But while I’ve never heard anyone shriek in delight to learn that New Year’s Eve would be coinciding with Hump Day this year, there is one post-Tuesday/pre-Thursday event that seems to slip by annually with little negative kickback: Ash Wednesday.

I’m not going to get into a whole history of Ash Wednesday here because 1. It’s late. and 2. (please stop reading here if you happen to be my Godmother) This lapsed Episcopalian’s recollection of Ash Wednesday’s origination is a little fuzzy.

What I do know, however, is that it kickstarts the happy-go-lucky season of Lent, a 40-day observance of prayer and penitence for some and the commencement of Cadbury Creme Egg season for others. (I’ll let you guess which camp I fall into.)

My childhood Lents were always marked by some form of self-denial – usually the renunciation of dessert after my mother shot down my lame yearly renunciation of homework – but this year, I’ve opted to observe the season proactively instead. Rather than forgoing red wine or cursing like many of you more disciplined people out there, I’m going to maintain mindfulness by upping my strength training routine over the next 40 days.

I’m still in the final days of Fab Ab February (there’s totally a six-pack hiding behind that Thai food I ate for lunch), but once Leap Day concludes, I’ve created a new supplemental schedule to last me through Easter. Unlike the Fab Ab February calendar that I stole from the internet, I made this bad boy myself in Microsoft Paint. (People tell me there are now other digital art programs besides Microsoft Paint, but I’m not sure who to ask about them. Maybe an editor at a daily newspaper?)

It’s so artistically crafted that I expect it will go viral.

What’s your Lenten resolution? (If it involves giving up cursing or wine, I’ll talk to you post-Resurrection.)

Running Weight Loss

How I Became a Runner

This afternoon, I got my first blog post topic request from an old college friend. It read a little something like this:

blog post idea: could you write about how you first started running? like what distance and times were you doing (if you know the times). did you chart your performance or did you just run as much as you could? did you do anything other than running, like complementary weight training (also, do you do that now?)? I ask because you are my hero and I want to be you and I will probably buy you a dozen puppies before our long run this weekend.

(That last sentence might not have been part of the original text. But I can’t be sure.)

OK, anonymous blog fan whose twitter handle is @adamkommel. I’ll tell you about my formative first days as a runner. First, let’s set the stage. I know this is going to be a hard time period and backdrop to visualize, but tap into your deepest creative stores and try to imagine:

The year was 2011 and the city was New York.

After a blissfully slothful 2010, I had entered the New Year with a goal of getting my butt in gear (I believe that’s a scientific term). I immediately began tracking calories and upping my gym frequency, but since I’d made similar changes in the past with little success, I knew I needed something more.

The answer came on Jan. 4, when a favorite friend e-mailed to invite me to register for a 10-miler in Philadelphia later that spring. The offer sounded appealing enough: It is the largest 10-mile race in the country with 30,000 people, and is COMPLETELY flat and without any turns and maybe even a little downhill (only slightly).  P.S. If you join me, I will buy you a dozen puppies, per your usual terms.

Hoping the entry fee would light a fire under my lackluster exercise routine, I quickly submitted the registration form. Of course, typing in the credit card information was the easy part; now I had to get to work. A Type A personality with an affinity for schedules, I scoured the Interwebs for a training plan that someone of my athletic prowess would be able to complete. I ultimately opted for marathon guru Hal Hidgon’s plans, since they were 1. Seemingly achievable and 2. Free.

I had nearly four months between registration and race day, so I had enough time to start at Square One and build a fitness base. I began with Hal’s novice 5K plan, which had me logging accessible distances like 1.5 miles and let me be hungover on Sundays:

I didn’t chart my performance or measure my pace – I just put one foot in front of the other and ran. By the end of the training cycle, I had built enough of a base to move onto Hal’s novice 15K plan:

This 10-week program brought me up to 8 miles and powered me through the Broad Street Run. Never having timed myself during training, I had simply assumed my pace was a 12-minute mile, like my record-setting high school gym class speed. So you can imagine my surprise – and delight –  when I crossed the finish line at 1:33.23 after sustaining an average 9:20.29 pace. As my favorite 1994 fictional film character said, “From that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running!”

Of course, the downside of loving running is now I’d rather choose to log miles than to do any other form of exercise, including weight training. And you’re right, unnamed avid reader/Adam: strength conditioning is said to be the defining factor when it comes to proper running form, efficient exertion and, ultimately, shaving minutes off my race time. So with that, I give in and will adopt what many other runners have done before me: Fab Ab February.

I may be a week late to the party, but history tells me I’m bound to follow through with a scheduled workout if it’s in calendar form. And if the easy-to-read format isn’t enough to motivate me to keep this up, maybe the March vacation I just booked on a remote Caribbean island will be. Nothing says 100 sit ups like bathing suit season come early.

Now that I’m apparently taking requests, what do YOU want to learn about my running career/food choices/Forrest Gump affinity?