Outrunning Time: Attempting to Break 20 Minutes in the 5K at 44

Fastest 5K 20:27

I am rapidly closing in on 45 years old, but I’ve only be running for the last 7 years. As my more experienced peers struggle to defy age and maintain their speed, I worry that the years will soon catch up to me and halt my seemingly age-defying pace improvements.

I don’t have records that go all the way back to my early 5K training runs, but I’m sure my first was in the 35-40 minute range. It didn’t take long to break 30 minutes by improving my fitness with some consistency, but 25 minutes was a huge barrier. Running 3 miles at 8 minute pace seemed incredibly daunting at the time, and most of my attempts weren’t on the friendliest elevation profile. After 8 fell, though, 7 wasn’t far behind.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been experimenting with breaking 20 minutes in the 5K. I have made 2 formal attempts and a few informal attempts, but each time, I’ve come up short. In my first attempt, I was training for a marathon and noticed my top speed improving somewhat effortlessly before entering a local 5K with my family. That race was probably the closest I’ve come to 20 minutes, but I’ll never know how close as a course mistake had us running almost 3.5 miles. The data for the run shows me at 19:46 after 3 miles. That is basically in line with my current 5K record of 20:20, achieved at the same 5K race exactly a year later.

In both of those attempts and some training run attempts, I’ve found myself gasping for air during mile 2. I’ll then pull my foot off of the gas a bit to catch my breath, and by the time I’m ready to go again, it’s mile 3 and my average pace has slipped too far to recover. 6:26 minute per mile pace. For someone who started in the 12’s, it’s a huge mental barrier. For a soon to be a 45 year old man who is not in perfect health, it’s just as big a physical barrier.

In my 7 years of running, I have never trained specifically for a 5K. I’ve run 5K’s more for fun in the midst of 15K, 25K, half marathon, or marathon training programs. So my question now is whether I have a 20 minute 5K in me, or if I’ve run out of time and the long, slow age-driven pace decline has begun. To answer that question, I decided to dive into the Hal Higdon Advanced 5K training plan.

As of this blog post, I’ve completed Week #3 of the training plan, and I’m definitely noticing some improvements, even if they may not be showing up in the paces on my training runs. Here’s a quick run-down of my workouts so far:

  • 11/20/2017: 3.1 miles @ 7:56/mile
  • 11/21/2017: 5×400 intervals alternating 6:00/mile and walking
  • 11/23/2017: 4.24 miles @ 7:35/mile
  • 11/26/2017: 4 miles @7:12/mile
  • 11/27/2017: 3.66 miles @ 7:44/mile
  • 11/29/2017: 8×200 intervals alternating 6:00/mile and 10:00/mile with a final interval of 5:00/mile
  • 11/30/2017: 3.88 miles @ 7:49/mile
  • 12/02/2017: 4 miles @ 6:58/mile
  • 12/03/2017: 7.25 miles @ 9:00/mile
  • 12/04/2017: 3 miles @ 8:22/mile
  • 12/06/2017: 6×400 intervals alternating 6:00/mile and 10:00/mile with a final interval of 5:00/mile
  • 12/07/2017: 4.31 miles @ 8:07/mile (tempo run with 12 min. @ 20 min 5k pace)
  • 12/09/2017: 5 miles @ 7:11/mile (crashed and burned)
  • 12/10/2016: 7.55 miles @ 8:43/mile

This is all new territory to me. I’ve done very little speed work, and the times I have done speed work, it was extremely informal. Tempo runs are also new, at least at this pace. I’ve done them for marathons, but in those cases, I was running 7:45-8:00 pace, not 6:25 pace. It’s a significant difference for my lungs and legs. I’m also using the treadmill a lot, both due to the weather and because the treadmill can force a specific pace. That means I may struggle some on the days I go outside, but it also means some of these paces above are off by a bit due to the variance in tracking those runs solely from a watch.

This next week will be very telling as there is a 5K test race scheduled for Saturday. I came into this training plan knowing I could easily get under 21 minutes in the 5K so I expect to break my 5K record of 20:20 and give 20 minutes a good scare.

And if I break 20 minutes on Saturday? Then it’s over. I quit this 5K silliness and go back to running distances I find much more enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong. I love running 5K’s…for training. I just don’t like racing 5K’s. That said, 18 minutes would be kind of interesting, but it’s that kind of crazy thinking that got me into this 20 minute mess in the first place.

 

 

 

Of Sea Urchins and Plantar Warts

Disclaimer: Always consult a Doctor for medical issues. There are a lot of opinions on how best to deal with Sea Urchin spines.

Sea Urchin Stings

Back in March, I blogged about trail running in Kona, Hawaii. What I failed to mention was that my feet were doing their best impressions of pin cushions during that run. Looking back on the injury and complications that followed, I think there may be some useful information for other runners so let’s get into it.

Prepare for Stinging

I’ve probably mentioned at some point that I don’t really enjoy traveling, but one of the few destinations that can get me excited is the ocean. The beach affords me the opportunity to relax and unwind, and as a former reef aquarium enthusiast, any ocean destination with abundant reef life piques my interest. So even though I wasn’t excited to travel, I was excited to get to the ocean.

On our first full day in Hawaii, some of us decided to get in the water off the hotel’s beach. It was high tide and the waves were significant enough that treading water was a challenge. Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen the beach area at low tide to know the dangers just below the surface, and before I knew it, a wave had pushed me into the sea urchin covered lava rock wall. I planted my feet to avoid getting my body cut up by the rock and ended up with the aquatic equivalent of kicking a porcupine.

Addressing the Pain

Sea Urchin venom is painful but not unbearable. That said, pain affects everyone differently and the location of the sting likely makes a difference. An allergic reaction is also a possibility so don’t play around. Get to safety and deal with the problem before continuing with any swimming activities.

To neutralize the venom, use vinegar.

Many will suggest urine as a quick alternative, but it’s not clear to me how effective that option may be. It appears that sea water or hot water are both better options than urine, but if you’re desperate, I’ll let you make up your mind.

Of course, once the pain from the venom subsides, you’re still left with the pain of a bunch of spikes still in your skin.

No Yanking

Your initial reaction to the urchin spines is to pull them out. Some Doctors will even advise removing them, but my understanding is that you increase the odds of a secondary bacterial infection. The spines are extremely brittle so pulling will just cause them to break off instead of coming out cleanly like a splinter or thorn. And yes, I yanked on a big cluster of spines that were sticking several inches out of my heel, and they just broke off.

Sea Urchin spines are made of Calcium Carbonate which our bodies can absorb. Calcium Carbonate can also be dissolved by Vinegar. Over a period of 3 weeks, I did 2-3x daily soaks in Vinegar to help dissolve all of the spines in my feet and toes. It was a long process, but as a runner, I DID NOT want a Doctor cutting on my feet.

With what I know now, my preferred treatment would have been an IMMEDIATE foot soak in Vinegar as hot as my feet could tolerate without burning. The Vinegar neutralizes the venom and works to dissolve the Calcium Carbonate spines, and the heat helps loosen the skin to (hopefully) let some of the spines fall out.

If you do a few Internet searches, you might see a story about some crazy guy having a friend beat the spines with a board. I think the goal may be breaking the spines into smaller pieces the body can absorb more quickly, but I’m honestly not sure. Since this article is from a runner’s perspective, though, I would advise against bashing your feet with a board. If it’s another body part, have fun if a good beating ticks your boxes.

Watching for Infection

I had one cluster of spines that kept acting infected (swollen and reddened appearance). In a rare and unexpected display of potency, the OTC triple antibiotic ointment that NEVER works actually got the job done. It kept the infection at bay while the spines continued to dissolve.

That said, consult your Doctor if you see signs of infection.

Expecting the Unexpected

After being stung on the first day of a week-long vacation, I had to suck it up and get on with the vacation activities and relaxation. This meant being in sandals and barefoot frequently throughout the remaining 6 days of vacation. In one case, we spent some time snorkeling in a pool at another much more popular hotel, and I suspect it’s at this hotel where I picked up a plantar wart.

I’ve been exposed to plantar warts before but never developed one. That’s likely because it’s rare for my feet to have broken or damaged areas where the virus could gain access. Of course, with my foot peppered with Sea Urchin spines and the soles softening from repeated Vinegar soaks, I had basically rolled out the Plantar Wart Red Carpet.

It took me 7 months to cure my Plantar Warts, and I know people that have been trying for years to rid their feet of Plantar Warts. This is not a complication you want.

Protect your feet. Go straight to the shoe store and buy some water shoes. If you’re in a public area, wear them to reduce the odds of a secondary infection. Honestly, this is probably a good idea even if you don’t get stung by a Sea Urchin. In fact, if I HAD worn water shoes, I wouldn’t have ever been in this predicament in the first place.

Packing Beach Essentials

Going for a day at the beach? Make sure you have your Sunscreen, Towels, Vinegar, and Water Shoes…not in that order.

 

 

 

 

Apple Watch Series 3 First Look

 

Apple Watch Series 3

I don’t like watches.

As a child of the 70’s, I come from a generation whose parents and grandparents religiously wore watches. Watches in those days were a combination of form and function. They were both jewelry and time travel protection, rendering the wearer immune to the time jumps inherent in relying on the microwave ovens and wall clocks of the world that lacked any time server synchronization beyond the occasional reset after the janitor called Time and Temp. Unfortunately, watches had no effect on that tardy slip you got because the school clock had drifted 5 minutes fast by the start of the 2nd semester.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah…I don’t like watches. To me, watches feel like jewelry, and I don’t like drawing any extra or unwanted attention, either positive or negative. They also exposed me to more social interaction, and as an introvert, I prefer to be left alone.

“Excuse me sir, do you have the time?” Nope!

So the advent of cell phones was great for me. When I started carrying a phone full time around 2005, I suddenly had ubiquitous access to the time, and it wasn’t just *any time*, it was the *right* time. I no longer had any practical reason to wear a watch.

When I began running in 2011, I immediately bought an armband for my iPhone and started tracking runs on Nike Plus. Carrying the phone was a bit annoying, but even if I had a GPS watch, I would carry the cell phone for emergency purposes.

Between a 24/7 on-call job and young children, I need to remain in contact when I’m on the run. Leaving the phone behind isn’t an option for me no matter how many times keyboard warriors tell me I should leave it behind.

So during the announcement of the original Apple Watch in 2014, I wasn’t looking for a stylish timepiece. I was looking for a waterproof GPS watch with cellular connectivity. Needless to say, I was disappointed, but there were likely very good reasons Apple’s first foray into timepieces missed my mark.

Primarily, I think the powers that be at Apple genuinely wanted a stylish timepiece with some smartphone-like functions. Tim Cook is over a decade older than me, and he’s more connected to those watch-wearing generations I mentioned earlier. If you do an image search for old pictures of Tim Cook, guess what you find. He’s usually wearing a watch.

Second to Apple’s focus on style, I don’t believe the battery(/power-saving) technology was ready for GPS and cellular. Samsung had its 3G capable Gear S available around the same time, and the reviews I read then said battery life with GPS was terrible. If I could find the review in question, I would link it, but I’m fairly sure it said a run with GPS and 3G drained the battery completely in around 2 hours. That might be fine for faster runners or shorter distances, but my marathon long runs usually last 2-3 hours.

When Apple announced Watch Series 3, I immediately started digging through their website for the relevant battery life details. Fortunately it didn’t take too much digging. With both GPS and LTE enabled, the Series 3 can potentially run for 4 hours. That number is very likely optimistic especially considering that I will be using AirPods for music, but it’s still at least 30 minutes of wiggle room for even the longest of my long runs. 2 hours is my absolute minimum requirement for GPS + LTE + AirPod music, and I’m hoping it holds up.

My Apple Watch Series 3 just arrived on Wednesday (October 10th, 2017). That’s right…this watch hating runner ordered Series 3 immediately upon release. I didn’t go wait in line on opening day because I don’t do that, but it *is* the first product I have ever ordered on launch day.

The setup of the watch with my iPhone 7 and AT&T service was surprisingly (at least to me) flawless. It’s not unusual for Apple’s part of the process to work, but when adding the $10/month plan to AT&T worked without a hitch, I had to pick my jaw up off of the floor. The only improvement I could see in the setup is a faster way to add music to the Watch, and the prompt for adding music should come during Watch setup instead of the first time you open the Music app. I do love the Heavy Rotation music option, though.

On Thursday, I had time to get out for a quick 4 mile run around noon. I left my iPhone at home and headed out with just Apple Watch Series 3 and AirPods. Although I may switch run trackers (or finish SubdueTheSloth) eventually, I went ahead and used NikePlus for this run.

When I started the run, the Apple Watch had already been off of its charger and connected to my iPhone for 6 hours. Over the 40 minutes I was out (warmup, running, cool-down, stretching), I listened to music through the AirPods the entire time. I tracked 2 runs. I did a 5K which lasted about 22 minutes, and then I tracked another 3/4 mile back to my car because I ran out a little too far for my 5K. In between the two runs, I called Sloth Wife from the Watch and talked for about 5 minutes.

When I returned to my car, battery life was still above 70%. As I write this, it’s about the same time of day, and battery life is at 95%. Based on those numbers, it appears that Series 3 will meet my 2 hour minimum requirement. I doubt it will make it through 4 hours, but I’m holding out hope for 3 hours if I don’t make or receive any phone calls.

The next major step is to get Series 3 out for a 9-12 mile run and see how the battery holds up. I’m cautiously optimistic and really hoping I can retire my Garmin and iPhone for normal training runs.

I still don’t like watches, but so far, I do like my little wrist phone gps tracker. Just don’t ask me for the time.

I’ll report back on battery life after I’m able to log some longer runs.

 

 

 

Trail Running: Kona, Hawaii

While the rest of you were following in the footsteps of the Ironman and cycling Highway 19 or swimming Kailua Bay, I was running the coastline, checking out Kekaha Kai State Park. I actually wanted to drive to Volcanoes National Park to run some of the trails there, but we were staying near Kona, and the schedule didn’t allow enough time to drive to the Southeast side of the island. My trail run wasn’t so much a trail run as it was bits of running mixed with hiking and picture taking. If I had it to do over again, I would have loaded up the family, snorkel gear, and beach supplies and made a day of hiking the unbelievably quiet beaches I found along the way.

I started my run by getting a cab to drop me off at the Southern-most entrance of Kekaha Kai State Park just off Highway 19. Trying to tell the driver where I wanted to go proved amusing as he originally thought I wanted him to take me directly to Makalawena Beach. Since the drive from HI-19 to the beach is unpaved and extremely rough, you’re unlikely to find a cab willing to take you all the way in. Instead of getting dropped off near the beach, I just ran the mile or so from 19 to the beach parking area. It might be tough for a car, but it’s not that bad for running.

Makaole'a Beach

Makaole’a Beach

Once I arrived at the parking area, I turned South away from Makalawena to run toward a small, black sand beach area called Makole’a Beach. The road toward the beach this direction is distinctly 4WD only, and it was much more difficult to run than the main road. The 4WD roads often have rocks in the 4-6” diameter size range bunched together anywhere the road has been washed out which is great for a vehicle but a little more challenging for a runner. After some time on the road, I noticed white markings on the lava heading toward the beach so I blindly followed.

KeKaHa Kai State Park Lava

KeKaHa Kai State Park Lava

The lava was surprisingly runnable, but that isn’t always the case. The lava in this area was smooth with cracks spaced well for my stride. In other areas, the lava was much rougher and reduced me to slow walking to keep my footing. The marked lava route eventually rejoined a road and took me to Makole’a.

Makole’a was empty. At 11:00 am, I was the only person on the beach. Being the type of person who likes to avoid crowds, I was floored. I’ve never seen an empty beach…ever. It would have been nice to stay and spend some time, but this was my running time so I took a few pictures and headed north along the coast.

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trails

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trails

Running from Makole’a to Mahai’ula Beach was a mix of rocks and really loose sand. If you wanted to get a better run without burning out your legs in the sand, returning to the 4WD road might have been a better strategy.

There were a handful of people at Mahai’ula Beach, but it was still extremely quiet. Most people coming to this area likely hike further North to Makalawena Beach.

If I’m remembering the route correctly, the hike to Makalawena is extremely rough. It’s about a quarter mile on little 4” diameter rocks. I was wearing trail shoes, and it was bothering my feet. I felt sorry for the beach goers navigating the rocks in their sandals, but the payoff had to be worth it. Makalawena Beach was so nice that I texted my wife and teased that I was just going to stay for the rest of the day.

Makalawena Beach

Makalawena Beach

From Makalawena, I mixed some coast line running with some 4WD road running. At times the coast line slowed me to barely a crawl while I worked my way around tide pools, and at other times I was running on paths through the trees or along small, sandy beaches.

KeKaHa Kai State Park 4WD Road

KeKaHa Kai State Park 4WD Road

After I left Makalawena, I didn’t see another tourist until I reached Kua Bay at the North side of Kekaha Kai. The few people I did see were clearly locals either heading out for spearfishing or camping on beaches reachable only by truly off-road vehicles. The roads to these areas may not necessarily require 4WD, but you MUST have ground clearance. The smaller Subaru’s I saw earlier in my run wouldn’t have worked here, and an Outback would have been borderline.

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trail

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trail

Eventually I had been out too long on too slow a route. I happened to see a car drive by out of the corner of my eye and realized I was near the paved road to Kua Bay. I cut across some of the worst lava rock I’ve encountered and hopped on the road for a quick half mile or so to Manini’owali Beach.

Manini’owali Beach is by far the most popular beach in this park. It’s a beautiful but smaller white sand beach with much less rock in the water making it a more attractive swimming location. When I arrived around lunch time, the beach was packed. I couldn’t even run the path through the beach without risking kicking sand into sunbathers. There were coolers and towels and people on almost every square foot of white sand.

I had planned to continue North, but there is a historical lava rock area just North of Manini’owali Beach with dire warnings about moving any rock. Not knowing how long it might take me to work my way through, I opted to run back out the Kua Bay access road and return to my hotel via HI-19. Even though my body was pretty well shot at this point, the roads gave me a chance to get in what turned into intervals for the final 3 miles of my run.

KeKaHa Kai State Park

KeKaHa Kai State Park

There are probably better places to run in and around Kona and definitely on the Big Island, but I had a blast at Kekaha Kai State Park. Mahalo, Hawaii.

 

 

 

 

 

A Lost Year

Sloth Brain

Well, it happened again. I lost another year. I didn’t spend the year in a coma or locked up in jail, but I definitely don’t feel like I’ve been “present,” for lack of a better term.

Prior to embarking on my journey from sick and out-of-shape to healthy over 5 years ago, I often lost days or weeks at a time. I would spend months sick with sinusitis and/or bronchitis, and my poorly managed thyroid condition kept me in a persistent brain fog and low on energy. But after 5 years of good health, I thought those days were behind me. Unfortunately I seem to have come up with a new twist on the same old story.

During my training for the 2015 Route 66 Marathon, I began experiencing some unusual neurological symptoms. I was training more miles per week than in previous marathons, and I was running them at much faster paces on much more challenging elevations. After most of my runs, long runs especially, it looked like an army of worms were swimming around inside my calves. Less frequently, I experienced involuntary muscle movements and spasms mostly in my arms. I attributed the symptoms to my training, but my wife disagreed.

At my wife’s urging when I went to the Doctor for thyroid blood work in October, I mentioned the symptoms. My Doctor didn’t seem too concerned about them, but she did feel my blood work warranted a decrease in my thyroid medication. I had been relatively symptom free for 2 years on the same dose of NatureThroid, and now the Doctor wanted to change my dose just 1 month prior to a marathon.

I did as ordered, and I still performed reasonably well at the marathon, but over the subsequent months, my body began exhibiting some of the familiar Hypothyroid symptoms. It’s an insidious cycle as the earliest symptoms for me are mental, and they impact my ability to realize that I’m experiencing symptoms. And, even though some of my neurological symptoms could have been attributed to too much thyroid medication, the symptoms worsened with the decrease in thyroid medication.

In July, my primary care physician sent me to a neurologist for further evaluation. Given its recent publicity and association with fasciculations, the neurologist was quick to eliminate ALS as a potential diagnosis. Being a bit of a hypochondriac, I had read enough online to know that ALS wasn’t a likely culprit. I’ve been much more concerned about Parkinson’s and related conditions, but the Doctor hasn’t even mentioned Parkinson’s as a possibility. I realize the likelihood of it being Parkinson’s is very low, but when your arm starts vibrating uncontrollably, it’s hard to dismiss the possibility.

Since starting with the neurologist in August, I’ve been to the neurologist several times, had an EMG, 2 MRI’s, and tons of blood work, and I still have no answers. In fact, I’m about to give up on ever having a definitive answer, but I have taken some steps to try to correct potential issues in my diet and reduce stress, both physical and mental.

I shored up some potential vitamin and mineral deficiencies with supplements.

I pressed the pause button on all of my side projects and focused solely on one critical work project.

Although I kept my training where running a 15K-25K was possible, I only raced once in 2016, a 5K that didn’t go quite as planned.

Even though I’m a night owl, I did my best to get more sleep.

Mentally, I’ve improved a bit, but physically, I’m still experiencing symptoms. I’m supposed to see both my neurologist and primary care physician in January so we’ll see what they have to say.

Until then, I’m just pleased to be a bit more present mentally. The fog has lifted just enough that I’m in the mood to punch the next person who tells me, “this too shall pass.”