Incidental fitness

When I first began working from home back in March, I made a promise to myself. I’d get at least 30 minutes of dedicated activity every day until I returned to work.

Why would I make a promise like this? I wanted to make sure I was doing something every day, even if I was taking a day off of running, because I was bound to be less active throughout the day.

My place of work before all of this started is a very large facility. Over the course of a day, just by walking to and from my car, going to the restroom and refilling my water bottle, I’d get thousands of steps even if I was taking a day off of running. While working from home, I might get hundreds of steps walking from the spare bedroom to the kitchen or somewhere else in the house several times a day.

While small activities like walking 1000-2000 steps from your car to your desk at work won’t make you an Olympian, they do make a difference in your overall health and fitness and, to some small extent, your running. Unfortunately, most of us who are working from home are probably getting much less of these activities.

I’d like to encourage you to think of these things and see how you can replace what you’ve lost if, like me, you are still looking at a long time working from home. Can you make a pledge similar to mine? Can you get out once or twice a day, especially on days you don’t run, to walk around the block? Can you take 5 minutes to do a quick strength routine of lunges and push ups? What about getting a standing desk or a sit/stand desk so you can be up and move around at least part of the time? This is another thing I did shortly after starting work from home and it’s allowed me to move more even while at my desk working than I would sitting in a chair all day.

These things matter, both for your overall health and fitness and to some small extent for your running.

Race report: 2017 West Bend Autism Awareness 5K

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

I first ran this event two years ago. It happened to be its first year but I was just looking for an early year (it was in April at that time) 5K to shake the rust out. The following year, it moved to a location just a few miles from my home and I couldn’t pass up a race so close to home.

This year, again, I wanted a race ideally this weekend and this one so close to home was too hard to pass up. My goal for this was mostly just to test my fitness. I feel like I’m rounding into sub-17:30 shape but am I really in that area? If so, how far sub-17:30?

The week was pretty uneventful this time, thankfully. I didn’t back off the training in the early week quite as much as I would for a goal race but I did do what has become my standard race week workout on Tuesday, then cut the bottom out of my training for the rest of the week. I went in thinking that, in ideal conditions and running the perfect race, I could probably run in the low 17s. I was sure I was at least in mid-17 shape.

Knowing this race, my biggest challenge was likely to be walkers. This is a 3 lap race around the county fairgrounds, which has its pros and cons. #1 pro: you get crowd support twice mid-race. #1 con: without good crowd control, it can be a challenge to get around walkers. I talked with the race director last year about the idea of giving the runners a dedicated lane that would funnel into the finish line on the last lap. That year, she attempted to tell the runners to stay to the left and the walkers to stay to the right. The walkers didn’t listen, though, and the finish line was on the right so the runners had to cross the walkers to finish. I thought the plan this year would be runners stay to the right, walkers stay to the left.

As I arrived, I noticed the crowd was good. I registered, pinned my number on my singlet, then got ready to warm up. As I was warming up, I noticed how tough the back side of the course would be. It holds the only incline, hardly worth calling a hill, but this year it was accompanied by a stiff direct headwind. This spot was out in the wide open and was getting all of the wind. The other side, with the tailwind, was unfortunately around buildings and not going to get the same wind. Oh well, you just make the most of the day. Other than the wind, the conditions were perfect. I can deal with the wind better than early season heat so I’m not complaining.

I finished my warmup and the director announced that runners should stay to the right, walkers to the left, as you finish. I almost jumped in to ask if that instruction should be throughout the course, not just as finishing, but for some reason didn’t. This was the first sign that things would not go as smoothly as hoped for. This was a race where I went in hoping for the best, a clear path and some people to cheer me in along the way, but expecting some traffic issues.

For the first lap, obviously, the coast was clear. I went straight into the lead and found a nice rhythm. I felt like I was moving very well, probably low 17 pace if not flirting with sub-17 pace. Then I hit the back side with the headwind. I felt like I slowed to a jog but I just pushed through. Around a corner into the park and I was out of the wind and rolling again. I went around a few turns and to the start/finish area, where some late starting walkers were still just getting going.

Pretty quickly in the second lap, I started hitting packs of walkers. At first, small enough to weave around without losing too much momentum or adding too much distance. Then the bigger packs started hitting. I began trying to take the inside line (the right, as I hoped walkers would be instructed to avoid throughout) but quickly found it far too congested. After a few close calls with dogs, including one I had to dodge and another I actually had to hurdle, and other close calls with people, I made my way to try the outside. I actually ended up off the pavement of the road and on the gravel shoulder. This went pretty well for a while, until crowds started appearing out there. Then I cut across to the inside and ran along the gravel shoulder on the inside. People were everywhere and it was hard to find a path. I added quite a bit of distance and spent quite a bit of energy weaving in and out but, not more than about a minute before hitting the start finish area, someone said I was just over 10 minutes. To me, this was a good sign. Somehow I was holding probably low 17 pace or I had gone out actually at sub-17 pace and didn’t lose too much.

By the end of lap 2, I was getting to the point where the walkers were spread out more, some jogging, and there was a little more space to maneuver. Lap 3 definitely began that way and I was largely able to use the inside shoulder to get a mostly clear path. Then I started getting back into the back of the walkers. This time, with joggers mixed in. The walkers were spread out a little more but there were others trying to pass them, complicating the situation. Fortunately, there weren’t any incidents but I did have to run on the grass a few times to avoid incidents.

As we entered the park again, the crowd was again thinning. I managed to weave through and use the grass at a few points to get through, then in the final straight I shot a gap to get to the right side and to the finish line.

As I crossed the line, I heard 17:50. To be honest, I’m happy with this. I figure the crowds cost me at least 20 seconds and the weather probably another 10 or so seconds so it was probably a 17:20 or better kind of effort and I didn’t finish completely wasted.

I came into this knowing the potential traffic issues so I hold no grievances over that. It was a little worse than expected but I knew there would be potential problems going in. Actually, to be honest, I offered to work with the race director on ideas to resolve the traffic issues for next year. I’m even considering volunteering instead of running to help resolve these issues. This event has potential and I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, for this race director.

Race report: 2017 Al’s Run

Al’s Run is always one of my favorite events of the year, largely because of the team aspect. As I’m sure almost everyone reading this is aware, Team HillRunner.com has been represented at Al’s Run for well over a decade by now. If I have the count right, this was the team’s 14th year under the HillRunner.com banner. It’s also my 17th year at Al’s Run and my 16th year as a member of a team (Team GTI first, which became the original core of Team HillRunner.com).

There are two things I absolutely love about this team.

First, the great people. From the veterans like Double and Cameron, who have been on this team for as long as I have or maybe longer, to the newer members like Andrea, I’ve always been incredibly grateful who are willing to join the team.

Second, the team aspect itself. I miss the days of team running. This is the one time a year that I get to go back to those days. There’s just something about running on a team. You’re out there for more than just yourself. Your teammates are counting on you. When it gets tough in the late miles, you can remind yourself that this is about more than just yourself. Then, you finish completely exhausted but you have to turn back immediately and cheer in your teammates who are still on the course. Why do you have to? Because they are your teammates!

Heading into the race, I wasn’t going in with a lot of confidence. Over the summer, I think I pushed a couple aspects of my training a little too hard and I was getting very beat up. While those things subsided by the beginning of September, I was making adjustments in my training through July and August and my paces weren’t what I normally expect of myself. But things were turning around and I was at least confident in not running as poorly as I had feared a few weeks earlier I might. What would that mean? Well, I was about to find out.

After handing out packets and catching up with teammates for a bit, we went out for our warmup. It’s always fun to do the team warmup there, with everyone decked out in HillRunner.com gear running in a pack down Wisconsin Ave in downtown Milwaukee. There was no doubt this was a warm day. Instead of planning for where we would be battling a headwind, I found myself thinking about where I would have a tailwind creating dead air and a lot of heat. I decided that would be primarily in the second and third miles and we would hopefully catch a cooling breeze late in the race.

At the start, I lined up on the left as has become custom (most of the lead runners line up on the right so going to the left gives a more clear path). I got out well, feeling solid but not too fast. Not much happened until I noticed Cameron pull up on my shoulder. It was good to have a teammate running with me. Then a stroller passed us. I don’t remember if I said it to Cameron but, watching this guy push the stroller past us, I know I gave Cameron some reaction as I thought “he’s just that much better than me”.

I don’t precisely recall all of my splits but I do recall going through the mile in about 5:53, I’m not sure if it was just before or just after I passed Cameron but we essentially ran the whole first mile together, which was great.

Mile 2 at Al’s Run is always a slow mile. I expect a fast split in mile 1 because it’s almost all downhill. I then expect to essentially give up all that time and a little more in mile 2. Instead of worrying about pace in this mile, I just focus on running hard, competing, and not giving up too much time. I know I made more passes in this mile than I got passed so I considered that a victory. I also had a couple of people working with me, which was nice. I believe I hit the 2 mile mark around 12:20 so roughly mid 6:20s. Slower than I would normally like but, given the summer I had and the heat of the day, not a disaster.

I did want to try to pick up the pace in mile 3, see if I could get back at least close to 6 flat. Again, though, I would do that through competing. I was working on catching up to some runners and making a pass. The crowd was a little thin with small packs forming so there wasn’t a lot of passing to do but I just kept focusing on the first guy ahead of me. If someone tried to pass, I’d do all I could to either hold him off or stay with him. As far as I recall, I didn’t let anyone pass me and get away in this mile.

Then we got to Lafayette Hill, just before the 3 mile mark. This is where you go down from the bluffs above the lakefront to Lincoln Memorial Drive on the lakefront. I leaned into the downhill, made a couple passes, and told myself I want to pick up some momentum to carry into mile 4. I believe I hit mile 3 in the 18:40s. So essentially maintaining pace.

Mile 4 at Al’s Run is where I believe the race is decided. It’s a long stretch, staring at downtown Milwaukee the whole way. It can be mind numbing and seem to take forever. Or you can attack it and make some passes of others who are falling into the trap. When I run well, I’m attacking this mile so I always go in with the goal of doing just that. After using the downhill to pick up some momentum, I attempted to carry that momentum into mile 4. As I was gaining on the guy ahead of me, someone came up to pass me. I went with him and, while he may have gotten a half step, he didn’t get away. We both made the pass on the guy in front after working together for a while. I seemed to get back in front of this guy I was running with, then he came back. At one point near the end of this mile, there is a slight curve to the right but everyone seems to always run down the left side of the road. I wasn’t into that, I wanted to take the short line, so I crossed to the right. I felt like someone behind came with me but, at the same time, a guy just ahead of me stayed to the left. This gave me the opportunity to gain on him without having to pick up the pace. As I merged back to the left for a left turn, I had made some significant ground on him and we were now essentially running even. When he saw me, he went and I tried hanging with him. I did through the 4 mile mark., which I believe I hit somewhere around 25:00, meaning I did pick up the pace a bit.

Into mile 5, I was gassed. I gave it all I had in mile 4. All I could do was tell myself less than a mile to go. The guy I gained on and the guy I was running with both passed me early and I had no response. My legs just wouldn’t go. I did all I could to keep it close but it just wasn’t there. I kept battling through the final turns and tried to kick down the final straight. With nothing left, I’m sure the kick looked pathetic but it was all I had.

I ended up finishing in 31:14. Not a time I’m thrilled with but better than I was fearing.

By the time I turned around, Cameron was coming in. When I looked up after he crossed the line, Ed was on his way in. I then slipped out to cheer in Double, Josh, and Andrea from the sidelines.

As far as I’m concerned, it was a successful team event. On a difficult day, I feel team members battled through well:

Ryan: 31:14 (38th overall, 2nd 40-44)
Cameron: 31:55 (46th overall, 1st 45-49)
Ed: 32:11 (51st overall, 2nd 45-49)
Double: 32:39 (56th overall, 2nd 55-59, his own report is available here)
Josh: 36:34 (136th overall)
Andrea: 42:37 (378th overall)

Team HillRunner.com (cumulative time of top 5 runners): 3rd in the community division, 2:44:35

Individual results
Team results

I left this race feeling better than I had after my prior race but still not fully confident in logging my 22nd consecutive year with a sub-17 5K. That said, in the following week, I had some solid training with splits that suggest I’m not too far away. Today, I did a workout where my splits were poor but the weather was also rough so I’m going to hope that, when the weather improves, I can still take a legitimate shot at another sub-17 in about a month.

Until then…time to put my head down and get in a lot of hard work.