Running, Swimming and Loving This Vermont Summer!

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Friday brought gorgeous sun and relatively mild temps to the Mad River Valley.  I chose to run after work and while the humidity was slightly higher than I would have liked, it was a night-and-day difference from my Amazon-esque experience on Monday.

My biggest roadblock in this run was shear exhaustion from working a double-shift the day/night before for a server upgrade.  I was running (literally) on about four hours of sleep and for a Friday it was a pretty darn busy workday.  Despite the grogginess, my run was pretty awesome.  The path was busier than usual but I was joined by a few other people running with their dogs and Toby made plenty of new buddies on our journey.

The river was almost back to normal and I took a better comparison shot (both with the iPhone).  Keep in mind that the river can get 2-4′ lower than where it is, but when you consider that the two pics were only taken four days apart it’s pretty amazing (click for bigger image).  I’d also like to give a quick shout-out to RunKeeper‘s Pro App, which has the ability to take pictures right from within the app, which are then automatically added to the activity map and transferred to the RunKeeper website.  I love this feature!

Aside from the run, I had two awesome experiences with my Vibram Fivefinger KSOs this weekend.  I headed to Jeffersonville both Saturday and Sunday to swim in one of the gorgeous swimming holes along the Lamoille River.  Saturday I decided to adventure through Cambridge after my acupuncture appointment; mostly to avoid going back through Stowe Village which was swamped with tourists for the holiday, but also so I could pick up some Brown and Jenkin’s coffee and Boyden Valley Rhubarb Wine.  I had two goals in mind: find a cute random place to eat and a nice place where Toby and I could swim.  I believe I found both:

Sunrise Cafe served me Vermont sausage/cheddar/apple crepes with latkes and fresh fruit as Toby and I sat outside gazing at the mountains.

Lamoille River Swimming Hole in Jeffersonville, VT

As you can see from the picture above, Toby and I chose an area of the swimming hole that was mostly all rock.  To the right of us was a more populated swimming hole/portage area with a real parking lot.  Given the heat and the holiday weekend it was full of a mix of tourists and locals dragging in their kayaks and canoes.  I felt pretty smart finding a pull-off just upstream of the main area; while I was still fairly close to the action, the portage was blocked from sight by a bend in the river and everyone was headed with the current in the opposite direction.  It left me feeling like I was on a private stretch of this gorgeous river.

The reason my little swimming area was practically abandoned is that to get to the river one has to maneuver some semi-steep and uneven rocks.  I wouldn’t call it challenging, but it was important to be sure-footed (as a friend of mine found out the next day when she totally bit it climbing down).  My Vibrams were perfect for the occasion.  I felt like I had a nice firm grip on the rocks and it made walking around the riverbed easy and smooth.

A quick note on the picture above: that rock that Toby is standing on is perfect for diving.  It jets at least 12′ into the water; as Toby discovered when he fell in the first time.  It also happened to be a great sitting rock as it’s recliner-shaped.  I hung out there for quite a while with my legs dangling into the water.  While it wasn’t quite as awesome as our Sunday excursion, lying in tubes on the river for two hours, it was still pretty darn awesome.

I hope you all had a good Independence Day or Canada Day (or just a good weekend for those not celebrating).  I’m enjoying one more holiday day off and then will be getting back on a trail either tomorrow or Wednesday.  We’re getting unseasonably warm temperatures in Vermont for the next few days (90-95ºF) so it’s really going to take some motivation to get out there but I can do it!  That means you can too. 😛

Amazon Warrior

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Wowza, what an adventure!  My run on Monday was more like a run through an Amazon jungle than a trail-run in Vermont.  Sunday night brought torrential downpours to the Mad River Valley that continued through Monday morning.  Honestly, given the high heat and unbearable humidity I was really hoping the rain would hold up and shower me during the run.  However, by the time I set out around 12:30 the skies had turned rust-colored and sun was hazily spreading across the sky.

I’ve complained about humidity often in the past few weeks, but please believe me when I say this was the worst it’s been so far.  It reminded me of the first time I went to St. Maarten, one late April, which I later learned is off-season due to the egregious humidity and lack of a cooling breeze.  The ground was still sopping wet when I headed out, so at least I had a cooling sensation on my feet to break up some of the wet-hot air.

As I set out, I couldn’t believe how slippery the ground underneath me was.  I slipped and slid on mud as I speed-walked, almost biting it a few times.  However, I was quite proud of myself for not sliding around at all when it came to running.  I’ve mentioned previously that early in my running research I found a blog where a barefoot runner compared proper barefoot form to “running through paint”.  He said one must be sure not to smear the paint.  What he meant is that it’s important to pick your feet straight up (kind of like jogging in place) and not push off the ground.  Sometimes when I’m feeling heavy in my body I turn to a mantra of, “Pick up, pick up” as I lift each foot.  On my return trip I even noticed that my footprints when I ran were solid marks, whereas my walking footprints were smeared.

Along with the wet wet wet came unexpected challenges on the path.  Trees had fallen down from the high winds the night before, the edges of the path had become overgrown from a week of high heat and a solid mix of sun and rain, and parts of the path were actually flooded by the massively swollen river (more on that later).  These obstacles provided a motivational distraction from the humidity and kept me entertained as I ran.  While I definitely sweat more than usual, and had some issues pushing myself on the way back, overall this was a successful and fun run.

The one thing I was really looking forward to after a long hot run was a dip in the river.  However, while I ran it became apparent that might not be possible.  Generally, the banks of the river are anywhere from 2-6′ high and beyond the height of the banks there are some swimming-hole areas that have up to 20′ of pebbles where one could sit or stand right next to the river.  As I ran, I saw that the river had swollen over the banks and pebbles and crept up the paths to the trail.  It only covered the trail in a few areas, but the paths to get to the beach areas were covered with a good solid 1-2′ of water.  Even in Spring, when the river is high due to the snow melting, it’s never that high.  Even last year when we had unusually high rain falls all summer, which contributed to the tomato blight and there were e.coli warnings in the river that stopped us from swimming most of the summer (quick note: when we get a lot of rain in the valley runoff from the farms end up in the river causing high bacterial counts), it was never that high.  This was crazy!

I took a picture, albeit with my iPhone because I don’t exactly run with my fancy Canon (kinda wish I could!).  I looked for a comparison shot and all I have is a shot from early Spring, so the river is a high in that one too but this is the same area of the river (the Spring picture is just taken with a wider-angle lens):

To give you a little perspective, the rocks that you can see poking out in the Spring picture are usually fully exposed this time of year; people sit on them and picnic or play music; it’s usually a safe place to sit fully clothed.  The banks in this area this time of year are usually a good 6′.  The picture on the right shows the rocks are totally covered (though you can see a lip of waves on the right side gliding over the highest rock) and the banks are basically indistinguishable.

Needless to say, this was not a good time to swim.  Toby and I did venture down one path to the river in an attempt to brave it, but we were quickly swallowed up by brown murky river water and were unable to even make it to the river.  This was probably a good thing considering how fast the current was moving and how much bacteria was most likely in the flow.

Next run is Friday!  So far it sounds like the weather will be fair and sunny.  Fingers crossed!

Running Through Clouds Slows Me Down

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Wow, the weather really effects my runs!  Wednesday was extremely humid.  I thought I was being smart by waiting for the major showers to head out but most of the week has been humid with rolling showers and thunderstorms.  It could have been worse, I could have been running on Thursday during the intermittent torrential downpours, though that honestly may have felt better than the thick condensed air that I sludged through on Wednesday.

I’ve mentioned that I have some allergies and have been experiencing occasional breathing issues in the past few weeks.  I hadn’t had any trouble breathing with my new routine but by the last two fields on Wednesday I was really struggling to catch my breath.  It’s so frustrating when my body has more strength than my lungs and sinuses.

Needless to say, my speed did not improve on Wednesday; in fact it decreased but not dramatically.  While I came in at a slower overall pace than the run previous to it, I wasn’t slower than the run previous to that.  I do feel stronger.  While my foot is still giving me some trouble, it’s getting better every day and my body is adjusting well to the new pace.  Once I get more comfortable I’m going to try to push myself a little more and either go farther or job through the slow parts of the workout instead of speed walking.  I’ll decide for sure when I’m ready.

In other exciting news, both the RunKeeper Free version and Pro version have been updated for iOS4 and are available on iTunes.  I upgraded to the Pro version and used it on Wednesday.  The tracking is supposedly better and it did track me as going farther  and the trail it mapped looks much closer to the path I take.  You can see what I mean in the pics below: I didn’t really play with the new app features, but you can read about all of them (and about the new awesome changes to their website) on their blog.  Overall, I’m still very impressed with their software and website integration and I think the pro app was worth the $9.99.

I skipped Friday’s run due to other exercise that day and preparation for an all-day chair massage event tomorrow.  If you’re local, check out my Facebook Fan Page for more info.  Next run is Monday!

Short n’ Sweet

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Oh poor ignored blog!  I apologize for my lack of regular entries.  Due to some family complications my writing schedule has been a little off.  Luckily, my running has been right on schedule!

I can’t believe how much I’ve improved in just four workouts.  The past three runs have been 1.58 miles (I’m sticking to the same path) and I’m continuing to run quickly through the fields and slow down to a light jog or fast walk around the wooded areas.  I’ve found this is both giving my foot a chance to heal and I haven’t had any breathing issues, despite sweating up a storm!  My speed has already increased so much that I’ve cut more than four minutes off the workout!  Woo-hoo!  Eventually I’d like to reintroduce distance along with the speed, but right now I’m enjoying speeding up and having a steady recovery from my foot injury.

I promised you guys a picture of the acupuncture needle I’ve been wearing in my foot and here it is!  

Under that little band-aid is a needle routed through a tiny magnet.  It’s placed on the Liver Meridian, point #3 (LV3) which, aside from aiding my foot, is also a stress-reducer.

I do have a funny story to share.  Yesterday, when I got to work my Vibram’s were still wet from some reservoir swimming I’d done the day before.  Since it was a bright, sunny day I put them on the roof of my car.  Well, around lunch time I headed into town for some grub and then to a client’s home for a consult.  Naturally, I completely forgot the Vibram’s were on my roof.  At the end of the day, I headed out to my car to grab my shoes and hit the trail.  You should have seen the look on my face when I found one sad Vibram clinging to my roof rack, while it’s buddy was no where to be found.  I was furious with myself (though, also amused by my stupidity).  I decided to start driving down the road and fully expected that if I was lucky enough to find my shoe it would certainly have been run over by then.  Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised to not only find the shoe, but I found it intact less than a mile away and near a turn around so it was even easy for me to park and pick it up.  I believe that was the last time I dry my shoes on the roof of my car!

Lastly, I wrote up a synapsis of how technology has aided my running in this week’s Tech Tails newsletter.  Here it is if you’re curious.  Also, if you enjoy my babbling you’re welcome to subscribe to Tech Tails and get a dose of Mac bantering in your inbox every week.

“I’m a Road Runnah”

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Quoting M.I.A. means I must be having fun, right?  Right.  While I missed Monday’s run due to a weird fever thing with flu-like symptoms, I was back out again yesterday and had a blast with a new routine.  First off, my foot was feeling much better; most likely a mix of being off of it for four days and having acupuncture.  My acupuncturist also gave me stick-on needle/magnets that I’ve been wearing so I’ll try to get some pics of those for the next entry.  Between happier feet and perfectly mild weather with a touch of sprinkles, I had great conditions for my run.

This was a very different routine.  I wasn’t watching the clock or shooting for distance, I was really shooting for fun.  I walked five minutes as a warmup and then took off at a fast but pleasant pace; I’d say about 70-80% of what I had.  My strides were long and I felt tall and powerful.  After a couple minutes my breathing did catch up with me so I slowed to a light jog and then transitioned back to walking.  I basically followed this flow throughout the workout and aimed to outright run through every field and then slow down in the winding brush areas.

I had the privilege of having not one but two adorable labs with me, Toby and Maggie.  I actually outran them during a few of the times that I really took off; it really confused the hell out of them!  Have I mentioned lately how much I love running with dogs?  I highly recommend it.I felt like I took it easy yesterday but I sweat much more than usual so the good news is that it was definitely a workout!  I only went two miles, and I’m OK with that considering I’m still feeling a little under the weather and this was a new type of workout for me.  I will say that I’m reminded now of why I loved sprinting and jumping events in High School; I really love going FAST!  While I enjoyed challenging myself with the distance runs, this new routine seems to be re-motivating me and I can say with all honesty that I really truly had fun with it; not just fun that I finished a goal.

I’m probably going to play again tomorrow with this new workout.  Eventually, I’d like to develop a plan to increase my speeds or maintain the faster speed with a longer distance.  I feel that if I don’t set goals it’ll be too easy to slack off and I would like to find a nice mix between the workouts feeling like play but also increasing my strength and getting me in shape.  I’m open to ideas, as always!

RubiTrack vs. Runkeeper

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This entry brings good news, bad news, and more tech-talk.  First off, a big “Thanks!” goes out to Lillian for suggesting the RunKeeper app as an alternative to Rubitrack.  RunKeeper is another GPS-enabled iPhone app that, like RubiTrack, maps my runs, lets me know my pace and estimates how many calories I’ve burned.  With the Pro version, which I have not tried yet, it also includes coaching encouragement during exercises and built-in iPod support.

I mentioned last week that while Rubitrack was accurate and easy to use, it was also pretty expensive.  I had only downloaded the free app, but if I wanted to sync the activities to my computer I needed to shell out $14.99 for the Pro iPhone App and then a whopping $39.99 for the desktop app.  Considering I’m not at the point where I’m completely gung-ho about running I really wasn’t ready to make a $55 commitment.  RunKeeper is only $9.99 for the Pro app, but even the free app is able to wirelessly sync with their easy-to-use website.

I also have to give RunKeeper props on their GUI, both in the app and on their website.  It’s easy to use and consistent with the Apple-app feel.  It’s prettier than Rubitrack, includes more workout types and seems to be much closer to the feel of the Nike+ app but is both easier to use and has more character; I felt both Rubitrack and Nike+ were a bit stale/sterile feeling.  The activities also auto-sync with the website and I can easily view the map of my runs and elevation, with each mile clearly marked and compare my activities.  I also really love their elevation vs. speed chart.  I found the accuracy to be identical to Rubitrack.  All-in-all, I’m sold!

So that’s the good news; I found a new app that I love.  The bad news is, I really struggled in my runs this week.  Out of the blue, I’m having breathing issues.  I’ve mentioned some breathing issues in humidity here, but this was worse.  Just a few minutes after beginning to run I found myself struggling for air.  I tried to power through, and in many cases did, but I had to walk occasionally to catch my breath.  Friday’s run was even worse as I was getting intermittent sharp pains in my back that seemed to be from my right lung.  I still ran, but only made it through 2.18 miles.  FRUSTRATING!!

It was such a bummer because Thursday night I had awesome dreams about running very fast through a forest.  It felt great!  I’ve also watched my speed naturally improving and it feels so good to run faster without feeling like I’m pushing myself.  According to RunKeeper, my fastest pace was close to an 8-minute mile and my average pace was around a 10-minute mile.  But, if my breath can’t catch up with me there’s obviously an issue.  I tried to be good and slow down, sometimes quite a bit, but even then I was getting those stupid pains in my lung.

To make things more frustrating, I saw the acupuncturist yesterday and she gave me bad news.  I explained that the fascial issues on the bottom of my right foot had greatly diminished, but I was still having fascia problems in the top of my foot (though it was better than it had been) and was now noticing pain in both joints of my big toe.  I also had stiffness on the medial arch of my left foot.  She poked around for a bit, tightening her jaw at times and nodding her head.  I could tell she wanted to tell me not to run, but instead she told me she thought I should, “Run less” at least until the foot heals.  She’s also not a fan of barefoot running, but again she won’t outright tell me that.  Instead, she told me I will make my own decisions (true) and I should do what my body tells me to.  She did also say that the first acupuncture treatment often brings up illnesses within the body from the past.  I used to struggle with exercise-induced asthma, so she thinks that could be why I’m having new breathing issues even though I’m actually running less than I did during the nine weeks of Couch-2-5k.

I had a Thai massage later that day and the massage therapist also noted that maybe running isn’t for me.  Argh!  I’m finally enjoying running, for the first time in my life.  I’m enjoying being outside with my dog, connecting to the Earth with my feet, and exploring the gorgeous trails near me.  I really don’t want to stop!  I also don’t want to hurt myself.  I’m even more dismayed because heart issues run in my family and I constantly struggle to find a cardio routine that works for me.  I love yoga and weight-lifting, but cardio and I struggle to get along.

For now, I still intend to try to run three days a week.  I’m not going to shoot for three miles, I’m just going to shoot for being active for 30 minutes even if that means walking for a bit.  I might also try fast running (since I find that fun) mixed with walking and see how that goes.  Honestly, when I run faster I feel like I run lighter, but I suppose my feet will tell me for sure.  I’m very open to advice/feedback here.  I’d also love to hear other ideas for outdoor dog-involved cardio that would be lower-impact than running.  Ideas?