Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas shoveling ambition

Like any other Minnesotan, I endured the "Christmas blizzard of '09."

My car required 20 minutes of shoveling to dig it out from the snowy abyss that was the parking lot at my apartment Christmas Eve morning. The drive to my parent's house in St. Cloud that day was a three-hour adventure complete with ice, snow and bad drivers on Highway 169. And Christmas morning at my parent's house, I woke up to -- surprise, surprise -- another round of snow, as the storm from the night before forced my step dad to take a snow blower to our driveway for the third straight day.

Needless to say, Mother Nature certainly added a bit of gloom to the holiday season. But after staying inside Christmas morning and avoiding the snow, like many Minnesotans probably did that day, I decided to make the most out of the weather. I put on my winter clothes, grabbed a shovel, reached into my inner 4th grader and took a few hours out of the holiday to build a snow fort.

I'm still not sure what exactly motivated me to do so. Maybe I wanted to negate the onslaught of Christmas cookies my mom had made with a little exercise. Maybe I wanted to tap into the nostalgia of my days as a Boy Scout, where we once built a snow fort big enough to sleep six comfortably during a winter camping trip. Or maybe, just maybe, I came to conclude that there was nothing new I could derive from watching "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" for the umpteenth time on TNT.

Whatever the case, I decided that I'd had enough with being inside and attacked the snow with vigor. It started as a mound at first, gradually building up to a hill large enough to require a ladder to apply additional "substance" to. After burrowing into the hill with my trusty shovel, I managed to hallow out a fort area with about a 5 ft. ceiling and enough space to sleep two comfortably.

By the time I had another family holiday function to attend to, the fort was completed, my shoveling muscles were aching and my appetite for Christmas dinner had been created. I had also exerted enough energy in the building process to burn roughly 1,500 calories according to the exercise calorie counter on my blog (take THAT, holiday eating habits!).

But most importantly, my worries about the bad traffic, weather and other stresses of the holiday season had been set aside for a few hours in favor of some innocent wintertime fun.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A little indulgence never hurt anyone

I'm definitely what you would call a breakfast person.

Starting the day off with a good meal is about as regular for me as showering and brushing my teeth. My cupboards are perpetually stocked with pancake mix and my fridge is never lacking in the provisions to make a good omelet.

The benefits of a good breakfast are endless. It jump starts your metabolism, gives you energy for the day and has been proven as a workable method of weight control. Growing up, my mom was always adamant about making sure my brothers and I had a big bowl of cereal before heading to school and woke us up early just to make sure. Mom was right: breakfast IS the most important meal of the day.

I usually try to make breakfast my largest meal of the day, but recently, my weight loss goals for Grandma's Marathon next summer have gotten in the way that. I started committing the unforgivable sin of looking at the calorie content on the sides of boxes. I had no idea the cholesterol in a good omelet was so high, nor did I know a frisbee-sized pancake had so many carbs. For me, finding out the nutritional value -- or lack thereof -- of pancakes was a lot like finding out there's no real Santa Claus: you might have felt more grown up for knowing it, but you didn't really WANT to know it.

Because of this discovery, my breakfast habits have been considerably scaled back: something along the lines of a small bowl of Raisin Bran, a toasted bagel, a banana or a granola bar. Heck, I even tried make an egg-whites-only omelet last week, which resulted in a gag reflex and a quick disposal of its contents into my garbage can. Good cereals like Peanut Butter Crunch have been eradicated from my grocery purchases and my trusty box of pancake mix is currently collecting dust in my cupboard.

Well, at least it WAS collecting dust.

I say "was" because yesterday morning, after a trying day and little sleep the night before, I decided I needed more than a wimpy granola bar to start my day off right. I broke out the skillet, threw dietary inhibitions to the wayside and indulged in a breakfast that can only be described as amazing: chocolate chip pancakes with a side of sausage made from bear meat. I even used real maple syrup for good measure and washed it all down with a tall glass of orange juice.

Was this a healthy breakfast? Not if you're trying to lose 20 pounds. But was it an enjoyable breakfast that made the whole day more bearable for me? Very much so. My day wasn't anything significantly different from the previous day, mostly work and a workout at the Y, but my outlook on the day improved immensely thanks to that momentary indulgence

And that's where the line gets drawn when it comes to dieting, at least it does for me. It's good to have a goal and the discipline needed to achieve that goal, but if you can't give yourself a break once in awhile, life can start to feel pretty overwhelming.

Blog updates: I've added a few things to the blog rail on the right. Rather than posting updates on Eric and Christie Nelson's bike trip, both their blog and their GPS location can be accessed by clicking on the appropriate link. I also added a Grandma's Marathon training log, which will chronicle which week of training I'm in and how many miles I've ran so far.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nostalgia can be a painful thing

Everyone who's been around long enough has an activity they miss being able to do on a regular basis.

For me, that activity is rowing.

For the majority of my four years of college, I identified myself as a rower almost as much as I did a student. It may have only been a club sport, but to me, crew was life. The practices were challenging, the regattas were competitive and the friendships forged will last a lifetime. My favorite memories of college weren't made in a classroom or a bar; they were made in a boat.

It's been hard to let go of in the post-graduate life, but thanks to the indoor rowing machine at the YMCA -- also known as an "erg" to the crew-initiated -- at least part of the sport doesn't have to be phased out completely. Not that erging is the part of rowing I'd like to maintain. Most of the people who participate in crew look at an erg with the same level of contempt as a dog owner has with picking up the waste of their pet on a morning walk: it's not something you enjoy doing, but it's part of the experience.

However, since the erg is pretty much the closest thing there is to actual rowing in Mankato, it has to suffice for me to get my crew fix. I normally try to put in about 10-20 minutes on the machine at medium intensity a couple times a week. Nothing too crazy; just enough to remind my body what rowing feels like.

But yesterday, my ambition combined with my sense of nostalgia to take it a step further. I decided to try one of the staple workouts from the old crew days: the 5,000-meter time trial. It's more of a long-distance workout than a sprint, but it still requires a pretty strenuous pace to get a decent time. Being the nerd that I am, I remembered my personal best time in college and wanted to see how close I could come to matching it. At the very least, I figured it'd be a good way to finish up a workout at the Y.

The time trial started out just fine. My form started coming back to me early on and I busted through the first 2,000 meters or so without too much trouble.

However, right around the 2,500-meter mark, I hit the proverbial wall that every workout junkie can relate to. Your muscles burn, your breathing becomes exasperated and your mindset all of the sudden shifts from "This is feeling great" to "What the hell am I doing here? I'm not in shape for this." Rather than trying trying to drop my split during this crucial point of the time trial, I spent most of the next 2,000 meters wondering if I was going to throw up if I tried to pick up the pace.

Thankfully, I made it through the time trial without suffering the embarrassment of losing my lunch in the YMCA Life Center. The time I finished with may have been paltry compared to what I was doing in college, but considering I felt like absolute death by the end of the workout, the time really wasn't all that important.

The important thing was what I learned from the experience: that nostalgia can sometimes be painful to both the mind and the body. Maybe next time, I'll try to get my crew fix by simply wearing an old rowing t-shirt instead. It might not be as rewarding as a good workout on the erg, but at least I don't want to throw up after putting on a t-shirt.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Achilles annoyances

A pain-free existence is often a difficult goal to attain for the physically active.

It seems like every time you think you've dealt with every conceivable injury an activity can bring, a new ailment arises that expands your sports medical horizons and tries your patience.

That's exactly where I find myself at this point, as a sore Achilles tendon has stalled my marathon training and put a damper on other physical activities as well. The injury isn't serious enough to render me immobile, but the pain is noticeable enough to convince me that now is as good of a time as any to take some time off from the ol' running trail. I've never injured my Achilles before, so I figure it's best to air on the side of caution.

Admittedly, I know very little about Achilles tendon injuries. Aside from knowing that it was named after the Greek dude Brad Pitt portrayed in "Troy" and that it takes a long time to heal if it ruptures, I have about as much knowledge of the Achilles tendon as Homer Simpson has of quantum physics. A licensed doctor or someone who has gone through the recovery from a complete Achilles rupture would probably have a lot more information on the topic than myself.

However, my experiences with the injury have inhibited me to read up on it through a few online sources. Here are a few things I found most interesting (or, at the very least, surprising) to me about Achilles tendon injuries:

The inury can be caused by a lot of the same stuff that causes other sports injuries: Overuse, bumping up the intensity of your routine too quickly, improper footwear, poor running form, etc. This can make it difficult to diagnose the injury correctly, but for the most part, any Achilles problem is going to have the pain centered around the tendon. A sore Achilles (or Achilles tendonosis, the technical term) is considered to be a pretty common injury for middle distance or long distance runners and, according to this Web site, can be assessed in four stages (with me being somewhere between stages 2 and 3):
  • Stage 1. No pain during exercise, but there is some discomfort in the morning when first getting out of bed. The stiffness and creaking go away after a few minutes and are fine the rest of the day. Lightly pinching the Achilles tendon with the forefinger and thumb in the morning or after exercise will probably indicate soreness.
  • Stage 2. Pain during exercise or running, but performance is not affected. The stiffness and creaking continue to appear when first getting out of bed and continue to disappear shortly afterward. Lightly pinching the Achilles tendon with the forefinger and thumb in the morning or after exercise will indicate soreness.
  • Stage 3. Pain during exercise or running that is detrimental to performance. The stiffness and creaking continue to appear when first getting out of bed, but may continue for some time and reappear at other points during the day. Lightly pinching the Achilles tendon with the forefinger and thumb in the morning or after exercise will indicate soreness.
  • Stage 4. Hurts too much to exercise or run. The stiffness and creaking continue to appear when first getting out of bed, but may continue for most of the day. Lightly pinching the Achilles tendon with the forefinger and thumb at almost any time of day will indicate soreness
Treatment for a sore Achilles is actually pretty similar to an ankle injury. It basically requires rest, icing, compression, anti-swelling medication (i.e. Ibeprofen) and elevation for the first 2-3 days after the soreness initially develops. After that, you're supposed to work your way back with light activity, stretching, strengthening, balance work and, most importantly, exercise. According to this Web site, the best way to strengthen damaged tissue (in this case, the tendon) after an injury is to be active. However, the site also stresses to never push it to the point where the tendon starts to hurt.

The recovery time isn't easy to gauge compared to other injuries.
Some Web sites recommend 1-2 weeks of rest to let the Achilles heal. Others recommend longer. What it really boils down to is how it feels for you. Start with light activitiy and gradually build yourself up from there. Ice it for 10-20 minutes after physical activity, but be ready to scale back on your activity if it's sore the next day. Like any other injury, it's important to be patient.

Ways to prevent future injuries are pretty basic.
Essentially, exercise regularly to keep the tendon from becoming strained from increased activity, maintain a good diet (especially calcium) to prevent muscles from getting tight and causing unwanted strain on the tendon, and choose carefully when picking out footwear. The right pair of running shoes can go a long way in helping your foot strike the ground properly and cut down on wear and tear. A good stretching routine (most sites recommend the wall stretch) once the soreness subsides is also a good way to prevent injury.

You can tape an Achilles tendon much in the same way you can tape an ankle to prevent injury. However, the Web site I found for this recommends having a sports medicine professional do it, because it's considerably more complex than regular ankle taping.

Well, that's pretty much all I've got on everyone's favorite tendon. The only solace I can take with the injury is that at least it happened with six months to go until the actual marathon. Because if the injury was bad enough take down a Greek warrior, I'd imagine I wouldn't fair too well around Mile 15.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Running in a winter wonderland

Well, it had to happen eventually.

Every true-blooded Minnesotan knew this warm weather business wouldn't last forever. Winter had to come eventually and after yesterday's perpetual snowfall, in the words of Johnny Mathis: It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Not that I'm complaining about it. I'm a fan of all seasons weather-wise and winter happens to be the time of year when I partake in a hobby more befitting of my co-worker's Bass Connection blog: Spear fishing. I hope to have my house set up on the lake sometime in the near future and plan on heading to the family cabin after Christmas to 'jab some pike.'

But as far as health & fitness is concerned, winter can be the most challenging time of year to maintain a good workout program. The cold weather and icy roads and trails are enough to make almost anyone want to move their workouts to indoor settings. And even then, you have to bear the cold weather somewhat just to get in your car and drive to the gym, not to mention suffer the monotony of running on a treadmill or biking on a stationary. This is how exercise routines go into hibernation and how holiday pounds begin to add up.

If you're anything like me, running on a treadmill kind of feels like a rat running in a wheel. You might get a good workout in, but what's the fun in doing it if you can't see the distance you're running?

Consequently, I'm in the crowd that likes to brace the elements and do the majority of my running outside whenever I can.

However, when running outside in cold weather, there's a few precautions you should probably take to keep the run safe and enjoyable. Here are a few tips based on my own experience and and articles I found online:

  • Set a goal for yourself: Try to shoot for a set number of miles each week, have a weight loss goal, or sign up for a race that you have to train for. That will keep you motivated and working out with a purpose.
  • Think layers: Starting from closest to your body, you'll want to have a layer to wick moisture away from your body (think spandex or polyester), a layer to insulate (fleece or wool work pretty well for this) and a layer to block the wind if necessary.
  • Dress for 15-20 degrees warmer than what it is: If you're planning on going for a lengthy run, your body will warm up over the course of the run. Once you're warm, if you're wearing too many layers, you can overheat during the run and exhaust yourself.
  • Protect your hands and your head: The majority of your body heat escapes from the top of your head, so on days where the temperature gets really frigid, where a good winter hat that will trap the heat and keep you warm. As far as hands go, find a nice thin pair of polyester gloves that will wick the moisture away and keep them from getting frostbitten. If it's even colder still, wear a face mask to help keep your breathing warm and protect your face.
  • Baby steps: Winter is not the time to be taking long, loping strides while out running. That's how ankle sprains and other injuries resulting from slipping on ice occur. Keep your strides short and your feet close to ground. You never know when hit a patch of glare ice on the trail. If the trail gets really icy, you can try using these on your shoes. I've also heard of runners popping a few smaller screws into the bottoms of their shoes to make them into pseudo-track spikes.
  • Avoid routes with heavy traffic: More than any other time of year, motorists have a hard time reacting and adjusting to runners on the road during the winter time. Keep it safe and stick to trails and roads where you know you won't have to worry about cars having to avoid you.
  • Keep hydrated: An obvious point at all times of the year, but even more important in the winter time, as cold weather has a drying effect on the air that can increase the risk of dehydration.
  • Get used to running without music: If your iPod is anything like mine, in cold weather, it makes it through your warm up and that's about it. So rather than having the system shock of having it die on you midway through a run, just leave it at home.
  • Most of all, keep it fun: Go out with a group of friends, run through a neighborhood with a bunch of holiday decorations to look at or bring your pet with on a run. Whatever you do, just make sure you keep having fun with it. Because there's nothing more damaging to holiday cheer than a bad run in cold weather.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mankato Marathon meeting recap

When it comes to hosting a big event like an inaugural marathon, it's never too early to start planning. However, in the opinion of Mankato Marathon race director Mark Bongers, it's never too early to start getting input from those planning to participate in said marathon either.

That was the premise Bongers had in holding the marathon runner's forum Tuesday night at the Verizon Wireless Center. While the marathon is still in the formative stages of planning, Bongers was looking to get an idea of what runners would like to see in the race based off of positive racing experiences they've had in the past.

"In my experience, events like these come together much nicer if you get input early on instead of trying to adjust later," Bongers told the 30 or so runners who attended the forum, myself included.

The forum was organized into 6 different topics: Pre-race (i.e. events before race day), warm-up, the race course itself, the finish line, post-race and any other micellaneous concerns. Each topic had its own assigned table, where a group of marathon runners could discuss it and jot down notes. Every five minutes or so, groups were rotated to different topics.

A lot of topics were brought up throughout the meeting, but here is what came up in discussion most often:

-General race courses for the marathon, half marathon and 10K races. Bongers said that the courses are still awaiting approval by the city police and the marathon course is awaiting USA Track & Field certification to make it a Boston Marathon qualifier. However, the courses should be finalized by the end of December and course maps should be available on their Web site soon after. Here is what Bongers had in mind for the routes of each race, with each race starting at 8 a.m. in the Blakeslee Stadium parking area up at MSU and ending at the Verizon Wireless Center:
  • Half Marathon: From Stadium road, take a right onto Monks Ave, follow until County Road 90, take a right onto the South Bend bike trail, follow the trail until it connects with the Red Jacket Trail, follow the Red Jacket Trail back to the YMCA, Take a left on Riverfront Drive, run through Sibley Park and cut back towards the Verizon Center via the bike trail along the Minnesota River and Front Street.
  • Full Marathon: Same start as the half marathon, but take a left on County Road 90. From there, follow County Road 90 across Highway 22, take a left on County Road 83, follow County Road 83 until it turns into South Victory Drive, take a left onto Balcerzak Drive, take a left onto Monks Ave and once out to County Road 90, follow the half marathon course to the finish line.
  • 10K: This was the course Bongers was least descriptive about, though as it stands, he would like it to follow Stadium Road down to Stoltzman, which would then cut down to Riverfront and make its way over to the Verizon center from there.
-Medical staff and aid stations on the course: How many do they plan on having and where are they planning on getting volunteers from? Bongers said marathon organizers planned on contacting Immanuel St. Joseph on the matter and would make volunteer applications available on the marathon's Web site as soon as possible. As far as having medical staff stationed throughout the course, Bongers does not forsee that being an issue, as the Red Jacket and South Bend trails are both fairly wide open and offer a variety of entryways via other roads and trails.

-Getting local businesses involved in sponsorship. At present, Hyvee is only business to sponsor the race. Suggestions were made about having businesses sponsor water stations on the course or advertising their business through having coupons and other perks in runner's gift packages.

-Making the marathon marketable in the face of bigger races like Grandma's Marathon and the Twin Cities Marathon, which is being the held the weekend before the Mankato race. To this, Bongers said that there was basically no convenient weekend to hold the marathon. Other, more established marathons in the midwest are being ran throughout the year, and a schedule conflict was unavoidable (though one runner jokingly suggested that the marathon be ran in December). As far as marketability, Bongers has established a Facebook page for the marathon and hopes to get the word out with local businesses and the race's Web site after it's completed.

-Pricing. Although pricing for the marathon is not final yet, Bongers assured runners that it would be finalized and on the Web site by January, with pricing structures planning to offer early bird discounts to those who register early.

-Goal for number of participants. Bongers said he was shooting for 1,500 total participants in the 3 races, but was hoping to make to course accomodating should that number be larger. Concern was brought up as to whether or not the Red Jacket Trail would be wide enough to fit that many runners, but Bongers said organizers were planning on talking to the city about closing the trail for that morning to cut out any additional traffic on the normally-busy trail.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving calories reviewed

They might call it Black Friday, but at this point, I'd prefer to call it Full Friday.

At present I'm sitting in my pajamas, watching TV and trying to let my stomach recover from the onslaught of Thanksgiving. Going for run is about the furthest thing from my mind at this point. Heck, walking across the street might even be beyond my ambitions at this point.

Like any other Thanksgiving, I indulged a little more than I should've at dinner, with gravy topping everything from mashed pototoes to stuffing and the pumpkin pie tin becoming well-aquainted with the digging of my fork. And since I didn't need to worry about driving anywhere upon arrival to the dinner, alcoholic beverages were also on the menu.

For the sake of entertainment and education, I carried around a pad of paper and a pen for the day and took down the calorie intake of all things consumed. I did this by either looking at the nutritional value on the containers of things I was eating/drinking, or by looking them up on this website. By the time I finished adding everything up, I felt like John Belushi in the cafeteria scene in "Animal House."

Here is how the calorie content for the day breaks down:

  • 1 fiber bar - 140 calories
  • 1 bowl of generic raisin bran cereal - 260 calories (note: the cereal and bar were consumed before I arrived at the actual Thanksgiving dinner)
  • 2 glasses of white zinfandel - 292 calories
  • 2 servings turkey - 660 calories
  • 2 servings ham - 376 calories
  • 3 servings mashed potatoes - 333 calories
  • 3 servings gravy - 300 calories
  • 3 servings stuffing - 330 calories
  • 1 serving fruit gelatin - 243 calories
  • 1 rum and Diet Coke - 80 calories
  • 3 dinner rolls - 270 calories
  • 3 slices of pumpkin pie - 810 calories
  • 4 cans Bud Light - 440 calories
  • 1 slice of apple pie - 400 calories
  • 1 slice of oreo pie - 470 calories
  • 1 serving peanut brittle - 180 calories
  • 1 White Russian - 360 calories
  • 1 margarita - 325 calories

Total calories consumed for the day: 6269. According to the exercise calorie counter I have on my blog, it would take roughly seven hours of biking 14-15.9 mph (around 100 miles of total biking) or a little more than seven hours of running 7 mph (8:34 mile average and more than 40 miles of total running) to burn off the calories.

With that in mind, I think I'm going to go hop on the treadmill for awhile

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving: The day dietary inhibitions flew out the window

Loosen up the ol' belt, grab a dinner plate and don't skimp on the gravy.

Thanksgiving day is upon us, and with it comes generous helpings of turkey, stuffing, casseroles, pumpkin pie and whatever else your heart (and stomach) desire. Add in a side of football and a dash of beer to watch those gridiron contests with, and what you have is a recipe for dietary disaster. According to this article on, an average person will consume around 2,500 calories over the course of Thanksgiving dinner, or roughly the high end of what's considered a healthy daily intake for physically-active adults.

(side note: The article above lists pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes -- two of my more favored Thanksgiving helpings -- as healthy eating options for the nutrition-conscious crowd. Not sure if their nutritional value holds true after the multiple servings I'm sure to indulge in, but there's some good news!)

Granted, you can always say no to second helpings and that extra-large slice of pecan pie for dessert. But in my experience, it's hard to turn down a helping of the dish your aunt spent all day preparing, unless you want to deal with glaring looks from across the dinner table. Besides, there's only so many occasions where you have the opportunity to try such a wide variety of food, albeit foods that have varying degrees of nutritional value.

Consequently, I've already chalked up the day as a loss for any discernible diet I may have been on. I figure a day of indulgence is an acceptable vice, so long as it doesn't send me down the slippery slope of the holiday eating season, where family dinners and cold weather conspire to send health & fitness into hibernation.

As far as the marathon training is concerned, the current version of the Minnesota Timberwolves has a better chance of beating the '96 Chicago Bulls than I have at getting a 10-mile training run in on Friday morning. So I've been mindful to plan ahead for my "Turkey day hangover."

I put in a hard week of running (36 miles) last week, put in a fair amount of time at the gym and ran 16 miles so far this week. I'm also hoping to squeeze in one last workout before driving up to my parent's house for dinner in the morning.

Aside from that, I'm just going to enjoy the holiday, enjoy the company, and most of all, enjoy the food.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Upcoming Mankato Marathon forum and other updates

The Greater Mankato Convention & Visitors Bureau is holding a Mankato Marathon Runners Forum from 6-7:30 p.m. Dec. 1 in the Ellery Room at the Verizon Wireless Center to get ideas and suggestions for the upcoming Greater Mankato Marathon.

According to race director Anna Thill, topics the forum will explore include: Pre-race events (i.e. holding a pasta feed the night before the race), how to set up the starting line on race day, things to have on the race course (i.e. water stations, food stations, etc.), what to have at the finish line of the race (food, massage tables, other accomodations), and other micellaneous topics like posting race photos online and making resutls available to runners.

Thill said the target audience of the forum is runners with marathon experience who can chime with their own experiences and what they liked best about races they've ran in.

For more information, contact Anna Thill at 381-6815

- Update on Eric and Christie Nelson (the couple biking from Mankato to the tip of South America): As of their last SPOT entry Saturday, Eric and Christie are in the Mexican village of Palenque, which is roughly 40 miles west of the Guatemalan border. They're latest blog entry was written on Sunday and recaps their experience of biking in Mexico, with the climate and landscape being far more diverse than anticipated and the locals being much friendlier than they were expecting. They also made a note to apologize to their readership for their lack of entries lately, as Christie recently came down with a stomach sickness and their travel was slowed as a result.

-Grandma's training update: I just completed Week 4 of my training, and thanks to a little bit of weather-induced ambition (is it really the middle of November?), I managed to log 36 miles of running and mixed in a few nice bike rides to go with it. The only setback so far has been getting used to my new pair of running shoes, as the breaking-in period has caused a few blisters to form. Short-term goals are to log as many miles between now and Thanksgiving as possible, because I'm guessing the amount of food consumed at the festive dinner will render my fitness ambitions useless for a few days.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's always sunny in ... Minnesota?

Every once in a while, Mother Nature goes and pulls a temperature two-step on us

Fresh off an unseasonably cool summer and one of the harshest Octobers weather-wise in recent memory, temperatures decided to go in the other direction in November. In a month normally reserved for winter coats and scarves, temperatures have hovered in the 40's and 50's for most of the month, with a recent stretch of days being in the 'sunny and 50-something' variety. The weather forecast for the rest of the week bodes for much of the same.

It has actually proven to be a little disorienting for me. Today, I actually broke out my rollerblades for possibly the first time ever this late in the year. Yesterday, I came to the startling conclusion while running that I was actually OVER-dressed for a 40-minute jog. I also had a lot more company than I expected, as the Red Jacket trail was crowded with dog-walkers and bikers like it was the middle of August. Heck, if it gets much warmer, I might have to bike over to Hiniker and work on my tan for a bit.

Granted, there are drawbacks to the weather being this nice so late in the year. For one thing, the ice fishing crowd is probably watching their gear collect dust in the corner of their garage, as my co-worker makes light of in his recent blog post. Although the temperatures at night have been cool enough to cause a freeze, it's unlikely any lakes are forming much for ice at this point. I can also see this making Minnesota winters seem all the more brutal once the inevitable days of -15 temperatures start rolling in.

However, being the outdoor enthusiast that I am, I say put the winter hibernation on hold for awhile and enjoy the weather as much as you can. Take the dog for a walk, put some air in the bike tires, break out the hiking boots, dust off the tennis racquet and dig the baseball glove out of the closet. It doesn't matter what you do, just bask in the warm weather while it lasts.

Because knowing Minnesota, it ain't gonna last for long.

P.S.: If the weather immediately becomes Minnesoata-esque after today, you can blame my blog post for jinxing it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A marathon through Mankato

Runners of Mankato rejoice, a marathon is coming to your backyard next fall!

The Greater Mankato Growth Convention and Visitors Bureau announced Thursday that it will be hosting the inaugural Mankato Marathon on Oct. 23 in 2010. Although the marathon is still largely in the planning stages and the race's website is currently under construction, here is what we know so far:

  • The event is scheduled to have full marathon, half marathon and 10K racing options. There will also be an expo, kid's run and pasta feed the night before.
  • The marathon course is still awaiting approval, but the proposed route is to start up at MSU's campus and end down at the City Center. A coworker suggested the course follow the same path as the now-defunct Nature Valley Grand Prix cycling race, which included four trips up Main Street hill to finish the race. For the sake of all runners and medical staff involved, let's hope the course follows a different path.
  • Race coordinators are hoping to draw between 400-500 runners for both the half marathon and full marathon, making it much more quaint than the 10,000 or so that turn out for the Grandma's in Duluth and the Minneapolis Marathon. However, if numbers hold true, it will still be considerably larger than my first marathon, which consisted of 180 runners on a bike trail mostly out in the country. There were points of that race where other runners weren't even within eyesight. Talk about lonely.
  • With the Twin Cities Marathon scheduled to take place Oct. 3, the Mankato race will be the last chance in 2010 for Minnesota runners to try for a qualifying time for Boston Marathon in 2011. Incidentally, the Des Moines Marathon is taking place Oct. 17.

As an avid runner, I couldn't be happier to have a marathon taking place so close to home. Road trips are fun and all, but it's nice to be able to come home to a hot shower and a hearty meal after a grueling race. It's also nice not having to crash on a friend's couch the night before the race.

I also think Mankato is a prime location to host a marathon. Mankato is a beautiful community for a race to run through, and the city's geography (read: hills) offers a welcome challenge to all participants. The city has had a lot of success with its annual triathlon and other smaller races in terms of drawing participants and presenting the community in a positive light; a marathon just seems like the next logical step.

I don't know about anybody else, but I've already got the date circled on my calendar. Whether you're running in the race or just coming out to watch it, it's going to be fun.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Over the river and through the woods, to Grandma's Marathon I go

It's never too early to set a goal for yourself.

Long-term goals are good. In everyday life, they give you a sense of direction and encourage you to dream big. In the realm of health and fitness, they give your exercise and dieting routines more importance because they're all building toward something in the future.

The long-term goal for myself that I bring forth today: To run Grandma's Marathon in Duluth next summer.

(note: Feel free to throw up after reading the previous sentence. I know the fat, lazy couch potato version of me from my youth wants to do so.)

Admittedly, I'm not writing this at the exact starting point of my training. I'm actually in Week 3 of the plan I've drawn up (shooting for 25 miles this week). But be that as it may, I might as well get my goal out in the open early for my more-than-likely small readership to acknowledge.

Also, I must confess that running of a marathon isn't exactly a new concept to me. I ran my first marathon earlier this year in St. Joseph, MN and can still recall the painful recovery from that race all too well. I ran the race to the best of my abilities and came in with a time of 3:38:32, a figure I know by heart because the newspaper clipping of the race results is still hanging in my apartment.

However, unlike my first marathon, which I basically ran with the goal of finishing without dying, my goal for Grandma's is to run fast enough to achieve a qualifying time for Boston Marathon the following spring. For my age group, that would require a time of 3:10:59, which means I would have to improve upon the time of my first marathon by a cool 28 minutes.

Again, feel free to throw up. I think even the fitness-conscious adult in me wants to vomit after reading that.

With a goal as lofty as that, I figured it best to get started early on the running if I want to have a shot at it. I also thought getting into training before the holiday season (and, more importantly, holiday eating season) hits would be in my best interest fitness-wise.

Anyway, here is a rough sketch of the plan I drew up for training:

  • Start small with weekly mileage and try to increase it by roughly 10% each week, with my Week 1 being 21 miles. The 10% figure is a number I got from an article I read in Runner's World magazine. My goal is to have my weekly mileage up in the 50-60 mile range by the end of next spring.
  • Try to get at least one run of 10+ miles in a week, with that mileage gradually working itself up to the 15-20 range.
  • Try to get at least one interval training run in a week to keep my cardiovascular system guessing. This would include workouts like running hills (easy to find in Mankato), Fartlek workouts, or playing pick-up games of soccer, basketball or any other sport that requires sprinting.
  • Stretch for at least 5-10 minutes after each run and try to do the same before each run if there's time. This might also extend to doing yoga on rest days and doing little stretches here and there throughout the day. One thing I learned from the marathon this year: The more limber you are, the less sore you are.
  • Change my eating habits in the hopes of dropping 15-20 pounds by next summer and making things easier on my knees and legs during the run. This would include not eating anything late at night, avoiding fast foods, cutting back on junk food and saying "no" to any pop (or soda, if you want to be all non-Minnesotan about it). The last one might be the hardest to accomplish as Mountain Dew is admittedly a sugary vice of mine.
  • Continue weight training on a regular basis, but scale back the weightlifting so that running becomes the emphasis of workouts. As much as every guy likes having bulging biceps for girls to stare at, the concept of losing weight doesn't really work if you're trying to pack on muscle and look like Vin Diesel. For what I'm trying to accomplish, toning the muscle I have would be the better route.

That's about all I can think of at this point. Feel free to chime in with advice, comments and declarations of my insanity.

Note: Here are some of the training logs I took advice from in formulating my marathon plan/death wish:

Rookie Marathon Plan
Grandma's Intermediate Marathon Training schedule

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The hard goodbye to a favorite pair of running shoes

Call it a case of runner’s denial.

I know I need a new pair of running shoes. I’ve had the same pair of blue and gold Asics since the beginning of May, and have since ran more than 400 miles in them. The soles are worn, the bottoms of the shoes have the traction of a freshly-smoothed ice rink and the shoelaces are tattered to the point of almost being unusable. There’s a good chance there will be holes in the shoe bottoms the size of golf balls if I try to put too many more miles on them.

It’s only a matter of time before I bite the bullet and start making my way through the nearest Athletic Shoe section to pick out my next shoelaced companion. However, part of me isn’t ready to toss out my old, reliable running shoes, even though all conventional signs may point to the contrary. Part of me has a certain degree of sentimental attachment to those worn-out heaps of rubber and shoelaces.

But why is it so hard to say goodbye to an inanimate pair of running shoes that I could pick up for $50 at any average shoe store? Why do I feel like I'm pulling the plug on an old friend. It's not like the shoes have feelings or anything.

At the same time though, I think anybody who really loves a sport finds it hard to part with old equipment once it’s served its purpose. Whether you want to admit it or not, you form a bond with that equipment, whether it’s an old baseball glove you made a great catch with, or a tattered pair of gym shorts you played your best game in.

This may not be a bond on the par with that of a dog lover and their favorite canine friend, but it’s pretty darn close.

A lot of fond memories were made wearing those worn-out pair of Asics. I ran my first full marathon in them, competed in three triathlons with them, went on a 2-day bike trip with them and spent countless hours in the weight room with them.

Yet through it all, the Asics stayed strong, stayed tied and never complained about the abuse they were subjected to. They may not have been the most conversational companion to have on a long run, but they were at least reliable.

I'm sure my next pair of running shoes will serve their purpose on the running trail as well. I'm pretty diligent when it comes to shoe shopping and will scour countless shoe boxes in search of the right combination of comfort, durability and aesthetics. I don't really discriminate on brands either; I've gone from Adidas to New Balance to Nike to And 1 over the years.

But my heart will always have a soft spot for those blue and gold Asics.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Monster Dash costumes reviewed

With my running shoes tied tight and my costume in tow, Halloween morning for me was spent participating in the Monster Dash road race in Minneapolis. More than 3,500 people came out to run around Lake Harriet that morning, most of whom were decked out in costumes ranging from Superman to Super Mario. The races that morning included half-marathon, 10-mile and 5K options.

I've participated in a lot of road races, but I can't remember any with a more fun-loving atmosphere to it. Most of the people were focusing their ambitions on their costumes instead of where they wanted to finish in the race. Some were dressed in costumes so ridiculous - the duo carrying a giant cardboard bobsled for their "Cool Runnings" costume comes to mind - that I have a hard time understanding how they expected to compete at all. In my own experience, I came to discover that dressing up as Batman, while fulfilling nerdy boyhood ambitions, does not help me run faster.

But I suppose that's the appeal in signing up for a race like this: The fun factor of it. Road races come and go throughout the year and there's always going to be other chances to try for a personal best time. But there's only one day for Halloween, so you might as well take full advantage of the chance to dress outrageously for a day.

Due to my decision to sign up for the 5K race, I was able to get a few decent pictures of some of the costumes and runners competing in the half marathon and 10-mile events (see slideshow in the previous post). However, since my camera had sketchy functionality throughout the day, some of the best costumes actually went uncaptured by my camera's lens.

So, in an effort to paint a better picture of the costume-clad scenery of Monster Dash, I decided to award costumes (conceived and deliberated by a panel of one) in specific categories. Here is the list I came up with:

Best Disney movie costume:
A group of guys and a girl successfully pulled off "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Kudos to them for finding that many people game to run a half marathon. There was also a family dressed as "The Incredibles" and a couple dressed up like Shrek and Fiona. However, Snow White and her clan of dwarfs wins out simply due to strength in numbers.

Best overall movie reference in a costume: The guy dressed up as the bearded, cross country running version of Forrest Gump was pretty spot on. I half-expected him to stop in the middle of the race and say "I'm feeling kind of tired. I think I'm gonna go home now" in a thick southern accent. Apologies to the two guys who had their own Jamaican bobsled team a la "Cool Runnings."

Best video game costume:
A three way tie between a group of half marathon runners who were dressed as Mega Man, Metroid and the Super Mario Brothers. Honorable mention to the group pulling off Pac Man in the slideshow.

Costume that showed up with surprising regularity over the course of the day: Girls dressed as Wonder Woman, guys dressed in a full cow suit complete with utter were consistent themes.

Best Saturday Night Live reference in a costume:
Two people were dressed up as Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley in the Chipendale's skit, right down to Swayze's distinct head of hair and Farley's rotund figure. I don't really know how to feel about seeing this for a costume idea, seeing as how both the actors in the skit are now dead. Not sure whether it was in bad taste or if it was a fitting tribute.

Best backhanded costumes (aka costumes that are clever, but meant as an insult at the same time): Tough decision here. I really liked the two girls who wore the Latrell Spreewell and Stephon Marbury Timberwolves jerseys, if for nothing else just to torture the remaining Timberwolves fan base out there. But there were some other doozies as well. There was a Plaxico Burress reference (complete with New York Giants jersey and a giant red stain on the leg of their sweatpants), a Barry Bonds jersey with syringes taped to it, and a guy with a John McCain mask on and a t-shirt that read "Loser." I'm guessing that particular runner isn't a Republican.

Best TV show costume:
The pair of guys who pulled off Gilligan and the Skipper. I'm a sucker for retro TV references.

Best cartoon costume:
With all respect to Bart and Lisa Simpson in the 10-mile run, the couple who pulled off "Tom & Jerry" gets my vote. Simpson costumes are commonplace, Tom & Jerry costumes are a rarity.

Best board game costume:
Not much competition here. The woman dressed up as the patient from Operation wins hands down. I think I saw another person dressed as a huge Taboo button, but that was about it. Kind of surprised I didn't see anyone dressed up as the Monopoly guy.

Best historical costume: George Washington by a hair over Napoleon.

Best food costume: See photo of giant hot dog in slideshow. He even had ketchup and mustard bottles for props.

Friday, October 30, 2009

15,000-mile bike trip update

Back in August, the Free Press ran a story about Eric and Christie Nelson, a couple of Mankato residents who were about to embark on a tandem bike trip that can only be described as epic: they planned to bike from Mankato to the southernmost tip of South America, roughly 15,000 miles total.

If you're anything like me, a trip like this goes beyond just about anything you can imagine. We've all gone on bike rides from time to time, but very few of us had ever had rides that lasted many months and spanned across countries and continenets. People with this kind of ambition and sense of adventure are a rare breed in this world, and when you come across them, you can only admire their drive to explore the great unknown.

What makes their trip even more incredible are the lengths with which they went to embark on such a journey. The couple both quit their jobs, sold their house and sold one of their vehicles in preparation for what they predicted to be an 18-month venture. It's one thing to take time off work and make a grocery store run for the sake of a trip, but it's an entirely different thing to completely rearrange your life for a trip. Incredible story, incredible people.

Thanks to GPS and Skype, Eric and Christie's trip can be monitored here. Two and a half months later, here is how they're fairing:

*As of 5:57 p.m. today, they are roughly 20 miles north of Morelia, Mexico, which is about 130 miles west of Mexico City. On a crow's fly, they are a little more than 1,700 miles away from Mankato. They crossed into Mexico in late September and have passed through everything from the Rocky Mountains to Las Vegas along the way.

*Their latest blog post talks about their SPOT (a GPS tracking device) being stolen and recovered in Guadalajara. The story includes Eric and Christie chasing the cuprits on their tandem bike and eventually locating the SPOT using Google Earth at a host family's home. They found the device the next day with a woman who was selling tacos with her daughters. When told that they needed the device back, the woman responded with "What do you want that for? It doesn't play music, make phone calls or do anything."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An exercise in eclectic audio assistance

For many exercise enthusiasts, music is a driving force that helps them get through a workout. Whether it's the steady beat of the music or just being able to mouth the words to your favorite song, some people just seem to find a different level of concentration with the right tunes booming on their headphones.

I see it all the time at the YMCA, and I must confess to being among the headphone-clad clan at the gym. I rarely leave home without my iPod and spend more time than I'd care to admit updating my playlist. Music is as much a part of my workouts as tennis shoes and basketball shorts.

So you can imagine the dilemma I faced yesterday when I wanted to sneak in a quick run despite my iPod being low on batteries and me not having enough time to charge it. It's not that running without music is unfathomable to me, but in my experience, when running by yourself, the miles seem to get even longer when you don't have music playing to help take your mind off of it.

My goal was to get through the run without my iPod dying on me. So to avoid the inevitable habit of thumbing through playlists and draining the batteries quicker, I came up with a solution: I put my iPod on shuffle, put the track wheel on hold so I couldn't switch songs and simply let it ride. I thought this might wind up being a problematic proposition, as my music tastes range from Franz Ferdinand to Frank Sinatra on my iPod, but at the very least, I figured the run would be memorable.

Anyway, here is the order of songs that came on during my quick jaunt up the Minnesota River trail yesterday:

*The Beatles - Yellow Submarine (No complaints here, Ringo could sing when he wanted to)
*Cypress Hill - Insane in the Brain (Hey, they were good enough to guest star on 'The Simpsons' with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra)
*The Beatles - Tomorrow Never Knows (There's no bad time for John Lennon to belt out paraphrased passages from the Tibetan Book of Death)
*Blur - Song 2 (A throwback to high school sports practices, perhaps my shuffle is telling me to run faster)
*The Offspring - Keep em Separated (Nostalgia from my 5th-6th grade punk rock phase strikes again)
*Bob Marley - Red Red Wine ("I shot the Sheriff" would've been a better song to run to)
*Janice Joplin - Son of a Preacher Man (Go "Pulp Fiction" soundtrack!)
*White Zombie - More Human than Human (Once again, I think my shuffle is trying to tell me to run faster)
*Frank Sinatra - Let it Snow (Definitely had to stop running when this came on. Old Blue Eyes was a heck of a singer, but running music isn't his thing)
*The Hush Sound - Carry Me Home (I don't really know who this band is or how their song got on my iPod. This might be the first time I've ever heard this song)
*Marlena Shaw - California Soul (One of those slow-paced soul songs that strangely makes you feel light on your feet)
*Paperboy - Ditty (Rap music before it became mainstream)
*Metallica - The Unforgiven (Still one of my favorite Metallica songs)
*Original Speed Racer theme song (Like I said, my music taste is pretty diverse)
*Red Hot Chili Peppers - Snow (One of my favorite songs to run to. However, as cruelty would have it, my iPod died about 2 minutes into the song and a 1/2 mile from my apartment)

Other Notes:
*Dr. Stephen Penkhus is giving an "Exercise is Medicine" presentation from 6:30-7:15 tonight at the Blue Earth County Library auditorium as part of the library's October health month theme. The event is free to the public, but preregistration is encouraged by calling 507-304-4023.

*For anyone in the Mankato area looking to get a cheap 5k race in before the winter hits, you can register for MSU's Army ROTC 5k by November 7 for $10. The race itself is November 14.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tour de Leadville

The documentary "Race Across the Sky" had a one-time showing Thursday night at the Movies 8 theater in Mankato. For the cool price of $12.50 (still not a fan of the raised price for special events), you could get an inside look at the Leadville 100, a premier mountain bike race in Colorado that travels 100 miles on rugged, mountainous terrain that seem more suitable for hiking than they are for biking. The event draws more than 1,000 competitors annually and typically attracts such cycling luminaries as Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and Dave Weins, who was the 6-time defending champion of the race heading into 2009.

The most appealing thing about the documentary is depth with which it looks at the race. "Race Across the Sky" tries to paint a holistic picture of the Leadville 100, rather than making it strictly about Armstrong and Weins on race day. While it often touches base with the two of them, particularly Armstrong (more on him later), it mostly focused on the struggles other riders faced on the course and the adversity some of the riders had to overcome just to participate. Commentary from race founder Ken Chlouber and various race spectators also gets peppered in to help give viewers a better idea of the atmosphere surrounding the event.

Other observations from the documentary:

*The Leadville 100 course has a level of difficulty most can only imagine. The race begins and ends in Leadville, Col. at an elevation of 10,200 feet and reaches mountain peaks as high 12,570 over the course of the day. Collectively, the total elevation change on the race course is about 14,000 feet, with the Columbine and Powerline climbs being the toughest stretches of the course (trail map and elevation graph of the course). Combine that with the usually-adverse weather conditions of the Rocky Mountains, and what you have is a test of will for anyone on two wheels. Weins even had to hop off his bike and walk at some points, just to give you an idea of how difficult the course is.

*Despite drawing more than 1,200 riders in 2009, only 971 people actually completed the Leadville 100 by the 13-hour cutoff point. Many riders had their day end early for failing to reach check points within their alotted time limits. The majority of the riders whose days ended early had looks of relief rather than contempt for their shortened ride. This also illustrates how tough the course is. Most people being pulled from a race have the look of a pitcher being pulled from a baseball game, not of a person who just survived a horrific ordeal.

*In the documentary, Armstrong described the Leadville 100 as "the race that fueled (his) comeback" into cycling. Considering his accolades in the Tour de France, that's a bold statement.

*The most inspirational story in a documentary chock full of them has to be that of Roxanne Hall, a rider who was hit by a car while training for last year's Leadville 100. Among the injuries Hall sustained in the accident: broken back, severed ACL, torn MCL, bruised lungs, conussion and lacerated liver and pancreas. Despite all that, there was Hall, riding in the race with her husband. Hall more than held her own in the race as well, finishing 474th.

*The diversity of riders in the race is something to behold. While the race features big names like Armstrong and Weins, it also has riders with 20-year old mountain bikes and competitors who stop to eat a sandwich and drink a beer at the rest areas. Like any other race, it isn't just for the elite athletes of the world.

*Most memorable spectator in the race: Steve Pugsley, a man who offers riders everything from moral support to a glass of beer along the trail. In the documentary, Pugsley can be seen giving struggling cyclists a helpful push up the trail and offering them Mike and Ikes for quick energy. He's the kind of guy you'd love to see on the side of a race course when you start to fade and need a boost.

*And now, to Lance. What more can be written about Armstrong's cycling prowess that hasn't already been talked about to the point of exhaustion? Well, here's something:

With seven miles to go in the race and Armstrong holding a presumably comfortable lead, tragedy strikes in the form of a flat tire. Armstrong attempts to change the tire unsuccessfully for a few minutes, basically says "screw it" and hops back on his bike to ride the final seven miles on a flat tire. Amazingly enough, Armstrong not only bested Weins by nearly 30 minutes to win the race, he also shattered the course record by almost 20 minutes (set the previous year by Weins). Everyone knows Armstrong is in a class on his own when it comes to cycling, but this adds a whole new layer of grit to his legacy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Costume-clad running

Halloween has always been one of my favorite days of the year.

The holiday just has a sense of agelessness to it. Everyone can get into it, from the 5-year-old dressed up as Sponge Bob going trick-or-treating for the first time to the sweet old lady who's nice enough to give that costumed youngster Butterfingers instead of apples. The crowd in between can also enjoy the holiday via scary movies, jack-o-lanterns, costume parties and the downtown bar scene.

This year, I will be celebrating Halloween in a slightly different fashion: by running in the Monster Dash in Minneapolis, an event of more than 1,000 competitors where quality of costume is almost as important as mile times. The event offers half marathon, 10-mile race and 5k options competition and typically gives out prizes for best costumes. Due to the ankle injury mentioned in my previous post and the fact that I haven't gone on any sizable distance runs since the end of the summer, I've opted to participate in the 5k portion of this event. Call me crazy, but I'd rather not spend the rest of Halloween icing my knees and dealing with run-induced hip and ankle pains.

Besides, the distance you run is irrelevant in an event like this. The real fun comes from just participating in such a large event and getting a glimpse at some of the interesting costumes people are bold enough to wear. I've never competed in a Halloween-themed race before, so I don't know what to expect. But given the way the weather has been this fall, I doubt I'll see too many Michael Phelps or Lil Kim costumes running the course.

Not to give away too much about the costume I'll be wearing for the race, but think comic book hero.

Note: For Mankato residents looking for a more local venue to sport a costume and get a run in, the St. Peter Halloween 5k is also going on that Saturday morning and the Halloween Hustle 5k and 8k races in Lake Crystal will be taking place the night before. Both are still open for registration.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A forced refresher course on ankle sprains

In my attempts to be ambitious the other day, I got a painful reminder of a rule that should be fairly obvious: don’t go running when it’s dark outside.

I was on dinner break from work and decided to get a quick run in to help clear my head for the rest of the evening. Although it was twilight, and I could’ve just as easily gotten a run in on the safety of a YMCA treadmill, that evening I needed to feel the pavement beneath my feet. Besides, the weather looked promising and I’ll take running outside over running on a treadmill any day of the week.

The plan was to run about 3-4 miles on the Red Jacket Trail, which is located about three blocks from my apartment. It’s a nicely paved, relatively flat trail that I’ve ran on many times in the past. So I figured it was as safe of a place as any to sneak in a quick run.

However, I forgot one little detail: the three blocks I needed to run in order to get to the trail. Probably a half of a block into the run, my foot caught the wrong way on a jutted part of the sidewalk and twisted my ankle badly. My 3-4 mile run came to an abrupt end after about 500 ft.

Like most people, I was disheartened by this sudden change in events. My planned exercise instead became a refresher course on treating a sprained ankle. But at the same time, handling an ankle sprain is a pretty important skill for anyone who’s physically active, and brushing up on it never hurts … well, at least mentally it doesn’t hurt.

Anyway, while most of this stuff is pretty basic, here’s the gist of what I got from looking at the WebMD website on ankle sprains:

  • Elevate the ankle above your heart whenever possible to reduce the blood flow and help keep the swelling down for the first day or so.
  • Use ice and compression -- i.e. braces, bandages -- on the ankle for the first couple of days to also help keep the swelling and bruising down. Icing should generally be done for 10-20 minutes at a time and is most ideal while your ankle is elevated.
  • Wear high top shoes or hiking boots to help protect your ankle from unnecessary movement.
  • Start doing range of motion exercises right away to help build back ankle strength. WebMD recommends trying to draw an imaginary alphabet by rotating your foot in the air.
  • Most important, REST. Take it easy on the ankle to let it heal. WebMD recommends crutches, but you can get away with just avoiding high-impact activities on your ankle. The time it takes to heal depends on the severity of the sprain, but it usually takes around 2-3 weeks to heal completely.

If you’re anything like me and can’t sit still for the time it takes for your ankle to heal, activities like biking and running on an elliptical treadmill are pretty low impact. Swimming is also a pretty safe choice. But you should avoid normal running or playing sports at full speed until you feel confident that your ankle has healed. My sprain happened about 5 days ago, and I still haven’t gotten back to running outside yet.

Patience needs to be at a premium when it comes to injuries. In the meantime, I look forward to YMCA members and staff getting used to the site of me running on an elliptical treadmill.

Note: Here is the website I used to get a visual on how to properly tape an ankle. I’ve taped ankles before, but it’s been a long time since sports medicine class in high school.