Monday, February 28, 2011

A belated birthday run

One of the traditions I've had for my birthday for the last several years is to sneak a quick run in at some point during the big day.

Call me cheesy, but I've always been a believer that your birthday should be a day that's all about your enjoyment. You should do things that make you feel happy, and since I feel better after a good run than I do after pretty much any other activity, it only makes sense.

However, this year would prove to be a problem with keeping the tradition alive. My birthday was on Saturday and I spent the weekend in St. Cloud indulging in one of my favorite wintertime activities: darkhouse spearfishing with my brothers.

Saturday itself consisted of about seven hours on a lake, several speared northern pike, and a smattering of empty beer bottles that were once filled with a home-brewed ale I made at my apartment (a new hobby of mine, a lot of fun if you've got the free time for it).

Obviously, with such activities on the agenda, sneaking in a 20 minute run would be a tough task. I had every intention of going out for a run in the morning before spearfishing, but a late bedtime the night before dulled my ambition.

Since we were out on the lake all day, by the time we finally walked off the ice, I was more preoccupied with getting something to eat than with my running tradition. Exhausted from a long day, I went to bed shortly after getting back to Mankato that night.

So my 26th birthday came and went with nary a run among its activities. Not a big deal for most people, but considering I haven't missed a birthday run since my junior year of high school, I woke up the next morning feeling like my day was incomplete.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the heck out of spearfishing and spending time with my brothers. But nobody likes to see a tradition fall by the wayside.

Feeling the need to make up for my broken birthday routine, I made Sunday a workout day chock full of cardio. Collectively, I ran 7 miles, did a 30-minute workout on the rowing machine and squeezed in a few minutes of jump rope.

Was it technically a "birthday run?" No. But like a belated birthday present from a friend, it still made me feel pretty good.

Monday, February 21, 2011

RAGNAR intrigue

I have to admit, I've always enjoyed watching relay races.

I don't know if it's the teamwork, the camaraderie, or the logistics of the hand-off, but relays have a certain drama to them that makes them absolutely riveting. On my high school track & field team, the 4x400 meter relay was usually the last event of the day, and also the one that drew the largest audience.

I've always wanted to do a relay of some sort. Alas, while in track & field, my skills lent themselves to the throwing ring. Likewise, rowing -- my main physical activity in college -- isn't exactly a sport known for relay races. (I would guess the hand-off sequence in a rowing relay would probably involve a lot of near-boat crashes)

I've been in my fair share of road races and triathlons, but none involved doing any sort of relay. It's not that I don't have an interest in doing a relay (obviously). I've just found it to be less hassle to worry about my own workouts instead of trying to coordinate with other people. Anyone who has ever done a group project in class knows what it's like to have lagging members who don't contribute.

However, zero contribution -- and for that matter, racing solo -- isn't an option for something like RAGNAR Relays.

RAGNAR is a nationwide series of relay races featuring distances of roughly 200 miles. The Minnesota version of it is a 24-hour, 192-mile race from Winona to St. Paul that will take place August 19-20. Relay teams can be of either six or 12 people, with each person required to run three "legs" of the race. For the 12-person team, distances for each leg range from 3-8 miles, with teammates swapping in and out of vans throughout the day.

I first heard about RAGNAR a couple of years ago when I talked to a friend who ran it and described it as being like "a slumber party without sleep ... or showers." Needless to say, I was interested almost immediately.

Since I've raced just about every distance I would want to do on my own (I have no interest in ultramarathons ... at least not yet), I have made it my goal to compete in RAGNAR this year. At this point, I'm looking for more of a unique experience than a personal best racing time. RAGNAR seems like the kind of race that would be challenging, but at the same time a lot of fun because it's a shared experience that a group can look back on fondly as something they achieved together.

Of course, competing in RAGNAR is a very different goal than, say, running Grandma's Marathon. For one thing, I need to train for doing several small runs in a day rather than one long run. Another issue: I need to find 11 other people to run with. In my experience, unless it involves free money or food, 11 people is never an easy amount to round up.

I plan on setting up a relay team in two ways: gauging interest from friends, and using the RAGNAR website's team finder feature to make my presence known to other runners. My hope is to have a team set up by the early deadline in May and worry about the training aspects of the race over the summer.

In the meantime, if readers have any advice to give me about RAGNAR (i.e. training ideas, van rentals, stuff to bring, good hotels in Winona and St. Paul, etc.), it would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A welcome weather reprieve

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

For a brief while this week, Minnesota started to feel an awful lot like spring. Temperatures rose into the low 50s on Thursday and snow gradually started to disappear from the sidewalks and bike trails that are usually difficult passage for cyclists and runners in the wintertime.

I have to admit, I loved every minute of the unseasonably warm weather. With my sickness finally subsided and a full day off on Thursday, my road bike came out of hibernation and I went on my first ride of the year. It wasn't anything too thrilling, just a 20-something mile jaunt toward Good Thunder and back, mostly on Highway 66 (note: the Red Jacket Trail is still pretty covered in snow after the first couple miles). I also came to realize that my bike is badly in need of repairs, a tuneup and probably a wash after all the mud caked on it from the ride (still a little wet out there).

Still, it felt good to get out and ride. I usually don't start riding for another month or so because the skinny tires on my bike can't handle the snow and ice (I've attempted it before, didn't turn out so well, blog entry here), so it was a welcome change of pace from the exercise bikes at the Y.

I later added onto the enjoyment (though some would see it as extending my misery) of that day with a 4-mile run up Glenwood and back. The sidewalk was mostly clear all the way up and I was pleased to find out I wasn't the only one enjoying the weather. Runners, walkers and cyclists alike could be seen out and about. "It's a beautiful day out, isn't it?" one passer-by said to me. "Couldn't agree more," I said back, hoping the weather could stay like this for the rest of winter.

Alas, Thursday's gorgeousness was not meant to stick around. Temperatures have cooled off considerably since then and it's expected to snow 5-10 inches for the remainder of this weekend (really Minnesota? More snow? Haven't we suffered enough?).

Although spring will be here eventually, last time I checked the calendar, it's still the middle of February in Minnesota. We've still got some winter left to endure.

However, I wouldn't mind another day like Thursday sometime soon. I'm sure you wouldn't either.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hindsight is 20/20 (duh!)

I would like to think of myself as a reasonably healthy person.

I exercise regularly, I generally get enough sleep and, a few indulgences aside, I typically eat pretty healthy.

However, even healthy living can get bit by the occasional flu bug.

And that's where I'm at presently: At home and sick with what the doctor described as a combination of strep and an ear infection. My temp has been spiked for the last couple days and I've had a headache that feels a lot like a team of jackhammers going to work on my forehead.

It's been a pretty uneventful couple of days. Mostly just watching a lot of movies, listening to a lot of music and drinking more than my fair share of water.

It's also given me time to reflect on where my healthy habits went astray to cause this sickness. In this case, you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out what went wrong. It can all be traced back to last Monday.

Monday happened to be a day off from work for me. Since my job at the Free Press is generally confined to a desk, my days off usually consist of anything but sitting around. Monday was no exception. Here's a breakdown of my activity that day, with the events being in order of occurrence:

  • 90 minutes of racquetball (apparently a pretty intense session, as my coworker claimed to be worn down from it the next day)
  • 5-mile run
  • 40 minutes of rowing
  • Donating/selling plasma
  • 60 minutes of biking

Now, even without the plasma donation, that's a lot of physical activity draining water from my system throughout the day. Since plasma donation generally takes about a half-gallon of water from your system (and leaves you more susceptible to the flu, as mentioned in a previous post), it's not too far-fetched to believe that I was extremely dehydrated by the end of that day.

In my defense, I thought I knew what I was doing. I've donated my fair share of plasma, and I'm usually pretty good about keeping myself hydrated for it. If that wasn't enough, I gave myself a few hours after the donation to take a nap and drink some water before I decided to hop on an exercise bike at the Y and watch the Timberwolves game.

I felt fine after the biking and figured I took the proper precautions for such a cardio-filled day. However, when I woke up the next day feeling sore all over with a dry throat, it became pretty obvious that I bit off more than I could chew.

Two days later, enter sickness stage right.

Coincidence? I'm thinking no.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Beer and running: A health & fitness odd couple

I like to think my blog touches on topics that go beyond your garden variety health & fitness topics.

In the past, I've blogged about everything from snowshoeing to plasma donation to an ill-fated bike trip to Pizza Hut. However, one topic I've been somewhat reluctant to write about is beer.

I touch on the topic from time to time (including my still-favorite stop on RAGBRAI that featured free beer and hot dogs). But for the most part, I try to keep my content relatively newspaper-friendly, seeing as how my blog is through the Free Press and all.

In that regard, I guess the Beer Runner need not worry about offending his employer. At least as far as beer is concerned.
For those that are unfamiliar, the Beer Runner is a blogger through Draft Magazine, a bi-monthly publication dedicated to -- you guessed it -- beer. However, unlike other beer-related bloggers, the Beer Runner also has a legitimate health and fitness aspect to it.

The blog's author (Tim Cigelske) happens to be an avid runner who is currently training for the Catalina Island Marathon and the Chicago Lakefront 50K, both taking place in March. In honor of World Running Day (which took place on November 7), he wrote an entry titled "50 Reasons to Love Running."

Of course, as the namesake would suggest, the Beer Runner also posts plenty of entries about beer. He is currently trying to complete a year-long challenge of running at least a mile and drinking at least a beer everyday (at present, he is at 124 days). He also has entries about how running is the perfect cure for a hangover and how beer tastes so much better after running.

Are these topics you're likely to find in an average health and fitness publication? Probably not. But are they topics that many -- including exercise junkies like myself who enjoy a good beer from time to time -- find interesting. You betcha.

Kudos, Beer Runner. You have a new fan.