Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Trail Running Film Festival Comes to Concord Next Week!

On March 3rd, the Red River Theater in Concord, NH will be hosting the Trail Running Film Festival sponsored by Runner's Alley of Concord. If you haven't checked out their new store, you definitely should as it's the only local running shoe store that actually has good racing shoes. And friendly/knowledgeable workers who are runners themselves.

 Rainshadow Running's photo.

The doors open at 5:30pm and according to the website it will be: "An evening of the latest and greatest full length and short films showcasing the challenges, beauty and community inherent in the world of trail running. From world class filmmakers to the best works made by weekend warriors The Trail Running Film Festival takes the audience on a virtual run through forests, up mountains, beyond emotional obstacles and across the finish line. It’s a night filled with friends, fun and inspiration."

Sounds like a good way to spend a Tuesday evening and get some motivation for the upcoming trail season. I plan to go if I can make it out of work in time.

Oh! Since it's sponsored by Runner's Alley, you automatically get entered into a raffle for some cool stuff and everyone gets a $5 gift card for your next running purchase(even if it's just socks!).

Disclaimer:  I actually started my ultra-running career after watching a documentary on the Badwater ultra-marathon so you may not want to go just in case :)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Amherst 10 Miler- Rude Awakening or Promising Start?

After Half at the Hampton was canceled this past weekend due to a "weather event"(despite temperatures in the 40's), I signed up for the Amherst 10 miler to help the Gate City Striders race in the New England Grand Prix. When I say help, I mean support, not provide points for the team. With the best runners in New England toeing the line, this is a race where I'd be lucky to break the top 100.

I went into the Amherst 10 miler this weekend unsure of what kind of shape I was in. I had done some pacing at a half marathon, marathon and an ultra but haven't done a race of my own-except for the Mill Cities relay- since the Jackson Hole Marathon(which didn't go the way I had hoped) in September. And nothing in about a year at the pace I was attempting to run Amherst. To compound matters, between my fun winter trips and the lousy weather, I really hadn't put in the mileage I was hoping for. In fact, looking back at my training log, I hadn't run outside in over two weeks. Oh boy, this ten miler was going to hurt.

Before the race, I spotted Jim Pawlicki of the Central Mass Striders. When I'm in really good form, I try to stay with him, but judging by some of his recent performances, I knew that it wouldn't be happening this race. At the start of the race, when looking around, it occurred to me just how long I'd been out of the local running scene as there were only a few runners that I was able to recognize. Or it could just be my failing memory as I also vaguely remembered this race from 2012 where I had run a 58:53 and thought that it wasn't as hilly as everyone made it out to be.

Side-bar: As a physical therapist, I often see patients with poor balance or weak muscles who invariably say I used to be able to do that! shocked that they were not able to stand on one leg or lift a weight overhead. That's the beauty and the crux of the problem with the human body: it will adapt and adapt following the path of least resistance without us even knowing until one day something breaks. As we age we give up so many little things over time in such small increments that we often don't notice we're even doing it. This happens in the mind(called patterning) and happens in the body where we flock to a set number of activities and often then neglect other key elements of our health and wellness. Runners, however, aren't likely to arrive at their old(er) age surprised because they are on a daily, monthly and yearly reminder of their performance declines as that once sub-60 ten miler now takes a bit longer. But we are not always aware of our decline until we check back in our logs and see the evidence of a faster version of ourselves. But at the time we view ourselves as the same.

Which was the case with me this past Sunday, where I went into the race thinking of myself as that 2012 runner and the race as a moderately fast and flat one. I went through the first two miles in 12 minutes flat where I had settled in just in front of some fast female runners like Christin Doneski and Heather Mahoney and just behind some fast Masters runners like Craig Fram and Paul Hammond and was content not to push it.  And then came mile 3. That is where the hills reside. It seemed that every time I thought it would taper off, it actually got a little bit steeper. I finally went through mile 3 in 19:26 running almost 1 1/2 minutes slower than the previous two miles. Yikes! This was not the race of my memory and not being run by the runner of my memory. This was going to be a long day!

Luckily the course is a loop so you have to lose the elevation you gained in mile 3 and over the next five miles, it seems like it was either all flat or downhill. Also luckily for me the great photographer, Ben Kimball, decided not to plant himself mid-way up the tough hill but instead on a nice long flat.

Northeast Race Photo's photo.

I ticked off fairly evenly paced miles all around 6's primarily out of fear of another photographer lurking around the corner if I decided to slow down. As you can see from the picture, the terrain wasn't the best but I'd estimate it probably only slowed me down 2-3seconds/mile. Those middle miles definitely can fool you into thinking that Amherst is a flat course, but a slow 9th mile brought me down to earth. I was still  able to finish 109th with a time of 61:51. Not exactly the race I was hoping for but those middle miles were comfortable and hopefully I'll be able to pick up the pace a bit at the much flatter New Bedford half marathon next month. I may not be the runner that I was a few years ago but there is no reason for me not to still see improvement if I can tweak my training habits and increase my mileage above 20/week.

And based on how sore my quads are feeling this morning, I guess I better get myself back outside to get them used to running on pavement again.

Up Next: Another race for Danny? Yep-doing the Kingman Farm Snowshoe race. This will be my first and only snowshoe race of the season but after having not done it for a couple years, I'm excited about doing this night time race again this year. Chris Dunn of acidotic RACING always seems to put on a good race and this year this is a chili cook-off contest. While I'm not participating, I'm sure I'll be sampling.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Have Shoes, Will Travel

If you've ever seen me out and about you know I don't spend much money on clothes(see Smile Don't Stockpile). Nor do I have an expensive car, watch, or television. In fact, if someone broke into my apartment, they would be sorely disappointed unless they wanted outdoor equipment, shoes of various states of wear or dogeared books.




While things don't excite me much, experiences do. I absolutely love to travel and do so whenever I can. I'm always looking for new places to go. The 50 state marathon challenge has been a blessing because I don't know if I would have gone to places like Cincinnati or Jackson, Mississippi if I didn't have an excuse. But each and every place has had some memorable moment that made the trip worthwhile.

Even though I spend minimal amounts of money on "stuff", costs do tend to add up quickly. I've compiled a list of some pretty easy ways to help reduce costs and get out and explore. You may think you cannot afford to travel, but I would argue you can't afford not to.

Join Airline Loyalty Programs. Seriously. Even if you don't think you fly enough on one airline to make it worthwhile, it is. You'd be surprised how many airlines collaborate so that you fly US Airways and get credit on American or Lufthansa and credit on United. Minimally, I'd do the big three: United, American and Delta and you'd be fairly well-covered. Since joining, I've already gotten a one way flight to HI, Alaska, Vegas and my round trip to Ireland paid for with miles. Well worth it.

Consider 2 One Way Tickets. When looking for flights to Aruba, the cheapest flight was over $600. However, I was able to go there this past week for about $400 because I flew out of Boston on United and returned into Manchester on Southwest. Yeah, it took a little more Internet surfing but was definitely worth it.

Bundle. I'm not sure how this works but for some reason if you bundle a hotel and flight on some websites your costs go down. A lot. Best example was the first time I flew to Kona. A round trip ticket was $975. However, on expedia when combined with a 2 night hotel stay(we weren't staying for just two nights I was just playing with ALL of the variables), I was able to get the entire thing at $700! Yes $275 less including a two night hotel stay. Like I said, I don't know how this works but I usually can save over $50 by bundling a hotel with a flight although this usually only works with the more expensive flights for some reason.

Don't be too picky where you stay. It is really easy to want to stay at the Four Seasons on every trip, but you need to evaluate how much time you'll really be spending at the hotel. A good trip for me means that the hotel will be used only for sleeping and the occasional shower. I'd recommend finding out what you cannot tolerate and then pick the next cheapest place. A good way to cut costs(besides couch surfing or camping) is to look at multiple sites like Priceline, Homeaway, AirBnB etc. to find the place the best matches your budget and pickiness.

Carry-on. Not checking a bag saves you money with the airlines, but also means you're more likely able to rent a smaller car, not be charged for excess fees with a cab and will be able to immediately start exploring when you land. Very rarely do I end up running out of clothes by the end of the trip and if you have access to laundry then you need to pack even less. Even if you really do run out, you will likely still be saving money as compared to having to check a bag. When we got "stuck" in Miami for two extra nights, I went to Marshalls and was able to buy myself a full outfit for under $30. Granted it resulted in Amber querying: "Did you just rob that homeless man and take his clothes?" But you get the point.

Stay Local. When I first started racing in and around New England, I was amazed with how many places, cool places, I'd never been to. I soon realized that I didn't have to travel far to see new things. I just went to the Salem Witch Museum a couple of weeks ago even though my brother has, for years now, lived ten minutes away. It's easy to overlook things close by but you've got to think every tourist destination is close to someone. I now try to make a point of finding a new activity or sight every time I travel(even locally) to a race. I've done New Bedford 3 or 4 times and I still haven't been to the Whaling museum but plan to do that this time.

Eat the Local Food-At Lunch. I love exploring new places and eating a lot of new and delicious foods. Whether it was in Shanghai or New Orleans the lunch menu is almost always the same as the dinner but cheaper. This is a great way to sample local foods without being hit with as large of a bill.

Take up running. What does running have to do with traveling in expensively? Do I expect you to eschew motorized transportation and run everywhere? No, but... The times I've felt I've really seen and explored an area has been when I've been able to run it. You see the intricacies of the city, the slight changes of neighborhoods, and experience the smells(both good and bad) that you cannot in a car and which take too long walking. Plus, you have the opportunity to find yourself. Lost. Like when I was in Munich and wanted to run a large loop thinking that the road I was on ran parallel to the road my hotel was on. However, it turned out that the two were diverging lines and only were getting further apart rather than parallel. After taking the turn thinking I'd come across the street in a block or two, I realized how far off I was. So instead of backtracking(which I hate), I just continued to plug along trying to find my street. 45 minutes later and still not finding it, I finally stopped, in very broken German how to get back. Apparently the only way was to walk about 10 minutes and then hop a train back to the correct station which resulted in my planned 60 minute run to turn into an 120 minute run with a 20 minute illegal train ride.  Bottom line? Always carry some local currency when running and backtrack if needed.

Pick A Few Destinations. For my last trip, I knew I wanted to go somewhere warm to escape this endless barrage of frigid weather. I didn't have a particular place in mind so I had the freedom to check out flights and rates at a few locations and found the best deal. That's my plan for my winter marathons. I have several warm weather states I haven't done yet and I'll price them out and pick the best option.

For a Long Weekend-Fly Direct.  If you're going for a long weekend trip, don't skimp on a flight with several layovers. This just is an invitation for flight delays and missing connections which surely will end up costing more in the long run. Beyond the extra money you spend eating crappy food at the airport, the opportunity cost of not being experiencing your destination is not worth it. Flying from Paris to Washington to Boston saved us $100 off the flight but when our flight was canceled and we had to rent a car to drive from DC to Boston our rental car and gas ended up costing us significantly more.

Bring a friend. Having a travel companion won't halve all of your expenses but will markedly reduce some. Hotel and car rentals drop by 50% but even things like eating out where you split an appetizer all help out. Downside? You need to realize that their goals for the trip are similar to yours. Otherwise you may find yourself not enjoying your trip at all or missing out on things you really wanted to do. Research your destination but also research your friends to making sure you're compatible. A good co-pilot is imperative to a good trip.

Find Free Activities. There are a lot of cities that offer free walking tours, admission into certain museums, and free live music. A little research before you go will usually result in some fun free experiences.

Sucker Someone Else into Paying. Okay so this hasn't happened since I was taking family vacations, but if you can get your company to pay for a business excursion, take advantage! Or maybe a wealthy friend who wants you to pace them?

Grab a Groupon. This works really well after marathons. I get a discounted massage by buying a groupon ahead of time. Sight-seeing tours are another good thing to buy in advance. Also works well with restaurants but I wouldn't do too many because you also want to explore.

But Don't Hesitate to Spend On the Important Things.  Remember why you're traveling in the first place. Don't skimp on the things that are important. It's easy when you're on a tight budget to think that you cannot afford some things but if you're in New York, you need to see a show, like if you're in Colorado, you need to ski. At least I do. Find what works for you.

Happy Travels!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Half at the Hamptons Postponed to Day of New Bedford Half-No Good Will Hunting

Warning: The blog below is pretty much a long rant so feel free to stop reading now.

Still here?

Well, before I start my complaint column, here's a free pictures from my recent trips to Colorado and Aruba(see: can I really complain with two awesome trips under my belt? errr yes).

Carnavale in Aruba

 And the transition to colder pursuits:

And now that I've drawn you in with pretty pictures, let the rant begin!

Against my better judgment I signed up for the Half at Hamptons this year. I find it hard to justify spending $75 for a half-marathon, especially one that I have done a few times and hadn't found exceptionally exciting. And yet, I eventually sucked it up and shelled out what turned out to be $81 after a 6 dollar transaction fee. Yikes! That's more than several of the marathons I ran last year. You could do the entire snowshoe series for that and still sneak in a couple of Mine Falls Trail Races! In fact, I can think of several things that I could do with the price difference of that race and most other halves. You could do the Monadnock Half Marathon AND pick two things on my list of fun things to do in the Concord area and still have $9 left over!

Okay! Enough complaining! So I sucked it up and registered and started to prepare myself for running my first fast 13.1 miles (or any distance) in about a year. Looking at the schedule it actually started to make sense, a half in February then again in March with New Bedford to build towards my marathon attempts in the spring and summer. Maybe it would all be worth it.

Then this past Thursday, I received an email stating that the race had been postponed due to weather and was rescheduled until March 15th. Now I realize that this weather has been crazy and everything, but to reschedule it to the SAME DAY as New Bedford, the New England half-marathon championships, is ridiculous. Even if it were the same weekend but the day before it would possibly worked.

I contacted Loco Running to see if I could transfer my entry to another of their races and the response I received back seemed to be cut and pasted right from the legalese citing no transfers or refunds. I understand that refunds would be nearly impossible with all the upfront costs, but to transfer my entry to another race really wouldn't cost them much(especially since I don't want any more t-shirts) since insurance is a few bucks per runner at most. Instead, the response with terse and without any indication that they seemed to want to retain runner loyalty.  Additionally, I was told that "Ultimately it is your choice to go to another event or function and that is beyond our control." Well, it was within your control to not schedule your race the same day as the biggest half marathon in New England but okay. Maybe this is just a ploy to keep the fast runners away from Half at the Hamptons since they'll all be done racing in New Bedford. Could be a good time to cherry-pick a race?

Bad News: Time Flies.
Good News: I am the pilot.

Ultimately, it is within my control as to where and when I race and you won't be seeing me wasting my time racing any Loco Races in the future.There are plenty of good local options offering well-run and organized races that I shouldn't bother with the ones I'm not interested in and who don't seem interested in me.

End the negativity. Sorry about that.

Silver Lining: Originally, the Amherst 10 miler was the same weekend as Half at the Hamptons so I wasn't able to represent GCS. However, Amherst is STILL ON so I'll be heading down there instead.

If you're still reading, you may be interested to find out that Amber came in 4th at the Snowshoe World Championships in Quebec a few weeks ago and is ramping up to start her Ironman season with the South Africa Ironman in late March. To see her entire race schedule, click here.

ADDENDUM: After writing this blog, I received an email from the race director citing that 94% of the participants were expressing support for the change in date of the race. That means there was only 6% that were asking for a race transfer or refund. In an age where there is PLENTY of half marathons, it would have been a great show of good will to extend an invitation for a race transfer to those few runners for whom the postponed date did not work. Oh well-apparently hunting for any good will.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Train Your Mind, Improve Your Brain

There's a theory on aging and memory that postulates that we don't get forgetful due to age but rather due to pruning of unused neural synapses and circuitry in the brain. Pruning is, in essence, a sloughing off of unused or unneeded brain cells and connections. Every time we do an activity that doesn't require our full attention, we use patterning which is a very useful strategy employed by our bodies because it is metabolically less taxing than if we had to fully concentrate on each and every task we performed. For example, looking back at your morning thus far, can you remember the texture of your breakfast, with arm you washed first or even the details of your car ride in? Probably not. We go on auto-pilot which is good for certain tasks but if our entire days are spent this way we end up doing more pruning than growing and we're bound to become more forgetful and worse at problem solving and critical thinking.

A Note on Patterning: Before I start talking about the importance of attending to tasks, I just wanted to briefly note the importance of patterning on athletic performance. As I mentioned above, patterning is a metabolically efficient strategy to perform rote tasks. For endurance sports, this is crucial! You don't want to be fully attending to every stride or stroke that you perform or you will be fatigued much sooner. This is one of the reasons why guided imagery and pre-race visualization works because even thinking about your race elicits activation in your motor cortex of the brain which over time will be re-wired to require less and less conscious attention and you will become more efficient. Conversely, there was a recent study that looked at people who performed physical activity while performing a cognitive task and found that once that cognitive task was removed, the participants performed markedly better. This is interesting in that adding cognitive challenges in practice while streamlining your performance with pre-race visualization and making activities as rote as possible during races may be a good performance enhancing technique.

Okay back to BUILDING the brain. Okay, so beyond the potential performance enhancing effects of not attending to tasks, for building a faster and more complex brain we want to attend. Attention promotes neurogenesis which pretty much means that the brain is growing more cells as well as the super highways that connect the various parts of the brain. So back to why we get more forgetful as we age: the idea is that each and every day we are exposed to fewer and fewer novel activities that don't elicit that full attention and thus not producing any new brain cells. The old adage, "if you don't use it, you lose it" doesn't apply just to muscles but also the brain. But don't despair! You can do one of two things to improve your brain's function.

            First, the hard one. Practice mindfulness throughout your day. Instead of reading the paper while eating breakfast, just eat your breakfast noting the texture, taste and feel of the food, how your breathing is affected as you eat and note how your body is responding to the food. When you're having a conversation with an individual, fully attend and listen to what they're saying rather than already coming up with a response. Studies on meditation and mindfulness practitioners have shown the immense brain circuitry that these guys have. It's just hard to always live in the moment.

           The second option is a bit more manageable, at least to start with, and that's to contrive novel tasks. Brush your teeth with your opposite hand. Read while standing on one leg. Learn a new language. Use brain games like Lumosity. Anything that challenges your brain and body and requires you to focus on the activity your doing is likely to result in some form of neurogenesis.

Stop reading this blog for a minute.

Did you stop? Hopefully. Now stand on your left leg and continue reading...

Remember: The brain is a part of your body, and you must exercise it if you want to have a sharp mind and memory. The connection between mental stimulation and dementia is strong and inversely correlated-meaning the less mental stimulation the more likely to develop dementia. Okay, you can put your leg back down. Hopefully this last paragraph helped stimulate your brain a bit more. And it got you standing, which we all now know is the better alternative to sitting.

So just as you train your body, make sure you dedicate some time to your brain as well. You'll thank me for it. If you remember.

Want to learn more about the importance of mental training? It's one of the topics at the Women on Wellness Conference. Find out more here.

Also check out 107.7 The Pulse on Saturday at 9:05am and Sunday at 7:05 to hear an interview with Amber.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Women on Wellness

On March 14, 2015 from 9am to 4pm at the Smile Building in downtown Concord, Amber will be part of the Women on Wellness conference presented by the Center for Health Promotion. This is just another example of Amber going out and being a fitness hero and working to promote a healthy community. This will also be just a few days before she takes off for South Africa to start her 2015 triathlon season with the African Ironman Championship.

This day looks to be really interesting and is close to Amber's heart. There will be four break-out sessions on various topics on women's health such as the psychology of happiness, breast cancer prevention, yoga, mindfulnesss and the power of positive thinking. You will have the opportunity to choose between several different options so there are sure to be topics of interest throughout the day. There is also a keynote speaker about finding joy and confidence in self-expression.

My day would look like:
  • Session #1: Reaching Your Full Potential-Amber Ferreira
  • Session #2: Power of Pause- Margaret Fletcher
  • Keynote Speaker: Teresa R Rosenberger
  • Session #3: Ancient Secrets for Modern Times-Nancy Kalinski
  • Session #4: The Delicate Relationship between Stress, Hormones, Sleep and Weight- Laura Jones

 You can find out about all of the topics and register for the day here.