Running and writing.

Photo credit: Toby Melville/Reuters
I've known for a long time that hiking and running open up new ways of thinking for me. In times when I'm chewing on an idea I can find myself going over the same ground again and again, in repeating circular fashion. If I grab a pencil too soon the idea stays in its rudimentary form. A bare skeleton.

But if I go for a run, or for a hike in the forest, the idea elaborates itself. With each step I find more than my physical self moving forward. Before long my thinking has moved into new territory, found new linkages, discovered more applications, uncovered new memories.

On return I often can't stop writing, my original thought having birthed an entire way of seeing the world in new light.

Other experiences in my life have taught me the connections between memory and body, but this one is particularly vivid because it's so frequent and so useful. I hadn't really given it much thought, but I've just come across an essay on other writers who are runners.

From Homer's Iliad to A.E. Housman, Jonathan Swift to Louisa May Alcott, Joyce Carol Oates to Malcolm Gladwell--all runners.

Here's Nick Repatrazone, writing in the Atlantic.


Measured effort.

Boulder Creek Path at the site of the narrow-gauge bridge.
After about 12 weeks of busyness, fatigue and resting, I return to my Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday running regimen. Knowing I've lost both cardio and muscular strength and conditioning, I've been cautious about easing back in, not wanting to overdo it and set things back by stressing my now 70-year-old system.

In thinking about it I recall the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion, a way for a person to think about how hard he/she is working/exercising. It's hard for me to imagine I haven't yet journaled my thoughts on this, as much as I have thought about it and incorporated it into my workouts. But a search of past blog entries fails to show any evidence.

I first began thinking about this concept when I was running a section of the Switzerland Trail railroad right-of-way in February. For many weeks in a row I'd been on the groomed trails in the Boulder area, what we in the mountain community call the flatlands, elevation 5600 ft.

On this winter Saturday I was panting like a race horse, moving slow, my feet feeling like lead. What the heck was going on? So I began paying attention. Well, I was running into a steady headwind. A 15° headwind. At elevation 8800 feet. Over an irregular cobblestone surface. Uphill, for three miles. Ohhhh.

This was a wakeup call for me.

At another time in my life--actually, for all my life--I'd not had to pay that much attention to conditions. I just ran. With age and the development of my own unique combination of health issues, I've acquired some limitations.

In response I've developed my own version of the Borg scale. I've come up with the range of issues that require additional exertion, and I've been incorporating them in a measured and conscious way to my running, titrating the stress levels according to what it feels like my systems are ready for.

Within the context of however I assess my current state of conditioning, the exertion factors are (in no particular order).
  • Distance of run
  • Duration of run
  • Ambient temperature--above or below 45° to 70°
  • Wind
  • Precipitation
  • Elevation
  • Terrain
  • Running surface
  • State of hydration, nutrition, rest
In my more OCD moods I've sometimes thought of using point values with the factors, in some additive or even multiplicative fashion, but that's carrying it too far. I know I'd never follow through on any systematic way, once the system was designed.

For a long time this system has kept me relatively free of injury, and more importantly for me, kept my runs fun and invigorating. When I'm feeling tough I can take on extra challenges; when I'm feeling less tough I can measure them out more judiciously.

I like to think of this as a product of the wisdom of age. I'd prefer to not think of it as a reflection of wimpdom.


Going out Fast. Or slow.

Shared by a runner who calls this her nemesis. Love her humor.
There was a time I could pretty much take off running right out of the locker room or truck door. My first mile or so would be a bit slower at a given heart rate, but it wasn't anything that really called attention to itself.

For the past year I've noticed a distinct change: my first hundred yards or so are just downright painful, and the first couple of miles I feel like I'm running dressed in armor. Along about mile 2 everything settles in, my breathing becomes easier, my pace picks up at a stable HR.

Along with other changes I see as time goes by, I've quietly filed it away as Well, this is what happens as a runner moves into another decade of life.

I learn from my own experience, but what I learn is always richer and more complex when I stay open to the learnings of others who share. In this week's posting at Sweat Science, Alex Hutchinson reports on a recently published study exploring pacing of workout sessions.

Of particular interest to me was his offhanded reference to oxygen kinetics.

That's where my research curiosity kicked in.

Jonathan Savage, a software-engineer runner with a most informative blog, explains it as the time it takes for oxygen delivery to respond to the demands of exercise. Here's his elegant graphic:

Now that I've got a name for my experience, it's an easy search, vo2 kinetics and age, and quickly any number of links show up. The short version?

Oxygen Update Kinetics of Older Humans are Slowed With Age.

As with every other age-related effect, I can choose to succumb to the reality, or I can work more systematically and with more purpose on my level of conditioning.

And I'll no doubt do some of each, depending on what else is going on in my life or the world.


Still running, still learning, still in the fresh air.

North Boulder Ranch, October 2014.
A while since an entry, but my habits persist.

Eighteen to 20 miles a week, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, never the same route twice in a row.


Urban trail run.

Under a springtime sky.
With the changing of the season, trail running has been on my mind. While the athletic activity in running is rewarding to me, at heart I run to be outside enjoying this beautiful world we've been given. On my off-days from running I hike and I bike. It's all sweet.

(I've been known to use a treadmill in recuperation phases from injuries. The running part of it feels good, the sweat is just as delicious, the breathing is invigorating. But it doesn't touch my soul.)

Often in the lowlands of Boulder Valley (elevation 5600 feet or so) I'll run neighborhoods and enjoy the landscaping, the university campus for the architecture and landscaping, the foothills for the grasses and trees and rocks and creeks--the landscaping. And of course the creek path system, all a carefully designed natural landscape. No matter where I run in my area here, the air and the humidity are comfortable and comforting.

This week, still easing back into a full distance regimen after the transition of working conditions, I did the garden landscaping at the Hawthorn Community Garden. With our garden at elevation still in early formative stages for the season I found encouragement and inspiration by seeing spring coming in in the valley. The fragrance of the grasses and the soils gave me energy to my fingertips. People are so clever in the way they lay out their plots of land, and as a community garden the variety is truly a work of art.

The loop around the garden space is about a mile, maybe a bit less--my gps was uncharged so I ran free of monitoring. Easy, flat, alternating surfaces of asphalt, gravel, woodchips, it was a splendid way to spend an hour or so.

Breathing. Waiting.
As I return to running I find my cardio and my skeleto-muscular system about at about equal levels of readiness, with a slight edge for better cardio conditioning. Last week I did a 4-mile run, easily within breath and HR target range, but felt a twinge of tenderness in my right knee the last half-mile or so. I kept my run today to 3 miles. It all felt great.


Springtime in the Indian Peaks.

Shadow reading the news.

Despite other changes in my daily life with my decision to invest full-time energies into my historic preservation work, my running routine continues to be Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday. That has served me well for 15 years or so, I enjoy it, and it's become an important part of my week.

For cross training on other days, I often bike in the warmer weather. In the cooler weather it's hiking or snowshoeing.

Outside my back door in the Indian Peaks region of the Colorado Rocky Mountains I step directly onto a trail system that weaves around some sections of the vast Roosevelt National Forest. For hiking it is incomparable. For running less so, for reasons I've noted elsewhere.

Moving into terrain further from home in the forest, this week I've discovered an entirely new network of trails to explore. They really are beautiful, and quite a bit of the network is trail that could be runnable, by which I mean it could allow me to do more than stay upright on rough terrain. Like, look around.

Here's a sample of it today, with my hiking / running companion reading her news along the way.

About a mile and a half into the hike today I had very good news myself. Springtime has officially arrived in our part of the forest.
Pasque Flowers, 04.30.14


Mountain Hiker.

Roosevelt National Forest, Colorado.
Though it's fun to post a good time on an event, and though good event times give me validating feedback for sustained, intelligent training and effort, I can't say I run primarily for speed. Were it so, I'd have arrived at different conclusions from exploring the Run Less Run Faster model.

No, what I come back to again and again is that I run to be outside, to breathe the fresh air, to soak in the glory of this beautiful world. Running simply helps me explore more territory than walking.

At the same time, often Less is More. As much as I enjoy running, love the rhythm, the chugachug breathing, the feel of muscles moving and feet pounding, I admit to some frustration when I'm on a mountain trail--which is of course my favorite running. The frustration comes from the focus required to stay upright without twisting an ankle. Trails are, after all and by definition, unfinished surfaces. In the Rocky Mountains, that means they are rocky.

Rolling Creek, Julie Kruger.
So when I run I watch the trail. At the same time, as a runner I'm scanning my body, my breathing, monitoring my effort. While I'm moving I miss out on perhaps 80% of the beautiful world I've immersed myself in.

As one of countless examples, at Caribou Ranch Open Space there is a segment where I am acutely aware
of this challenge. The east loop returning to the DeLonde Ranch from Bluebird Mine parallels the North Boulder Creek as it cascades down from the Arapahoe Glacier and the City of Boulder watershed. The trail follows a gracefully curving contour snaking gently downhill, through scattered chokecherry and rocky mountain maple trees, under magnificent ponderosa pines. The fragrance is heavenly. Beautiful.

But not for a runner. Treacherous is the word that comes to mind. Dance lightly, attentively, through and between and over the tops of scattered boulders. Run like the water of the stream. The entire distance. Take your choice, if you're a runner: enjoy the scenery, or enjoy the run. On any given run, you'll discover quickly which one you want to do.

All of this is prelude to what I'm saying today: on my cross-training days I've been truly loving hiking in these glorious mountains and forests.

Less speed = More awareness.

Pretty good tradeoff when you live in paradise.

Comanche Peak, Tom Fischer.


First day of Spring, 2014.

Continuing to ease my way back into full running, I'm doing 10 miles this week. It feels great, and to my surprise my cardio has held up reasonably well. Uphills aren't killing me. At least short ones aren't.

I've decided the Training Effect is a stupid feature that is misleading and absolutely interfering with my work. I take three steps--literally: I've counted--and I'm already at 1.0, with 5.0 considered officially overtraining. Within a quarter mile of moving as slowly as I can while still running, with HR still at 55% HR max, I'm already at 3.0.

So I'm only watching it for amusement, and to see if it ever becomes smart enough to serve as an aid.

Otherwise I'm back at watching my pace, maintaining HR where I want it, breathing 3-2. And enjoying God's beautiful earth.

Ready to bloom, CU Campus Police and Parking Building.


Caribou Ranch in January

Here's a note from a companion online journal on Arts, Life and the Cosmos.

Budd Coates, Running on Air

Here's what I wrote in my review of the book on Goodreads:

+++++++++   If you have one good idea and you share it with the world, you've paid some of the dues you owe for your time in this world.

Here's a coach that has one good idea, and it's simple, effective and not at all intuitive.

When you're running, with each step breathe in three times, out two.

I suppose if you want people to take the idea seriously you have to write a book about it, back it up with some scientific-sounding language, give it an historical context, elaborate on the benefits.

Credit to Budd Coates for paying attention to his own experience as a runner, thinking it through, sharing his learning with the world. Maybe he'll get a few bucks from selling a book about it.

But as a reader, keep your expectations modest about what you might gain from reading the book.

Give the idea an honest effort for a week or so of running, long enough for it to be built into your muscle memory, and write your own book. Be prepared to learn, to enjoy your running in new ways, pick up your pace with no increase in effort, expose yourself to less risk of injury.

Not bad for a single idea.   +++++++++

I've since incorporated the technique completely and intuitively into my every run. On another post I'll go into more detail on my many observations.

For now what I will say is this:

This idea has a permanent place in the top five things I've learned about running.

Breathwork 2014.

In another phase of my life, exploring human consciousness, spirituality, levels of reality, I spent several years practicing a method called Holotropic Breathwork. Developed by Stanislov Grof, MD, and based on decades of extensive, meticulous and encyclopedic research, it represents a model of the universe that I came to respect and confidently incorporate in my life.

Though I'm no longer engaged in active exploration of the same realms, I count that era of my life as being most influential in shaping the person I am today.

The method has four components, one of which focuses on an intentional form of breathing. I came to understand through experience, observation, study and mentoring the central importance of the breath in far more than the elemental role it has in the chemical reaction of human metabolism. Though millenia of language usage have drained it of its connection, the latin word for breath was spiritus, and references throughout human history have made that same connection. Breath and Spirit are deeply intermingled.

My family of course was well aware of my personal, professional and scientific interest in the work I was doing. Thus I was only mildly surprised last year when Morggan said in a note, "With your background of research in breathing, you might find this running technique of some interest."

Attached was a link to a Runner's World article, with an embedded video.

Morggan's track record for recommendations for my interest is impeccable. He seems to know his dad. So it was no eye-opener that I did indeed find the presentation and the concept intriguing.

The Runner in me also wanted to know more and to give it a try.

For years I've been conscious of my breathing pattern when I run, feeling most comfortable and meditative with a two-in, two-out, 2-2, breathing rhythm as I move through time and space as an athlete. I also discovered fairly early that whichever foot landed on my outbreath had more force behind it, often a discernible difference. And that whatever injuries I had sustained through the years had most often occurred on that same side of my body--knee, calf, hip, etc.

Thus for much of my running career I had been making a random, unsystematic practice of occasionally alternating from my habitual pattern of Right-Foot-Down-Breath-Out. I found that the moment my attention was diverted from that intentional effort, as soon as my mind drifted back to whatever zone it went to, my habitual right-footedness re-asserted itself.

I was eager to explore this idea.


Late Winter 2014.

After a few weeks of sabbatical from running to manage some dermatology surgery I'm back in the hunt.

Last autumn I upgraded my garmin GPS watch to the Forerunner 910XT, and only since the turn of the new year have I begun exploring its capabilities. When the season changes and I'm back running and cycling in my mountain trails, I'll find the more accurate barometric altimeter of greater interest.

For now what I've been working with is the measure it provides of a concept called Training Effect, based on an algorithm incorporating heart rate and several personal variables. I don't completely understand it yet, but I'll study it some more.

The Training Effect value may seem high at first until the device gets to know you and your workout patterns, says the Garmin FAQ page.

I'll say. I run barely three miles at a pace I could take a nap at, and I've already overtrained according to this scale.

So I'm taking it slow, introducing the device to my running and my body, and enjoying myself. Right now that means touring the campus at the University of Colorado, Boulder, running every conceivable direction, looking for paths I've never seen before, nooks, hidden courtyards.