Icy Run

After two days cooped up inside, I had to get outside this morning. We haven’t gotten around to clearing our driveway yet, so driving somewhere was out. It wasn’t really cold enough for mountain biking (32° — trails likely to be a big slushy mess). That left road riding and running as my two options. I decided on running because I was due for a run, and it would get me out the door faster, as I still need to put the rear studded tire on my winter bike, which takes 15 or 20 minutes.

We have a couple inches of snow on the ground with a crusty glaze of ice, so I knew that running with my usual Vibram FiveFingers was going to be out. I decided to wear my waterproof Altra Lone Peak trail shoes with Yaktrax. This combination worked out OK, although compared to VFFs, it felt like my feet were encased in blocks of cement. That said, the Yaktrax give pretty good traction, and was able to run confidently without worrying about slipping and falling. I managed to slog through 5 miles at about a minute off my usual pace, which is not too bad. Just a few months ago, I would have been happy to run 5 miles in any conditions at all. Next time out in these conditions, I may try my Altra Escalantes, which are somewhat lighter than the Lone Peaks. It also may make sense to look at different styles of cramp-ons, as I don’t think the Yaktrax I have were designed specifically for running. Again, not ideal conditions or gear, but happy I got out.

Health Running

Polar H10

I’ve decided to try exercising with a heart rate monitor (HRM) again. I first tried one of these way back in the early 2000s, before I even started this blog. Back then, Polar sold a chest electrode/transmitter strap paired with a LCD wristwatch that received the signal and displayed the heart rate. It was primitive by today’s standards, but worked pretty well. That model had a big design flaw, though — the strap had a non-replaceable battery, and once it died, the strap was worthless. Also, the transmitter was built in to the strap, and activated by moisture. As a result, unless the electrodes were bone dry, the battery would run down. The new design is much better. The model I have is the H10, and the transmitter snaps onto the strap, and has a replaceable battery. The big difference is that it no longer comes with a watch. Instead, it uses bluetooth to connect to your favorite device (phone, watch, gym equipment, etc) where you then run an app of your choice to receive and process the heart rate data. Polar has its own app for this called Polar Beat, but there are many others out there as well.

I mainly had running in mind when I got the H10, but I also plan to use it occasionally while biking. So far, I’ve used it three times: twice while running, and once while using my treadmill desk. The latter was mostly out of curiosity: I wanted to see how high my heart rate got while I walked along at 2 mph. Turns out it tops out at around 80bpm. For running, I’m evaluating 2 different apps: RunKeeper (which I’ve used for many years) and Polar Beat. The jury is still out, but I’m currently leaning towards Polar’s app, as it includes more features without a premium subscription (the premium features are unlocked when you pair a Polar HRM with the app). I’m going to run with it a few more times, and see what I like and dislike about it.

I do kind of miss having a wristwatch, as it’s kind of difficult to get a point-in-time heart rate reading from the phone, particularly this time of year, when I keep it underneath various layers to keep the battery from running down in the cold. It may be less of an issue once the weather warms up. I may go back to using an armband in warm weather. There’s also the Apple Watch, but I’m not sure I’d get enough use out of it to warrant the price. I’m sure I’ll figure something out after I’ve been using the HRM for awhile.


2-Month Running Report

I’ve been running regularly for around two months now. I run mainly in the mornings, two days a week, in addition to my usual bike rides and weekly visits to the climbing gym. My regular route is 5.4 miles long, and in the beginning, I walked about half of it. I’m now up to running all of it except a tiny bit at the beginning and end, so let’s call it 5 miles. Initially, I mainly wore my Altra Escalante shoes, but more recently, I’ve been wearing Vibram V-Runs. I’ve been focusing on form, posture, cadence, and breathing, all of which I think are improving. My pace has been hovering around 10:30/mile. All in all, I’m pretty happy with my progress after just 2 months.

I’m no stranger to running. I did it a lot in my 20s and early-mid 30s, but my form was awful, and as did many others, I suffered from numerous nagging injuries, and eventually gave running up in favor of biking and other activities. I tried to pick it back up several times in my 40s, but invariably, some injury shut me down each time. Now, at 51, I’m hoping I’m finally over the hump. I credit this to three things: proper form, minimalist footwear, and perhaps most importantly, much less time spent sitting. Walking on a treadmill 3 to 4 hours a day at 2mph while working, has made a huge difference. I’ve been wearing minimal footwear full-time for 3.5 years, and have studied proper running form for about as long, but the treadmill is a recent addition, and as I’ve written before, I believe it has been a game-changer.

I’ve had to overcome some minor physical issues over the past couple of months. The plantar fasciosis that I struggled with for most of 2020 is not 100% gone, but it’s so mild that I don’t even notice it any more other than my first couple of steps after getting out of bed. I have some occasional tightness in my right hip flexor as well as my right groin and hamstring, all of which are helped by light stretching and yoga. I expect all of these will improve further as my body continues to adjust to regular running. A month or so back, I developed some nerve discomfort in the ball of my left foot, which was helped by wearing Strutz metatarsal pads over my socks during activity. The nerve pain has mostly abated as of this writing, though I’m still running with pad on my left foot as a precaution.

I don’t really have a running goal, other than to incorporate it as another way to stay active. My biking has fallen off somewhat as my running has ramped up, which I expected, and eventually, I’d expect to split my time about 50/50 between the two activities. Eventually, I’d like to run longer distances. I guess the next step would be to run 10K, and I’m pretty close to that, but am not in a hurry to get there. First, I need to get my body to the point where I don’t feel like stopping at the end of my runs. A lot of that is pacing, and possibly also diet, which is an aspect of long-distance running that I haven’t yet studied. I’ve still got some work to do, but I am happy with my progress so far, and hope I can keep this going.

Climbing Running Weather

Winter Weather Fun

It’s been a fun week of weather here in central Maryland. As predicted, we got an icy, slushy mess on Wednesday. NWS did a pretty good job forecasting this storm. Earlier models showed the potential for more snow in our area, but predicted amounts were dialed back as the low pressure center showed signs that it was going to track farther inland. Ultimately, we got pretty much exactly what was predicted for the area. A few days back, I read an interesting article that explained one of the reasons why snowfall totals in this area are so difficult to predict. Apparently, it’s because we live along the Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line, which is where the Piedmont meets the Atlantic Coastal Plain. I hadn’t really thought about that before I read the article, but it makes a lot of sense.

Wednesday morning, before the weather, I managed to get out to the climbing gym. Weekday mornings are always a good time to go, and I feel like I climbed pretty well, tackling a few overhanging routes rated 5.9 to 5.10a. I still need to work on my upper body strength so that I can climb longer on these kinds of routes without getting as “pumped”. Yesterday afternoon, I ventured out onto the mean streets of Elkridge for a run. It was my first afternoon run in a while, as I usually go early in the morning; but yesterday, I was concerned about icy roads. There were still some icy spots in the afternoon, mostly in shady areas, but it was not as bad as I had feared. I was able to follow my usual 5-mile route. I brought YakTrax along for insurance, but didn’t need them. Yesterday was also unique in that unlike my morning runs, I had already logged a couple of hours on the treadmill desk before I went out. I was definitely a little more tired at the end of the run than I usually am.

This morning, I was hoping to get out on the mountain bike, but unfortunately, it never got quite cold enough to freeze the trails. The predicted low was 26º, but when I woke up, it was still hovering at 31º. I went outside and saw that the puddles in our driveway were still liquid, so knew the trails would be a mess. I think the overnight cloud cover is what did us in. Next week is not looking promising for frozen trails, so it might be a while before I get back out there. Maybe we’ll have a Christmas miracle. 😀

Biking Climbing Geocaching Running

Longer than planned

With temperatures still pushing into the 60s, and Old Man Winter slated to arrive this week, I really wanted to get some outside time today. I already had a 5-mile hike planned with our Scout troop, but also wanted to get some biking in before tomorrow’s predicted washout. So, I headed out of the house in the predawn twilight and biked a loop through Columbia, Savage, and Jessup. The route took me past Lake Elkhorn, along the entire length of the Patuxent Branch Trail, through Savage, and back home via Corridor Rd and Dorsey Run Rd. I even found a couple of caches along the way. I ended up notching over 31 miles, which was more than I had planned. When I left the house, the temperature at BWI was 53°, and based on that, I decided to wear shorts. I was regretting that decision for about the first 10 miles of the ride, but things soon warmed up enough that I was comfortable.

By the time I got home, it was after 10:00, leaving me about an hour to rest before I had to round the teens up to head to PVSP Hilton Area for our troop hike. We hiked a loop that took us along Santee Branch Trail, down Vineyard Spring, west on the paved Grist Mill Trail, and up Sawmill Branch, where we rejoined Santee Branch and followed it back to the starting point. The park was (predictably) busy, with Grist Mill being the busiest of the trails we hiked — nothing like it is on weekday mornings, when it’s just me and a few regulars. Other than that, though, it was a great hike, and the other trails didn’t feel crowded at all. There’s a lot of room out there in the woods.

Based on the weather forecast, tomorrow is shaping up to be a treadmill day. I’m hoping to get a ride or two in this week, as well as a run, and maybe some climbing at the gym, but we’ll see how much of that the weather will allow.


Running Reboot

I’m almost afraid to write anything about this, for fear of jinxing myself… but, I’m back to running again. My last real attempt at running regularly was last spring. I have a regular walking route that’s a little over 5 miles, and I thought I could gradually re-acclimate myself to running with a run-walk-run routine: start off with 0.1 mile of running per mile covered, and gradually increase. Well, I must have tried to do too much, too fast, as after a few weeks of this, I developed the worst case of plantar fasciosis I’ve ever had — at least, I’m pretty sure it’s PF, as the symptoms mostly mimic PF. It initially shut me down, and I did very little walking for most of the summer, falling back on swimming, climbing, and biking instead. Over 6 months later, it still hasn’t 100% cleared up, but I’ve learned to effectively manage it. Foam rolling and stretching (calves and peroneal tendon) are helpful, but not overly so. I’ve found that what relieves it the most is the yoga “toe squat” pose. You start with a box pose, curl your toes forward, and then kneel with your weight on your toes. It’s uncomfortable as hell, but really helps.

The other thing that has helped is walking on a treadmill while I work. Over time, I’ve become convinced that most of my nagging physical issues are a result of sitting too much. With the treadmill, I’ve gotten out of my chair a lot more, and have gotten to where I’m logging about 20,000 steps a day, which is over twice what I had previously been averaging (according to my phone’s health app). I think this has helped condition me to the point where I’m better prepared to run successfully.

Anyhow, this time around, I’ve dropped the run-walk-run routine, and am doing a warm-up walk, followed by a run, followed by a cool-down walk, covering my same 5.2-mile route. I’m up to running a little over 5K of it so far. I’m also reading Run for Your Life by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, which has been very instructive in improving my running form. With all of this going for me, I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep it up this time and stay healthy. Let’s see how it goes!

Health Running

Weak ankles.. or not

I used to be convinced that I had “weak ankles”. It seemed like every time I went hiking, I would twist my left ankle, usually while hiking downhill. Sometimes, all it would take would be a bump on the sidewalk. It got to the point where I thought my left ankle might be made out of rubber. My right ankle, being my dominant side, didn’t seem quite as prone to rolling, but it wasn’t immune, either.

In 2017, during a time when I was doing quite a bit of hiking, I developed a Morton’s neuroma on my right forefoot between the 3rd and 4th toes. I went through the usual bevy of podiatrists, cortisone shots, and orthotics (thankfully stopping short of surgery), before some internet research eventually led me to try minimalist footwear. Over the next year, I started wearing shoes with flexible soles, minimal cushioning, wide toe boxes, and no heel elevation. Now, I’m not going to lie and say that this was an easy change, but in the long term, it was a game-changer. The neuroma went away, my feet are stronger and healthier, my posture has improved, and I can stand for longer periods of time. But that wasn’t all: about a year later, I was hiking along one of my usual routes through Patapsco Valley State Park, when it occurred to me that I hadn’t twisted an ankle in a really long time. I thought about it some more, and couldn’t even remember the last time it had happened. It seemed that minimalist footwear had also cured my “weak ankles”.

There’s a scientific explanation as to why this happened. Think about a simple lever. A lever has two parts: a beam, and a pivot point, or fulcrum. The longer the beam, the less force is required to apply torque to the fulcrum. If you think of your foot as a beam and your ankle as a fulcrum, it follows that the higher the ankle is elevated off the ground, the easier it is to torque or twist. Minimalist footwear eliminates heel elevation, so the ankle is closer to the ground, and more force is then needed to twist or sprain the ankle. Most conventional hiking boots have about an inch of heel elevation, and you wouldn’t think eliminating that would make a huge difference, but trust me — it does.

So… if you think you have weak ankles, try minimalist footwear. You might be surprised.

Biking Running


I’m easing back into biking regularly after taking most of July off to rest my hip.  It’s still not 100%, but it’s manageable.  I honestly don’t think the time off the bike made much of a difference.  The soreness is in the front part of my left hip, and it happens on downward pedal strokes, as the hip is extending.  Lowering my seat a bit made a huge difference with this.  If the seat is too high, I get discomfort almost immediately.  With the seat lower, it seems to put less stress on the hip joint.  Occasionally it will bother me when I’m at rest, i.e. sitting at my desk or lying in bed; when this happens, a heating pad helps to relieve it.  I’m pretty sure I caused the injury riding fixed gear with my saddle too high.  It’s looking like my fixed gear riding days may be over.  All you 20-something hipsters out there, enjoy it while it lasts.  🙂

On a positive note, the downtime from biking has allowed me to rediscover running.  After about 6 weeks, I’m to the point where I can run around 2 miles, barefoot or with minimalist running shoes, 2 to 3 times a week.  I’m hoping to be up to around a 5K distance by the end of the year.  This time of year, I have to run in the morning, so on days I plan to run, I’ve cut back on my morning biking mileage so I can get to work earlier and run.  This has worked out really well.  The reduced biking has helped with my hip, and the running works different leg muscles (calves in particular) that don’t see much action on the bike.  I’m hoping I can keep it up over the long term.