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Woe of a Winter Runner

Posted on January 31 2009

My motivation for starting a blog is that the New Hampshire winter has destroyed my fitness. Well, maybe not destroyed, but it has at least put a pretty big dent into it. Now, this is not unusual for those of us living in the colder states – sluggishness is a way of life for about 4-5 months of the year up here. I can go a whole winter without speaking to my neighbors, whom I converse with almost every day in the warmer months. Spring is like returning from a long vacation (or maybe hibernation would be a more appropriate word here), and in many ways represents as much of a new beginning for us humans as it does for the many animals inhabiting the woods behind my house. Spring for me has another meaning, one that results from a hobby I picked up a few years ago.

My wife and I moved to New Hampshire in 2003, and between starting an intense new job, having two kids (now 3 and 5), and buying a house, personal free time essentially disappeared. The lack of free time sucked away my health, and before I knew it I was about 15 pounds overweight. Something had to be done, and so I became a runner. Since the Spring of 2007, I have now logged well over 1000 miles, run a full marathon and two half marathons, as well as innumerable smaller road races. Last year I joined a running club, which provided an added degree of motivation during the summer. But alas, my devotion to running cannot overcome two hard facts: I hate treadmills, and running outside in the winter in New Hampshire is exceedingly difficult. Between snow, slush, ridiculously cold temperatures (25 F feels like perfect running weather now), unplowed sidewalks, and narrower than usual roads, running outside at times is darn near impossible.

So what is a distance runner to do in this situation? Well, I get out when I can, I suffer the treadmill when necessary, and I have done a bit of long distance snowshoeing with my dog, a big black lab with seemingly endless stamina and energy. Unfortunately, none of these options can equal the 20-30 miles per week I like to run when the weather outside is not so frightful. Needless to say, my fitness has taken a hit, which is disappointing because I was in the best shape of my life in early November (I ran a Half-Marathon in under 1:30, which frankly shocked me). I’ve also managed to put about 7-8 pounds back on my 5’10” frame, which is not conducive to smooth running efficiency. So I need some motivation, and some innovation, and this blog is hopefully one way that I can get this body of mine humming in time to tackle another marathon this May. I desperately want to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and I’m hoping that this might be the year that gets me there.

At the outset, I have some confessions to make. First, I am addicted to technology. I am the absolute antithesis of what some would call the Chi Runner. When I run, I need my Garmin GPS watch, my Ipod Nano, and now I have recently purchased a heart rate monitor. Part of my problem is that I am biologist who has been trained to look for patterns in vast amounts of anatomical data. Data is my professional lifeblood, and this has trickled over into my personal life. For each run I need to know exactly how far I went, how many calories I burned, and now what my average heart rate was. With the toys mentioned above I can do all of this on the fly, and log the info into a computer for future analysis. Some runners would consider all of this to be heretical to the simple and pure nature of the sport, but it’s how I work and I’m comfortable with looking like a cyborg when I run. It makes me happy and it also provides a small bit of motivation – a new toy will get me out the door so that I can play with it. It also drives my wife nuts, since she is a “Chi Runner,” and she has to listen my constant pestering about which gadget I want to buy next, or what my max heart rate was while climbing the hill behind our house.

In addition to being a gadget freak, I am also dedicated teacher and biologist. I mostly read non-fiction science books (or listen to them on the Nano while exercising), and I am a sponge for all information pertaining to health, disease, evolution, fitness, nutrition, etc. I teach Developmental Biology and Human Anatomy & Physiology, so my reading often tends to trickle into my courses. I love teaching and sharing knowledge, and this blog is a way that I can spread what I learn as I navigate through my personal quest for better health. I have ideas about where to go with this, and in future posts I will hopefully be able to provide personal anecdotes as well as some useful information.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

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