Super Runner

Last time out, I posted words of praise for a Matt Fitzgerald article in Runner’s World, Train at the Right Intensity – Elites spend 80 percent of their miles going easy. Why you should, too.

The idea being that we should run our easy runs really easy – not “half-hard,” or even a teensy-bit too fast.

Because what happens then is that we never fully recover, and it starts to degrade the quality of the runs that count most – the longer and harder runs.

I had an exceptional run last Friday. And when such-like things happen, I tend to be like most runners, in that I want to take time to think about it and see if I can figure out why it happened, and if I can incorporate the lessons in my training so it will happen again.

Okay, don’t do this at home.

kidney-stonesIt all started when I passed a kidney stone. It’s not an experience I’d recommend incorporating in your training. Women who’ve had both experiences say it’s worse than childbirth – that is, a lot less joyful and with an uglier outcome. Basically, I lay on the floor all night, between bouts of vomiting and limping from the hall to the bathroom.

I won’t try to describe the pain, it’s useless; suffice it to say that the muscles of my rib cage and trunk were sore for days from contracting against the pain.

When dawn came and a doctor friend brought welcome pain medication, I composed a little song in my head (apologies to Jimmy Cliff):

I can pee clearly now, the pain has gone.
Gone are the dark particles in my way.
Gone is the urethrolithiasis that had me down.
It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sunshiny day.

Okay, I don’t really think that passing a kidney stone did much for my progress as a runner. But it did make me feel not much like running for five or six days, if only for fear I might find myself miles from home and have a recurrence. And that turned out to be a good thing.

By the following Friday I was itching to get outdoors, and I jumped on the bike and rode to Stanford, a pleasant 3-mile ride.

In the morning, four hours earlier, I consumed a pre-run smoothie that works well for me: a glass of Vanilla Almond Breeze, two handfuls of almonds, a third of a Clif Bar “Kit’s Organic” brand Lemon Vanilla Chia Seeds bar, a tablespoon of frozen pineapple juice, and a little stevia to taste – all chucked in the blender and whacked to a creamy consistency.

Ishani’s employer gave her a generous birthday present, which she invested in a reconditioned Vitamix – a species of nuclear blender that, from the sound it produces, is powered by a 7,000-horsepower sand dragster mill.

Okay, I’m here to tell you that the American film industry is in grand shape, as witnessed by this artful exemplar:

Well, all right now. If you watched the film – which you should, because it proves that America is a great country that has God’s blessings because it amuses Him, and that we’ll win all our future wars against dragsterless Commies and fanatics – then you’ll have some idea of what this old man’s body was able to accomplish during its run and ride at Stanford.

Not to be too shy about it, I tore up the ground and bloody flew. It was as if I hadn’t actually run in years. My body just kept lusting to push on and on.

I completed the run with a couple of hard sprints up the softball stadium ramp, and while riding back to Mountain View I pressed the pedals through the floorboards.

After a pit stop at Whole Foods, I still had energy to burn. After a short nap, I was able to live my life and even be sociable until bedtime.

I’m not saying it was a good thing – I’m actually not sure how wise it is to go tear-assing around at reckless speeds in a body with 72 years of hard wear on it. But I will say that it was fun, and barring a strong counter-intuition I’ll happily do it again.

The lesson, I think, is that it’s really no good trying to figure out our training with the mind, spinning fine-sounding judgments based on airy logic and reason. My logic and reason told me it was okay to train very hard one day a week, and go semi-hard the rest of the time, while pushing hard on the bike whenever I felt to.

Far better, I think, to learn from our actual experiences – AKA “try stuff and see what happens.” The body is much too complex for logic. As I’ve preached over and over, the still, calm feelings of the heart – common sense and intuition – are an indispensable part of a runner’s tool kit. And my intuition tells me that if I go easy most of the time, I can ride up to Stanford and go like hell.

Notes on Chia

I wrote about chia a little over a year ago (“Beta Testing a Miracle Fuel for Runners”). Here’s an update.

The new chia bars from Clif Bar really work for me. After some brief experiments several years ago, I gave up on chia, as it produced a too hard-edged consciousness for my taste – I felt like a zombie runner, all raw performance and not much heart and soul.

This time around, I find that because chia is such powerful stuff, it needs to be balanced. Thus, blending it in an almond smoothie seems to work well, with less of that grinding, ghoulish mental effect.

A smoothie with almonds in it will take 3½ or 4 hours to digest. If I run too soon, I feel like a digesting machine that’s stupidly decided to go out and run, a sensation not dissimilar from running while very pregnant.

I do like to take another quarter of a chia bar about an hour before the run. I’m riding the bike everywhere now, and I find that a 20-minute ride helps my body get synched nicely for the run.

I take some old-guy supplements that help with adrenal and thyroid support and general vitality – maca root for the adrenals, NatraBio Thyroid Support formula, and Fo-Ti for general energy. I take these very early in the morning when I get up to meditate, usually around 5 a.m.

Every digestive system “likes” its own favorite foods, so your mileage may vary.

Kidney Stone Aids

When trying to pass a kidney stone, two things count: opening a path for the stone to pass easily, and pain relief, obviously.

As I lay groaning, a friend who’s a naturopathic physician suggested I take magnesium because it dilates the ureters. Two or three hours after taking a chelated magnesium pill, the pain ceased, indicating that the stone had passed, and I began to be able to urinate normally.

A very effective aid for releasing stones is gravel root, a moderately hard-to-find herb that fortunately is available from I keep a bottle handy just in case. Important Update: Since writing this, I discovered that gravel root contains a highly toxic and possibly carcinogenic substance. From WebMD: “There’s a lot of concern about using gravel root as medicine, because it contains chemicals called hepatotoxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs), which may block blood flow in the veins and cause liver damage. Hepatotoxic PAs might also cause cancer and birth defects. Gravel root preparations that are not certified and labeled “hepatotoxic PA-free” are considered LIKELY UNSAFE.”

Henceforth, I’ll stick to magnesium for dilating the ureters.

After the episode, a physician friend told me that the current protocol to relieve the pain of kidney stones is 800 mg of ibuprofen 3 times a day, and that research shows it’s as effective as hydrocodone (formerly Vicodin).

A problem I see with taking that much ibuprofen is that everything that goes down during a kidney stone episode comes back up, and 800mg of anything may be too big to sneak past the upchuck reflex. Whereas a single small hydrocodone tablet with a tiny bit of water won’t move the dial on the vomitometer.

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