Nov 20, 2014

Read Local, Shop Local

I'm delighted to announce that I've been asked to participate in two local author events this holiday season. Whether you're a Black Friday shopper or a Black Friday protestor...whether you get amped about Small Business Saturday or prefer to stay home and order on Amazon, I believe these opportunities are family friendly, free, and worthwhile. I also believe they're in the spirit of encouraging locals artists and independent entrepreneurs, and no matter who you are, how you vote, or who gets your cash, there's no harm in this. No harm at all! Come on out, if you're in the area and if you're not, consider a similar option in your neck of the woods. It's time to be thankful for what makes where we live unique, and artists and entrepreneurs are part of that.

To that end, check out the West End Poetry & Prose Reading Series--where I'll read part of Flashes of War's "Into Pure Bronze" (the soccer story!) and eagerly anticipate the creative work of other area authors.

I'll also be signing books at Malaprop's Bookstore in downtown Asheville. This is the bookstore that launched Flashes of War 18 months ago to the warmest, most supportive crowd I have ever known. As a part of Small Business Saturday and Indies First, the bookstore has invited authors to sign books and "talk up" two other books that they recommend to shoppers. I'll be promoting Mary Kay Zuvraleff's Man Alive! and Hemingway's In Our Time, and will be sigining from 1-3pm on Saturday, November 29th.

Nov 17, 2014

Jogging Writer: Testing for 10K

Last week, I realized I had a schedule conflict with my December 14th 10K Race Day and began a frantic search for another race. Thankfully, I found one even closer to home that's just one week earlier, bumping up race day to December 6th at a nearby wooded, private park. Now, I'll race along rolling single track trail as opposed to a low-elevation city sidewalk, likely slowing me down. The race is also a week earlier, cutting into my already shortened training schedule.

Time to reassess. I pulled out Michael Fitzgerald's 80/20 Running, complete with training regimens for the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and Marathon. I've been working the Level 1 training session for my first-ever 10K, which Fitzgerald says should take about 12 weeks. To make things work, I'd cut the 12 weeks down to 10, reducing my "base" training phase by 2 weeks. This felt easy enough to do on the heals of running my first 5K. But now, that regimen is shortened to 9 weeks, cutting into both my "peak" and "taper" phases. As I looked  at the table, charts and journals spread out before me, I filled with a sense of dread.

Brooks Cascadia 9: What I run in for stability,
performance, comfort, and durability.
How would I know what my true running pace was, after so many weeks training slowly and using a heart rate activity tracker? What if I started out too fast? What if I went slower than I needed to? I glanced again at Fitzgerald's training runs, and then out the window. It was a glorious, crisp, sunny November day with temperatures in the upper 30's. I ate a quick snack, stretched, waited to digest, watched the thermometer reach 40, and headed out the door. Time for a test run.

To be clear: Up until a few months ago, I never aspired to be "a runner" or enter races. Having played sports all my life, I certainly have a competitive edge in me but I've never felt I had the speed or natural physique for successful running. Fitzgerald's book changed all of that for me, along with some other timing and life factors that seemed to click into place. All of which is to say, the first time I realized I might be able to run a 10K was when I accidentally ran over six miles on an afternoon run in Celo. Thanks to my FitBit pedometer, I knew I'd run 6.2 miles...and I felt tired, but happy. If I could do that without even knowing it, maybe I could improve my time. Maybe, just maybe, I could even run a half marathon.

That first accident was in early August 2014. I ran 6.2 miles in 80 minutes that day--leisurely, unaware, the bliss of ignorance on my side. A week later, curious and testing myself, I ran the same route in 72 minutes. Then I went backpacking, got plantar fasciatis, trained for a 5K anyway, raced the 5K, registered for a 10K, had to find a different race, and here we are...just 3 weeks to showtime.

Armed with my FitBit (to determine distance) and my HeartQ (to monitor my heart as I "searched" for my "natural" pace), I started the timer, kicked up my heels, and took off. The FitBit pedometer isn't exactly easy to check while in motion and I'm not too much of a gearhead anyway, so I made a promise to myself I'd only check it when I had to. At what I imagined was about the halfway point, I fiddled with the FitBit and figured out I had already run 3.1 miles--a 5K. Then I looked at my watch and realized I'd run the 5K in 34 minutes (it included a lot of uphill)--just 1min45secs slower than my 5K race time.

I think I must have half-yelped and half-jumped when I realized my mistake--I was running my 10K at near the same pace as my 5K. Determined I would be doomed, I pressed on without slowing my pace. If I had already fried most of my calorie and muscle reserves, I might as well keep going (BPM 184) and see how long I could keep it up. If that meant I drastically slowed at mile 4 or mile 5, so be it. I'd still finish my test run and have useful data.

But I never slowed. Coaxed ahead by the thought that I could actually keep running at that pace, if I just pushed a little more through any fatigue, I simply refused to let myself slow down. Thankfully, all my joints and muscles cooperated. And 5 weeks into Fitgerald's 80/20 running plan, his advice seemed to be working--I was, in fact, running faster and easier even though my training was slower and longer. When I finally hit 6.2 miles and pressed STOP on my watch, I was overjoyed at the time: I'd run a 10K in 67:54, a whole 4 minutes and 6 seconds faster than before. 

I don't know that I can replicate that on race day, but I do know I have a new PR (personal record) and a much clearer sense for how long I can run at what pace. I don't intend to wear any gear on race day. I don't want to be distracted. But the memory of that spontaneous test run will carry me far, I believe, and if I can keep my 10K time on race day to 70 minutes or below, I'll be feeling pretty good. Fingers crossed!


Nov 6, 2014

Stories that Travelled Far

Thirteen months after 4 stories from Flashes of War were reprinted in 2 issues Afghan Scene Magazine (the only English printed magazine in the country; 8,000 subscribers), my contributor's copies arrived from FedEx via the United Arab Emirates. It's a beautiful publication and I found it fascinating to see which lines from the stories the editors highlighted (view close up pic). My mind had to travel really far to write these stories and they ended up being shared in a place I care very much about. Now, they've found their way back to me in this special publication.


Holding these in my hand also reminded me of something else that came my way from Afghanistan not long after the book was released. Five copies of the book were mailed to a BBC contact in Kabul who then brought the books to a trustworthy bookseller there (many books are apparently photocopied and sellers make money of the photocopies--honestly though, if people are reading, I'm pretty happy about that either way). Later, a friend request from an Afghan man in Kabul came my way, and along with it this photograph:


Nov 3, 2014

Jogging Writer: Top Pick Heart Rate Monitor

Ok. I'll admit it. I'm getting a little gear-crazy. I'm not busting the bank or anything...but I've read 3 running books in the last month and started calculating my five heart rate zones according to Matt Fitgerald's 80/20 Running book. I bought my Brooks Cascadia (on discount) based on gear reviews in Outside Magazine. A new body fat percentage scale is on its way via Amazon Prime and I've logged 3 weeks of official Level 1 training for my 10K (race day: December 14). Perhaps more surprising than any other gear purchase has been my new HeartQ Heart Rate monitor sports watch and activity tracker. We all know about target heart rates, but Fitzgerald's book makes a powerful case for thinking outside that box and demonstrates how endurance athletes have run slower and longer for years and years and still yielded personal best times on race day.

My lactate threshold--the heart rate just about where I can run and carry on a conversation--is 175 beats per minute. This means my Zone 1 and Zone 2 training, according to Fitzgerald, are significantly lower--and slower--than I would have guessed. In order to make sure I'm running slow enough, and therefore able to run long enough, to achieve my desired training goals, I've got to go slow and steady. My new best friend, the HQ, beeps at me if I get above or below zone. Typically, after 5-10 minutes in one of the zones, my body and mind find the natural pace and the watch stops beeping. When a car drives by or a dog barks, I've noticed, my heart rate quickens and will sometimes momentarily kick the HQ rating higher and take me out of the zone, making the watch beep. I slow my pace for a beat or two, get back into the zone, and continue. At the end of my workout, I can track my average heart rate, the number of minutes I spent in the zone (this is crucial on Fitzgerald's plan, as a certain number of minutes in each zone is the crux of the training program), the calories burned, and more.

So I have to wear a watch when I prefer not to. So I have to wear a chest strap (I can hardly tell it's there). These are small prices to pay given the immediate feedback I get and the power that a few little numbers have to help me gain confidence and achieve my goals. The HeartQ buttons are big and easy to push, the watch is programmable if you want to adjust the set heart rate levels, and--here's the real kicker--there are real human beings managing the small company's email account and they write back to you. Like with real, helpful feedback and information. Customer service and a good product? I'm sold.

Today is the start of Week 4 of my Level 1 training and even though I still feel like I have to "hold myself back" on most of my runs, I can feel myself getting stronger and my endurance deepening. What will I discover next? Maybe the world's best running socks or the most motivating iPod playlist in history. Time will tell...stay tuned for occasional dispatches from the The Jogging Writer.