Podcasts on the run

I run by myself a lot. Yeah, I train with a group and we start at the same time, but we’re a wide range of paces so while we are out there together, I’m often not running alongside other people much of the time. And I’m okay with that. Sometimes I really like the solitude and silence, especially those early mornings before the sun comes up. But other times I want a distraction. Since I generally reserve music for races, I long ago started listening to podcasts during my solo runs.

The iTunes podcast store offers such a bewildering array of choices, it’s difficult to find just the right thing. Good podcasting goes beyond someone with a mic and a topic–to hold my interest, the host(s) must be engaging and capable of discussing a given topic with insight and depth without rambling on too long or simply following a script. Plus I’m easily distracted by accents and speech inflections and I will absolutely turn off a podcast when the speaker’s voice takes me out of the story.

I’ve gone through a lot of trial and error over the last six years–my playlist has not remained static as I find new podcasts and discard others. But at the moment, in no particular order, these are my (non-running) favorites.

  1. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me is a weekly news quiz hosted by Peter Sagal with a rotating panel of smart, funny people. Each episode is about 50 minutes long and makes me literally LOL. I sometimes even shout out answers to the limericks or Lightning Fill in the Blank. I love this show so much that when they came to Austin for a live performance back in May, I snatched up tickets (they sold out Bass Concert Hall in about an hour) to see them in person. Because it’s current events-based, I don’t let this one get backlogged, but since it’s only one episode a week, it’s not difficult for me to stay on top of it. Plus I’d listen to Peter Sagal read the dictionary, so I look forward to these every week.
  2. Revisionist History is relatively new to my rotation, and while Malcolm Gladwell’s voice is just on the edge of weird, the topics are so interesting the sound doesn’t take me out of the story. He deconstructs what we think we know about well-publicized events, kind of like Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story” but on steroids. Seasons 1-2 sucked me in with several great topics–the Toyota acceleration problem, McDonald’s french fries, and several related to Civil Rights history–and  Season 3 continues to set the bar high. I particularly enjoyed the one on an important semicolon and another on Brian Williams’ memory. Episodes are around 40 minutes long.
  3. I started listening to Stuff You Should Know when I was training for my first half-marathon. Josh and Chuck have published roughly two episodes per week for a decade, so this archive alone is enough to keep a person occupied for dozens of cross-country road trips. I started more or less at the beginning and was caught up for a while, but because I rotate through several podcasts, I started to fall behind in late 2016. Even though they make even a mundane-sounding topic interesting, I currently pick and choose based on the topic these days. Some recent favorites cover the Max Headroom incident, P.T. Barnum, and the Unabomber. Most are between 45 minutes and an hour, although some go a little longer. It took me a while to get used to Josh’s voice, and both inadvertently use verbal filler like “bascially” a little too often, but as with Revisionist History, the topics are interesting enough (and Josh and Chuck engaging enough) that it doesn’t bother me much.
  4. The West Wing Weekly revisits, you guessed it, the TV show “The West Wing.” The hosts, Joshua Malina and Hrishikesh Hirway, are professionals–Josh was on “West Wing” for the second half of its run, and Hrishi is a musician and podcaster. Both are funny, articulate, and insightful. Each episode of the podcast covers one episode, in chronological order, of the TV show. They also bring in guests from the show–Allison Janney, Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff to name a few–and have recorded live episodes as well. Each episode is 50ish minutes, with the live shows going a little longer.
  5. I’ve done my share of binge-watching ESPN’s long-running series 30 for 30, and now they have a 30 for 30 podcast too. They only publish about five 30ish-minute episodes per season, plus several short 30 for 30+ shorter bonus episodes, so it’s easy to stay caught up, but they’re so interesting I am left wanting more. Season Three is all about Bikram Choudhury, the man behind Bikram Yoga; previous episodes explore Dan and Dave of the 1992 Olympics, the year Wrigley Field got lights, the Madden video game, Tonya Harding, Lebron and the hoodie photo, Dennis Rodman, and Bobby Knight. One time they highlighted a story from E:60 called “22 Harvest Street,” a harrowing tale of two college football players who were kidnapped and tortured. It was riveting, and horrifying. A sports nerd like me can easily get lost in these stories–perfect for long runs.

And these are some of my favorite running-themed podcasts, also in no particular order.

  1. I read Ali on the Run’s blog for a while before I tried her podcast, and I’m glad I did. She’s funny, genuine, and professional. And brutally honest about being a runner with a chronic illness. Episodes are usually about an hour.
  2. As with Ali, I read Another Mother Runner before subscribing to the podcast. I can’t relate to some of it–my kid is a teenager and a lot of the Mother Runners have little kids, and I struggle a little with the hosts’ accents and inflections. But several episodes have been interesting and informative, so I continue to pick and choose occasional episodes by topic or title. Most are about an hour long.
  3. I train with Rogue in Austin, and their Running Rogue podcasts are frequently informative and entertaining. Chris and Steve are not professional broadcasters–their voices may grate on some people, but I’m used to them–but they are genuine. Steve has no filter so he makes me laugh, and while I can’t always relate to them (Steve coaches the fast folks including Chris, who is a 2:45 marathoner) I get the training pieces since as a Rogue, I’m literally following their training plans. Episodes are about an hour, but I usually skip through the first 30ish minutes where they recap some professional running news–race results, predictions, that kind of thing–and get to whatever the topic is. My favorite episode is probably Episode 16 on women and running–they are clearly enlightened men not afraid to discuss periods and anatomy, but they’re so awkward at it, it was kind of cute.

And that’s about it right now. I am subscribed to several more podcasts, but either they haven’t published new episodes recently (like ESPN’s college football podcast) or the jury is still out on whether I’m going to keep listening.

What are some of your favorites? Any recommendations? Post them in the comments!

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Training my brain: part three

I know I need a lot of  help in the mental motivation department.

To that end, I have started reading some books on this topic, looking for some insight. First up, Alex Hutchinson’s Endure. It’s a fascinating analysis of the mind-body connection, and although its focus is on elite endurance racers, there’s a lot the amateur back-of-the-pack runner can take away as well.

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He touches on history and research, but also elements that directly affect me–oxygen, heat, thirst, and fuel.

  • I have asthma and don’t distribute oxygen well. In fact, I could barely skim the chapters where he talks about freedivers and records for breath-holding–it literally hurt my lungs to envision people holding their breath, feeling starved for air, all of it. I can’t watch movies where people have some underwater emergency–there’s a scene in one of the Iron Man films (Tony Stark’s house is attacked by terrorists and falls off the Malibu cliff into the ocean, burying him under the underwater rubble) that makes me leave the room.
  • Heat? Well I live in Texas and I heat up more than the average athlete, choosing to run in short sleeves even when temps are in the 40s. At the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon, temps were in the 50s and I was soaked with sweat (ok, some if it was rain) by the end of the race.
  • Hydration is definitely an issue with me, and his argument that dehydration and heat exhaustion aren’t cause-effect, and that thirst is more important than hydration intrigued me. I’ve been sick after a couple of too-warm races when I’ve had plenty of water, but not after every warm race; I’ve also run poorly when I’ve taken electrolytes in advance. Clearly there’s a magic formula I’ve yet to find–but I think I’m getting closer. At Pittsburgh I carried a handheld bottle and added, over the course of 13.1 miles, two packages of Drip Drop electrolyte mix. I felt pretty good, stomachwise, the second half of the race. But it was cooler and I still had trouble picking up my pace from miles 7-11, so there’s improvement to be had.
  • Fuel…. yeah, this is a struggle for me. I’ve gone back to using pretzels as my primary race fuel–carbs and salt, what’s not to love? I found it easier to choke them down mid-race (especially since I carried my own water) than gels. So I’ll keep playing with that as my distances increase over the next few months.

But in the end, he writes that “the single biggest piece of advice I would give my doubt-filled younger self would be to pursue motivational self-talk training–with diligence and no snickering.”

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I could also listen to my fortune from dinner last night.

Global Running Day

Yeah, I officially finished at school last Thursday. But Friday we had an early appointment, Saturday I ran at 5:30am, and yesterday I was back at school working on some curriculum stuff. But today, TODAY my summer vacation starts for real.

And I kicked it off with a short run for Global Running Day!

I haven’t run a lot with Bo because he’s a little tractor dog and had bad leash manners. But he got a new front-clip harness last week, and suddenly he’s an angel on the leash. I brought him along today, and he just trotted beside me the whole time.

We stopped at the park–the water fountain is still out of order, but after Monday’s storms, water flowed in the creek and he waded in for a drink. On the way back, he was dragging a bit since he hasn’t run very much, but with a few sniff breaks he finished strong.

The heat index today is supposed to be something like 107 so I’m glad I got to run this morning when it was still in the 80s. The rest of the day will look something like this.

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Too tired for ball

Doin’ it right for Global Running Day and my first real day of summer vacation!

This little piggy … made it 10 miles

My beat-up pinky toe didn’t feel great but it didn’t get any worse as I ran, so at 2.5, when I had to decide whether to turn left and take the 10-mile route or go straight for the 8-mile one, I went left. I looped past the school where I teach–which I’d just left for the summer–and through Northwest Hills for the first five miles.

My toe didn’t especially enjoy the wicked downhill of Far West to Ladera Norte, and nothing felt good going up Ladera Norte. It’s a cruel hill, especially six miles in. But I eventually made it to the top.

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Far West, on the way down

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The top of Ladera Norte

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Here’s my elevation map…

Once I got to the top, I still had three and a half more miles to go. Fortuntely the sky was mostly cloudy so while it was humid and warm, it wasn’t the 101* it would be later in the day. I plodded along at a slower-than-respectable pace, but this time of year I don’t care a lot about pace anyway. It’s all about effort, and effort there was. In fact, I actually ended up with 10.3 miles.

After ditching my shoes for Oofos sandals and changing into a dry shirt, I had a lovely breakfast with a few BRFs. Then I went home to my dog, who’d had a crazy day at a dog park on Friday (plus a visit with a friend and her three dogs) and had crashed pretty hard last night. He was still asleep when I left for my run, and it didn’t take much convincing for me to curl up with him and a book this afternoon–so you could say this little piggy stayed home the rest of the day.

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I’m not quite sure how it happened.

But Tuesday night after my five-mile run on the surface of the sun with my training group, I took off my shoes and socks, then smashed my littlest toe into an immovable object. Everyone does that now and then, right? And you hop around on one foot for a few minutes until it stops hurting.

Except it didn’t stop hurting. I iced it for half an hour or so, but I slept restlessly and the pain woke me for good before my alarm went off Wednesday morning. Despite the ice, it was still swollen and had turned black and blue overnight.

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This little piggy went “OW!”

It’s a good thing I’d gotten a lot of classroom-packing done on Tuesday, because on Wednesday it hurt to walk, even to press the gas pedal in my car.

Fortunately I made it through the last day of school without bumping into anything or getting trampled by exiting middle-schoolers.

By Wednesday evening, the bruising had become even darker, especially underneath my toe and on the inside. It still hurt, and taping it to its neighbor made it worse.

I don’t think it’s broken because on Thursday started to feel a little better–walking on it was almost pain-free, but it still hurt a lot to the touch. I managed to finish packing up my classroom thanks to my assistants (AKA spouse and child) without further injury, but when it came time to meet my Thursday night running group, it was still swollen and the thought of putting a shoe on made me cringe. My feet are wide and my shoes tend to be snug around my little toes anyway–compressing them further did not appeal to me at all. Lucky for me, we were meeting at a pub instead of the training center, so I just drove up there and had some dinner while I waited for everyone to come back. If I’m being honest, I kinda didn’t miss running in 96* or whatever it was.

I have 10 miles on the schedule for tomorrow, but I can’t decide if I want to be able to run or not. We’re meeting at a different location and the route includes the worst hill in Austin. I drove up this hill the other day–one of B’s friends lives there–and my car could barely do it in second gear.

So that should be fun.

Training my brain: part two

Okay, so I’m working on mantras and positive self-talk.

One of my strategies came from a school workshop on the topic of Growth Mindset and motivating students with the word “yet.” Instead of saying “I am not good at algebra,” I can phrase it “I am not good at algebra yet.” Meaning it’s not a fixed ability, and with some work I can improve my skills. So instead of worrying that I can’t run a marathon, I need to remind myself that I can’t do it yet. But training will get me there by December.

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Another one popped up organically during my long run last weekend. Even though when it’s cool out I have the endurance to run a 10K (or further) without a break, I wither in warmer weather. Forecasters are predicting a hotter-than-usual summer in Central Texas, and I’m already feeling the effects, even on those early mornings before the sun comes up. So for long runs I’ve set the alerts on my Garmin to three minutes of running, one minute of walking.

And that helps. I just tell myself, “Three minutes at a time.” It’s a completely manageable interval–longer than a Super Bowl commercial but shorter than the average Pink song. Maybe I can’t hold a three-minute plank (yet?) but I know I can run through “F**ckin’ Perfect” even when I get tired.

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I’m working on it, Pink. Gotta get up and try, and try, and try…