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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2007-11-11

Hitting The Road… In More Ways Than One
By Darren Carroll

Photo by Nell Carroll

Photo by Nell Carroll

Darren Carroll crosses the Potomac on the Key Bridge just before the 5-mile mark at the 2007 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
I honestly don't know what possessed me to do it, other than the fact that I'd given up a nearly two pack-a-day cigarette habit a few months back and was a little worried about putting on weight. But one day about two years ago I reached into my closet for a ratty old pair of Nikes, dug around for a pair of sweats and a beat-up T-shirt, and started running down my driveway. No experience, no prior training, and, most importantly, no real reason. I just started going. I didn't last long, mind you--I was winded once I got to the front of my neighborhood and had to walk back. Checking it against my car's odometer later, I discovered that I'd managed to go 1.2 miles.

But here's the really crazy part: I did the same thing again two days later. And the next day. And the next. I'd heard about being "bitten by the running bug," but I never believed it. Well, it turns out I'd been bitten, big time. Immersing myself in learning about my new-found addiction in much the same way I plunged into photography geekdom twenty years ago, I began learning about the importance of a professionally-fitted pair of running shoes and the benefits of technical fabrics; about nutrition and things like maximum heart rate and VO2 max. The runs grew longer--three miles, five, then seven. Those few extra pounds I'd been carrying around began to drop off. I physically felt better--that is, I didn't feel like I was ready to drop dead after lugging a 400 around a golf course all day. And I began looking forward to heading outside before dawn for an hour of solitude, jogging under the stars.

Then one day, for reasons as inexplicable as anything else, I thought it might be a good idea to try a marathon. Why the thought popped into my head I'll never know, but it did. Problem: marathons, or so I'd read, require a serious training commitment, and I'm not the kind of person to do things half-assed. It's one thing to jog a few miles a week and then enter the local turkey-trot; 26.2 miles is another beast entirely. The more research I did, the more I cringed at the relative rigidity of the training regimen, assuming I wanted to do this the "right" way: time-consuming long runs combined with interval and speed workouts that had to be optimally spaced throughout the week, with a few other little things sprinkled in here and there. Now, I travel more than 200 days a year--a good deal of it at the last minute. A consistent, predictable schedule and familiar surroundings around which to build a training program aren't exactly luxuries that exist in my world. Thus the challenge: How to train for something like this when you're never home, and, for that matter, don't know where you're going to be?

Photo by

Don't know where to run or how far you'll go? Gmaps Pedometer lets you plan a route and map distance and elevation. Here, an 8-mile run through London, starting at the Marriott Grovesnor Square.
Even if you're "just" running for exercise, the situation is the same if you travel constantly. Long days, different (and sometimes strange) cities, and the vagaries of an unpredictable schedule make it hard to keep at it. There are a few things, though, that can make running on the road much easier...

First, you have to learn to love the treadmill. I know, I know--they're boring, and many hotels have one or two rickety pieces of crap crammed into a broom closet, which they then describe as a "fitness center." But I digress. I hated the damned things--until I began doing interval training. Treadmills are perfect for this, with their ability to program and consistently repeat distances and pace. Learn how treadmills work (yes, there's more to it than hitting "start" and hanging on for dear life), and make it a point to actually factor in the fitness facilities at hotels you stay at. And when it rains (unless you're in Scotland, in which case running through the countryside in a downpour is an enjoyable, if insane, must-do), you'll be happy for the opportunity to stay indoors.

That doesn't change the fact that treadmills are still boring as hell. A few miles at a steady pace on one is enough to put me to sleep faster than a NASCAR race. I don't know about you, but I want to be running outdoors as much as possible. I'd even prefer to do intervals and "speed" workouts on a track if I can; most hotels can direct you to a local high school for something like that. But tracks get old pretty quickly, too. For me, one of the great things about running is the chance it affords me to get out and see a place I've never been to before, or to discover new things about a city I'm in frequently. But that also leads to problem number two: How do you know where to run when you're not familiar with the location?

Fortunately, there are a couple of good resources available on the web. Larger cities have running clubs (Google works well to find them) whose websites often list trails or other routes. Most big cities also have specialty running shops; people who work there are generally more than willing to share local knowledge. There's no better way to see a city than by getting out and running it, and there's no better tool for plotting out a route and tracking your distance than the one at www.gmap-pedometer.com . Simply zoom in on your city, click the "start recording" button, and plot your route. Mile markers pop up automatically, and there's an option to view elevations as well. (A screen shot of my all-time favorite run, and early-morning jaunt through London, is shown above.) Even better, you can overlay satellite photographs on your proposed route, which allows you to find and plot things other than streets--I came up with another route, this one along the Scottsdale canal system, that way.

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Sennheiser MX75 headphones: They're ugly as hell, but that's what makes them work so well (those green discs at the top are what keep them from doing what most other earbuds do: falling out of your ears).
But if your sense of adventure relies less on advance planning and more on letting the road lead you, and if you're a gadget-freak (and let's face it--who isn't?), then do I have a toy for you: the Garmin ForeRunner. It's a GPS receiver and a stopwatch (and, in one iteration, a heart rate monitor) that fits on your wrist. It keeps track of distance, pace, time, calorie burn, and can even tell you what time sunrise and sunset is (and with that, you may have just found a way to write it off as a business expense.). It's one thing to train regularly at home, in familiar surroundings with markers or waypoints to track your distance; this little godsend is the perfect thing for tracking key stats--how far, how fast, and how long--in unfamiliar territory, and doing it in real-time. It's great thing to have with you, say, when you just want to hop on the seaside path in Monterey and see where it goes, but also get in some semblance of a training run.

The benefits of training at home are about more than familiar surroundings, though. Much of the time when I'm home I'm running with a friend/training partner; we chat and catch up on things, which makes the time fly by and the workout seem a little less, well, like work. On the road things are a little lonelier; I find I need a little kick every now and then to distract myself, or help with the pace. This is when I'm thankful for the iPod. A Nano is so small it fits into the pocket of most running shorts; I carry one wherever I go. The problem has always been the headphones. To minimize weight and size, you really need a pair of earbuds; the ones that come with the iPod sound like crap, and 99% of the buds out there have this nasty tendency to fall out or, even worse, die when exposed to a little perspiration. To keep the tunes going, pick up a pair of Sennheiser MX75s. They look just a wee bit strange, and I'd have gone with a slightly less obnoxious shade of neon-lime green were I designing them, but they work like a charm: they sound great, and they don't slip. Anything that can last for 90 minutes on a 104-degree day in Tulsa in August gets my seal of approval.

The other big obstacle you'll encounter is time--or lack thereof. Much of what I do, work-wise, takes the greater part of a day; golf tournaments--particularly the majors--start at sunrise (if not before) and end at dusk. At that point, it's all a matter of shoehorning a run in whenever there's time. 4 a.m. wake-up calls (accompanied by a requisite 10-minute midday nap in the media center) are pretty standard, as are some odd scheduling decisions that make me question my sanity--one that particularly stands out involved shooting the end of the rain-delayed third round of the US Women's Open on a Sunday morning, leaving the course and going for a 12-mile run, and then coming back for the final eighteen holes in the afternoon. You've gotta do what you've gotta do, I guess--but that was a lapse in judgment I hope I'll only make once...

Photo by Darren Carroll

Photo by Darren Carroll

Small enough to take with you everywhere to roll out aches and pains: The Stick.
So, you've found your route, popped in the music, and run your workout. Now comes the fun part--the aftermath. Nagging little aches and pains are part and parcel of doing this but you still have to be able to work afterwards. (When I told one of my editor friends that I was running a marathon the next weekend, her first response was, "You're not working for us next week, are you? No? Good." So much for positive reinforcement.) If your schedule is as crazy as mine, a standing massage appointment, while something I'd highly recommend, is not usually an option. And unless you have one hell of a contract with your clients, I'd suspect you can't exactly expense a trip to your hotel's day spa. While, yes, the ice is free and plentiful at hotels (and trust me, you'll need it), the one invaluable recovery tool I've found is a little gizmo called "The Stick," a rigid series of rollers designed to apply pressure to sore muscles and aid in recovery. Not only does it work amazingly well, it also fits into a carry-on suitcase.

But perhaps the most important thing of all? Rest. Don't overdo it, and don't forget to take a day off. Schedule your running week around your travel schedule, and make your most hectic travel day your off-day. You'll get a well-deserved break, without the guilt of not having run for a day (this is an addiction, remember?).

And finally, hoard those hotel points and frequent flier miles! I'd never run a marathon before I headed to Washington, D.C. two weeks ago, so I didn't factor in how costly doing one of them can be. Four plane tickets (one for me, one for my wife, Nell, to go to the race, and two for her parents to come to Austin to keep an eye on our son) and a weekend at the JW Marriott in Washington made a big dent in the points stash. But that's what they're there for, right? Because it's all worth it in the end. Even if you can barely walk for two days afterwards...


(Frequent Sports Illustrated and Golf Digest contributor Darren Carroll ran this year's Marine Corps Marathon--his first--in 3:38:09.)

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