MEMBER PROFILE: Andy Howard

You have a reputation as a very “durable” runner, getting very few injuries and running consistently. But rumor has it you got injured walking to work. How is that possible? 

>I normally commute to work by bicycle, and have done so for nearly 30 years. But my bicycle frame broke in October 2014. So while waiting for my new bike from the Trek factory, I started taking the bus to work. But this included walking up Fountaingrove Parkway to Keysight. Plus, when I took the bus to work, I nearly always walked home, which is 5 miles. Also, I started standing at work instead of sitting (I definitely recommend this if you have a desk job.) So suddenly I was spending a lot more time on my feet than I had been, and plantar fasciitis showed up in one foot. After the Pacific Association championship race in November, I could barely walk. Even five months later, it isn’t completely gone.  May15Howard4

What is the ratio between riding your bike and running? Do you think biking up Fountain Grove Parkway to Keysight improves your running? 

>I don’t know what the ratio is, but probably pretty close to 1:1 in terms of time. My round trip commute is probably 45-50 minutes, and I usually run less than this each day. I think biking does improve my running. It is a good source of background fitness, and there is 0 pounding stress. I think the biking helps your running more for longer races. For shorter races (a mile or less), the intensity from bicycling may be a little too low to provide as much benefit. Of course there is nothing preventing me from trying to ride up Fountaingrove as fast as I can, to get my heart rate up closer to what it is during a race. I think the bicycling improves my up-hill running. Also, Chris Cole, a very talented runner, whom I really respect, thinks that as you get older bicycle training transfers over better to your running. This is because you run slower as you age, so the lower-intensity bicycle training transfers over better to your lower-intensity running.

I didn’t start out intentionally bicycling to train for running. I just knew that bicycling would be (and is) a great way to commute – I can still fit into the same suit I bought in 1984, I save maybe $3000 a year by not owning a car for commuting, it’s great for the environment, and it relieves stress and is fun.

In 2011 you were part of the Senior Men’s XC team that went to the National Championships in Seattle, Washington. Given the fact that it was such an exceptional team, what was the energy of the team members before the race? Tell us about the trip. 

>We had a great time. Don Stewart, Ty Strange, and I had just turned 50, and we had Jonathan Hayden, 54, and Brad Zanetti, 57, as our top 5. Paul Berg, John Harmon, and Larry Meredith also came and competed well. It was great travelling as a group. We knew we were facing the best runners in the country, and I think we were just thinking, “We have nothing to lose. Let’s go out and give it our best shot.” We finished 7th of 17 teams, if I remember correctly. Not bad for the relatively small population that the Empire Runners draw from. I really enjoyed the race, because there were lots of people in it and watching, all along the course. It was very high energy, and I would definitely do it again. Throughout the race, I had people right in front of me or right behind me, so it was easy to maintain a faster pace than I would in a more typical cross country race. The only bad thing about it was that it was 10k, which is a little long for me.

Sometimes they have the national championship race in some cold location like Spokane. Being a wimpy Californian who grew up in Novato, I’m spoiled. I’m always thinking: why go to Kentucky or Pennsylvania in December when we have such mild weather here in California?

Kenwood 10K July 4th, 2014

 I believe you are a Senior Applications Engineer at Keysight Technologies in Santa Rosa. Do you experience much stress at work and does running help you deal with the challenges of working?

>Yes, I am an applications engineer at Keysight. I have worked at Fountaingrove since 1985, except for a year in Japan. I would not say that my job is very stressful. Occasionally I have deadlines I have to meet, but my boss pretty much lets me decide what to work on and how much time to spend on each task. However, running, bicycling, lifting weights, the elliptical, walking, hiking, all forms of exercise reduce stress and get your mind off things. Plus it makes it easier to sleep at night. Exercise is without a doubt the best medicine.

 You’re known as a “middle distance” man and a cross country runner, which seems entirely different. What is it about the 800 meters that you actually like? What did you run in high school / college, and what have you run as a master? 

>I started out in high school as a 440 runner (50.0 as a junior) and moved to the 880 as a senior (1:55.9). I ran cross country in high school just as training for track season. I was pretty fast in the shorter distances, but there were plenty of people faster, which is why I ended up running the 880/800. I like the 880/800 because I was relatively good at it. I continued running the 800 (1:53.6) at UC Berkeley, but was never good enough to make their travelling team. But certainly the training did and does require a lot of speedwork, which is more stressful than going out and running 5 miles, for example.

In 2011, when the Master’s World Championships were in Sacramento, and I had just turned 50, I entered the 800. I made the semi-finals, but finished 16th in 2:12.22. I needed to run about 2:10 to make the final. I think if I had run more races (I only ran 2 before the meet), I might have done better. I think it is somewhat harder to train as a master athlete than as a college or high school runner, because you are probably working full time, may have a family, and may have very little time to train. Plus you frequently have to run on your own without a coach.

It is well known and accepted that people have different body types meaning they will be better suited to certain distances or types of races than others. However, I’m convinced that you can train for specific races or distances, and that if you know your ability and pace yourself correctly, you can tolerate most races.

May15Howard2

How do you compare the “mentality” of a track race versus cross country? How do you adjust your approach? 

>In track races, my goal is almost always to run faster than a particular time. So I want my splits and I want accurate timing results. In cross country races, I’m looking at which competitors are near me, and I’m thinking about how I’ve done against them in previous races. “Tom beat me last race. I’m going to see if I can stay closer to him today and beat him (or at least close the gap.)” My cross country strategy is to be a little conservative in the first half of the race, and then try to be more reckless and aggressive as I get closer to the finish line. I like that they are longer than track races. You have to think a little more and focus longer. I’m an assistant referee for high school soccer. This requires intense concentration, which I think transfers over to my racing. “You can do this. Stay focused. Stay relaxed. You can catch this guy. Let’s push this hill. Just a mile to go. Now just half a mile… OK, someone has caught me, but I’m going to be back, with a vengeance in the final sprint…”

I now find cross country races way more appealing than track races. This is because no matter what you do, past about 35, you are going to keep getting slower. I really enjoy the competition of cross country, the series of races the Pacific Association puts on. Everyone I’m racing against is getting slower from year to year, so I’m sure we’re mostly thinking about competing against each other. Also, I think that longer, slower races (relative to track ones) are easier on your body as you get older.

 Now some important questions. What is your favorite pre cross country race food? What do you consume and how far in advance? What do you recommend? 

>I used to think that racing on an empty stomach was a good thing. Now I’m convinced that eating something 2- 2.5 hours before the race leads to much better results. I try to eat a bowl of oatmeal and half a banana about 2-2.5 hours before a race. It isn’t too much, but I don’t start the race feeling hungry, which would be bad. I think people need to experiment and figure out what works for them. Taking energy gels even closer to the start would probably be good, too.

 And what’s your post race reward? A rueben sandwich? Chocolate ice cream with Oreo crumbles? Be honest. 

>Well, I don’t eat meat anymore, except for fish, and I don’t eat any dairy, either. A Cliff bar or a bowl of granola, or some fruit would be ideal.

I’m curious to hear what other runners do to prepare for races. I think there is a lot of “tribal knowledge” in our club.

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