Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hip-hip . . . hooray?

Tuesday morning was a weird run. The hip soreness seemed no better nor any worse than it was on Sunday and Monday, so I went out for the prescribed 5 miles, minus the strides. It was raining pretty hard, and had been coming down for close to 24 hours. I nonetheless chose a route on the trails through the woods. While it's always a refreshing change of pace to run in the woods, there were at least half a dozen flooded or mostly flooded points. I was wearing my Salomon XA Comp XCR's (right), which are extremely resistant to water coming in, meaning they are equally resistant to letting water out. That means I can't really run through puddles in them because they simply don't drain. I learned that lesson in a similar pair last summer during an epic running club tempo run workout in the midst of an unexpected summer thunderstorm. The sky blackened and the lightning struck within meters of us as we ran through the same trails near my house. 20+ of us gathered under a highway overpass (which bisects the woods, unfortunately) until the worst of the lightning had moved on.

So, the hips made their presence felt, and the conditions made me run the slowest recorded pace in my recent running life. Thanks to the times when I had to hike through the woods around the worst flooding, I think I averaged about 11 minutes per mile. My feet got wet, but not sloshy (I can stand wet, but hate sloshy), and I when I finished I was satisfied to have gotten the run out of the way before anyone at home was even awake.

Today called for 10 miles with 4x1200-meter intervals at 5K pace. Needless to say, no fast running today (or anytime soon, for that matter). I went out with my fast co-worker, Mr. 2:55 Philly, and my hips started to bother me almost immediately. He peeled off (after what must have felt like walking to him) at about mile 3.5, and plugged ahead (without a working Garmin, since the batteries died less than a mile in) until about the 5-mile mark. I was trying out my new CamelBak for the first time, and it was overly-bouncy at all. It was far more convenient to take a pull off the mouthpiece whenever I wanted than to deal with the FuelBelt bottles. I took a single CarbBoom gel at the half-way point, and stopped to stretch a couple of times. Since I had no Garmin (as my friend noted, "Better the Garmin, than your hips"), I'm not sure what my pace was, but I was able to finish the out and back run with a 1+minute negative split. Mapping it online, it looks like I went about 9.9 miles in 1:29, not a terrible effort in light of the state of the hips.

Tomorrow I see my massage therapist for what's sure to be a torturous hour. I'm hoping she has some magic in those strong hands which will help me get to (and then through) this weekend's 22-miler. Then I'll be able to relax, cut my distance, hopefully re-introduce some controlled intensity and taper my way to Burlington on May 25th.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Most of the Enchilada

Saturday - An Easy 5 on the Trails

Having shuffled Mr. Pfitzinger's schedule to conform to the reality of an ailing (and aging) body, I picked up running again after three complete rest days. I did an easy 5+ miles on the trails on Saturday (coming out of the woods behind the school's chapel, as seen on the left), and - truth be told - it wasn't a great run. Despite the fact that it was a glorious morning (the kind where the hat and gloves ended up tucked into my shorts because it got into the 50's unexpectedly), my hips bothered me some, and my HR was high for the easy pace I was running. I could definitely feel the ache for the rest of the day, but tried stretching, icing and foam rolling.

The day's highlight turned out to be my six-year old son's first AA baseball game. I think they managed two innings in this coach-pitch match-up between two well-oiled baseball machines (throat clearing noise here). Actually, it was adorable, as kids from 5-7 years old mixed it up on a nice, cool, sunny Spring morning. Everyone bats until he/she gets a hit, and the fielders go through the motions, but outs are not recorded. Despite never actually seeming to slide into a base, dive for a ball in the field or otherwise lay himself out for the sake of athletic glory, somehow my boy's pristine white uniform (#1) ended up filthy from top to bottom. Kids are quite talented that way.

Sunday - What Would It Be?

Because I viewed the 17-miler with 14 at marathon pace as perhaps THE key workout of the 18-week plan, I was nervous about whether I'd even be able to attempt it, much less complete it. I hung out with my son this morning, taking him to the indoor athletic field during the morning's 40+-degree drizzle. He took batting practice, played catch, he ran some laps on the 1/10-mile track (he's "training" to run the kids' 1-mile fun run in Burlington on marathon weekend), I stretched. It's always great to be with him one-on-one; we just connect better and he doesn't pine for his mom as he does when she's around.

By the time my wife and youngest daughter got home from a birthday party, it was almost 1:00 p.m., and the rain had mostly stopped. Temps were in the high 40's/low-50's, which was perfect. The wind picked up at times, but never for too long. I put the NB 903's on for the second time, this time with my orthotics, and they felt great . . . mostly. The new Injinji socks felt a bit odd, but once I got used to the feeling of having each toe individually wrapped, they felt good, too.

I set out on a charted out-and-back through the least hilly area I can find around home. It's still far from flat, but the ascents are usually less than a hundred feet per mile, instead of some of the less forgiving options. By running every side street and cul-de-sac in a certain neighborhood, I can get nearly 8 miles out of what would otherwise be a less-than-four-mile route.

Tried to start with a single warm-up mile, but, just like last time I set out to run MP, I drifted into the MP zone. I took that as a sign that my body was ready to go, and went for the 7:50-7:55/mile target pace. Amazingly, my HR was lower at sub-8:00 pace today than it was at 9:00+ pace yesterday. The first few MP miles felt great, though I slowed on the uphills and had to make myself not run 7:30-ish on the flats and downhills. I could feel my hips (especially the right one), but they weren't really slowing me down. That is, until I'd run 6.43 miles, when I felt a stab in right hip that made me think not only that this run was over, but also that I might need to reassess Burlington. Trying to be the new "pseudo-Zen" me, I did not panic. I stopped, stretched, massaged the hip HARD and started running again at the fastest pace I could hold.

The setback and an extended uphill slowed me down to close to an 8:20/mile pace, but I continued to press on and got the pace down again to sub 8:00-minute miles. I decided that there was no point risking injury to push through for the full 14 miles at MP, so I got to 10 and then slowed down. Interestingly, the easy running didn't feel much better, I think because I'd been concentrating more fully on my stride length and leg turnover during the MP and the "light touch" of my feet on the ground somehow put less stress on the sore hips/glutes.

Total for the run was 15 miles, with 10 at or near MP. All things considered, I'll take it, though it was less than I'd set out to do (i.e., not the "whole enchilada").

Due to the seemingly drastic nature of the hip issue, I took the equally drastic post-run measure of immersing myself in the first ice bath in a long time. If distance running is a masochist's pursuit, then the ice bath just heaps the insult onto the injury. My 4-year old daughter got way into it, and said that she'd like to be in the bathroom with me so that she could say "brrrrrrrr" as I soaked in the 40-degree tub. She was true to her word, and I actually appreciated her company. She put her hand into the tub for about 5 secs and then said it was all "tingly". That's how everything below my waist felt until it went numb.

A lukewarm shower and I was good-to-go for a family candlepin bowling outing with my wife and kids. It was the end of their April vacation week, and we wanted to do something fun, since we didn't go away this year. They chose candlepin bowling, and kooky New England leisure pursuit with small balls and small pins. Strikes are nearly impossible and spares only slightly less rare. My oldest daughter beat me by one pin in a sudden-death bowl-off. My wife - usually the ringer of the family - had an off-night.

The week calls for the following mileage (note that I'm not doing any speedwork until the hip is 100%):

  • Mon - XT (elliptical, core & weights)
  • Tues - 5M (w/6x100 strides)
  • Wed - 10M (skipping intervals)
  • Thurs - XT/rest
  • Fri - 10M
  • Sat - 4-5M
  • Sun - 22M (schedule calls for 20)

Final note is that Passover ended today at sundown, so it's back to the full-range of carbo-fueling options between now and race day.

If you read this whole post, thank you (though you should have better things to do).


Friday, April 25, 2008

Nothing Is Hard

In order to understand the title of this post, you have to read with the correct inflection. That would be either, (A) Nothing IS hard, or (B) NOTHING is hard [follow with a short sigh]. By "nothing", I mean doing nothing.

Those around me surely realize that I've been a bit of a crank for the past three days. That's due to some general life stress, trying to keep kosher for passover (mostly) despite poor planning and forcing myself to take three days off from all exercise to rest my hurting hips/glutes. Another reason it's been tough is because the weather has been so beautiful. When I resume running tomorrow (Saturday), it's supposed to get cool and cloudy. That's still fine, but it's been gorgeous and sunny every day this week, even if we still can go from 30's in the early morning to 80 at midday. Yesterday after my son's baseball practice, it was around 60, the sun was setting and the woods beckoned. My wife even gave me the green light, but I stood (the key word) firm and stayed in.

So, with my hips feeling better, I'll venture out for 5-6 easy miles on the trails tomorrow, and then try the 17-miler with 14 at goal marathon pace on Sunday. Still wrestling with the decision about which shoes to wear (I sound like I'm dressing for a formal event): the tried and true but heavy Asics Kayano stability trainers or the new lightweight New Balance 903's (which I happened to try once on the day that my hips finally had had enough, so I now have a negative association with them; like the time I had a pre-existing stomach bug, but ate Indian food and made that causal connection, resulting in no Indian food for about a year). I may plan an 8+-mile loop near home, wear the NB's and decide whether to change shoes mid-stream.

It's been weird not to run, lift or cross-train for three days (I've done easy stretching), which is the first time I've done that (other than having the flu) since the days after the Chicago Marathon last fall. I hope to feel tomorrow & on Sunday that it's been worth (it), which I know it has.

I'll post again after Sunday's run. The Big Man offered to join me (maybe) on Sunday, but I really don't want company on this particular run, since I want to focus almost exclusively on feeling and holding the right pace. I'm looking for the flattest (or at least the least hilly) options near home, so I can work on finding the pace and holding it. I'm telling myself that I can't lose, since it'll either work out fine and boost my pre-marathon confidence or will be a total struggle and tell me to relax my goal a bit.

Still telling myself that anything under 3:35 is okay, under 3:30 very good, under 3:25 fantastic. I have to eradicate that annoying little voice which says, "Pssssssst, buddy, go for the BQ; you can do it." That would be a colossal error in judgment, which I'd like to avoid on this go-round. Chicago is where it started last year, and Chicago is where I hope to cross the finish line having earned a "ticket" (self-funded, of course) to Boston.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Tale of the Tape

There are numerous ways to judge the degree of my running obsession. One of those is the fact that I have now recorded the entire local coverage of the Boston Marathon for two years in a row. While I did not sit down to watch all 5 1/2 hours of it (how could I watch for longer than it'd take me to run the course), I did watch a fair amount.

In 2007, the story was the weather, with a terrible nor'easter putting the race on the brink of its first-ever cancellation. In 2008, the weather was nearly-perfect, so the stories became about whether Robert Cheruiyot (below left) could repeat as champion and notch his fourth overall Boston victory (he did, despite recent political instability and violence in his native Kenya).

The women's race saw the closest Boston finish ever, with Dire Tune of Ethiopia (below) winning by 2 seconds over Russian Alevtina Biktimirova, with the two women trading the lead down the final stretch, until Tune found the extra gear and sprinted away from a valiantly pursuing Biktimirova.

One element of Boston 2008 which received a lot of coverage was the participation of a former cycling star by the name of Lance Armstrong. Having shaved nearly 14 minutes from his first marathon effort (NYC in 2006), Lance clocked 2:46 at New York in 2007 to rightfully earn a spot in Boston. It may be worth noting that a review of online chatter about Lance - at least within the running community - reveals that he seems to inspire strong feelings of admiration or resentment in many people. Personally, I respect his accomplishments (especially having dated Sheryl Crow!) and appreciate his participation in our sport and his apparently healthy respect for the marathon as an event on par with road cycling in terms of the physical and mental challenges involved. I don't fawn over the guy, knowing that he puts on his knee-length Nike running shorts (for which he's paid millions to wear) one leg at a time. Nor do I knock him for his celebrity, his myriad public appearances or the "special treatment" he gets wherever he goes.

Against that backdrop, I'd like to share my befuddlement at the fact that as I watched Lance finish the Boston Marathon on Monday - in an excellent time of 2:50 - the BAA put out a special finish-line tape just for him (see below).

Breaking the tape is an honor reserved for the winners of a sporting event. It's that black-and-white. And while a marathon with nearly 22,000 finishers is likely to have nearly 22,000 compelling stories, none of those stories justifies special treatment during the event, including at the finish line. Imagine Robert Cheruiyot finishing the Tour de France well behind Lance in Paris, only to have a special finish-line ceremony to recognize his "accomplishment". It'd be ridiculous and would deservedly result in the public criticizing the orchestrators of such a scene.

To his credit, Lance appeared a bit confused and even embarrassed when he was steered towards the right of the finish area to break his own tape. I have not found any primary authority (e.g., Lance himself or BAA officials) to explain the BAA's rationale for this obvious photo op/publicity stunt. I would like to know what was going through the officials' minds, and why - if this fabricated image was so important - they didn't just stage the photo op a little bit later outside the main finishing area.

While Lance deserved a finisher's medal, a hearty pat on the back and praise for running a very respectable time on the tough Hopkinton to Boston course, he simply did not deserve his own tape. Perhaps the 4 winners of Men's & Women's Open & Wheelchair divisions are too gracious and secure in their own accomplishments to have felt slighted, but that's exactly what the BAA did by making this special arrangement for the 496th-place finisher, whatever his non-running accomplishments.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Acute Bostonitis

When I turned 30, I was a competitive recreational (if that makes sense) soccer player. I ran a few times a week, usually 3-4 miles, lifted weights once or twice a week and played soccer anywhere from 1 to 3 times a week. I knew some distance runners, would hear about marathon training, marveled at how anyone could run 20 miles, not to mention any more than that. At the not-so-surprise 30th birthday party which my wife threw for me, I half-jokingly told a friend who was thinking about running a marathon that I would like to run Boston when I am 40. Well, 40 arrives this year, and I have my sights squarely set on lining up at the starting line in Hopkinton, Massachusetts for the 113th running of the Boston Marathon.

While having this tangible, concrete goal is mostly a good thing, running shouldn't be driven exclusively by some such objective. Despite how much I think about getting to Boston, obtaining the coveted "BQ" (Boston qualifying time) of 3:20:59 and generally about the experience of lining up with 25,000 similarly "committed" runners, I do enjoy running for the sake of running. Getting faster also helps keep me motivated, but the sheer feeling of moving through the world on the power of nothing more than one's own two feet is unlike any other. Sometimes when we drive around town and I tell my kids or my wife that I've run by a certain area, they can't believe that I got there from home on foot. Yesterday my almost-seven year old son was surprised when I told him I'd run 10 miles on Sunday. "Only 10? You usually run 15 or more, right?" His little sister (4 years old) chimed in to ask whether I'd ever run "googleplex" miles, a popular modifier around the house these days. I told her that I hadn't.

However, I will confess here and now that despite all of the nobility of distance running, the proud tradition, the healthful benefits, the new community upon which I've happened, getting to Boston is what motivates me above anything else. It gets me out the door during the darkest winter mornings. It renders acceptable the sacrifices in terms of sleep, work, family, friends and everything else that I've been willing to give up in furtherance of this goal. I know it's largely vanity and self-glorification; I know it means nothing to anyone but me; I know I could stop training and spend more time with my wife & kids, or do more community service or get a better night's sleep more often.

But I am wired with obsessive tendencies, and the athletic part of the tendencies which used to focus on soccer now focus on running. And by that I mean actually running; keeping abreast of the latest & acquiring lots of running gear; reading about running; watching elites run; talking to other runners; blogging about running . . . I think you get the idea. I actually recorded all 5 1/2 hours of the local coverage of the Boston Marathon, and watched a fair amount of it.

Though she might disagree, I do understand that it must annoy my wife to no end that I am this interested in something she finds not only boring, but an affront to her very nature. She cannot conceive of why running is enjoyable, and simply does not value it as a leisure pursuit. She does get the goal-setting and need for exercise aspects of the whole thing, but it's simply not her cup of tea. This is the kind of thing that every so often keeps me up at night, because I hope not to have to choose between running and family. Of course, I would choose my family, but being forced into that choice could easily render me a resentful old coot, embittered by having been denied a chance to chase his dream.

So, I spent too much time online following the Boston marathon. I worked too long on my blog. I got less done than I'd have liked. But I have an itch that seems to need a daily scratch, and I plan to keep doing it.

Looking at the bigger personal picture, my sense is that if my body (and my marriage) hold up, I'll get to Boston and then settle into a better groove, where running is simply a part of my life, one which does not require incessant chatter and endless head-spinning in order to be satisfying.My dream vision for the next 10 years or so is to qualify for Boston, re-qualify at Boston every year, then decide whether to do other marathons without the same finishing time pressures, maybe focus on shorter stuff, run an ultra, think about triathlons or do whatever I want with the baseline fitness which running has given me. Doubt I'll ever be one of the daily running streakers, but who knows.

Injury Update

I went out this morning for an easy 8 miles, but my right hip was not especially cooperative. I struggled, stopping to stretch a few times (and once to use a port-a-john which has thankfully returned to a local baseball park) and generally trying to get through it. I ended up running a very slow 6.6. miles, mostly because I was about 3 miles away from home when I realized that I was hurting too much to continue.

The plan now is to take at least 2 or 3 days off from running, using the bike & elliptical machine to minimize fitness loss, and focus on getting to Sunday's 17-miler in good enough shape to run 14 of those miles at goal marathon pace (7:50-7:55 per mile). There's no choice here but to listen to my body, as the two long runs before I taper are the key remaining workouts. If they're the cake, the rest is mostly icing. In a marathon, it's the cake that will get you to the finish line. Too much icing on too little cake might leave you brokenhearted somewhere around mile 20, a cruelly long way to have gone for one's marathon dreams to vanish into thin air.

Hope your running is going better than mine at the moment.


From Trials to Trails

It's one thing to get up at 5:00 a.m. on a weekend to get one's own run in, but - as my wife thinks - it's another to do so to watch other people run, even if those people are aspiring Olympians. Yet Sunday was a day I will remember for a long time. A friend and I headed down to Boston to watch the U.S. Women's Olympic Marathon Trials. It was a phenomenally exciting, rewarding experience, on a beautiful spring day.

Not knowing exactly where we were - though we had a sense of where we wanted to be - my friend and I navigated by feel until we ended up in Cambridge at the MIT campus. We parked about two blocks from one of the the optimal viewing sites, near the Mass Ave. bridge, where we could watch the women come by anywhere from 6 to 12 times. A cool breeze blew off the Charles River, the sun shone brilliantly and rowing sculls passed by every so often. The crowd thickened as the morning went on, and the noise level grew as the race took shape with each passing lap. The red-clad Saucony ladies handed out cow bells to enhance the cheering experience.

While the first lap saw the field spaced pretty close together, the contenders separated themselves pretty quickly. In a bit of a surprise to virtually all of us who follow elite women's marathoning, pre-race favorite Deena Kastor (below) did not blaze out to an unchallenged lead. In fact, at one point, early leader Magdalena Lewy Boulet (right) had a two-minute lead on Deena, who stayed with the chase pack before making her move in the final stages of the race. Deena, however, is the undisputed Queen of U.S. long-distance running, and she trusted her training and experience enough to make her move, pass Magdalena, and run alone to the finish line, down Boylston Street through throngs of screaming fans.

During the race, I saw many "familiar" faces, women I'd seen in other races (where I ran, but much slower) and profiled in Runner's World or Running Times. It was great to watch Elva Dryer, Kate O'Neil (who apparently dropped out around mile 21), Desiree Ficker, Mary Akor, and many others. I would note that one glaring oversight by Trials organizers was that they did NOT print the runners' names on their race bibs. While we may have known the well-publicized elites, it would have been great to cheer for the lesser-known runners by name. Many races do this, including most top-level competitions. Still, it was fascinating to see all the different shapes and sizes, the weathered veterans and the budding youngsters, and to note the variety of running styles and forms. Of course, perhaps the most transcendent story of the day developed far behind the leaders. Hunched forward, right leg kicking out awkwardly, elbows seeming to be knocking invisible rivals out of the way, 50-year old Joan Benoit Samuelson, an undisputed running legend who won the Gold Medal at the inaugural Women's Olympic Marathon in 1984, ran her final competitive marathon, setting a U.S. age-group record for women aged 50-54, finishing in 2:49:08. Her pre-race goal: to run sub-2:50 at age 50. Amazing.

One of my most cherished moments was when Emily LeVan, the top Maine finisher at last year's Beach to Beacon 10K gave me a big smile as I cheered her by name. Though she finished in the bottom half of the pack, she should be extremely proud to have gotten to the starting line. You may read Runner's World's coverage of her story here. Also, please check out her Maine Children's Cancer Program fundraising site at Rarely has a simple domain name managed to capture the essence of one family's major life challenges in the broader context of an issue that cannot be overemphasized. Her story will simultaneously dishearten and inspire you.

Okay, okay . . . since this blog does not pretend to be anything resembling actual journalism, I'll stop now and let you read more about the women's marathon trials here.

After watching the first 10 or so finishers, my friend and I navigated the closed roads and huge crowds so that he could pick up his Boston Marathon race packet. He qualified with a 2:55 in Philadelphia, but a foot injury stopped his training cold and he decided to defer running Boston until he could train properly. He thinks he could run under 2:45 if he trains well. His wife and soon-to-be-born first child may have something to say about that.

At the Expo, things went from exciting to overwhelming rather quickly, as thousands crowded into the Hynes Convention Center. The Expo was okay, though everything was expensive, the lines to pay were long, and the whole thing was anti-climactic for me since I have not yet qualified to run Boston myself. I turn 40 this year, and hope to run Boston in 2009, the lucky 113th running of the world's greatest road race.

My Status Report

This is the day's secondary running story (at least for me). Although my hip is still pretty sore, I decided to run once I got back from Boston. The inspiration and motivation from watching the Trials simply overpowered me. I slipped on my waterproof Salomon XCR trail runners, did a five-mile road loop, then headed into the woods for another five miles for the first time this year. The temperature felt perfect, with a warm sun accompanied by a cool breeze. I stopped to stretch a couple of times, and managed the 10 miles without too much pain, though I could feel the ache with nearly every step. It was worth it, though, to get back on the trails, which help to restore my running soul. I ran through inches of dried leaves, into mud and on a foot or more of lingering snow. It didn't matter, since it was wonderful to be off the road, running free (if slow) and knowing that many more such days lie ahead.

As I write this, my left hip feels better, but my right hip is a little more sore. I'm going to keep up the easy running, icing and stretching this week, but will try to stick with my plan's mileage, which calls for the following:
  • Monday - XT/core/stretch
  • Tuesday - 8M, with 5x600 at 5K pace (will skip and maybe do a tempo run instead)
  • Wednesday - 11M
  • Thursday - XT/core/stretch
  • Friday - 4-5M
  • Saturday - 8K-15-K race (will likely just run 8+ miles easy)
  • Sunday - 17M, but if I'm healthy, I'll try to the 14M MP run here, since it's critical for judging my pre-race fitness

Thanks for reading, and happy running to all.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Cause for Concern?

The training plan called for 12 miles today, a distance I've been banging out lately without too much thought. Acknowledging that my hips are sore, I thought I might cut it back a bit,perhaps to 10, or even 8. With that mindset as I set out on a beautiful morning, I was disappointed to feel such an acute pain in my left hip (the one which has never bothered me before), that I stopped after a mile to stretch, then turned around less than a half-mile later. I logged a little under 3 miles, and ran straight into the gym, where I did 45 minutes on the elliptical machine, which didn't cause the flaring pain on each step that I experienced while running.

I'm not exactly panicking (yet!), but I'd be lying if I didn't admit being a bit nervous about missing key mileage and especially Sunday's goal marathon pace run. I will stretch, ice and foam roll tonight, try a few easy miles on the nice soft trails tomorrow and then play Sunday's run by ear. I can't imagine being able to run that far at MP, but I'd like see where I am. If I'm too sore to do it this weekend, I may throw 10 or more MP miles into the following Sunday's 17-mile run.

Hope you're running healthy and strong, and good luck to all my friends, forum-mates and others who are running the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 21st.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yes, Body, I hear You!

For those who read the "Et Tu, Gluteus" Post earlier this week, I would like to offer an update. As I tried to stick with the program yesterday, my hips said, "No, thank you" (rather emphatically, I might add) towards the end of the third 1000-meter interval. Since my 5K pace is now just a hair over 6:20/mile, I sought to run my intervals at that pace (after a 3-mile warm-up at about an 8:20 pace). The first one was fine (6:17), with some noticeable soreness, but nothing too rough. The second one was harder, and I ended up running at around a 6:30 pace. I told myself I'd finish the third one and then just run easy to get the day's 9 miles in. However, the soreness crossed the line into the realm of actual pain, so I bailed about 2/3 of the way through that third one. I ended up running only 7 of the 9 miles, figuring that I need to be smart and make sure that I recover so that I can hit the next key run, the big 17-miler with 14 at goal marathon pace, scheduled for Sunday. At least I was out there for nearly an hour on a glorious spring day.

I've been trying to stretch my hips/glutes, but I'm definitely hurting (though not "hurt", a crucial distinction at this point). Today's plan is either some easy elliptical or stationary bike, core work and stretching.

Tomorrow's scheduled 12-miler may become 10, or 8, depending on how things feel. Saturday, I'm going to see how the trails in the woods near my house are doing in terms of lingering snow and muddiness.

By the way, I did run in the NB 903's yesterday. The jury is still out on them as a marathon shoe. They felt comfy enough, but the toe box is a little bit big, and I needed to lace them really tight to get them to feel "fast" on my feet. I also forgot my orthotics, so that was a bonehead move in terms of trying out new, lightweight shoes while doing speed work with already-sore hips. Running may make you healthier, but - at least in my case - not sure it makes you smarter.

Cheers, ESG

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Personal Record

A couple of months ago, I submitted a piece for Runner's World's "Personal Record" column, where ostensibly "ordinary" runners write about the own running experiences, usually gleaning some greater lesson from the pursuit of our beloved sport. I assume that the prospects of my piece ever appearing in the magazine are slim to none, so, Got Lactate? readers (or reader?), you get the scoop first. Please comment as to whether the reflection is any good, or just a mindless ramble which does nothing more than spout a simple and cliched message.

Thanks in advance, ESG

A Blissful Lack of Hindsight
By _______________

As we rounded the last turn in our running club's spring two-mile time trial, we both dug deep, looking to finish strong. Despite giving it my all, I could not catch him, and crossed the finish line a few seconds behind. The clock's big yellow-green display gave me the news: 12:07, with the final four laps my first sub-six-minute mile. I beamed, while my running club mate - five years my senior - hung his head and wheezed, "To think, that used to be my half-marathon pace."

In the year-plus since I went from casual fitness runner to devoted (obsessed?) distance runner, I've enjoyed great improvement. My first-ever "long" run was a laborious 7-miler where I walked several times and used three packets of energy gels. Now that distance - run about 90 seconds per mile faster than that first time -is a common recovery run between longer, harder efforts. My race times have also improved, though the PR's aren't coming as fast and furiously as they did at first.

Every time I hit a new benchmark, though - whether a faster pace, longer distances, or newfound training consistency - I feel like I'm venturing into uncharted territory. The sense of accomplishment is wonderful. As a still-new runner, I'm on my way up. On this climb, I've noticed that I'm now running with others who feel that their running careers are following the opposite trajectory.

Thanks to having found this wonderful sport later than many others, I have no glory racing days about which to wax nostalgic. I can't regale anyone with tales of my college PRs, the crazy 20-milers in summer heat with no fluids, the multiple races in a single week - or a single day. But the beauty of taking up running while staring down middle age is that I have plenty of personal glory ahead. For me, an age group award is a cause for celebration, not a consolation prize. For many of my running brethren, though, they see themselves on a slow, painful decline from their days of peak fitness and superior speed.

As one former collegiate runner friend told me, he's moved to the half-marathon and marathon because he knows he'll never come close to his college PR's at shorter distances, his near-15-minute 5K a relic of personal history. Others have ventured into the world of ultras or triathlons or adventure racing, using their fitness to try new events and set a new slew of PR's. In the meantime, I'll continue to consider 40 miles a week to be a solid base, while others lament that they can "only" run 60 or they'll get injured. It's all still fresh to me, and I think (hope?) I have a few years to improve at every distance, before the inevitable equalizer of age starts to make me slow down.

It seems that the primary complaint of the middle-aged - whether talking about career, personal relationships or hobbies - is the common "ruts" in which we find ourselves. Routine may be comfortable, but it can also deaden one's senses, stifle creativity and squelch the wonderful feeling that comes from trying new things, taking on new challenges, testing and surpassing our perceived limits.

While taking up running may not be for everyone, doing something new when you might think you're too old to will inevitably surprise you. You may not end up being the best, but you will certainly be the best you've ever been. And that will help you see yourself in a very positive new light.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Et tu, Gluteus?

Well, there's good news on the sore hip front. Anyone who undertakes a serious physical training regimen (for whatever sport or other pursuit) needs to be in tune with his/her body. You get to know the idiosyncrasies of how your joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, heart and mind all work together. You might learn that a nagging injury will always lurk in the background, but won't cause you too much trouble if you don't overdo it. Or, you may realize that a sore knee will work itself out as peripheral muscles loosen up during a long run. When you get a completely new pain, though, it's easy to panic. I have avoided panicking since my hips got sore in an entirely new place, not in front (psoas), but on the side, about 2/3 of the way back towards my . . . um, er . . . butt. When the pain hit me during Saturday's time trial, I was bummed out, but when the run was over and I realized that my left hip hurt, too, I was very happy and relieved. Weird, huh?

The thought process was that symmetrical running injuries are essentially unknown. I am no expert, but in general terms, running injuries tend to be attributable to imbalances or asymmetries in the body. I know that the left groin tear I suffered in 2005 is likely what pulled my hips out of alignment, which has caused the nagging hip and other problems on my right side.

I discussed this with my chiropractor today, and he agreed. He said my glutes (gluteus medius and maximus, see diagram above) are strained from the recent increase in speed work, and that I can train through it (if the pain level allows) without risking injury. He did recommend extra stretching and foam rolling, so we'll see how this affects tomorrow's scheduled 9 miles, with 5x1000 repeats at 5K pace. That will mean that I will run another 5K race effort, albeit with a 2-minute rest after every 1000 meters. If my hips let me, I'm going for it. If not, I'll back off on pace, distance, number of repetitions and/or some combination of the three. One challenge tomorrow is that my schedule dictates that I do the speed work first thing in the morning, but it's tough to run that fast that early, and temps will reach the 60's later in the day.

This morning I got through my 8-miler at a constant pace, a little under 9-minute miles, and enjoyed another lovely sunrise. The hips announced their presence, but it was as if they merely wanted me to know they are around, with no desire to be heard or to otherwise influence the day's course of events. It was colder than I would have liked for a mid-April morning (mid-20's when I went out at 5:00 am), but I dressed warmly and had no problems with my ears, hands or feet. I simply cannot wait until early morning is the best part of the day to run.

One last note: I received a brand new pair of New Balance 903's in today's mail. They are a sub-10-ounce stability shoe, and I hope that they are the answer to my quest for the perfect balance (no pun intended) between weight and stability for my over-pronating stride. I've been a hard-core Asics loyalist since I got serious about running, but - like Goldilocks - my Kayanos are too heavy, my DS Trainers are too light, and they don't seem to have the "just right" marathon shoe for me. Here's an image of the NB 903's (they look way cooler live):

Tomorrow I'll know how they feel during speed work, and I'll likely try them in incrementally longer distances to see if they give me the support I need. The idea of shaving off 3 ounces per step during the course of a full marathon is extremely appealing. I estimate that I'll take 165 steps per minute, and it will take me around 210 minutes to run 26.2 miles, equaling 34650 strides. Multiplying the 3-ounce savings by that many steps, I will be saving myself close to 6,500 pounds (yes, pounds!) worth of effort during the marathon. Heady stuff. Looking at it that way, I sure hope that these shoes turn out to fit the bill.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Me, Myself & I

Looking back on my huge weekend of April 5-6, I realized that it was the first time I could remember running with company on two consecutive days. On Saturday, amidst 300 runners, I set a 5K PR. On Sunday, I ran my first "fully accompanied" long run ever. This past weekend was much more solitary, and I think the "results" show that there's definitely strength in numbers.


This past Saturday, my training plan called for an 8-15K race (5 to almost 10 miles). I had made a commitment long ago to teach a seminar, and thus a race was not an option. I concocted a crazy scheme where I had convinced a very fast co-worker (former 2:44 marathoner and 34:00 10K runner, who now prefers cycling for non-impact exercise) to pace me to a 10K PR in a simulated race setting. Things didn't quite work out that way, and here's a list of reasons (equal parts explanations and excuses) why:
  • My colleague backed out on me when the weather unexpectedly turned nice (forecast called for 40's & rain) and instead it was sunny and almost 70
  • The 68-degree temps when I set out at 4:45 pm was about 20-30 degrees warmer than what I've been running
  • It was an awkward time of day for me to run
  • By mile 3, my nagging hip problem flared up (I assume because it was my 3rd day of fast running in the past 8, a lot for me)
  • I felt dehydrated
  • Just around the 4-mile mark, I was chased by a small pug, whose little-girl owner freaked out (since it was darting in & out of traffic on a pretty busy street), so I stopped to help her catch the dog

I did what I could to salvage the effort by running the time trial through 5 miles (a hair over 8K, which was the minimum prescribed race distance). I finished the last 0.75 or so mile at the local track, and my splits were as follows:

  • Mile 1 - 6:55 (virtually all a slight to moderate uphill)
  • Mile 2 - 6:39 (some downhill)
  • Mile 3 - 6:54 (flat & uphill; hip flared up)
  • Mile 4 - 6:48 (running time; stopped watch for the dog chase incident)
  • Mile 5 - 6:17 (was kind of mad, and used the track as noted above)

New (unofficial) 5-mile PR = 33:33. Last year, my best 8K race time (on essentially the same course, but run in the opposite direction) was 34:20-something.

The only thing that bummed me out about this run is the sore hip, which had not been a real issue during this whole cycle. It seems okay during slower-paced running, but I have 5 scheduled speed-work sessions left in this training program, and wonder whether to tone them down. The good news is that I don't think I'm "injured", per se, just hopefully sore from the exertion (and possible from not stretching enough before & after). We'll see what wonders my chiropractor can work on me.


Marathon training certainly brings new meaning to the old adage of "no rest for the weary", especially when following some of the more demanding schedules. Sunday called for 17 miles, which I set out to do solo, as has been my custom over the past year-and-a-half. I chose a twist on a familiar route, which made for an ugly first 6 miles on a trafficky, industrial road (but it was pretty flat, if quite windy), but then I hit the hilly, woodsy area which made it worthwhile. I was definitely stiff & sore, but it didn't seem to affect my stride or pace, so the run was pretty manageable. The weather had changed back to cool, cloudy, misty conditions, with temps in the low- to mid-40's, not bad for a long run. I wore shorts, a long-sleeve tech top and my favorite running vest, which protects against wind in the front, but has a mesh back to avoid overheating. A light hat and convertible mittens made me pretty comfortable.

My running "companions" were podcasts featuring Steve Runner, who described the state of the Boston Marathon course for this year's race, and Ira Glass, hosting an excellent installment of This American Life, about how families never really change. It was TAL at its best: funny, poignant, sad, thought-provoking, perfect listening for a mellow long run.

At about mile 9, I stopped at a small country store to refill my water bottles and encountered one of the members of my running club. He's a 65 year-old longtime runner looking to get back to Boston (he ran it 17 times in his 40's and 50's). We ran together for about 3 miles (he was out for 8 as he nurses a hamstring injury) and he shared racing stories and training advice. We parted ways and I then ran into another guy from the club, finishing up his own extra hilly 8-miler as he prepares for an insane June race, the Mount Washington Road Race, 7.6 miles STRAIGHT UP the highest mountain in the northeastern U.S. The more my running chums describe it to me, the less desire I have to do it, though it certainly falls into the "unforgettable running experience" category.

I didn't pay too much attention to my pace on Sunday, but did push it a bit in the last 4 miles or so, where I ran between 8:30 and 8:45 per mile. The overall pace for the run was just over 9:00/mile. Though I felt tired, I felt readily able to run faster and longer if I'd had to, which is a pretty good feeling given where I am in my training right now.


Here's this week's planned schedule:

  • Monday - cross-train/weights/core/stretching
  • Tuesday - 8M (General Aerobic)
  • Wednesday - 9M, with 5x1000 at 5K pace (depending on the hip)
  • Thursday - Cross-train & stretch
  • Friday - 12M
  • Saturday - 5M
  • Sunday - 17M, with 14M at goal marathon pace (to be done in Boston after the women's Olympic Marathon Trials - separate post to follow)

Total mileage = 51 miles.

Hope everyone's week goes well. Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Year's First "Runrise"

Today is April 9, 2008, and despite running five days a week since the beginning of the year, this was the first day where I got to watch the sun rise during my run. I've been out pre-dawn many times since embarking on this 18-week training plan on January 21st, but most of those runs were relatively short, and the sun wasn't rising until well after I was done. Today was a different story, though.

I got up at 4:30 (having gotten back a little before 7:00 pm yesterday after doing intervals with my running club), took a caffeinated gel (I've switched from Gu's to CarbBoom because the Vermont City Marathon serves them and they seem to be gentler on my stomach), drank some water, got my gear on and then encountered an iPod-related problem.

The plan was to run with the latest episode of Phedippidations, Steve Runner's awesome running podcast, where he profiles running legend Kathrine Switzer. Kathrine was the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with an official number (despite the fact that race officials did not know she was a she when she signed up as K.V. Switzer). The race was memorable not for her time (a respectable but "mortal" 4:20+; she'd eventually run a 2:51 personal best), but for the race officials' reactions and media commotion which followed. One of the most famous images in running is where Boston Marathon co-Race Director Jock Semple grabs Switzer and tries to rip her official race number off of her sweatshirt. Switzer's ex-linebacker boyfriend stands up for her and sends Semple flying out of the way. All the while, Switzer just runs like hell. Here's the sequence of what happened:

I managed to get the episode to load onto my old 2mb Nano, and was out the door just after 5:00. BTW, if you are a runner and have somehow - by some bizarre twist of fate - stumbled upon this blog before finding Phedippidations, do yourself a favor and download an episode or two. I promise you'll be hooked. Steve has tackled everything from running legends to race reports to nutrition and physiology and many, many more topics of interest to runners. He also has a wonderfully self-deprecating sense of humor, and he shares precious family interactions, especially with his teenage son. Running with Steve is like running with an interesting friend who does all the talking; you can keep plugging along without having to hold up your end of the conversation.

Today's forecast calls for high temps in the 60's, so I thought I could dress in what I call "winter-lite" gear. I wore a thin Sugoi running beanie and some lightweight Nike fleece gloves, along with a Sugoi tech-fleece, running pants, and all my reflective regalia. My body was okay during the run, but my face and hands got very cold, as it was actually in the mid- to upper-20's during most of the run. As I stepped outside, it was pitch-black, with a slight mist from the still-melting snow. We've seen some substantial reductions, but there are still plenty of dirty-white piles, especially in shady areas or where the plows made 10+-foot mountains over the course of this dismal winter. Dodging the potholes and frost heaves before dark has presented a new running challenge, that of not shattering an ankle.

At some point about 4 miles in (of a scheduled 11-miler), I turned my headlamp off, and noticed the creeping lightness as the sun made its way above the eastward horizon. It was very nice to be able to see where I was going, and there's something about that first light, so fresh, crisp and invigorating, that makes it seem like all is right with the world.

The run went pretty well (came in at almost 12 miles), but my legs are definitely feeling the high-mileage and recently stepped-up intensity. My HR stayed constant, but my hips & quadriceps are a bit sore. However, thanks to the boost from last weekend's 5K PR and highest-ever mileage week, I feel like I am the master of my workouts now. I have more confidence than ever that I will hit my training goals and - most importantly - that I will be in great shape (physically and otherwise) come May 25th. Although I am mostly thankful that more training remains, since I am still building fitness and fine-tuning speed, I am starting to wish the marathon was less than 6 weeks away.

The rest of this week calls for a cross-training/rest day tomorrow, 4-5 miles (with 4x100m strides) on Friday an 8-15K race or time trial on Saturday and 17 miles on Sunday. Saturday will pose a logistical challenge because I'm speaking at a conference about 90 miles from home at 9:00 am, and have some familial obligations during the rest of the day. I will figure out a way to get a 10K time trial in, but won't put too much stock in how it goes, since I'll be pretty fatigued, it'll be an awkward time for me to run, and a time trial cannot reasonably simulate an actual race in terms of running one's best.

So, looking forward to another 50+-mile week and hopefully more fitness gains. Oh, and watching a few more sunrises won't hurt my spirits either, especially when the trails clear and I can round my favorite bend in the woods to see the sun rising above one of the ponds and the school's beautiful library and chapel.

Cheers, ESG

Monday, April 7, 2008

A HUGE Weekend

Last weekend was probably the most satisfying of my running "career" to date. After agonizing about whether it was the right decision to deviate from the training plan and throw in a 5K race, I took the near-unanimous advice of my RW forum-mates and I went for it. My fellow runners could not have been more right in their counsel.


I got up at around 7:00 after an emotionally tough Friday night (dealing with some personal stuff) and about 6 hours of restless sleep. I had my usual pre-race breakfast, got everything together and puttered around before leaving for the race at 9:00 (start time was 10). The weather report had called for high 30's and rain, but fortunately the rain tapered off before dawn and we were left with high 30's and clouds, which is fine by most any runner's standards. I chose to run in shorts and a short-sleeve tech shirt, with a light running cap and running gloves.

I got to the race site at about 9:15, registered and started warming-up in full sweats. I ran about 2 miles easy, saw that my HR was in a good place, and then did a couple of long, fast strides, just to loosen things up. I stretched, chatted with some running club mates and went to the starting line. I introduced myself to an older guy (60's) whom I'd seen at many races and we talked about our goal times. As usual, I lined up in the second "wave", behind the fastest men and women. For a small race, a number of accomplished area runners showed, so I wasn't too keen on garnering any awards, just posting the best time I could. I was slightly miffed when one guy rudely made his way past me, essentially elbowing me out of his way, and took a position right in front of me. Turned out he should not have been that far up, and he certainly should not have had such an attitude about it.

Having promised myself that I would NOT go out too fast, I did anyway, and realized less than a half-mile in that I was running about a 5:50/mile pace, way too fast to have any chance of running a decent time overall. I relaxed, let a couple of folks pass me, and settled into a more appropriate pace.

The first mile split time was 6:15, almost exactly where I wanted to be. The course is one of the least attractive around, where we had to run through a series of office park parking lots, curling and turning and overlapping to round out the full 5K. The second mile is the worst, and I found myself battling the wind without many folks around to help me cut the wind. I passed a guy who was clearly running out of gas, passed a couple of young kids who'd gone out too fast, passed the guy who'd cut me at the start. I did give in to a base impulse and take a lingering look at him as I went by. Not too proud of that, but he'd ticked me off.

I passed the second mile marker in a little under 12:50, just a tad slower than I had wanted, but certainly okay by me. During the race, I kept two fellow runners in my sights, a man and a woman from my running club who consistently finish 20-30 seconds ahead of me in local 5Ks. The smartest decision I made on Saturday was NOT to chase them when they pulled away from me slightly at the end of the first mile. I watched them the whole way, and closed the gap on them during the last mile.

During that last mile, I stopped looking at my watch, running on feel. I was definitely working hard, but never felt that I would blow up or otherwise falter. When I took the last tun, with about 0.2 mile to go, I gave it all I had. My watch said I ran that stretch in just under a 5:00 pace, and I passed about 5 people in that short distance. I came in 10 seconds behind my running club teammates.


  • Overall time: 19:52
  • Net time (by my watch): 19:49 - NEW PR (old one was 19:56)
  • Overall place: 34th out of almost 300
  • AG place: 4th
  • Winner's time: 15:59
  • Total run with warm-up and cool-down: 8 miles
    I was ecstatic not only with the time, but knowing that I had run that time without any sort of rest or taper. I had run a hard tempo run on Wednesday (12 miles total) and another 12-miler on Friday, and I still managed to post my best 5K time. I was very satisfied with the effort and the result.

    Once I came down to earth a bit, I realized I had to run a cool-down run to flush the lactic acid from my legs, since I had a 20-miler scheduled on Sunday. I did an easy 3-miles with some fellow runners, chatting about the race and other upcoming events, and simply enjoying the camaraderie of our sport.

    I lingered to see if there'd be an age-group award in the cards for me, but there wasn't, so I headed home to enjoy the rest of the day with my family.


    With the confidence of Saturday's results, I woke up at 6:45 on Sunday to get ready to run long with my friend "The Big Man". I ate and did my "business" and headed to his place, only to realize I'd forgotten my Garmin GPS watch; so I turned around and got there late for the start of our 20-miler. We got out the door at close to 8:30 and took off for a multi-town swing, mostly along roads I'd only driven, and some I'd never been on at all.

    The terrain had a lot of rolling hills, and I enjoyed the company, as the miles ticked off much more quickly than if I'd been alone with my music, podcasts or thoughts. I let him dictate the pace, as my legs would not let me deny the fatigue from the week's training and Saturday's race. I also had unusual stomach problems, which made me have to stop a few times (including once in the woods where I broke through some crusty snow and ended up in thigh-high snow, in shorts!). We ran a very consistent pace of around 9:05/mile, and ran a total of 21.1 miles. The last 5-6 miles were hard, but my HR stayed where it should, and the hills were manageable.

    The extra mile on that long run gave me my first-ever 60-mile week. The rest of the training program (3 weeks at 50-ish miles, then taper time) now seems much less intimidating than it did just a few weeks ago.

    I'll admit to feeling a bit beat up, but would not have done anything differently. I wish I could figure out how to get more sleep, but otherwise I'm feeling good and very confident that I'm getting closer to being in top shape on May 25th.

    Thanks for reading. Looking forward to your comments.


Friday, April 4, 2008


Not to sound like too much of a whiner, but at some point the Weather Gods and the Running Gods will have to get tired of conspiring against me during this training cycle. This week brought two prime examples of how I cannot catch a weather break. I've already posted about the 50+ mph winds which forced my last major LT run indoors. As I've previously mentioned, I'm following Mr. Pfitzinger's 18/55 plan as closely as possible this time, so that means running when scheduled and NOT running when not scheduled. Yesterday was a rest/cross-training day. Mid-day weather was about 55 and sunny. It looked pretty nice out the window as I did 30 minutes on the elliptical, core exercises and stretching.

Today, I worked from about 5-6:30 am, got everyone up and my older two kids to school, and then went out for my second 12-miler in 3 days. This was a "general aerobic" run, not too fast and not super-slow. We got about two inches of snow, which was coming down in big, fat flakes for about the first 4-5 miles of the run. That snow turned to sleet, which tapped against the brim of my GoreTex baseball cap (a great investment at EMS) and occasionally pelted me in the face. It's the sort of thing that makes you feel alive (right!). Then came the rain, and despite my fancy new waterproof/breathable jacket [the Sugoi Hydrolite, a very cool concept jacket, though I'm not sure if it's as breathable as it is waterproof], I ended up soaked. My gloves got wet & cold; my GoreTex shoes got wet from running through deep puddles; my fleece running pants became waterlogged, making the last couple of miles a bit of a slog. Despite all that, though, I still managed a comfortable pace of almost exactly 9:00/mile, which is not bad considering the number of miles I've run and the conditions out there today.

Tomorrow, I'm planning to throw caution to the wind and race a local 5K. I ran it in 20:19 last year, the second in a series of 5K's in which I chased a sub-20:00 time. I've been dying to race, to see if I'm fitter than before, and just to go through the motions: the nerves, dealing with the bib, thinking through race strategy, deciding what to wear, etc. While I'd be lying if I said I don't care what time I run tomorrow (yes, I'd like a new PR), I won't fall apart if I feel sluggish and finish in a slow time. Given my personally unprecedented training volume, from a logical standpoint I have no reason to expect to PR when I'm this tired and when the focus of my training has been on everything other than increasing my speed. Still, I'm going for it, and will report back. Of course, the weather forecast calls for 38 degrees and rainy. I was disappointed about that, until I realized that my 5K PR came last year on only a slightly less cold, rainy day, on a much hillier course than one for tomorrow's race.

Sunday will be 20-miler #2 of this cycle, which I plan to run with a friend who's a marathon veteran (maybe 15 or so) and who took the winter mostly off from running. He's affectionately called Big Man, since he's about my height (5'11) but weighs around 190 lbs. That makes the fact that he bailed on running Chicago with me and ran 3:26:xx last fall in nicer weather that much harder to accept. Having grown a bit tired of my music and podcasts, I'm looking forward to the company. It'll be the first time I've done a long training run with someone else, and I expect it to make the miles go by much more quickly.

Have a good weekend.


Thursday, April 3, 2008

My Anniversary

Later this month, I'll quietly observe the anniversary of perhaps my most memorable running moment (at least my most memorable positive one). In order to appreciate the story (assuming you can appreciate it at all), you need some context.

We'd spent the April school vacation week in Atlanta and were heading back on Saturday mid-day. I'd found a 5K race at my alma mater, and e-mailed to confirm that race-day registration would be okay. I received a response telling me that yes, it would be fine, and that I should get there in time for the 9:00 am start. I thanked the person, since the web site info said that the race started at 8:00 am.

I left my sister's place at around 7:30, stopped for coffee, a scone and the New York Times, and I arrived just a minute or so before 8:00, figuring I had a half-hour to relax and then another half-hour to warm-up. As I reached the registration table, a woman said, "Just in time." Before I could ask what she meant, I heard a megaphone-amplified call for all runners to take their marks. I was a bit shocked, threw my stuff down, ran a couple of strides to get my blood flowing and made my way down the hill to the start area, and took a place in the second row (where I usually plant myself, given that I'm not slow, but certainly not fast.

About 150 runners lined up, and - as you can see to the left - a young boy took off like a light. He lasted about 200 yards and peeled off the course.

Incidentally, I'd run the course once before, at my 10th college reunion, long before I became a "runner" and I remember the course being treacherously hilly. I set out at a brisk, but totally manageable, pace and before I realized it, I was in the lead pack with an older guy and a younger woman. The woman kept surging ahead and then falling behind, so I figured she was not much of a factor. The guy just kept hammering a steady pace. At the time, my "watch" was my iPod with a Nike+ SportKit, which I found to be consistently inaccurate during all races. So, not really knowing how fast I was running and not having marked miles, I knew only from having looked at the course map that the last mile was the same loop as the first one, with the big climb which I dreaded from 7 years earlier being in Mile 2.

The non-illustrious "lead pack" came out of the woods after the first mile, and I felt that I had another gear available, but was pretty gun shy about using it.

As we started up the hill in that dreaded second mile, I noticed first that it wasn't as bad as I remembered (having walked part of it last time) and then that I felt like I was running too slow, staying with my elder co-leader. So, I stepped up the pace, and left him behind on the hill.

If you've read this far, I should share with you that I became completely obsessive about running about 8 months before this race. I joined the local running club, bought all the gear I needed (and then some), read every training and running history book I could find, and otherwise immersed myself in my new sport. With all my knowledge, though, I had absolutely no frame of reference for what to do when leading a race. None. I was doubting even that I was leading, thinking someone else must have taken off so fast that I missed. Then I thought that the guy in second must know something about the course that I didn't, so he was saving himself.

This inner dialogue of shock, doubt and excitement might have slowed me down, or might have helped me dissociate enough to keep plugging ahead. At one point, I felt tired and thought I should stop to rest. Then I realized what I was proposing to myself and I decided to run as hard as I could for as long as I could. When I crested the last small hill and had about a half-mile to go, I started running like a man being chased by a pack of wild dogs. I forced myself NOT to look back, figuring that either this guy would or wouldn't catch me, but it wouldn't affect my effort either way.

So, when I saw the finish line and looked at my watch, my first feeling was disappointment, because it was clear I would not be breaking 20:00 (yes, I know, that's a darned slow winning time). I let up in the last steps and finished in 20:02. Looking back, I wonder why they did away with the finish line tape (which I saw in previous years' race photos).
For few minutes, I walked around in a bit of a daze, knowing I needed to do a cool-down and trying to process what had just happened. I trotted around for a mile-and-a-half or two and then came back over to food and festivities area. During that run, I pondered the lesson of the day: perhaps it's not necessary to overthink things, as I often tend to do. With no warm-up or race strategy, I managed to win. Why? Because I'd been running a lot and was getting faster. I'd done the work, and was able to perform on race day. Well, that, and the fact that mostly slow people showed up for this event. :-)

I knew no one there, and realized from some comments that it looked like I was some "ringer" who'd jumped in at the last minute to claim the $100 worth of prizes. I wanted to explain it to everyone, that I was just a lucky schmo who happened to be in the right place at the right time. I waited around in the crisp morning sunshine until they'd conducted a raffle where nearly every person there won something and had given out all the age group awards. Since many people knew each other, there was a lot of cheering, that is until they announced my name as the overall men's winner. Utter silence followed.

I still managed to walk up with a big smile and accept my award from running legend Gayle Barron, winner of the Peachtree Road Race and Boston Marathon. As much as I hate to admit it, I believe that this is almost certainly my first and last overall race victory. As I told my sister when I returned with the shocking news, if I'd run a similar race back at home, I'd have been lucky to finish in the top 25. The following Saturday I did just that, and came in 24th.


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

That wasn't easy

In ripping off the recent Staples ad campaign, I'm referring to this morning's workout, a 12-mile run with 7 at lactate threshold (or tempo) pace. From my admittedly limited past training experience, that session intimidated me a great deal when I considered doing this training plan. But, I give Pete Pfitzinger his due, since he obviously has his plan's followers work up to that distance gradually. Because of my bout with the flu a few weeks ago, the longest LT run I'd done so far was 5 miles (should have been 6), as part of a 9-mile run. So, this was a significant step up, but I'd been psyching myself up for this run for days now, thinking how satisfying it would be to notch this one and be done with the lactate threshold segment of the training plan.

My enthusiasm grew as I saw that we'd finally be getting warmer weather this week. Foolishly, I entertained the fanciful notion of doing this run outside. Here's what the National Weather Service had to say about that:
Wind advisory in effect from 11 pm this evening to 6 pm edt
The NWS in gray has issued a wind advisory, which is in effect from 11 pm this evening to 6 pm edt Wednesday.Look for winds to begin increasing across portions of new hampshire late this evening. Winds will gust to near 50 mph overnight tonight and continue throughout the day on Wednesday. Exposed locations and locations at higher elevations will see the strongest gusts, with some isolated gusts approaching 60 mph.Winds this strong can make driving difficult, especially for high profile vehicles. Use extra caution.

It seemed like another cruel twist of weather fate, an April Fool's prank played upon me by the Running Gods, who must eternally be appeased (I thought they got their pound of flesh from me in Chicago last year, with additional offerings during the countless snowy runs this winter). So, I adjusted and made a plan to do this run indoors, as follows:

  • 2 miles on 0.10-mile indoor track at 8:30+/mile pace [followed by well-timed bathroom break]
  • 1 mile on treadmill, gradually accelerating to tempo pace
  • 7 miles at tempo pace, starting at around 7:35/mile and finishing at about 7:05/mile
  • 1.75 miles cool-down on indoor track
  • 0.25 mile run home (yes the gym is that close)

I had slept about 5 1/2 hours, getting up at 3:30-ish to indulge the cat in his new desire to be let out at that hour (he darts around and scratches the bed if I ignore him). I had a caffeinated Gu when I woke up at 4:30 am, chased with a big glass of water. I drank about 16 ounces of Gatorade endurance during the tempo miles and about 4 ounces of water towards the end.

By the time I finished, it was later than I'd planned (thanks to having to wait for the gym to open and the bathroom break), so I rushed home, did some minimal stretching, showered and took my older two kids to school. No time for breakfast, so I grabbed a bagel and coffee as I left town. My wife seemed annoyed at me, but I'd set her alarm for her and had told her I might not be back until 7:00 (it was 7:10 when I walked in).

So, here we are with the hardest workout of the toughest training week out of the way. It feels good. Tomorrow is a rest day (I'll do some light cross-training), with 12 miles again (but at an easier pace) on Friday. The schedule calls for a 5-mile recovery run on Saturday, but since there are hints of spring and I'm crawling out of my skin to do so, I'm going to race a local 5K. I ran 20:19 there last year in my quest to break 20:00 at that distance. It took me three more races to do it, which I did on a rainy day in May in 19:56. Now, I figure I'll either set a new PR (personal record, for the uninitiated) based upon all the miles I've logged in the last year, or I will run slow, which I can attribute to (read, blame on?) the accumulated fatigue in my legs from all the mileage. All of this is a no-lose situation, though Sunday's 20-miler may be slow and ugly. I just hope the weather cooperates so that I can try to run my best on Saturday . . . whatever that turns out to be.