Monday, February 25, 2008

Wunning in a Winter Wonderland

Yes, "wunning" is part quest for perfect alliteration and part homage to my 4 1/2 year-old, who likes to ask me about my "wunning". This past weekend was interesting. After getting a nice, "pure" snowstorm on Friday, everything looked pristine again during two brilliant sunny weekend days. My 5-mile recovery run on Saturday turned into a 6+-miler. I took it very slow (mindful to keep my heart rate in the recovery zone) and felt fine.

Sunday's run was a scheduled 17-miler, the longest distance I've covered since the Chicago Marathon on October 7, 2007. I chose a scenic rural route which I hadn't run since last summer, and had forgotten just how hilly a "scenic" route tends to be. The panoramic winter views made the effort mostly worthwhile, but I'll admit that I had to work hard to keep a steady 9+minute pace. In addition to the hills, the shady parts of the route were still covered with snow and ice, making for very cautious jogging/walking/prancing. Given how I felt, though, it seems that I'm fatigued from the first 5 weeks of training. My HR stayed lower during the 17 miles (except on major hill climbs and the one incident where an unleashed dog came barrelling towards me, jumping up on me and growling) than it did for much of Saturday's recovery run, but I had no "spring" in my legs. My hip, lower back, thighs and knees all sort of bothered me, not really hurting, but feeling kind of tight and uncomfortable. I stopped a total of 6 times to stretch, drink and eat gels/sport beans. My last two miles were the fastest of the day (close to 8:30 pace), but it was a struggle to finish strong. I'm trying not to worry about pace at this stage in the long runs, but doubts do creep into my mind in terms of setting an aggressive marathon goal.

This week is a cutback week (oh, the joy), with a couple of 8-milers, easy recovery runs and a 12-mile long run on Sunday. The following week will be a big step up for me, with my longest ever lactate threshhold run (5M of a 10-miler) and my highest total mileage week ever (50+).

I'm still waiting for the weather to improve, but have been telling myself that I seem to have survived the hardest part of this training plan, so the rest should be challenging, but manageable, especially as my body continues to adapt to all this physical stress.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Some Thoughts About Treadmills

Our first snowfall of the 2007-2008 winter was on December 3rd, and we've had snow on the ground since. Some of our plow piles are 8-10 feet high, and we've had a regularly hideous mix of snow, sleet, freezing rain and rain (sometimes during the same storm), often followed by radical temperature changes, all of which has led to narrow shoulders, impassable sidewalks and all-around treacherous road running conditions. So, despite my resolution to run as many of my miles outside as possible, I have been forced indoors lately, usually when it's simply too slippery and dark to run safely outside.

I am lucky enough to live at a residential school with very nice athletic facilities. Just as I exploit the miles of trails in the lush woods during spring, summer & fall, I use the athletic center's treadmills and 1/10-mile indoor track when I just can't run outside. That said, I'll confess that I hate the treadmill. Some fellow runners call them "dreadmills". I just view it as a necessary evils. In order to train, my legs have to move. If that can't happen outside, then I have to make do, or simply not train. A bit of a Hobson's choice, but I'll say about running what my high school friends and I used to say about sex: lousy running still beats no running at all.

As I cranked through 10 mind-numbing indoor miles last Thursday, I started thinking about the treadmill, about how strange we humans are to have developed a machine to simulate something so basic as running. It's quite a realization to ponder how activities that used to be necessary in order to survive have essentially become "optional" in a world of automation and creature comforts. Of course, most of us no longer kill (or even grow) our own food, so hunting doesn't keep us "lean and mean". But beyond that basic carnal instinct, we've removed so much of the need to move in order to live, both at work and at play, that the default for so many is a sedentary life. Now, I'm going to spare us all from the "Supersize Me" rants (though valid) about obesity, etc., but I will say that our country's obsession with the automobile (as if a car is a constitutional right) has led us down a path of inertia, from which it is very difficult to make a U-turn and find a route to healthier living. When you can, for example, drive through a fast food restaurant and then drive right into your own garage, you not only limit your physical activity, you limit your interactions with your fellow human beings. Despite so many of us being fat (I could say "overweight", "obese" or "hefty", but let's call it what it is), there's no community there, just a bunch of big, mostly sad, isolated people. That's no surprise, since the fat-jolly stereotype is a myth; a person who weighs more than she/he should is not likely to have a high self-opinion. If you don't like yourself, you won't want to be around other people. Well, I see that my thoughts are meandering, so I should get to the point. Problem is, I don't really have a point. [That's one of the beauties of having your own blog.]

Having lived abroad, I can tell you that many people in less wealthy lands would think that the only thing stranger than running for exercise would be to do it on a 20 x 60-inch platform, with a rubberized belt going around and around. It's easy to feel like a hamster on a wheel, raising questions about how much we've actually "evolved".

Along with the feeling of pushing my body (and with it my mind and spirit) to new levels, the greatest joy for me in running is the sense that I'm powering myself through the world, with no fuel, motor, equipment, or other technology (iPods and Garmins don't count). Despite taking thousands of steps per run, I leave no footprint, and take with me memories of nature and my community that I would never otherwise have been lucky enough to experience. Call me crazy, but doing 10 miles on a treadmill just doesn't measure up against that standard.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Building Up . . . or Wearing Down?

I did 15 slow, cold miles yesterday (though it was finally sunny), with 10 from about 7:30 to 9:00 and 5 from 9:30 to 10:15-ish. The reason for the break-up is that the running club came over for our monthly winter group run, but nobody else wanted to do 15 and I needed to be the gracious host, so I couldn't be the one out for the longest time.

It was so cold yesterday ("How cold was it?!" the audience screams), that my balaclava froze solid as the sweat wicked through from my neck to the outside of the tech fabric. It was tough to get over my head when I was done. The only other hassle was that I experienced a new pain, in my left knee. Nothing seemed to precipitate it, but it started hurting at around mile 7, with it being worst on the uphills. It was a dull pain all around the kneecap, and I can feel vestiges of it today. It's interesting, but after a year-plus as a "serious" runner, I've gotten used to my regular aches and pains. They're almost like an additional piece of gear (iPod-check; Garmin-check; sore hip flexor-check) that comes with me on every run. But getting a new ache is unsettling, since it means a whole new world of possibilities, none of them good.

Kids did have school today, but our 274th ice storm (or something like that) of the season resulted in a 2-hour delay. I came to work, and scooted to the Y at lunchtime. Did 12 minutes elliptical (I find it really helps after those long runs) , followed by an upper body circuit on machines and with dumbbells, followed by 10-15 minutes of core work. Tomorrow calls for 9 miles, with 4 at lactate threshhold, and the bad news is my day is packed, so I have to get up at 4:30 and make myself run fast in the wee morning hours. Since I cannot fathom doing tempo work on icy roads in the dark, I will do it on the TM, and I take solace in knowing that my last one 2 weeks ago was one of my best training runs so far this cycle. We'll see if the knee feels okay, and I will reduce the pace if I have to, but I really hope that I don't. This is one more touch week, with a rest week on the near horizon. To think that I'm looking forward to a week with the following schedule: Mon-XT or rest; Tues-8M (w/8x100 strides); Wed-5M; Th-8M; F-XT or rest; Sat-4M; Sun-12 miles. Total scheduled mileage: 37 miles, 9 less than the week before, and 13 less than the next.

I'm certainly tired, but I'm handling the mileage and intensity pretty well, with no major injuries and without the rest of my life completely crumbling around me. I suppose that if I was not feeling worn down - at least to some degree - that would mean I'm not challenging myself enough with this program. That said, if I could figure out how to get 7 hours of sleep a night, I think that would help immeasurably, but it's just not in the cards right now. Also, I keep telling myself that the weather will break eventually, and just as running in 70-degree temps seemed easy after the Chicago inferno, so too will regular 40+-degree days on clear roads. I also hope that the trails are runable sometime before my next marathon, as I very much miss running in the woods. I may also have to shift my running schedule a bit after DST kicks in, since mornings will be darker for a while, but I may be able to steal an hour here or there after work.

All I know, is that - barring injury - everything should get better as Spring moves in. I can't wait.

Cheers, ESG

Saturday, February 16, 2008

No pain, . . . .

Probably no need to complete the sports cliche, but this week has made me feel it. Not sure if there's a breakthrough coming on soon, but after the hard (and disappointing) effort during last weekend's half-marathon, I managed to get through all of my scheduled training runs, despite work, family and weather valiantly conspiring against me.

Monday brought a bti of soreness, but I managed 15 minutes on the elliptical, an upper body circuit and some light core work. Tuesday brought 8 miles at lunchtime, with 8 strides (instead of 10, since I misread the schedule). Wednesday was the worst weather day of a lousy, harsh winter: 8 inches of snow, followed by rain, freezing rain, then flooding and re-icing. Did 5 recovery miles on the treadmill. Thursday was the biggest challenge, with Pfitzinger's schedule calling for 10 miles, which I needed to do indoors, since the roads were essentially still un-navigable (if that's a word). I went to the gym at the wonderful prep school where my wofe works, and did 5 miles on the treadmill, 3 on a 1/10-mile indoor track and 2 at marathon pace (MP) on the treadmill. I base these workouts on the readings from my Garmin footpod, so I'm hoping it's pretty accurate. Friday was a rest day, and today called for a 4-mile recovery run. Truth is that I can't really bring myself to run less than 5 miles, so that's how long my recovery runs have been. It was very cold (in the teens, with wind chill about -1), but I still managed to overdress this morning. I watched the HR on my watch, and ended up running really slow (over 9:00/mile), but if that's what my body needed, then it's good that I knew that.

Tomorrow is logistically complicated, as I'm hosting my running club's monthly winter Sunday run, where we meet, folks run anywhere from 5 to 12 miles, and then we eat. Since I'm hosting, I couldn't very well run Pfitzinger's prescribed 15-miler, missing the whole social time at my own house (and forcing my wife to deal with my running chums). So, my obsession has led to decide to run 10 miles (6 easy and 4 at MP) before the group arrives, hope not to cool down too much, then run an easy 5 miles with some of the club mates.

Reading many of the RW forum's more experienced runners' advice, I am going to try to throw some MP miles into most of my long runs, especially later in the run. It seems to be the best possible dress rehearsal, and it should help me know what the goal should be. Right now, I'm torn between trying to get at least one solid, if unspectacular, marathon behind me before trying to run a Boston qualifying (BQ) time, which in my case is under 3:20:59. After last Sunday's race, I have my doubts, but I'm trying to learn patience, and have faith that the training will surely propel close to where I want to be.

As I approach 50-mile weeks, I marvel at how so many people run anywhere from 1.5 or even double that as they train for marathons. I am just barely keeping my head above water time- and energy-wise, while the 70+ mpw folks seem to have it all figured out (especially on race day!).

I have one more intense week, then a much-awaited cutback week, with only one double-digit run all week, a Sunday 12-miler. Hip feels a little sore, but it's hanging in there, not being much of a factor. As hard as it is for me to do this, I plan to skip all the local late-winter/early-spring 5K's, since they'll just beat me up and possibly derail my marathon training. Eyes on the prize this year, eyes on the prize . . . .


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Race Report - Half at the Hamptons

Here is a race report from last Sunday's Half at the Hamptons, lifted almost verbatim from my post requesting feedback from some of the generous (and often similarly obsessive) folks who frequent the Runner's World Marathon Training Forum.

Last day of week #3 of my Pfitz 18/55 plan. Ran about 42 miles in 7 days prior, pretty high mileage for me. Had run 2 prior 1:40:xx HM's and was looking to PR this time. Went out with the 7:30 pace group, but pacer had us closer to 7:15/mile. Fueling disaster at mile 6 (despite pre-opened Sport Beans, couldn't get them out of package, so I had to walk to deal with it), and I let the small pace group go. HR was high, 170+ during those first six miles, and on through about 8. I was still on 1:38 pace through 8 miles.Last 5 miles were along the coast, into a strong & ever-intesifying wind. Started to have trouble with leg turnover (hip bugged me, but not bad; just couldn't lift my legs very well). It was a typically schizophrenic New England day, with nearly 40-degree sunny start, followed by clouds, then rapidly-dropping temps, sleet/freezing rain at mile 9, then intense snow squalls from miles 10-12. Though legs felt heavy, breathing was fine and HR actually dropped as pace slowed. Started struggling to hold 8:00, then 8:30, pace in final miles. When I saw the 8:00/mile pacer pass me in the final mile, I dug deep, found another gear, and managed to run the last 0.5+/-mile at about 6:25 pace. Finish time was a very disappointing 1:43+, and I HATED getting passed by others in the late stages (it's usually the other way around for me).Lessons learned:

(1) Fatigued from running right through my training plan (nearly 60 miles in 8 days is an all-time high for me), so shouldn't worry about PR's at that point in training
(2) Dumb to stay with pace group for so long, knowing they were taking me out too fast
(3) Need to run MY race, which so far seems to involve holding back and finishing strong (ran both prior HM's that way); really just an extension of lesson #2
(4) Only gels during races from now on
(5) Possibly needed to "carbo load" a bit more, since was uncharacteristically casual about carb consumption in couple of days before

I received some very good comments, but mostly what I take from the experience is that I picked a lousy time to be greedy about running a personal best. I'm in the "base-bulding" part of a marathon build-up. I'd run one of my highest-ever mileage totals (including a tempo run) during the prior week. The weather in the last part of the race was miserable. I stupidly followed a pace that I knew was too fast for me for well over half the race.

As one of my work colleagues (an accomplished college runner and now 2:55 marathoner) put it: a year ago, I couldn't even have dreamed of running close to 60 miles in 8 days, with the last 13.1 being a half-marathon only 3% slower than my best time at that distance. Several RW forumites noted that this is the worst phase of training in terms of fatigue, with several weeks to go before I should start to feel the benefits of the hard miles. And most agreed that the result was solid, even if personally disappointing to me in terms of my expectations.

As I look down the road at the schedule, I'll get a bit of a respite in Week #6 (from 46 down to 37 miles), and then will tackle my first two 50+-mile weeks ever. My body seems to be holding up pretty well, though I'm struggling in terms of the time the mid-week medium-long (from 10 to 14 miles) runs take and am still getting far too little sleep (maybe 5 hours a night during the week, 6-7 on weekends, usually interrupted once or more by awakening kids).

I should comment on the fact that the weather has been consistently miserable, with snow, sleet, rain, winds, ice, extreme cold, yadda, yadda, and it's making an already-challenging scheduling that much more difficult. If and when the weather breaks, training will likely seem so much easier. I can't wait.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

Slowpy Runs

Another mid-week 10-miler; another snowstorm. This morning's run was a relatively miserable 10-mile slog on slippery, only partially-plowed roads. Because I run so slow, and the conditionshave been so sloppy, I've started calling these "slowpy" runs. While I feel pretty good about having gotten out there according to my training plan, I'm worried that conditions are compromising my training progress, since I'm running these 45 seconds or more slower than I would otherwise. There's still a long way to go (and many miles to run) before my marathon on May 25th, but I'd like some sense of making progress along the way.

To that end, I'm running a half-marathon on Sunday, and had hoped to run a PR by staying close to a 7:30/mile pacer (previous PR is a 1:40:03, a 7:39/mile pace). Given the weather forecast, though, looks like it will be my 4th consecutive race where a PR is just not feasible. If the weather (forecast is mid-20's, windy, with snow showers on the tail end of heavy snowfall the night before) does make a PR impossible, then I'll treat it like a fun, fast-ish, group training run. It's an inaugural race, and seems to be focused on being light-hearted and fun, with great food and drink afterwards at a fine old-fashioned oceanside hotel.

Did a 5-mile recovery run in the sleet yesterday (Wed), will either cross-train or rest tomorrow(Fri), and will run a very easy 4 miles on Saturday. The training plan calls for 14 miles on Sunday, so I'll probably run a 1-mile warm-up to round it out. Yes, I've decided to be a complete slave to this plan, so that I benefit from Mr. Pfitzinger's experience (and perhaps have someone to blame if the race does not go well).

Stay warm, wherever you are. -ESG

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Raising My Threshold

So, yesterday was my first lactate threshold (LT) run (also known as tempo runs) under this training plan. These workouts are where I try to tame the biochemical demon from which this blog takes its name. Without getting too technical, when one runs at or faster than a certain pace, the body produces lactic acid, accumulating it faster than it can be removed. That accumulated acid slows you down. By training at or just faster than your LT, you can raise that threshold and thus run longer at a faster pace. For obvious reasons, this is especially beneficial for marathon runners, since the ideal marathon involves running just below one's LT. The most talented/best-trained runners run closer to their LT's than the rest of us, and from what I can tell based upon my limited experience, that is the area where I could most benefit in terms of marathon preparation.

Weather and schedule forced me to run on the treadmill yesterday (yuck!), but I do find that it helps my speedwork, particularly in the winter. Yesterday's workout totaled 8 miles, with 4 at LT pace [which Pfitzinger says should be between 15K and half-marathon (HM) race pace, though other guidelines generally provide that it's the pace you could sustain for an hour, but no longer]. I've run two HM's at 7:39 average pace, but never have run a 15K race. Since I don't have a very recent race time to use as a guide, what I did was the following:
  • 2 miles warm-up at about 8:30 pace
  • Progressively faster miles 3 through 6, starting at 7:30 per mile, and running each one about 5 seconds faster than the last, with the last LT mile at about 7:12 pace
  • 2-mile cool-down, which was the hardest part of the run, since it felt slow and awkward

I monitored my heart rate (HR) closely and it stayed where it should, mid-160's during the tempo part of the run, below 150 during warm-up and just above 150 during cool-down. Last half-mile or so was a hassle, because the gym's TM shut down automatically at the one-hour mark (which is usually my limit, too), so I had to reset and start a "new" run. My Garmin Forerunner 305 with foot pod kept going, though.

One other training note is that my lower back was bothering me a bit after Sunday's long run in NYC, so I went into yesterday's workout with a little trepidation. I barely felt it during the run, and it actually feels much better now. Looking forward to seeing my chiropractor on Friday.

Happy reading & running to all. -ESG

Monday, February 4, 2008

Fun & Running in the Big Apple

My oldest daughter turned 11 last month, and her birthday present was a weekend in New York City. She had previously lamented the deprivation she's suffered in her decade-plus, noting that she'd never been to NYC, or to Disney World, or on a cruise. Yes, my wife and I are terrible parents and should be reported to the appropriate authorities. We left the little kids with our wonderful nanny, and "painted the town" last weekend.

The drive down was treacherous, with freezing rain and a near-miss accident in Connecticut making it a stressful ride. Once we arrived safely in NYC, though, it was a wonderfully overstimulating weekend. We stayed right next to Grand Central Station, in the middle of everything. We had a delicious Indian meal in the East Village on Friday night, toured some edgy, funky sjops, did lots of other window shopping (and some real shopping, too), toured Ellis Island, did FAO Schwarz, went to the Central Park Zoo, saw Mamma Mia, went the Met, ate bagels and lox and otherwise soaked in all that New York energy. We rode the subway more than we took cabs, and it was a great, easy & cheap way to get around.

For my part, I was able to run 5 miles at the hotel gym on Saturday, nice & easy, using my heart rate monitor to keep it a true recovery run, despite the guy who got on to the treadmill next to me and started flying through sub-7:00 miles like it was nothing. On Sunday, I followed my Runner's World forum-mate squirrel's suggestion and ran along the East River (a total of about 14 miles), down past the Staten Island Ferry past Battery Park and back. It was a nice morning, cool & sunny, and one highlight was the many older Asian men & women shuffling along in big, baggy sweatsuits. I also saw plenty of hard core runners: men & women: with & without dogs; decked out in tech gear & minimalist; fast & slow. I took it pretty easy myself, but it was great to the see some of the city that way for the first time, in a manner so different from my usual running landscape. I haven't checked the Garmin yet, but I suspect that there will be some anomolous results, since it reported everything from 4:00+-mile pace to 13:00+. I think I ran most of the distance at about 8:45 pace, which is a little over a minute faster than my next goal marathon pace (MP). With a half-marathon race scheduled next Sunday, we'll see whether I'm where I'd like to be at this point in my training (not that I know where that is, but I hope it's faster than where I've been before).

This is Week #3 of the Pfitzinger (and Douglas) plan. Tomorrow is my first lactate threshold (LT) run in this training cycle, 8 miles total, with 4 at LT pace. Given the sloppy weather forecast, we're likely talking treadmill (yuck!) in order to get it done at the "right" paces.