Monday, June 23, 2008

Mr. Pfitzinger, We Meet Again

Tomorrow is the first running day of my modified Pfitzinger training plan as I prepare for the 31st Annual Chicago Marathon. Instead of the standard 18 weeks, I shortened it to 16 (so that I would have enough time to recover from Burlington), but I nearly ran the first two weeks' worth of mileage without following the plan exactly. I'm looking forward to being back on the schedule, but I worry about being able to stick to it throughout the summer. While the early sunrise and mild temperatures are a runner's dream, summer is a time where the usual routine goes out the window. As any dedicated marathoner knows, we thrive on routine. Shake things up, and we get off our plans, or we have to make herculean efforts to stick with the program. I suspect that with vacations, long weekends, kids' camps, friends & family visiting and other unforeseen developments, I will need to be somewhat flexible. This is one reason why I chose not to do the 70-mile per week plan. If mid- to high-50's will feel challenging logistically (if not physically and psychologically), then another 15 miles (or 2 hours) of running would be nothing more than me courting a training disaster, or at least a major disappointment. Once I "master" Pfitz's 18/55 plan, I'll decide what's next. Also, running a decent marathon after a successful training cycle will help me decide that my body is ready for additional mileage.

Last week I ran nearly 40 miles in 5 runs, and my hips feel a bit fatigued, but not sore. I have been to one yoga class per week, and have done lower-body weightlifting the past few weeks, too. Squats and lunges made me sore last week, but not too bad, and I tweaked something in my lower back at the gym today. Wouldn't you know it, I felt fine until the very last set of exercises, regular dips (working mostly triceps, along with shoulders and chest, too), where I felt a little something as I dismounted. It's slightly tight right now, but I'll foam roll and stretch after I finish this.

Tomorrow calls for 8 miles, with 4 at tempo (or threshold) pace, which I'm going to do conservatively at about 7:30/mile. I would hope that is around my current half-marathon pace, which is the slow end of Pfitz' tempo range, but I don't want to jump back into fast running without being sensible. I have dropped a few faster miles into a few of my runs in the past few weeks, but the idea of averaging 7:38/mile for 26.2 miles is tough to wrap my mind around right now.

Which brings us to the mental aspects of training and racing. I just started reading Chi Running, by Danny Dreyer, a philosophy/running style designed to help runners run injury-free by releasing their natural chi, or energy, and getting all distractions (physical and mental) out of the way. I like the idea, but worry that I am simply not going to be able to focus and "believe" enough for it to work for me. My psyche is constantly at war between skepticism and a desire to believe. I realized earlier today that such tension may be my own little Yin Yang, but I'm not sure that's what Dreyer and other proponents of Eastern philosophies have in mind.

Given the dedication, discipline, passion, desire and energy which I have devoted to running (and which I remain committed to devoting for the foreseeable future), I would like to find a way to get from running something close to what I put in. That means faster times, yes, but it also means extending the running-as-relationship metaphor (be it the old "jealous mistress", or the current "love-hate" New Balance ad campaign; click here to see one ad in the series) so that I don't feel like the hyper-hormonal teenager constantly courting the object of my affections with no reciprocity. I hope and expect this relationship with running - especially at longer distances - to be requited someday, and soon.

In less than four months from now, as the air holds its pre-winter chill and the leaves have turned, I will be ready to run the marathon that I know I can run. I'll gladly make the sacrifices and do the training, but I'll need some luck along the way, not to mention on race day itself.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What It's All About

From a technical performance standpoint, I did not have the greatest run this morning. But, the conditions made for a lovely early morning outing, where I felt very connected with nature and happy to be alive.

I turned my light out while reading Bart Yasso's book at about 10:30, almost an hour earlier than usual, and that must helped my get up at 4:55, before my alarm had the chance to awaken me (thus avoiding bothering my wife).

My legs felt a little sore and sluggish from Sunday's 12-miler and yesterday's weight-lifting session, but I smiled as I placed my watch on the window sill to pick up the satellite signal and saw a hummingbird floating at the feeder outside the kitchen window. What a magical little creature. [We just got a new digital camera, so I'll try to post the pics later.]

As I left my house and ducked into the woods, the air was cool and thick, with mist rising from the fields. I wore a long-sleeved tech shirt and shorts, and felt great temperature-wise during the entire run. I left my iPod at home, which I've been doing more and more often when I run on the trails. I could hear many birds singing their morning songs, and sensed that I just missed several deer along the way, as they must have high-tailed into the woods when they heard my loud plodding steps. I did startle one early-bird neighbor when I materialized from a trail behind his house.

My run took me through thick woods, alongside several streams, around a couple of ponds, along a bike path (next to the highway, but hey, can't have everything) and through open fields. I even got some unexpected "love" from a dozen black labs who were on a guided walk with one of our neighbors who trains them as a post-retirement job. I saw only one at first, but have been on the trails enough at that hour to know that others were nearby. Several jump-ups and licks later, I was on my way.

Because of the leg soreness, I did a little over 5 miles, knowing that this is my last week of "free" running before getting on the training plan. I'm going to try to do 8 plus strides tomorrow morning, as I increase my mileage level back to where it should be before jumping back in to marathon training.

This morning reminded me why I love running, and I'm thrilled to be feeling this way less than 4 weeks since my marathon disappointment and a week before revving up for the next one.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Happy Father's Day


It was nice to be "king for a day", being lavished with gifts, allowed to do whatever I wanted (mostly). My family got me a bunch of gifts, with the biggie a gas grill, to be delivered when the neighbors from whom my wife purchased it move on July 1st.

The best purchased gift, though, is the "Disappearing Civil Liberties" coffee mug, a brilliant piece of political commentary and social satire. The mug has the 10 amendments of the Bill of Rights printed on it. When filled with a hot beverage, most of the text fades away. The only constitutional provisions left are the right to bear arms, the "takings" clause of the 5th Amendment, and the reference to State's rights in the Tenth Amendment. Of course, if anyone from the government is reading this, I'd just like to thank you for doing whatever it takes to keep us all safe.

In the "Best Homemade Gift " category, the winner is the scrapbook my wife and kids put together of my running "career". Specifically, the drawing my youngest daughter made. Oldest kids' drawings were clear representations of Dad running along (including even one of Dad running to an overall race victory - bless my son's heart). But the almost-5 year-old drew a blue figure next to a pinkish/purplish figure. My wife wrote the caption exactly as dictated to her: "Daddy running against Hillary Clinton for President of the United States". Friggin' hysterical! I've been saying that I was in the lead, but Bill tripped me and Hillary ended up winning. Not sure what kind of shape she's in, but I know Hillary would put up a heck of a fight until the finish line . . . and possibly beyond.


I'm feeling close to being "back" and I am planning on ramping back up to 35-40 miles this week in anticipation of jumping back into my formal training program as of next week (16 weeks pre-Chicago). I ran a little over 6 miles on the trails on Saturday, which felt good. Then, after receiving my presents yesterday, I went out for a 10-mile run, but decided to just sort of go and see what happened. It was cool (low 60's) but super-humid, and I was a cool, sweaty mess less than a mile into the run. Still, it was great to get out there, sub-9:00 miles felt pretty easy, and I ended up doing almost 12 miles, with the last mile starting at around 7:30 pace and finishing at under 6:30/mile pace. It was great to get moving like that again.

Today I did squats, lunges, cable exercises, a full upper body circuit and some core/abs work, along with some easy stretching. I've attended two Yoga classes total so far (wish it was more, but scheduling has been a bear), and I'm very much enjoying it. Being the only guy and having very nice, knowledgeable and aesthetically pleasing instructors certainly doesn't hurt my motivation, but it's been enlightening to see how I have some strengths and clear weaknesses in terms of flexibility and strength.

The rest of the week looks kind of like this:
  • Tuesday - 8 miles (with a few strides)
  • Wednesday - 5-6 miles
  • Thursday - 5-6 miles
  • Friday - No running, but stretching and yoga or hip/leg strength training
  • Saturday - 6 miles (trails)
  • Sunday - 13+ miles

I hope to be feeling strong and limber, and will be smart during this training cycle. If I run a race that's not on the schedule, I will allow myself to recover.

Whether or not I will qualify for Boston is something which nags at me daily, and I may write a long post about why it means as much as it does to me (once I figure it out).


Monday, June 9, 2008

Feelin hot, hot, hot . . .

The year's first bona fide heat wave arrived with little warning on Saturday. After cool, drizzly weather on Friday (rendering my son's school field trip less than pleasant), we got hit with triple-digit temperatures throughout the weekend.

While the heat didn't help my pace any, I did get out on both Saturday and Sunday. I ran almost 7 miles on the trails starting at noon on Saturday, which was slow, but bearable. I bumped into a 60 year-old running club mate, who re-ran Boston this year for the time in over a decade. It was nice to get a couple of miles in with him.

I got out earlier on Sunday, hoping to do between 8 and 10 miles. Less than 2 miles into it, though, it became clear that 10 was going to be too much, so I ended up cutting the road part short and doing the last couple of miles in the woods again, which seems to make a 10-degree difference. Total was a little less than 8.5 miles, with which I was satisfied. I also enjoyed the This American Life podcast about a federal prosecutor vilified by the US Justice Department for his handling of a terrorist prosecution. Pretty powerful stuff about how the government can flex its muscle, even turning on one of its own, when it wants to keep people in line.

Both runs ended with the kids and me taking a refreshing dip in the pond near our home. Now that my youngest can ride a two-wheeler (she turns 5 this month), we can make the mile-long trip quickly and efficiently. We also survived my son's 100-degree baseball game on Sunday, and I bought three more fans for the house. Trying to avoid A/C in an effort to be a bit more green, but if it stays like this we may crack.

The good running news is that my hips are feeling good, though I did seem to tweak something last week at my first yoga class. My left biceps femoris (part of my hamstring) has been sore since last Wednesday. It had a greater impact at the office bowling tournament (where I went from bad to terrible) than it has during my runs.

This week (Monday, June 9th) would be the beginning of an 18-week Chicago buildup, but I'm not "officially" starting my plan until June 23rd, though I'll probably run about the same mileage as if I did. Psychologically, I just need the break from the schedule, knowing I can shake things up how I want.

I have a busy month ahead, both work and family-wise, with lots to do before summer vacation in July. There may not be too much about which to post in this time, so enjoy the respite from my pointless ramblings. On the other hand, as faithful readers, lack of inspiring content doesn't usually slow me down. :-)


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Y-O-G-A, yoga!

The title of this post needs to be sung to the tune of the Kinks' "Lola". Don't ask why that's been bouncing around in my head. I'm thinking, "Well I'm not the world's most flexible guy, but when stretch my hips I feel I can fly thanks to yoga, y-o-g-a, yoga . . . ." Since I presume my readers to be decent people, I'll spare you any further indignities on this riff.

Yesterday marked my first formal yoga class ever. I took an introductory level Ashtanga class at a well-regarded local studio. I was the last one to arrive (but wasn't late) and I found a cozy corner on the floor near the radiator. Of the 20-plus people in the class, I was the only guy. Being the sole male and a beginner to boot was a bit intimidating, but I stayed relaxed and tried to focus on the instructor (a very easy target upon which to focus, if you catch my drift). I had spoken with her briefly before class, told her I'm a semi-injured runner seeking greater hip strength and flexibility (along with general body awareness and perhaps even some enhanced inner peace) and she told me that she's training for her first half-marathon. We agreed that if she gets me through yoga, I'll help her train for her fall race. It was a good start.

Although billed as a Level I class, there was a clear range of ability in the room. I think a couple of others were new like me, and certainly not everyone - including me - could do every posture correctly. Our instructor was great about offering variations in order to make a given move or posture easier or more challenging, depending on our preferences. I found that I have decent flexibility for the most part, but that some aspects of the routine were very rigorous.

As we went through different series of movements, my leg would occasionally buckle from fatigue. I sweat profusely, something my young yoga neighbor must have found extremely off-putting. The instructor came over a few times during the 90-minute class to tweak my leg or arm position, check my hips or otherwise ensure that my form was correct. She told me later she usually comes over more often with the newbies, but that I seemed to be catching on quickly. All the running-related stretching and consistent core work seems to have given me a decent yoga "base".

The plan now is to figure out how to do yoga at least twice a week, either on non-running or easy running days. Once I get better at it, then I won't need to work it in based on available class schedules, and can instead do it on my own at home in the early morning or after the kids go to bed. In addition to yoga, I'll be doing some very specific hip exercises, designed to strengthen my weak areas and to correct some of the muscle imbalances that have resulted from running through the various hip-related troubles I've had in the past couple of years.

Recent Running Report

Not counting the 2 miles I limped through the day after the marathon, I have now run a grand total of twice since. I ran about 7 easy trail miles on Sunday, a gorgeous day where I kept seeing people I know on bikes or walking in the woods. That felt okay, though I tried to be clever by exploring a new path and ended up at a dead-end where I had to bushwhack my way back to one of the familiar trails. Factoring in the walking parts, my pace was just under 10-minutes per mile.

This morning I went out for what was going to be 5 miles, but turned into nearly 7, since I took a new, not-yet-open-for-traffic parkway to see what it was like, and ended up tacking on some extra distance. It was cool-ish, but very muggy, and I ran the last mile or so in a light rain. I was listening to my virtual friend Steve Runner pace his friend Kathy to a new PR for her in a 10K on Long Island a couple of weeks ago, and it was nice to run in the early morning for the first time in weeks.

The "easy" pace still felt a bit labored, and my left glute was tight, but just being on the move was restorative. I sweat a ton, and wished I'd either hydrated a bit better in advance or had brought some fluids with me.

On Saturday, I'm probably going to run a trail race, but will truly, really, undoubtedly take it easy. It's a 6-miler through some public forests, with good hills and some semi-technical descents, so there's no point in going hard to risk re-injuring the hips or twisting an ankle. I'm trying to do as much as I can on trails, because it's less pounding on the body and it's so much nicer than road running, but I'm in no shape to going out hard and seeing how long I can hold on.

The Next Training Cycle

I've pretty much decided to repeat the Pfitzinger 18-week, 55 miles peak per week plan (Pfitz 18/55) again this cycle, but will join the plan in week #3 to make it a 16-week buildup. The first two weeks are pretty easy anyway, 32 & 36 miles, respectively. I'll probably run that without being on the plan, but it'll allow me to shake up the mileage and the running days based on how I feel. I'm also going to adapt the plan to train around the 3 or 4 races I'd like to run this summer, substituting 5Ks for speedwork and "mini-tapering" for and recovering from anything that's 10K or longer.

Yoga and strengthening will take center stage on non-running days, and possibly on easy days, too. My PT will see me every other or every third week and weekly chiropractic appointments will round out the regimen. At some point I will need to see my family and make an appearance at work, but I am still thinking (or deluding myself?) that qualifying for Boston 2009 is still a possibility. At this point, I'll enter this next training cycle with cautious optimism, knowing that if I can complete the 18/55 plan and arrive in Chicago healthy, I'll have a shot at running 3:20. I know I'll need everything to come together perfectly, but I'm going to try to set myself up to have that chance.