Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Joyous Movement

Perhaps the Olympic tide lifts all athletic boats, or cooler weather makes things easier all-around, or my injuries have finally healed . . . but whatever the reason, I feel like I have definitely turned a corner in the past couple of weeks.

After the only slightly disappointing 5K on August 14th, I ran another race on August 19th. It was a small cross-country 5K with about 100 participants, many of whom are local HS XC runners. I ran it in just over 23 minutes (not an all-out effort), which is in line with the time I ran at the other 5K, since everyone ran about 2 minutes slower than they would on a "fair" course. I crossed the first mile, which had a little bit of up & down on a mostly-packed gravel path in just over 7 minutes, and we entered the woods shortly after that. That stretch was beautiful, though dark, hilly and twisty. It was the first time I'd raced in such a setting, and thus had to hang back behind some other runners before finding a space to pass; it was satisfying to pass 5 or 6 folks along the way. Between that and the dark unfamiliarity of the trail (the organizers put pink sashes along the course, but they weren't always that visible), the second mile took me over 8 minutes. Once I was out of the woods (literally, though it felt that way figuratively, too), there was less than a mile to go. I felt good and strong, but disappointed that I was running alone. With maybe a half-mile to go, I saw a skinny young kid a couple of hundred yards ahead, and decided I'd try to catch him. I closed the distance, and - just 100 or so yards from the finish - the kid started walking. He saw his dad and teared up. I felt badly for him, yet lamented the fact that my catching him wasn't especially gratifying given his blowing up at the end.

I finished 22nd overall and 3rd in my age group. I know I could have run faster, but am happy that I didn't, and that I remain injury-free (lots of wood-knocking and finger-crossing).

After the 5K, I shuffled my "schedule" around a bit, and did 5 miles very easy on Wednesday, 6 at a moderate pace with my fast Philly friend on Thursday at lunch and about 10.5 on Friday, feeling pretty strong towards the end. I then did 5 more easy miles on Saturday, meeting my family and visiting mother at the local farmer's market, before gearing up for Sunday's 17-miler, the longest distance I've run since my last marathon.

My mother left at around 9:30 Sunday morning, and I was out the door not long after, unfortunately having missed the coolest part of the morning. Despite temps rising on what turned out to be a beautiful day, I had perhaps the best long run I've had this year. I started out easy enough, stopping to refill my Fuel Belt at about mile 7.5. From there, I picked it up, and before I knew it, I was clicking off 8:40+/- miles without my heart rate climbing too much. I felt great for about 7-8 miles, then slowed down for the final (mostly uphill) mile home.

Sunday's run put me in a great mood, especially since I stretched, ate and ice-bathed properly afterwards, and concluded a 50+-mile week on 6 days of running. I believe that by checking my ego and learning how to run my recovery miles slow (the 10:00 mile is now my friend), I can log more miles and beat myself up much less.

This week would have involved a VO2 Max workout of 10 miles with 5x1000m at 5K pace. However, in order to avoid tempting fate and in light of my two recent races, I'm going to do 10 miles with 4 at tempo pace. The dilemma now is whether to get up at 4:15 or so in order to get this run done in time to get the kids ready for school (just started back up today) or take an extra long lunch hour and do it then. I doubt I can run a great tempo run that early, but I fear feeling rushed at lunch and thus pushing the pace during the key miles and then cutting the cooldown short in order to save time. I may decide based on how I sleep tonight and what the weather forecast says for mid-day temps tomorrow.

In terms of the timing, assuming I don't do anything stupid and end up hurt again, at least things are improving at an opportune moment. I have a few weeks until the Reach the Beach relay, 7 or so weeks until Chicago and then about 8 weeks to to recover and build up to the 40-mile birthday run, which is starting to take shape.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Week in Review & Running Outside the Box

Haven't been on in over a week, because there's been lots going on in my NRL (non-running life).


Last week, I ran a large area corporate 5K where I truly had no idea what my time would/should be. After the disappointment of a 48:xx Beach to Beacon, I knew that I wouldn't be running a PR last Thursday, but I wanted to give my best effort and get a sense of where I stand right now.

I decided to run the first mile in 6:30 and see how I felt. Given the crowd, I put forward a little more effort than I would have liked, and split the mile at 6:34. However, I didn't feel like I had much by way of reserves and simply tried to hang on. Though the weather was nice by prior years' standards (it was 96+ when I first ran it in 2001), it was still in the low 80's, and my mouth got very dry after the first mile mark. I took a cup of water at the aid station at about the half-way point and I lost my momentum. At that point, it was a struggle to maintain the intensity I wanted, and my pace dropped to around 6:45-6:55/mile. I pushed as hard as I could, past people who were slowing, walking and even one guy who vomited. I tried to stay with the attractive women who seemed to have some reserves (with mixed success). In the end, I finished in over 21:00, which is disappointing from a historical PR perspective, but encouraging in terms of comparing the time to that of a 10K just 12 days before. So, I take from this that things are at least progressing positively.

After the race, I got to cool-down with my fast colleague (Mr. sub-2:55 Philly) and some of his running pals. They'd all run sub-18:00 (one ran around 17:00) , and it was a treat to hang with them at a 10:00 =/- pace. We did about 2 miles, with those guys showering before heading off for some beers. I went back to the office (the difference between being in your 20's and nearing 40) and got home pretty late.

I was only slightly sore/stiff on Friday, but decided not to start adding a sixth weekly run (which will be a an easy 5-miler) on Friday morning, lest I risk getting hurt again. I did 5 easy at the in-laws on Saturday, and had to turn my planned 17-miler into a 15-miler (but a very pretty, hilly one) on Sunday in order to avoid screwing up the family's plans for the day.

So I put up about 42 miles last week, with a race effort and no injuries to show for it. Solid.


With the notion of qualifying for Boston (with a sub-3:20 marathon) at this year's Chicago Marathon no longer within the realm of realism, I have turned my focus to having some fun with my running. I've spent too long now worrying about every last tenth of a mile, wondering whether the fact that my heart rate was 2 beats per minute higher at the same pace was a sign of massive training regression, agonizing about running a PR in every stinkin' race. I want to have some fun with my fitness. Maybe I'm not that fast (yet!), but I have a heck of lot of endurance which I have spent 2 years developing. I am going to channel that endurance into what I think are two pretty cool running adventures before this year is over.

First, I will run in the Reach the Beach Relay, over 200 miles from the White Mountains to the New Hampshire seacoast. I will be part of a 12-member coed team and will run three tough legs totaling about 21 miles (with a 4-5 hour break between each). We had a team meeting last night, and it appears to be a great bunch of folks, most of whom have done it before and all of whom confirm that it's a wonderful experience.

The other undertaking is more of a personal quest. I plan to run 40 miles on my 40th birthday in early December. This seems like a worthy thing to which I can aspire without worrying about time, qualification standards, travel, etc. I am also pondering tying this run into a fundraising effort to benefit brain cancer research. This would honor a cousin of mine who died in 2005 of glioblastoma at age 36, a tragic end to the life of a wonderful spirit. This is all pretty fresh still, but I like the sense of of doing something for a greater purpose, not to mention the feeling of accomplishment when it's all done.

So, with that I'm off to run a 5K cross-country race, more so as a tempo run than an all-out 5K effort, supporting one of the local high school cross-country programs.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Few Thrills on the Hills

While I continue to feel "okay", my 15.5-miler yesterday was not a great run. The weather was nice enough yesterday morning, at least in comparison to what we've been having. It was sunny and in the mid-70's, but one forgets that that's still pretty darned warm for distance running. I also chose a route that had some very "scenic" elements, and - as I've noted before - views mean hills. I averaged about a 9:30 pace, not bad considering the terrain, but I had to stop about 5 times during the run. Three of those were opportunistic stops, because I ran into people I knew (2 colleagues out cycling and a running friend driving by). I was happy for the excuse to stop to talk to them. Other than going up the longest hill I've run in my area (a mile-plus-long strenuous climb), I'm not sure what's up. My HR was in control, and I was otherwise pain-free. There is still some lingering tightness in my hips and back, but it didn't seem to affect my gait.

What I fear is that I've lost some of the mental edge I'd begun to develop when training was really clicking. Every distance runner knows that the mental element is an enormous factor in successful performance, and I'm wondering whether the physiological backslide has dragged my mental fitness down with it. I don't know, but I think I will need to figure out how to train my mind along with my body in order to be able to run an optimal race.

I have enlisted the help of a coach, informally for now, whom I've "met" through the RW Forums. He's an accomplished marathoner himself, and I think I'm at the point in my running "career" where I need a learned advisor to help me sort through all of the book knowledge which I have acquired. I understand training principles, but have had a tough time applying them to myself in an effective way. Hopefully getting a professional opinion will help.

The schedule includes 9-10 miles tomorrow morning, 4-5 easy on the trails on Wednesday, showing a friend who is new to the neighborhood where to run and a the big corporate 5K race on Thursday, where I still think I may be able to go sub-20:00.

Finally, this week holds a visit to the chiropractor tomorrow and PT on Wednesday. I'll have to be extra careful at the office softball game tomorrow to make sure I don't do something stupid and up hurt again.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Still in One Piece

Tuesday's speed workout went well, slower than I might have hoped, but faster than I might have expected, all things considered. We did a warm-up mile, then a bunch of drills (butt kick, bounding, high knees, etc.) and some strides. Not surprisingly, I ran the first 400 meters of the first interval too fast, at about 1:31 (or 6:04/mile pace) before settling into my rhythm. I averaged almost exactly 1:42 per 400 for the 800's and the 1200, with - glad to say - remarkably even splits. My HR got up there (averaged about 176 bpm), but there were still some beats to spare in terms of all-out effort. That presumed 5K pace came out to about 6:50/mile, which is certainly slower than I would like to be. I estimate that I could run around a 6:35-6:40 pace if I had to race a 5K (in good conditions on a fair course) right now.

I ran the four 400-meter repetitions in an average of about 1:35 each, with the last one being the fastest at 1:32. I was tired, but not completely trashed, which was also a good sign. I cooled down for a total of 7 miles.

The highlight of the workout was not the running, per se, but the fact that I feel in with a new member of the running club, a refugee from Sierra Leone. He was clearly having trouble with even pacing, so the fact that he hung with me might have been helpful to his training. He's been in the US for 5 months, and he alluded to the fact that - given what he went through to get out of Sierra Leone and later out of Africa - a track session in the peaceful serenity of our town's main sports park is not hard. Given that I work daily with immigrants/non-citizens of all types, it does give one some much-needed perspective on what "problems" really are.

Yesterday morning I did 5 mega-slow miles on the trails, clocking a 10:00 average pace, but keeping my HR firmly in the recovery zone throughout.

Today I did a 10-mile progression run, starting at 10:00 pace (until the cobwebs cleared) and finishing at a sub-8:00 clip. It was drizzling and misting throughout, and despite cool temps I sweat like a maniac, but it felt good to sense myself getting stronger as the run went on.

My legs are fatigued, for sure, but no acute aches or pains. My lower back is slightly tight, and I need to get back to see my chiropractor post haste.

I'm a single dad through Saturday, so I'll have to wait to do my Saturday recovery run until my wife returns. Then I plan to go 15 miles on Sunday, with a Pfitzinger progression (starting at 20% slower and finishing at 10% slower than goal marathon pace). For now, goal marathon pace is 8:10-8:15/mile, until my fitness level indicates that that should change.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Little Toe in the Fast Pond

As I type this, the skies are threatening, and I wish the rain would come and go already, rather than just lingering above, likely to let loose as soon as I leave the office on my bike to go to the track to train with my running club for only the second time this year. With some trepidation - and with one ever-sleepy, bleary red eye focused on my next 5K on August 14th - I'm going to take part in our scheduled workout, a mix of intervals and reps. The workout looks like this:
  • Warm-up job - 1+ mile
  • Stretches, bounding, strides, etc.
  • 800m at 5K pace with 1 lap recovery
  • 1200m at 5K pace with 1 lap recovery
  • 800m at 5K pace with 1 lap recovery
  • 4x400 at rep pace (about 5-7 secs faster per 400m than 5K pace), 1 lap recovery
  • Cool-down - 1-2 miles, depending on how the legs feel

I plan to run these at a relatively conservative pace, as I do not want to get hurt. I'm slightly fatigued from the weekend's efforts, but I feel pretty good all things considered. It will be great to see some friends, though I have to make myself avoid trying to keep up with the ones with whom I was "even" earlier in the season, or - worse - last year.

I hope that my next entry will be about how well things went, how I held back at first, then opened it up and how I think I can PR during next week's 5K because a near-6:00/mile pace felt easy. Of course, I might as well hope to be writing about being Obama's Veep choice. We'll just have to wait and see.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Five Minutes, 500 Places and One Bonehead Moment

Yesterday I ran the Beach to Beacon 10K for the second consecutive year. I went into this year's race with the benefit of more running experience, knowledge of the pre-race logistics, and a better sense of the course. I also went in as a shell of myself, at least in terms of peak fitness. With my recent injury woes, I thought I would run by feel, with low expectations. I pretty much got what I expected, finishing over 5 minutes slower than last year, and more than 500 places further behind, not even cracking the top 1000 in this 5500-person race.

Disappointing results aside, there was some good - and one boneheaded moment - to take from the race. I met Bill Rogers briefly at the pre-race Expo. What a wonderful representative of the the sport: sociable, humble, knowledgeable, respectful of runners of all abilities. I also saw him briefly at the start, but I quickly realized I wouldn't be hanging with Boston Billy on this particular day. He ran about the same time I ran last year.

I arrived earlier than I did in 2007, and had plenty of time to relax, stretch, use the port-o-lets and warm-up. The temperature was a comfortable 65, but it was very humid, with dense fog. I lined up in between the 7:00 and 8:00/mile pace signs, thinking that if all went well, I could run a sub-7:30 pace. I had decided to pay close attention to my heart rate, and push or hold back accordingly. That turned out to be a smart move.

I covered the first mile in a little over 7:30, but it was clear that I was working pretty hard already. I took water at miles 1, 3 and 5, as opposed to every stop last year, and I'm not sure whether it was enough. Pulling back in the second mile, I ran it in a hair under 8:00. I swallowed my pride and decided to make this essentially a 10K tempo run, which would be a good thing to do at this point in my training. It would also might help me stave off getting hurt again.

I hit the the 5K mark in just over 24:00 minutes, but I remembered the second half of the course as being pretty hilly. I tried to run strong, but relaxed, with good posture, loose arms and shoulders, feeling the rhythmic pounding of my feet on the road. I gave many of the spectators the thumbs-up sign in exchange for their well-wishes as I tried to take things one mile at a time.

The second half of the race was much better - less hilly and more scenic - than I remembered it, maybe because I was running so much harder last year. I enjoyed myself this time, despite - or because - of the pedestrian pace. The second half also had a moment which I sort of regret, but will always remember.

Somewhere past the 4-mile mark, I saw a small, gray-haired woman running along on the left side of the street. She looked very, very familiar, but I thought there's no way it could actually be Joan Benoit Samuelson, since my catching (and passing her) in a race where she wasn't running at someone else's slower pace was about as likely as me getting to chat up Ryan Hall during a major marathon. Sure enough, though, as I went by her, I looked at the name on her race bib, and it said "Joan". I slowed, said hello, and - here's the stupid part - asked her if she was okay. She seemed a bit annoyed, and tersely replied that she was "fine". I moved ahead and felt really stupid for asking a distance running legend, a road racing icon, an Olympic gold medalist for crying out loud, if she was "okay" during a non-competitive 10K. Of course, the reason was that I figured some terrible fate was befalling Joan Benoit Samuelson if she was running a race at my pace, but - really now - the woman can handle herself, and doesn't need a moronic goofball like me to look after her at the race SHE FOUNDED OVER 10 YEARS AGO!

As a friend asked me later, "Did sticking your foot in your mouth slow you down much?" It was an apropos inquiry.

The other positives I take from the race are that - despite some tightness - nothing really hurt; I ran a near-perfect even split; I passed about 50 people in the final 1/3 of a mile or so, with the Garmin registering my fastest pace to be about 4:40 per mile; and, I didn't cramp up like I did after the race last year, probably since it was cooler.

This was the second consecutive year in which I failed to see the actual "beacon" of the race's name, since the fog kept it well hidden from view at Fort Williams. After the race, I did an easy mile cool-down and then ate some grub. I hopped the bus back to the parking area at the high school, and ended up chatting with a fast young guy who'd run in one of my favorite 5K races in Friendship, Maine. Last year, he got some publicity because he ran the 8 am race (finishing 3rd; I finished 5th overall), jumped in his car to drive to another 5K and ran that 9am race about a minute slower than the first one. He had a very respectable time of 40-minutes and change at Beach to Beacon. Breaking 40 minutes is my ultimate 10K goal.

My modified training plan called for 15 miles on Sunday, but I ran a little less than 14, figuring that there was no point in pushing it, and - frankly - having had enough after the second rainstorm, which briefly flooded the roads and waterlogged my already-heavy training shoes. The cooling effect of the rain was nice, but I was ready to be done after about 12 miles. My overall pace for the run was about 9:15, which isn't bad considering a couple of epic hills in the middle.

I now have to decide what to do this week and next week, as I gear up for the big 5K on August 14th, where there is professional as well as personal pressure to run well. My boss (who'll likely run around 18:30; he's 56) wants a sub-20:00 performance. After Saturday's race, I'm not sure if it's feasible, but I'm going to give it my best shot.