Monday, February 23, 2009

Lucky 13 (Weeks)?

So, week #1 of the 13-week Sugarloaf buildup is in the books. I wanted to do 45 miles. Check. I wanted to use Hudson as an influence. Check. I wanted to allow myself to recover from last weekend's half-marathon. Check. And, I wanted not to get hurt again. Check.

The week ended up looking like this:
  • Monday - XT (elliptical), plus circuit, stretching and core work
  • Tuesday - 5+ miles easy
  • Wednesday - 8+M, with 4x8 second steep hill sprints
  • Thursday - 5+M easy
  • Friday - 7M, intending to do 15 mins (or 2+ miles) at HM pace, but due to snow & slippery ground, did about 10 mins at HM effort
  • Saturday - 4+M easy
  • Sunday - 16M, with 12 outside easy and last 30 mins on TM hard (though I forgot that Hudson said it should have been uphill)

Total mileage was about 46 and change (adding in the overages) and I feel pretty good. The plan is to get to 50 miles this week, again doing my own version of what Hudson might suggest for the week. I've taken his Marathon Level 2 schedule and written out the final 13 weeks. I've sketched out my weekly mileage goals, including cutback weeks and a peak week of 65+ miles. Before each week, I'm writing my workouts below his, trying to keep the same "rhythm" to the week, but accounting for any fatigue, extra recovery, scheduling, racing or other issues. This seems very sensible, so long as I remain true to his philosophy that no plan should ever be written in stone so that we follow it blindly. The variety seems like a good thing, as it's been rather easy to settle into the same types of workouts, while avoiding others. Unlike Pfitzinger's plans, Hudson's workouts seem to involve shorter periods of intense running, with enough change of distance and paces to keep it interesting. On the other hand, learning the new stuff "on the fly" makes for having to focus in order to get it "right".

The main difference I've noticed is how I feel about training now that I have some objective, external confirmation that 3:20 is possible at Sugarloaf. My relatively untrained half-marathon time from February 15th puts me in line with a 3:18-ish marathon (yes, I know that the calculators can be optimistic for those of us who run less than 70 miles per week), and I expect to gain speed and endurance during this training cycle. Also, Sugarloaf is a fast course, for those who run the first 10 miles intelligently. I cross-checked other marathon results for those who have run Sugarloaf in the 3:15 to 3:20 range over the past couple of years, and it was invariably each person's fastest marathon over that same time period, faster even than Philadelphia, which many of them ran. I suppose if Eustis, Maine was not in the hinterlands, more than 200 or so people might run the race. Ironically,. though Maine is my neighbor state, the drive to Sugarloaf will be about the same as driving to NYC. Yup, it's up there, all right.

I don't know if I've crossed a fitness threshold or what, but surely 2+ years of consistent running is paying off. I also think that race experience and mental toughness are part of the equation. The Hamptons half-marathon was the first PR race where I never once thought how I'd like to slow down or quit. That tells me that (a) I'm finally learning how to race, and (b) I might have been able to run harder.

It's a joy to feel nearly 100% healthy, and to have palpable sense that my goal of qualifying for Boston is getting closer to being within my grasp. I can only imagine how it will feel if and when I arrive at that moment on the marathon course, be it at mile 20 or 24 or 26, where it becomes clear that the BQ is "in the bag". I won't be the first person to finish a marathon with tears in his/her eyes, but that will be a first for me. Ok, ok . . . I realize that there are still about 600 miles of training runs ahead of me, so I'll zoom back into the shorter-term view now.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Half-Marathon Addendum - The Splits

Just had a chance to break down the race by looking at the Garmin. Here's the story by the numbers:

1 - 7:13
2 - 7:14
3 - 7:09
4 - 7:16
5 - 7:09 [the wind died down a bit from miles 5-9]
6 - 6:57
7 - 7:02
8 - 7:04
9 - 6:54
10 - 7:06
11 - 7:09
12 - 7:10
13 - 7:07
0.1 - 1:30 (measured 0.25 by Garmin auto-lap, sub-6:20 pace)

Heart rate averaged 170, with a max of 178 during the final kick.

Yeah, I can live with that. Next HM goal may be to run sub-7:00 pace, but that may be overly ambitious.


A Man, No Plan, A Half-Marathon . . .

Today's post's title is a rip-off of the classic palindrome, "A man, a plan, a canal, Panama". For those who don't know, a palindrome is a word or phrase which reads the same backwards as forward (e.g., "Hannah" or "Madam, I'm Adam").

In this case, I'm trying to convey that I ran a half-marathon yesterday without having specifically trained for it. I've only hit 40 miles in a week once since the year's inception, and I'm dealing with a nagging groin strain which I sustained about 6 weeks ago during a pick-up soccer game. I made no race plan; set no time goal; printed no pace band. This is very much out of character for this mildly OCD runner.

Instead, I told myself that I would go out at around a 7:30 mile pace, see how I felt, and decide what sort of day it would be. I knew the course to be among the flattest in the area (a coastal loop with a couple of rolling hills, but peaking only at about 100 feet above sea level), and the weather looked to be decent. However, I felt under-trained, groin-strained, with my sinuses undrained [insert groan here].

It's relevant to note here that I ran one of the most disappointing races of my running "career" at the same place last year, when I "trained through" a high mileage week, did not pace well early, had a fueling catastrophe at around mile 6 (couldn't get the Sport Beans out of their package) and got to run through a nice little snowstorm during the final miles. So, while I had no plan, per se, redemption was on my mind.

Deciding how to dress for a potentially blustery New England winter day was a bit challenging, but I decided that less is more when it comes to racing. I drove to the race with two friends who dressed like they might be racing the Iditarod, with heavy hats, gloves, and pants. I went with my new short-sleeved Mountain HardWear windstopper top (with a half-zipper), arm warmers (goofy-looking, but effective; one guy I know said he liked the "Spider Man" look) and Race Ready shorts (with Sugoi wind briefs underneath - THE key article of clothing for the day). I wore my Saucony Grid Tangent lightweight trainers, but - having learned my lesson during a Thanksgiving Day 4-miler, I wore mid-weight SmartWool socks. I added light fleece gloves which come off easily and a light fleece hat. As it turned out, I was dressed perfectly. I never felt cold, and during the sunny stretches where the wind calmed down, I was able to take off my gloves, adjust my hat and unzip my shirt to remain comfortable throughout.

I saw two acquaintances at the starting line. One I know to be faster than me who wanted to see about running 7:15-ish pace. The other whose fitness I knew nothing about, who said he wanted to shoot for 7:30 pace. The faster guy and I started together for a mile or so, with the slower guy ahead of us. The faster guy left me (he ran a 7:02 overall pace), and I ran with the slower guy for about a half-mile, when I left him behind (he petered out late and ran a 7:59 average pace).

My HR got to 168-170 pretty quickly, and I was running between 7:05 and 7:15 per mile, fighting the wind and trying to draft off of other runners. The wind was a total bastard for the first 4-5 miles, until we turned into a shielded residential area. At each mile marker, I'd calculate what a 7:30 average mile would be, and then realized I was getting well ahead of that pace. Before I knew it, I realized that I was on track for a new PR, and the actual math got complicated, so I just focused on staying in the low 7:00 range . . . one mile at a time.

I drank a little bit of water at mile 3, took a Gu Roctane gel at mile 6, slowing to drink as much of 2 small cups of water as I could, and then skipped the remaining aid stations. Not sure whether that was good choice, but I didn't want to lose my momentum in the final stretch.

Having battled the wind on the northward part of the course, I looked forward to getting a nice strong tailwind coming back along the coast for the final 4.5 or so miles. Of course, turns out that the running gods were a bit bored, and the headwind was equally fierce coming back. While I'd had visions of running sub-7:00 pace for the final 4 miles, I had to work hard just to keep it at 7:10. I just could not find an extra gear.

The final miles involved seeing a few people whom I'd seen earlier on the course, along with a couple of sandbaggers who passed me at around mile 11 as if I'd been standing still. I caught up to a woman whom I'd seen along the course. She had passed me a few miles earlier, and she pulled away from me again at around mile 12. I was struggling to stay smooth and relaxed, and she seemed to stay about 10 meters ahead of me, whether I accelerated or not. When I finally could see the 13-mile marker and the finish line just behind it. I tried to kick it in. I was probably 0.25 miles from the finish, and this time I found the extra gear. The groin cooperated, and I passed the woman in that last tenth of a mile. The Garmin said I averaged about 6:20 pace for the last quarter-mile. I beat her by 4 seconds, with a new half-marathon PR: 1:34:08 (the race offered only gun time, which was about 10 seconds slower). I was ecstatic, especially given that I simply did not expect it going in. That's a 7:10 pace, and an almost two-minute improvement over November's effort (on a less hilly course, granted).

I came in 71st out of about 860 people (last year, I was 180-somethingth). With my new, more competitive age group, though, I was a humbling 14th. The guys who rode with me sandwiched me with their times: the faster one was 21st overall in about 1:26 (8 minutes faster) and the other finished in around 1:42 (8 minutes slower). Each was disappointed - for different reasons - with his time.

Now it's time for me to focus on a 13-week, Hudson-influenced training plan. I hope to line up at Sugarloaf healthy and in even better shape than I'm in now. If I keep my wits about me and get decent weather, I hope to get to enjoy the spoils of my hard work over the course of a full marathon. I think I hear Boston 2010 calling my name, and this time it really means it.

Thanks for reading, ESG

Friday, February 13, 2009

Various and Sundry

Today's post will be a stream of consciousness mish-mash of what's been going on since I last posted a couple of weeks ago.

Injury Report and Upcoming Race

The groin injury is healing, and I'm back up to 40+ miles per week, though I've sort of tapered back down this week in advance of a half-marathon on Sunday. Weather forecast looks good (for February in New England, anyway), with mid-30's and partly cloudy. The course is flat. Given the groin injury, though, I don't think it's a PR opportunity (though sub 1:35 would be awesome). It's doubtful I'm in as good shape as I was in November, have a head cold (courtesy of one or more of my family members, all of whom have had the flu) and don't know if the groin can sustain that many miles of fast running. I've done a 3+-mile tempo run each of the past several weeks (on the TM) and that's been fine, but when I've tried to kick it into a higher gear at the end of my longer runs, I've had mixed success lately. The current plan is to go out at 7:30 pace for the first couple of miles, check my HR and see where that leaves me. Since I ran a very disappointing race there last year, I just want to have a solid outing, maybe place in the Top 100 and not aggravate the groin.

Is Hudson the new Pfitzinger?

I've been reading Brad Hudson's book "Run Faster". Despite the unoriginal title, it is a very well-conceived, clear and innovative training guide. He focuses on a balanced approach, keeping three fitness "systems" in optimal shape: neuromuscular, endurance and specific endurance. He offers a lot of variety in terms of workouts and paces. He suggests short hill sprints as the only thing a runner needs to build strength and inoculate oneself against injuries. Best of all, though, he touts the absolute, critical importance of truly "listening to one's body" and adjusting any training schedule as needed.

On the RWOL Marathon Race Training forum, I've noticed more and more former Pfitzinger aficionado's migrating to Hudson. I will put together a 13-week plan starting after Sunday's half-marathon, hopefully peaking at around 65 miles per week, with a weekly average of around or over 50.

Boston to Sugarloaf
Speaking of training plans, I held a Boston exemption/invitation form in my hand last week. It was the result of knowing a guy who knows a guy who knows the president of the BAA. I will admit to being extremely tempted to accept it, but simply could not do so without feeling like I'd given up on my goal to qualify on my own. I know I haven't run a marathon anywhere close to my potential (or I'm grotesquely out of touch with that potential), so I am still hopeful that when I hit the right training groove, stay healthy and draw good weather on race day, I should be able to run 3:20 or better. So, rather than take the invitation, I signed up to volunteer at Boston. It's a great opportunity to give something back to my sport, but in a totally self-serving way, since I'll be thrilled to be a part of the 113th Boston Marathon, even if I'm not running it.
So, after a bit of back and forth between whether to return to Burlington, Vermont or try something different, I have signed up for the Sugarloaf Marathon in Eustis, Maine. Ironically, the drive time is about the same as going to New York City, but it still feels "local". Last year, there were fewer than 200 finishers, a far cry from my 3 prior marathons. Also, the course profile is intriguing, in that it climbs for about 10 miles, then loses 1000 vertical feet over the final 16 miles. Maybe that will help me run a decent final 10K for once. We shall see.
Loose Ends
A couple of weekends ago, I visited family in Florida. My mother lives in a typically over-manicured gated adult community. On Saturday, I ran on the roads and sidewalks on Saturday morning, when it was about 50 degrees. I wore shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt and people looked at me like I was crazy. As I ran along the shoulder of the road, I felt that several luxury cars, driven by people who may be just a tad past their driving prime, came a little close for comfort. When I switched to the sidewalks (which I'd avoided because the walkers had them pretty well monopolized), I had to deal with a number of golf carts which also gave me a very narrow berth. Turns out I didn't feel great, and my scheduled 5-6-miler turned into a 4+-miler.
The next morning, I drove to the beach with the top down on the rental car. My sister (who was also visiting) shivered all the way (it was about 56 degrees), and I took off north along A1A wearing a singlet and shorts. Again, I was regarded as someone who might have just escaped from a mental hospital (with enough foresight to fill 4 bottles on his Fuel Belt, though). I ran about 13.5 miles, and it was a joy to be free of all the layers which are a necessary evil this time of year. No hat, no gloves, no face mask or neck gaiter. No worry that my bottles would freeze, or that a bathroom stop would be a monumental production in the bare, snow-covered woods. I simply ran, passed hundreds of people (including a few who were a sight for sore, winter-deprived New England eyes) and had a great run.

It was a bit harsh to return to New Englad winter, but I've run in shorts a couple of times since, so it feels like we've turned a corner. A recent thaw has exposed the road's shoulder again and much - though by no means all - of the ice is gone. It's just a matter of time before getting up before dawn does not have to be a chilling, dreadful experience, when an hour-plus morning run will let me watch the sun rise and know that - even when I return home by 6:15 - it will already have been a very good day. Not sure what more one can ask from a hobby.