Monday, March 30, 2009

Quantity vs. Quality - Do We Have to Choose?

Last week might have been the best week of training I've ever had. Given my relatively short and lackluster running "career", that may not be saying much, but it certainly felt good to get through it by hitting or surpassing target paces and mileage goals and feeling pretty healthy at the end. I seem to have found a balance between quantity (high mileage) and quality (speed work).

The week turned out like this:
  • Mon - usual non-running XT day
  • Tues - track repeats chronicled in the last post - 11+ miles total
  • Wed - 10 miles "easy", averaging 8:35/mile
  • Thurs - 6.2 miles recovery (was tired and cold, so I turned around a little sooner than halfway to 7)
  • Fri - 10 miles, with 1x3M at half-marathon pace and then 1x2 at half-marathon pace (which averaged out to around 7:03/mile)
  • Sat - 7 miles recovery in the morning (9:00 pace); 1.5 mile messing around at the track with my kids later on
  • Sun - 17 miles in a 38-degree downpour, with 13 easy and the last 4 progressively harder, until I finished below marathon pace

That's about 63 miles total for the week, which is pretty close to a mileage PR for me. Also, I've never done that much quality in a single week. Sunday's run was on one of the hillier routes around. Here's the profile:

The elevation ranges from under 300 feet to over 700 feet, and the climb at mile 12-13 takes one from a low riverside point up a hill with a lovely apple orchard at its crest. I'm trying to tackle all of the big hills in the area in order to have a fighting chance of staying strong at Sugarloaf. It was far from an ideal run, thanks to the pouring rain, the numb hands, the waterlogged shoes and some GI issues (which have been plaguing me a bit on these long runs recently; need to look into that). But the feeling I took away from that run, resulting from having had the tenacity to follow through with my plan, push past the discomfort, aggressively approach hills that were daunting to me just a few short months ago . . . all of that is adding an element to my marathon preparation beyond what I've experienced: confidence that I can keep my head and body focused on the task at hand for 26.2 miles (and hopefully requiring no more than 3:19:59 of such focus).

This week involves some "front-loading" in order to be slightly less fatigued for a half-marathon on Sunday. It's on my running club's Grand Prix circuit, and I hope to be able to score a point or two for the team. I'm also going to shoot for a sub-7:00 pace, which may greedy and unrealistic at the tail end of a second 60+-mile week, but I've been surprising myself lately, so I may as well give it a shot. If I crash, I can live with that, and may still have a shot at lowering my PR from February.

Here's how the week looks now:

  • Mon - the usual elliptical, circuit, core & stretching
  • Tu - 12 miles total, with 4x1 mile at a little under HM pace (maybe 6:45/mile)
  • Wed - 10 miles easy
  • Th - 8 miles (with a few hill sprints if the legs feel like it)
  • Fri - 8 miles easy
  • Sat - 5 miles very easy, with 4x100-meter strides
  • Sun - 2-mile warm-up, 13.1 miles at 6:59/mile and 2-mile cool-down

That's a nice round 60, before stepping back a bit next week. Then the plan is to string together three strong weeks before a 2-week taper.

Will keep you posted. -ESG

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Speedy Shlomo Gonzalez

This post is little more than a celebration of the fact that evidence continues to mount that - if I stay healthy - 2009 should be a very good running year for me. The title is a nod to my Latino/Jewish identity, just a little personal inside joke. There's no reason you should think it's funny.

On Tuesday, I joined my running club for what was scheduled to be a up to 8x400 in order to start getting people ready for race season. Being in the heart of marathon training, I wanted to do 800-meter repeats instead. The pace would depend on how I felt after Sunday's 21+-miler, anywhere from 5K-10K pace. One other guy, who's training for Boston, also wanted to do that. He's very fast in everything from the 5K (usually runs about 17:45) to the half-marathon (where I think he's run sub-1:23), but his marathon performance tapers off, with his PR somewhere around 3:15 (not that I'd sneeze at that, but he's clearly capable of doing better). We decided to our 800-meter repeats at a pace of 6:00-6:04, or 90-91 seconds for each 400-meter lap. As you are about to see, it did not work out that way. Here's the breakdown of yesterday's whole workout:
  • 3+ miles warm-up
  • 1.5 miles (6 laps) of drills & strides
  • 6x800 at the following paces (1 lap recovery at 9:00+ pace):

    5:44/5:39/5:53/5:58/6:01 (what it should have been the whole time) and 5:31
  • 2+ miles cool-down run home - slow!

Total for the day was a bit over 11 miles. Perhaps the repeats were too fast, but being able to do the last repeat faster than the first would signify that the paces weren't too crazy. What they were is inconsistent, thanks to my fumbling around to figure out what my new 5K pace actually is and therefore who it should feel. My max HR was 180, which occurred on the last repeat as I pushed the final 400 meters.

Today, I stuck with my planned 10 miles, run comfortably at about an 8:35 average pace. The hills were tough - both up and down - but while I might have felt some fatigue, it did not affect my pace at all. My HR today may have been a few beats higher than usual for that pace, but I didn't feel like I was exerting myself any more than I should have been.

This newfound fitness level is a very pleasant surprise to me, but seems to have befuddled some of the members of the running club, including our beloved coach who wrote me a concerned e-mail last night warning about the perils of running too fast during marathon training. He's right to be concerned, since he knows my injury history, but no one other than a couple of close running "confidants" know how my training has been going since last fall. Thanks to extra hills and core work, along with approaching 3 years of consistent running, it appears that I am reaping some benefits (finally, if you ask me).

Of course, the challenge now is to stay healthy and peak at the correct time for the Sugarloaf Marathon in May. Every good workout and each new race PR gives more more confidence that I will finally fulfill my goal of qualifying for Boston by running under 3:20. A bunch of new shorter distance PRs will merely be icing on that cake.

I'll keep you posted on what develops from here.


Monday, March 23, 2009

A Welcome Change of Scene

Last week it was time to "get out of Dodge". My wife had a window of opportunity to take time off, so we pulled the kids out of school and headed to Washington, DC for a few days of sightseeing in the Nation's Capitol. Our kids had been interested in politics (well, sort of) since the election, and there's been so much going on lately, that it was palpably exciting to be in the thick of it for a few days. I even got some work done. I'll spare you the mindless vacation nattering (though we saw a lot and had some real family fun), and will stick to the running highlights.

After Sunday's long run with the last 5 at marathon pace, I ran 5 easy miles on Monday while we were still home. I almost never run on Monday, but wanted to position myself to get close to 50 miles in for the week. We drove for about 10 hours on Tuesday, which I'd planned as a rest day. My wife - bless her heart - gave me an enthusiastic green light to go for a short, pre-dinner run after we arrived at our Georgetown hotel. I zoomed to the Lincoln Memorial and back, finishing site of many of my casual 3-4-mile runs when I was in grad school and lived a few blocks from there in Foggy Bottom. It was nice to stretch my legs, though I was underdressed for the cool wind coming off the Potomac River. The rest of the week shaped up like this:
  • Wednesday - 9 miles, mostly on the C&O Canal tow path
  • Thursday - 5 miles, to catch up to the family at the zoo (threw in a quick 6:50 mile into the harsh wind)
  • Friday - 7 miles, again on the tow path (that made 11 consecutive running days)
  • Saturday - scheduled off day, drove home
  • Sunday - decided to do this cycle's first 20+-miler; hit the 20-mile mark in 2:53 (did miles 16-20 between 8:00-7:30 pace), and ended up doing 21.25 (had to go real slow for the last 1.25 because the snow had not melted off the path yet and it was slick and uneven)

Total mileage for the week was about 52, with very little intensity, so not that much of a cutback. I feel surprisingly good coming off a 21-miler, so that bodes well for my remaining 8 weeks.

This week is scheduled to go like this:

  • Monday - elliptical/circuit/core/stretch
  • Tuesday - 10 miles, including 400 or 800m intervals with the running club
  • Wednesday - 10 miles easy, with a few hill sprints if I feel okay
  • Thursday - 8 miles easy
  • Friday - 10 miles, with 5-6 at half-marathon pace
  • Saturday - 5 miles easy
  • Sunday - 17-18 miles, with 13-14 at marathon pace plus 10-20 seconds (so around 7:50 pace)

Total mileage = 60+ (perhaps my 3rd ever 60-mile week)

If I can keep up this mileage and intensity without getting hurt, I'm feeling more and more confident about my chances of qualifying for Boston on May 17th.

In other running-related news, I just heard about my 113th Boston Marathon volunteer assignment. Rather than any of the race-day tasks for which I signed up, I'm slated to work the Expo on Saturday afternoon/evening. Not the exact emotionally-charged, adrenaline-fueled experience I had hoped for, but I'll be a good doobie and help where I'm needed. Hopefully, I'll still get a cool volunteer's jacket. Next year, I'll be at the Expo as a participant, and at least I'll know my way around.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Round & Round He Goes . . .

where he'll stop, nobody knows.

The title for this post comes from last Wednesday's workout, which turned into an exercise in mental focus. Because of the recent rise in temperature around here (HOORAY!), the snow's been melting at a fast clip. On Wednesday, that produced a very foggy, sloppy day, and I felt that it wasn't super-safe to run outside, since it would be tough for cars to see me. I headed for the athletic center at the private school where I live, and planned to warm up for 2 miles on the indoor track, do maybe 6 miles on the treadmill (with 30-second bursts at 5K pace every half-mile or so), and then finish up with 2 more miles on the track. That track surrounds an indoor, multi-sport turf, and is 1/10 of a mile around. Well, I started running on the track and decided that it'd be easier to accelerate there than have to fiddle with the treadmill controls every few minutes. I thus set out to run 10 miles at 10 laps per mile. How many laps is that, my dear students? Right, 100. Now, I'm not planning to do this very often, but there was something gratifying about making myself keep going until I'd done what I set out to do. When the going gets tough in my next marathon, I can take in the gorgeous scenery and remind myself that at least I'm not stuck doing 100 laps on an indoor track. :-)

Otherwise, I had a good workout on Friday: 8 miles total, with two sets of 15 minutes at half-marathon pace. Set #1 came out to around 6:55/mile, while #2 was closer to 6:45 pace. Sunday, though, was my first "real" long run of this cycle, a bit over 17 miles, with some major hills and the final 5 miles at goal marathon pace. It was about 25 degrees when I left, but I knew it was going to warm up, so I went with shorts. This time of year, it's tough to stay comfortable for an entire run. The climb from about the 10.5 to 12-mile mark is one of the most challenging hills around this area, gaining nearly 400 feet in about 1.5 miles. Here's the route:

Last year, I would have likely run that killer ascent in an 11:00 pace, but I managed to keep it at 10:00 pace yesterday. Other than the fierce dog which ran after me, it was a good, solid climb. At the top, I took my second gel of the day and went into the marathon-paced segment of the run. In order to qualify for Boston, I need to average 7:39 per mile for a marathon, so I'm striving to be in shape to run at an average pace of 7:30 per mile (a guy needs a little margin for error). Of course, the wind picked up into my face for that last part, but the splits for my final 5 miles were 7:39/7:42/7:36/7:30/7:02. It was hard, but manageable. I had to stop to drink at around mile 15.25, as the wind had a dehydrating effect, and I'd taken in far fewer fluids than I would have to that point in a marathon.

With 9 weeks to go to my next Boston-qualifying attempt, I'm feeling pretty good about where I am.

This week, we're off on a family vacation, so I hope to get in around 45 miles on 5 days of running, with perhaps a 20-miler when we're back next Sunday. I'll need to get up and out early to avoid interfering with our family's visit to our nation's capital. We're looking forward to a change of scene, and the kids should very much enjoy all the sites DC has to offer.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

PR-ing Like a Kitten

Another race, another personal best. On Saturday I ran a little local 3-mile (not 5K) race. I'd run it on a different course in 2007, when I had been "serious" about running for about 8 months at that point. I'd wanted to run under 20:00, and I ran 19:46, finishing 3rd in my age group. This year, I wanted to run under 18:30. Yeah, that's a lot more ambitious.

The weather completely cooperated for a change as the temps broke 50 and the sun was out. The roads were pretty messy and muddy thanks to all the melting snow, but it was a trade-off I was very willing to make. I got a ride from a running buddy so that I could run the 5 miles home after the race. I trotted out the dazzling new lightweight racing shoes, the Nike LunaRacers:

Although I'm not a Nike fan in general, the buzz on this shoe made me check my moral qualms at the door and try them out. While I don't see myself running a marathon in them (I need more support), they are a dream combination of cushioning at an incomprehensibly low weight, likely to get me through up to a 10K. For comparison, bear in mind that my "light" training/racing shoes weigh in at about 9.5 ounces. The LunaRacers? 5.5 (yes, five and a half) ounces. When you think about the energy required to lift one's foot over the course of a race, that's a major difference. And when I put them on yesterday for the second time ever (and first time in a race), I just felt faster right away.

Here's the overview of the day:

  • 2-mile warm-up in my Asics GT-2140, with 2 100-meter strides thrown in
  • Change into LunaRacers and shed warm-up layer, running in shorts and singlet
  • Run the 3-mile race
  • Run the majority of the course a second time
  • Run home
  • Day's total was a little under 13 miles

The race was a wonderful experience for me. The miles went by like this:

  1. Started out WAY too fast (getting sucked into a low-5:00/mile pace by the track and XC kids), so slowed myself down by the half-mile point; Mile #1 - 5:48 (which is a new mile PR for me); average HR = 173
  2. Second mile was into the wind, with two small hills and a 4 tight turns; the eventual female winner passed me, ending up beating me by about 10 seconds; split - 6:19; average HR 180, with a max of 184
  3. At this point, I was trying to keep my head together; I was running with a fellow running club team member whom I've never beaten in a race, and was ahead of two other teammates whom I'd seen at the start, but who had not passed me; with about 0.25 left, the guy running with me seemed to let up, and I finished about 7 seconds ahead of him (though I would have preferred that it come to a kick to make it more exciting); split - 6:04; average HR 179

Gun time = 18:23; my time, 18:21. Finished 15th overall; 2nd in my age group (lost by 30 seconds, so there's plenty of work left to do).

Yes, I'm ecstatic about running a mile PR in a race and still holding on for a respectable result. A number of my running club mates commented about their "surprise" at seeing my time. No one came out to accuse me of doping or anything, but I wonder if that's far behind. Seriously, after feeling like I was in a bit of a rut, it's been very gratifying to set a PR in every race I've run going back to Chicago 2008 (a disappointing result, but still a marathon PR). That would be new bests in the marathon, half-marathon (twice), the 4-mile and the 3-mile (I suppose I could claim a 40-mile PR, but that seems a bit ridiculous, even for me). It seems like running is finally starting to show me some of the love I've shown it during the past couple of years.

I plan to bump my mileage up to the mid-50's this week, with nothing fast unless and until I feel like I've really recovered from Saturday's effort. I'm NOT going to be stupid and greedy this time around. No, seriously. I mean it! Next week will be a conveniently forced cutback week, as we're going on a family vacation, with 2 almost-full driving days and the need not to disappear for hours at a time. I'll try to work around the travel schedule and put up 45+ miles, then ramp it up to 60 after that.

So far, so good. I just hope I can keep the engine PuRing through May 17th (and beyond).


Thursday, March 5, 2009

How Fast Is Too Fast?

As I embrace Hudson's training philosophy full-on, I have run more "quality" lately than I have in as long as I can remember. Gone are my regular 9:00+-mile efforts. Instead, I've done hill repeats at 10K pace, lots of short hill sprints, fartlek intervals, progression runs with "hard" finishes and even classic repeats at 5K pace. The way I described it in RWOL is that Hudson seems to get more "gears" into the mix, and it seems to be helping me fill in some gaps in terms of my running strengths (few) and weaknesses (plenty). Since I seem to be tolerating the schedule relatively well, it doesn't seem like it's too much intensity too soon, but I need to remain extremely attentive to how I'm feeling and pull back if and when it's necessary.

This week's 50+ miles will likely end up breaking down like this:
  • Monday - cross-training day
  • Tuesday - 7 miles, with 5x800 repeats at 5K pace with 2:00 rest (repeats ranged from 6:15 down to 5:59 pace, though on the TM those paces are not necessarily accurate)
  • Wednesday - 10.5 miles at an easy pace (9+), plus 3 hours of downhill skiing
  • Thursday - 8 miles easy
  • Friday -4-5 miles, very easy, with 4-5 100-meter strides
  • Saturday - 3-mile race, with possible second loop on the race course at tempo pace; with warm-up and cool-down (including running home from the race), should be 10-12 miles total
  • Sunday - 10 miles, 5 before my running club comes over, and 5 with other club members before having brunch

I'd like to run well in Saturday's race, but don't really know what to expect. I'm slightly sore from the past few days' efforts, but not bad. I can feel the groin twinge every so often, but not during any particular point in terms of distance or pace. So, on Saturday, I'm going to go out close to 6:00 for the first mile and hope to hang on for dear life. I'd be thrilled with 18:30 (this is a 3-miler, not a 5K, and that won't likely even get me an age-group placing) and could live with anything under 19:00, since that would still mean I'm poised for a new 5K PR sooner rather than later, simply off of the overall volume and strength of my recent training (i.e., since I've done very little 5K-pace running). Oh, and I must avoid getting hurt.

Next week I plan to bump up the mileage to mid-50's, and then will likely have to have a cutback week as we take a family trip to DC during the week of March 16th. With two full driving days and possibly limited spousal patience, I'll have to be judicious about when and for how long I run. If the weather is nice, then some early morning long-ish runs may carry me through to a 45-mile week.

Look for a race report sometime after Saturday's race.