Training July 25-31

Yesterday marked the official one month anniversary of starting work with Coach Sandra. This week was a true assbuster, the first entire week that I can apply that qualification to, although there have certainly been some difficult individual workouts in the past few weeks. But the hard work was piled on this week, three really tough sessions over five days.

The hard work began on Tuesday morning, when I met up with Sandra bright and early at Sleepy Hollow High School’s track. This is a good place to train. While the track is not as fancy as the one at Bronxville High, it’s also not crowded with amblers. There were only two other runners there. Given that Sandra was standing in lane four with a stopwatch and yelling at me, they stayed out of our way.

Okay, Sandra wasn’t actually yelling at me. I just enjoy that image. She was yelling splits and, most of the time, encouragement. I won’t go into what we did, but it was really fucking hard. She even scaled back things a little when she saw that I was struggling through one of the repeats. I felt bad when she did that but she assured me that it’s the whole point of having a coach there and it’s better to be conservative than to overtrain.

To be honest, it’s nervewracking to have someone scrutinizing how you run. I don’t come from a track (or running at all) background, so this is a new experience for me. There’s a lot of pressure to run faster when someone is standing there at each lap, waiting for you. I don’t have trouble doing my workouts alone — meaning I will apply myself regardless of who’s around. But having that extra pressure was a real motivator to pick things up when I felt like shit. After next week Sandra won’t be there for most of my track work, at least through the rest of the summer. But I feel I have a better sense now of how I should adjust the intervals as I go along.

Here’s this week’s running tip: always run your recoveries in the opposite direction. This keeps you from stressing the same outer leg/hip (your right one if you do the hard stuff counterclockwise).

On Thursday I did a longish tempo run. It was absolutely horrible weatherwise: 82F with a dewpoint of 72 when I started. The average time is slow because my warmup/cooldown was practically walking, and my tempo miles were no great shakes due to the weather (around 7:30). I did this run on the northern section of the Old Croton Aqueduct trail and it was really, really lovely. I can’t wait to run there in the fall when it’s cool and colorful. Although there is a .6 mile long section of extreme up/down hill in the form of switchbacks as you head to and from the Hudson’s edge. That was murder to run up fast.

On Friday I got a massage and discovered just how nasty I’d been to my legs over the previous days. Hamstrings, quads, calves — everything was fucked up. Even my arms hurt, especially the forearms for some reason. I wished I’d gone for a 90 minute session since 60 didn’t seem like enough. But I ambled home (it’s a short walk from my house through suburban streets) and collapsed on the couch for a few hours. I felt okay this morning, more or less ready for another epic run.

This time I tried the middle section of the OCA. I didn’t like that one as much. Much of it is a narrow track of dirt cutting through grass. Some of it is rooted and rocky. And it’s broken up by streets (including one that required a full seven minute wait at a stoplight where four streets converged), which slows everything down. My legs felt the week’s earlier abuses at the 8 mile mark, but I kept at it. Fortunately, the weather was so pleasant today that it was almost not noticeable. In the low 70s and very dry. I ran the last few miles as fast as I could, which wasn’t very fast. Still, faster than the last few progression runs. I was happy with the effort considering that it was on top of two earlier faster sessions.

Next weekend is the NYRR team championships, so the mileage and intensity get dialed down again. After this week, I’m grateful for some down days.

Review: Saucony Kinvara

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a shoe review. This is primarily because I’ve found a few models that I’ve been happy enough to stick with over the past 18 months or so: the Pearl Izumi Streak and the Saucony Fastwitch 3. They are covered on the reviews page (the Streak being pretty much identical to the Peak XC reviewed there). I used to use these for just racing or faster running, relying on another Saucony shoe, the Grid Tangent 3, as my daily training workhorse.

I was never totally thrilled with the Grid Tangent. This isn’t obvious, since I’m on my eighth pair. I kept buying it because it didn’t cause problems, and that is reason enough to buy a shoe. But I’ve been phasing those out as I’ve moved to doing my daily training in what I used to consider “speed” shoes (the Streak and the Fastwitch), and racing in even lighter shoes, such as the Asics HyperSpeed or the Adidas Adizero Ace, the former of which is a true racing flat. To give you a sense of how often I run in what, I’m on my sixth pair each of the Streak and the Fastwitch. The Adidas shoes (I also sometimes run in the Adizero Tempo) are slightly too narrow, so I won’t buy those models again.

This isn't even all of them.

Anyway, the net of all this is that I have been a runner in transition, and my shoe choices reflect it. I have not jumped on the minimalist bandwagon (and you should probably put some space between me and barefoot running enthusiasts at parties). I’ve merely found that I’ve gotten more comfortable in lighter and lighter shoes. At this point, even the Grid Tangent, at 7.9 oz. each, feels too heavy. Add to this that I’ve discovered that, despite my feet falling into the “slight overpronator” category, I’ve found that neutral shoes are more comfortable to run in. The lighter shoes typically fall into the neutral category, so this has been a happy discovery.

Here I am today, doing most of my training runs in the Streak or Fastwitch. The Streak’s problem is that it’s just slightly too big (but if I half size down it’s slightly too small). So unless I wear thick socks, it can feel a little floppy. I wear very thin socks in the summer, so it gathers dust for 3-4 months a year. And the problem with the Fastwitch is that it’s a shoe designed for the slight overpronator. Which means it’s a little stiff around the arch. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great shoe — at 6.6 oz. each, very light and fast, and it held up under the demands of a full marathon. But I am aware of the shoe while I am running in it. I don’t like to be aware of my shoes.

Sorry for the long preamble. There is a point to all of this. Saucony recently came out with a new model, the Kinvara. They have billed it as a “minimalist trainer.” It’s got a low heel-to-toe drop (meaning the heel is only 4mm higher than the toe). But this is not a racing flat. If anything, the sole is on the thicker side, and it’s flared out a bit, so there’s lots of lateral coverage. This design does not equal “heavy,” however. The Kinvara is only slightly heavier (meaning a few tenths of an oz. each) than is the Fastwitch.

It’s a great shoe. I think it may be the best trainer I’ve tried, and I’ve tried many. It’s light, but solid. You can feel the road, but it’s not “feel every pebble” thin like a flat. And it’s flexible and even feels a bit springy. I am months away from doing 20 milers, so I can’t say how it holds up over distance. But on 10-12 milers it’s been fine. Even though Saucony doesn’t bill it as a racer, I suspect it would perform very well at at the marathon distance.

One quibble: the colors. Do women really want pastel-colored running shoes? I don’t. The available colors are straight out of one of Estelle Getty’s polyester leisure suits from The Golden Girls. I am actually tempted to size down the men’s model (although I’m worried that the heel won’t be narrow enough for me) so I don’t have to wear Easter colors on my feel. They also conveniently don’t go with any of my other running clothes.

Here’s Saucony’s video about the Kinvara.

I’ll still experiment with doing speedwork and racing in lighter and lighter flats. But in the Kinvara I’ve found my new daily trainer for all of those other miles.

A few minutes with Adriana Pirtea

Adriana Pirtea, 29, was a surprise showing at the Mini 10K press event. She wasn’t on the roster, so I hadn’t researched her. But I knew three things about her: she’s originally from Romania, she lives and trains in Colorado (Fort Collins), and she was nipped in the last 50 meters by Berhane Adere at the 2007 Chicago Marathon, where Pirtea’s mistake was celebrating her win too early at what, up until that moment, had been a dream debut at the distance. Since dredging up a bad memory is a terrible way to get someone to open up to you, I decided to not mention Chicago (even though I was dying to). Instead, I decided try out some of the more oddball questions I had, to see what I’d get. One piece of exciting news: Pirtea is going to become a US citizen in November, so we’ll have another very fast import soon.

10th, London 2008, with a 2:28.

What do you think about when you’re racing?
Many things. When you’re in a race, you know how you’ve prepared and what kind of speed you want to go. If you’re thinking about the marathon, then it’s a long way. I actually have almost no time to think of anything else but just to keep myself in the rhythm.

So you’re in the moment when you’re running.
Yes. I just watch my competitors. If I struggle a little bit, I try to come back. If I go too fast, just go back in the rhythm so I don’t waste my energy too much. That’s kind of it. It’s almost like you think too much of the race over the moment. People say, “Do you think of everything you’ve done in your life in the marathon?” It’s not like that. It’s just keeping your body motivated and being able to keep the pace up to the end of the race.

Are you breaking the race up into different sections, or are you running mile by mile?
You know, it depends. A couple races were such a tactical race, very slow. Sometimes you feel very fit and trained. This might be a mistake, to stay at a slow pace. It happened to me a couple of times, and I blamed myself. Why didn’t I go faster, to make my own pace? But sometimes a race can be a fartlek, where people try to get rid of the other ones. Most of the time, it’s a good race if — like Magdalena [in Rotterdam] — you can be pretty steady all the time, if possible.

When did you start running in Romania?
I was 17 years old when I started running. I started improving very quickly and I got a chance to get a scholarship to run here [for University of Texas, El Paso] just a few years after I started running.

Did you specialize in a certain distance when you first started?
I kind of jumped from one to another one, because that’s the way the championships were going there. So I’d be running 1500 or 3000 indoor and then a half marathon and then 5000. So all over.

Do you have a favorite?
I have a favorite when I run well.

It’s funny how that happens.
Yes. Because I did my debut a couple years ago in the marathon. It was a great marathon for me. And so I liked it that day. A year later, when I didn’t do too well — don’t ask me, because I was like, “This is not for me.” But everybody’s saying, “This is for you. You have to go for the marathon.” I used to love being on the track sometimes, and right now [I'm] losing the speed. So I have to stick with the marathon and half marathon right now, because that’s probably where I can perform better.

If you couldn’t be a runner, do you have other things you’d like to do?
I think I just love running. Before I started running, I was a dancer. I was dancing for my school. That was a really cool thing. I started running because my teammate had to lose some weight. She was about to get kicked off the team. So I said, “I’m going with you. We’re going to go run, you’re going to lose weight, and you’re going to be back there.” When I took her there, she didn’t want to run. She was embarrassed.

So my dad talked to the coach and he’s like, “Okay, you have to run now.” And so I just glued to the group of guys and stayed with them and I was so relaxed. And they were saying, “Slow down…” and I was like, “No, I feel good.” At the second training session they said, “Uh, we have a cross country race in two weeks. Do you want to run it?” It was a short distance, only 1500 meters. And I was like, “Okay, I’m running.” And I won the race so easily. And they said, “You have to stay in this sport.” And I said, “Okay, I’m staying.”

I think that’s called “destiny.”
Yes, I think so too.

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