Healthy Kidney 10K: Khannouchi’s Comeback

As promised, here’s the second report on my journalistic gatecrashing exercise. In this installment, I share what I learned from talking with Khalid Khannouchi and with his wife, Sandra Inoa, who is also his coach and agent.

I was so involved in yammering with Patrick Smyth about altitude training that I didn’t notice Khannouchi had come in. But I did sense people drifting away from our table and eventually figured out why they were flocking to the other side of the room: the comeback story had arrived. I joined them a few minutes into their session.

If you don’t follow elite running, or your exposure to it has been very recent, you probably have no idea who Khalid Khannouchi is. Khannouchi is a Moroccan-born runner (he became an American citizen in 2000) who got on the radar by winning gold for the 5000m at the World University Games in 1993. But he gradually moved up in distance over subsequent years, establishing himself as a world class marathoner in the late 1990’s.

His marathoning career began with a bang: he ran a 2:07:01 in Chicago (a race he would go on to win three more times) in 1997, which was then the world’s fastest marathon debut time. It was also (again, at the time), the fourth fastest marathon ever run. But, as it turns out, Khannouchi was just getting started. Over the next few years, he managed to lower that time in four out of his next seven marathons. His best was a 2:05:38 in London in 2002, a time that still stands as the American record.*

Then, later in 2002, Khannouchi’s fortunes turned. He began to experience problems in his left foot, which would plague him for years an cut short his training for the 2008 Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials race in Central Park. Despite that, Khannouchi finished fourth, securing a spot as the team’s alternate in Beijing. After that, he ran just one more race, the Steamboat Classic in Peoria, IL, a four miler held in June, in which he would place ninth.

Surgery, followed by rehab
Khannouchi has had several surgeries on his foot and he’s hoping the most recent one, which was performed a little over a year ago, will be the one that solves his problem once and for all. When asked about the details of the surgery, he began to describe it, then leaned down and took off his shoe and sock to show rather than tell. There were his scars: one to remove a bunion and another along the top lateral instep to remove a bone spur. (Khannouchi has very attractive feet for a runner, by the way.)

Completing the rehab package are two custom made orthotics, with the left one being completely different in form and appearance from the right one. He has two sets of orthotics, one for running and one for just walking around. It took three months to arrive at the right structural formula for them. He’d get a pair, try them out, report back and then try a new pair that had been tweaked.

In the meantime, he was cross-training on a stationary bike, doing a lot of pool running and testing the waters with some jogging on the roads. He’s only been running again, after a complete post-surgery layoff from road running, for about six months.

Although he occasionally trains with his brother (I don’t know which one; he has several), Khannouchi usually trains alone, doing his track workouts at Sleepy Hollow High School’s track, trail running in Rockefeller State Park and sometimes doing a run in Central Park, where he is often recognized.

Baby steps, starting in Central Park on Saturday
What Khannouchi wanted to make perfectly clear was that the Healthy Kidney event was not meant to be a competitive race for him. He had no expectations of winning. Instead, this was a trial run to test everything out. Could he run fast and hard on pavement without pain? Could he race up and down hills? Could he push himself? These were the questions he was looking to answer on Saturday. He needed a competitive race for this experiment, and Healthy Kidney seemed like a good place to start: it’s in his backyard, he’d have competition around him and he could count on the full support of NYRR.

When asked about what other plans he had for his burgeoning comeback attempt, Khannouchi said he planned to do two more 10Ks this summer as similar, iterative tests: the Atlanta Peachtree race in July and Maine’s Beach to Beacon race in August. I went over to talk to Inoa about these races, since I figured she was the brains behind the plan. And she was. But first, she rolled her eyes and laughed when I asked about the two races. “He told you about Peachtree and Beach to Beacon?” she asked, looking a little exasperated. (As it turns out, Peachtree was already out there, but I don’t know if he was supposed to mention Beach to Beacon; a note to them post interview to inquire resulted in permission to publish their plans to go to Maine here).

Khannouchi didn’t do any 10K specific training for this race, primarily because he can’t. Because of his foot, he can’t run 200-400m track repeats, but, as he said, “You don’t need those for the marathon.” The 10K is a distance that’s long enough to reveal any lingering issues, but short enough to race frequently. I gathered that it’s also a distance that will allow Khannouchi to return to the races/courses in Georgia and Maine, where he’s done well and gotten organizational support in the past.

Two more tests, then a decision
Inoa has him running around 70 miles per week at this point. The plan is to gradually ramp up the mileage and intensity of training over the summer, using the two 10K road races to similarly test how he’s handling the load. A hard race will accomplish two things: for one, it will provide a “stress test” from which the couple can gather information about how his body is holding up to the ever increasing demands; for another, it will show whether he’s making absolute progress in terms of speed. If he’s going to compete at any distance, he needs to get faster.

Which brings me to another interesting facet of this story. Khannouchi is 38 years old. That’s not young for a male marathoner. Yet he is making a comeback in the open category, not as a masters runner. He wants to compete against everyone, not just his Age Group peers. Making a statement like that will almost certainly open him up to a wave of criticism and naysaying, which makes it all the more compelling that he’s saying it. As a side note, Khannouchi mentioned Meb Keflezighi’s comeback from what many had declared a dead career as an inspiration and galvanizing influence on his own decision to give competitive marathoning another go.

Anyway, the idea is that by the time he runs that third 10K race, he should be in or approaching full marathon training mode, meaning up to 110-120 mile weeks again. Beach to Beacon is going to be Sink or Swim, in a sense. That race should reveal his level of readiness to take on the full marathon at the competitive level he expects of himself. If he’s not ready, they’ll back off from their plans and reevaluate. If he is ready, then it’s full speed ahead.

Learning to be patient
At one point I asked Khannouchi about recovery time. I prefaced the question by saying that, since I’m a few years older than he is, I felt I could ask him this: “As you’ve gotten into your late thirties, do you find you need more recovery time? What about entire recovery weeks?”

His answer was that he did need a lot more recovery time and that it was not unusual to take workouts that he used to cram into one week when he was younger and spread them out over two weeks. But he does not take entire “down weeks.” Inoa just keeps his workload at a reasonable level throughout the training cycle.

Still, now that he’s running well again, Inoa has to rein him in. As she told me, “He’s been frustrated because he wants to jump back in and run fast workouts.” She has to hold him back and remind him that the focus right now is on regaining his fitness while avoiding injury. That means being patient.

Race day success
I spotted Khannouchi well behind the lead pack at mile 1.5 of the race, but holding up well. He was running fast and looked good. There was no sign of pain on his face, hitches in his stride or any other indicators of something being amiss. For a non-competitive effort, he still placed in a respectable 21st place, a little under three minutes off his best for the distance. He looked genuinely happy when he crossed the finish line.

I caught up with him after the race in the media area, where he was getting a massage. We chatted for a few minutes about how the race went. Here’s a transcript of our exchange:

Me: You looked really good at mile 1.5. You looked smooth and relaxed.

KK: I felt good throughout the race.

Me: So how was it?

KK: It was hard. First race in three years. I mean, it’s not going to come easy, but we felt like it was a good effort and it was very exciting to be out there. I feel like I pushed hard and, 30:30 or so — for a first race in three years, that’s a good time. Well, something promising. Not a good time, but something that we can build on.

Me: So you feel it was successful in terms of what you wanted to achieve?

KK: Just by being here it was a success. Like I said [yesterday], we talk about the fear of having injury in my mind. Just by being here it feels like I’m motivated to start all over again. It’s not going to be easy, right? We know that. So at least it was a start, and it was good.

Me: So no twinges?

KK: No, I’m going for a cooldown now, and [pointing to left foot] it feels good.

Me: I was talking with Sandra yesterday about how, if you don’t race for awhile, you can sort of forget how to race, how to pace yourself. Did you feel any of that today?

KK: Yeah, sure. Not only that, but you lose the rhythm, you lose the impact with the ground, you lose a lot of things that we have to work on. We need to improve everything little by little. It’s not going to come in a day or in a race or two. But it’s going to take patience and it’s going to take hard work and it’s going to take also, you know…the people around you have to be people that can motivate you, people that, in a bad time, will come to you and support you. I think all that stuff has to be together in order for us to make a comeback or do better or improve.

Me: And how was the crowd support? Did people recognize you and cheer you on?

KK: There was big support. I was very impressed. I always come down and do my running here when I have to get therapy in the city and people do recognize me. But there was more [of a] crowd today and there was more support. I was thrilled to run in front of them. It wasn’t what I usually run. It was, you know, more than two minutes off my personal best.

Me: Can I check in with you after Peachtree?

KK: Yes, of course! We’ll update you with what’s going on. I’m hoping it will be good news.

Me: Based on today, I think it will be.

*When I asked him which American marathoner he thought had a chance of breaking his record, he diplomatically demurred and went off on a tangent about things needing to go perfectly on race day. The guy certainly knows how to give an interview without getting himself into hot water.

Running hard after running hard is hard

I had the rare horrible workout on Tuesday, a revisiting of the rite of passage “on/off” tempo run: 12 miles with the last 8 switching between 7:15 and 8:30 pace.

Eek. It was awful. I felt iffy going in but I’ve learned that how I feel often has no bearing on how well I run or race. So I gave it my all. Which wasn’t very much. After 3.5 very slow miles I gradually picked up the pace  to the low 8:00s to get ready to run faster. Then when the watch vibrated (yes, I have a vibrating watch; no giggling) at 4 miles I launched into my first “fast” mile. I struggled to run this in 7:56. A mere 41 seconds per mile off pace.

With a rapidly blackening mood, I took it down to 8:30 for a mile, as assigned. Even that was difficult to maintain, though, and I ended up with an 8:45. Things continued in this vein for the next few miles, although the faster ones got a bit better, more like 7:35. But I was working too hard and I knew it. The fourth fast mile was 7:20 at 93%. It was so awful that I abondoned mile 12 and called it a day at 11.1.

Jesus fucking Christ. That was a bad feeling heading into a race on Sunday in which that’s 5 seconds slower than my intended half marathon pace. Ain’t now way I’m running 13+ miles at 93%. Uh, no. Just no.

I came home, banged things around in the kitchen and then moped all morning.

Then Jonathan went out for a run and, for the heck of it, decided to try running a fast mile or two. He came back and confirmed that it had been extremely difficult to do so. I can only think that my legs were still tired from the 5K race on Saturday. I wouldn’t have thought that a 5K can take that much out of you, but I guess it’s like doing a speed session or something.

Days like that make me think of the 19 year olds who regularly post on LetsRun with questions like, “Should I hammer my workout a day after racing?” It must be nice to be young. Beyond a certain age, “hammering” a workout doesn’t even seem to be a possibility three days after racing.

I just end up feeling so fucking old when this sort of thing happens.

I took yesterday off because I was very busy with work and then had to go shopping and after all that couldn’t cope with putting on my stupid shorts and going out and running in 25 mph winds for another dose of failure. Today was better, with a pleasant little recovery run this morning, not even 5 miles, at a reasonable effort vs. pace.

It’s Thursday. I’ve got a couple of days to get ready to race. The forecast isn’t looking too favorable — warm, humid and windy — but never mind. I don’t care about anything this season, remember?

Training: April 12 – April 18, 2010

Since I’m in a somewhat manic “oh I’ll just change everything” period, I may as well also change how I label these training posts. I realize that since I’m not training for any particular race, saying I’m in “week n” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So I’m going to do what the pros do and just tell you what dates I’m talking about.

First things first — and I’m skipping ahead into this week, so if you’re confused, it’s not you, it’s me — I did not run the Boston Marathon, which everyone else in the world seemed to be doing. (And I should add that I never will run the Boston Marathon, despite its caché, for a host of reasons). But I did have a grand old time watching it on Monday evening.

Since I had so much to do workwise (don’t people know not to schedule meetings on Patriot’s Day? Sheesh.) I had to sit on our Tivo recording until about 8:00PM. Staying away from all news was challenging (although, let’s face it, Facebook was harder to go cold turkey on for an entire day — I slipped once, but only to post something, not to read).

It was a thrilling race, especially on the women’s side, which is becoming a happy pattern in recent years. There are great summaries of the race elsewhere, so I won’t bore you here. Except to say that I wish Larry Rawson would truly retire. He’s like the Rolling Stones (only older) — constantly announcing his retirement only be exhumed yet again, our sport’s own version of Grandpa Simpson, rambling on about how much everyone is earning and how far that money goes in Kenya, reading leg turnover rates like so many tea leaves and getting nearly everyone’s name wrong. At one point he was laboring to compare running the mile (he was a miler in the Mesozoic Age) to running the marathon. Seriously. It was funny.

Okay. Onto the good stuff. I was a bit dumb about training last week, getting carried away and running a bit too hard. But I felt so good after the Scarsdale 15K that I couldn’t stop my legs, which wanted to go. On Wednesday I gave in and let them do a general aerobic run. I was surprised at how slow that was considering the relative effort, although I shouldn’t have been.

I was obviously still tired from Sunday — and probably also from racing over hills for three straight weekends — but that didn’t stop me from doing another speed session two days later. I went back to the “cutdown” workout that I’d done just once before, about three weeks prior. It was a strange session. The first repeat (a mile) was a minor disaster. It was quite windy and between that and running about 15 seconds per mile too fast I just died toward the end. I ended up cutting it short to 1400m. I figured the rest of the session would suck, but that first repeat turned out to be my warmup. The other three legs went extremely well, considering the wind.

I took Saturday off both to rest my legs and to clean our house from top to bottom so my sister and niece would never know what slobs we are. No one must ever know. Niece has decided she’s going to UC San Diego, although since Rutgers’ Honor College apparently offered her a metric fucktonne of financial aid she thought she’d better at least check the place out before deciding to remain a California girl.

While I’m sorry that I won’t have her around on this coast, as she’s really quite charming and the complete opposite — outgoing, cheerful and enthusiastic — of everything I am, I had trouble seeing her living here, especially sequestered away in East Brunswick, New Jersey rather than among the bright lights of New York City that drew her here (insert gratuitous “moth to flame” analogy here) in the first place. But she has her entire life left to move to New York and in the process ruin said life. Like I did! (Just kidding. Sort of.)

On Sunday they headed off into the city for theatre and lunch with more eagerly awaiting family and I dashed up to White Plains and back. Again, it was ridiculously windy and my paces were all over the place, anywhere from 9:30 to 7:50 per mile. But it was a satisfying run and allowed me to eat this monstrosity later on.

This week is considerably lighter: just one speed workout and then my first 5K race in several years on Saturday. I’ll go ahead and say my goal is to break 21:00. Unless it’s windy, I think this might be doable. But you’ll be able to read all about that … next week.

Mulling over the marathon

I make it a habit of worrying about things far in advance. Unfortunately, this often has the effect of obscuring my view of what’s happening right now. Or, rather, what’s going well.

While I’m not yet collecting any PRs at shorter distances this season, I am having a great time running all these races. I still am not yet back to where I was roughly 20 months ago, at least as far as race times are concerned. That is a depressing reality that I try not to dwell on.

I do know that things are looking up in that I do seem to be improving and, perhaps most important, I’m not feeling anywhere close to entering the danger zone of overtraining that I spent so much of last year wallowing in. I was flat out exhausted so much of the time last year that it started to feel normal. After a break I’m realizing that it’s not normal. There’s the regular fatigue that comes with stepping up training, but that you can recover from during a pre-race taper. Then there’s the other kind — a kind of tiredness that settles in and becomes a part of you, then takes months to shake.

It’s only April. Yet I feel at a crossroads as far as the marathon is concerned. I’ve been burned by that lady five times out of my six tries. I really don’t know that I want to sit down and roast marshmallows with her again. Yeah, it’s only April, but if I want to do a fall race during the normal window of fall marathons (Oct/Nov) then that means I have to start getting my training ass in gear around July. That’s 10-12 weeks from now. Not so much time to consider the implications anymore.

From day to day, I swing wildly between wanting to give the long race another go, then realizing that the thought of bombing out again makes me feel physically and spiritually ill. I also can’t get my head around going back to running 90 mile weeks. I just don’t want to. It’s too much running. The more miles I run, the slower I have to run the bulk of them and the harder it is to do my faster workouts. What’s the point? Especially if all roads lead to a crap goal race as the reward.

The fatigue of training, it seems, is not the only thing that lingers. I seem to still be carrying the fatigue of failure and disappointment in my bones. I do know that every time I read someone’s post about the spring marathon they’ve got coming up, I am just so incredibly glad to not be them. That’s got to be telling me something.

These days, as I think about what to do in the fall, I find myself gravitating more and more toward the idea of making the fall a transition back to the full marathon distance in 2011 (assuming I ever go back). This is about all my brain can handle.

Once I’ve concluded my spring fling spent whoring around among various distances and dipping my toe (as I intend to) into crazy ultra relays, track racing and cross-country racing, I could then turn my attention to becoming a very good half marathon racer. It’s a distance that I love — long enough that you’ve accomplished something of significance, but short enough that you can do one every month if you want to.

What if I could run a 1:30 by the new year? Or a 1:26? What if.

Spring Training: Week Eleven

One nice thing about having only two hard workouts per week (or one plus a race) is that I’m typically feeling recovered and ready when the hard day arrives. For so much of last year I would arrive at a hard day and feel just ready enough to tackle the workout, but I rarely felt fresh going in. The lower mileage also contributes to this, I’m certain.

Either way, this has been such a big — and welcome — change that I’m wondering if I should go on a 10 day schedule, putting more recovery days between workouts, rather than shoving three into a 7 day period. Since I’m wary of piling on mileage again after this racing season, I’m thinking one way to combine big miles with big workouts again is to go back to high mileage, but with more recovery. Perhaps that would give me the benefits of high mileage without risking the kind of cumulative fatigue that plagued me last year.

So many ways to train.

On Monday, rather than run I took a one hour walk around our hilly neighborhood, primarily to stretch out my legs, but also to photograph the devastation from the storm that moved through over the weekend. Those photos are on Facebook, resembling photo sets from friends in NJ that look eerily similar. This was quite the storm.

In my last report I alluded to what Kevin called a “rite of passage” workout — something not only brand new, but newly challenging. On Wednesday, I did the first of these. Based on how difficult it was, I suspect I’ll be able to recognize such workouts in the future pretty easily.

I called this an “on/off tempo” run. I don’t know what other people call them, but that seemed to fit. After a five mile warmup I launched into the first of four sets of two mile combinations: the first at 7:15 (tempo pace for me right now), the second at 8:30 (mid-aerobic range). Rinse and repeat.

It’s been windy this week (more on this in a moment), and it was pretty windy on Wednesday. I tried to plan the run so I was avoiding giant mud puddles and other obstructions, but there was no avoiding the wind unless I ran inside. This was a rough, but doable, run. I never hit 7:15, mostly owing to either hills or wind. But I was happy with the times I did hit.

To be honest, it was not that difficult a run to do from a mental standpoint. In a weird way, I think my debacle in Sacramento in December, during which I was really suffering from mile 18 on, has created a permanent mental callous of sorts. I can suffer a lot for a long time now and accept it. It’s acceptable because it’s not as bad and never will be, at least not in any workout. If it is, I shouldn’t be doing that workout.

This doesn’t stop me from worrying about suffering like that again in a marathon. But, again, more on this subject in a sec.

I felt great after this workout, very invigorated. But I crashed later in the day and had to go to bed at around 8:30. I felt okay, but not stellar, the next day. I’m getting used to doing long recovery runs again, and I still think I recover better from them than I do from shorter, but more frequent, doubles sessions. On Friday I felt great and probably ran the recovery a little too hard. On the other hand, I had plenty of energy for doing the strides, which in the past I have often skipped due to tired legs or overall fatigue.

Saturday I felt like warmed over dog shit, primarily owing to having had too much to drink on Friday and then only getting six hours of sleep. So the morning run was terrible in all respects. The evening run wasn’t much better, so I cut it short, trimming two miles off for the week.

This morning I got up and felt good and ready for 15 miles at reasonably high effort. I drove up to Hartsdale and parked there so I could hit the car (and some Gatorade) at the halfway point. One thing I immediately noticed was the strength of the wind. I think I was in denial about it because I’d checked both major weather sites and they’d reported from 5-9 mph. It felt a lot windier than that, but I kept fighting it.

I felt good for the first six miles, most of which were into the wind. Then my stomach started to feel bad. Note to self: No cheddar cheese before a run. After a slow warmup mile my paces were anywhere from 7:45-8:15. I was trying for 8:00-8:15, so this was fine. But I just felt cruddier and cruddier as the run wore on. By mile 12 I was done and wanted to stop, but I had to turn around and run the last three into what was now at least 15-20 mph steady headwind. My effort went up into the low 80%s and paces cratered to 8:25-8:40.

As I was running along Pipeline, literally cursing the wind aloud, I realized that the last time I’d felt like this was around mile 10 of the Sacramento race. I’d done the same thing today: denied the reality of how much steady wind can sap your energy. I must remember to never do that again, not in a workout and especially not in a race. If I do that again in a marathon I should be shot for my obtuseness. Wind is real. You’ve got to adjust effort from the very start — or pay the price.

You know, it’s always something. If it’s not heat, it’s snow. If it’s not snow, it’s rain. If it’s not rain, it’s wind. If it’s not wind, it’s attack geese. It’s never a dull moment training here. There were some glorious moments this week when I was out in shorts, enjoying a mix of cool air and warm sun. I hope we get a little more of that before summer takes hold.

Random crap

I’m looking for an excuse to stave off my evening run. Today is my sole day of doubles for the week. But I’ve managed to run outside for the last few days. This evening I need to take my 4.4 inside, after which we’re scheduled to get 4-8″ of snow. So the brief window of happy running outside has once again closed. On my fingers.

Since I ostensibly work in new media, I thought it was time to replace my 7-year-old piece of shit Palm device (the lowest end unit I could get at the time: the Zire) with something more up to date. Something that runs “apps.” I went for a 32G iPod Touch. Well, this thing is like crack! I can surf the web in the tub. I can go shopping with my list on something other than a post-it. I can sit in bed and play a game. I can listen to any episide of This American Life while cooking dinner. Whee!

Among the many apps I’ve downloaded and frittered money away on, two are relevant to runners: iPace and Race Pace. The second one covers the first’s functionality, but I didn’t realize that until later.

iPace ($0.99) is a simple conversion calculator. Plug in a distance and time and it will tell you the pace you need to run per mile and kilometer (and 400m for some reason). Or you can flip things around: plug in a distance and a per mile or per kilometer pace, and it will give you your finish time.

Race Pace ($1.99) is a little fancier. It’s basically a performance equivalent calc, much like the industry standard online version from Greg McMillan. Plug in a recent race time and you’ll get predictions for what that might translate into at various other race distances. You also get training paces for basic types of runs: tempos, long runs, easy runs and recovery runs. The paces are, for the most part, more aggressive (or optimistic; take your pick) than McMillan’s. But they offer a pretty good place to start when goal setting for your next race. You can also modify them to your liking in your iPod’s Settings area (something I only recently stumbled upon).

Speaking of paces, I’ve been tearing up the streets of Scarsdale the past few days, just as a nascent cold has started to take hold. I ran just shy of 10 miles yesterday in dreadful conditions (wind, sleet/hail/rain, slippery roads) at 8:21 pace at 80% effort. At lunchtime today I followed up with a recovery run at 9:27, or around a minute faster than those runs have been lately). I should get sick more often.

Oh, right. I remember now.

I remember 2007. Or at least I remember my paces from 2007. ‘Cause that’s what I’m running these days!

This week was the first one during which I attempted anything resembling training, after four weeks’ rest and recovery from my blowup in Sacramento. I’ll post a detailed report after tomorrow, but I thought I’d do a post of early observations and random news.

Lots and lots of runners I follow are mourning their downtime-induced loss of speed. I know exactly what they’re talking about. My tempo pace is probably 30-40 seconds per mile slower than it was two months ago. 8-10K pace is about what my tempo pace used to be. Recovery runs are only a little slower than they used to be (although I always ran them on the slow side once the mileage got above 70 mpw).  I haven’t attempted much in the general aerobic range, but I’ll be dipping my toes back into that world tomorrow.

Along with speed, it seems I’ve also lost endurance. Whereas doing a 10 mile recovery run used to be easy, I’m getting tired right in the 6-7 mile range.

So I’ve got some work to do.

The weather has not exactly been conducive to good training. We’ve had the coldest winter in NY that I recall, save for my first year here (1985), in which this transplanted Californian simply couldn’t fathom sub-zero windchills. I also had not familiarized myself with wool and spent that winter freezing my ass off (because I was 20 years old and broke all the time) in $5 cotton layers purchased from the tables of Senegalese purveyors along 14th Street in Manhattan.

Anyway, it’s been cold. Plus it’s snowed, which partially melted, then refroze, leaving my beloved 11 mile running path an unrunnable sheet of pockmarked ice. Yesterday I had my first real intervals session in months scheduled. But my local rich high school’s million dollar Mondo track was covered in the morning’s fall of snow, so it was back to the treadmill again.

My first race of the season, a four miler, is in a month. After yesterday’s foray into running at 93% effort, my expectations are low. Still, since it’s in Central Park I’ll be able to use it as a good gauge of fitness. I honestly don’t expect to run sub-7:00 (the time that would gain me the coveted first corral bib qualification). Maybe I’ll surprise myself, though. How much fitness can I regain in four weeks? We shall see. Given the bad running conditions and how slow-as-shit I feel lately, I am glad not to be under pressure to train for a marathon in early May anymore.

In other News About Me…

Since I find it easier to lose fat when I’m not running 80-95 mpw, and I’m sporting more of it than I’d like, I’m once again on the wagon and keeping my chubby little mitts away from Nutella, roasted cashews and my various other calorie-dense weaknesses. This plan will partially go to hell at the end of the month, when we celebrate Jonathan’s birthday. But since we’re both sporting tight pants these days, it should be a fairly restrained celebration.

I committed (as it were) to be an alternate on PigtailsFlying‘s team for June’s Green Mountain Relay in Vermont. Like most other things running-related this year, I’m taking a “fuck it, I’ll try that” attitude. The introvert who needs six hours of alone time each day screams “Nooooo!” at the idea of spending three solid days with a bunch of strangers, much of it in a confined (very confined) space (and mobile too, which is sure to bring out my motion sickness), during which sleep and personal hygiene are considered non-essentials.

But the same introvert who misses the moments of pleasure and surprise in spending time with strangers is bellowing from the other shoulder that this could actually be fun – if I only reoriented my perspective from one of discomfort and deprivation to one of adventure and discovery. As my sister pointed out, it’s only a few days. And good blog fodder. But, then, so is the stomach flu. Don’t I sound like a great teammate already? No wonder I’m an alternate; Pigtails has met me exactly once, but I guess that was enough!

I’ve got no signs of injury. Anywhere. Even after my faster (cough cough) running on the treadmill yesterday. Nary a niggle. Nothing. I’m wondering how long this will last. All season, if I’m careful. I hope.

The quiet, obscure toiling resumes…

Since December 7th I’ve taken things very easy, having vowed to enjoy the holidays and recover properly from my debacle in California.

This weekend marked the end of this extended hibernation period. I’d meant to run on New Year’s Day but I was fried and decided to nap instead. On Saturday I ran 10 very easy miles on the treadmill, tootling along at 64% MHR.

Yesterday I threw down the gauntlet. I felt good in the morning so I decided to do a “data gathering” run. This meant a longish run on the treadmill, with several sections at varying speed (getting progressively faster) so I could record some data showing speed vs. effort.

The run was a 12 mile progression run, with 3 miles at 64%, 3 miles at 70%,  2 miles at 75%, 2 miles at 80%, 1 mile at 85% and 1 at 89%. I won’t post the paces here because, well, they’re pretty embarrasing. But I’m hoping that when I do this same workout three months from now, I won’t be cringing at the numbers.

One oddity that I did note was that my HR% shot up from 70% to 75% with a mere difference of 6 seconds per mile. That tells me that my treadmill is lying about its speed. My next little project is to spend some quality time coming up with a calibration factor table (Jack Daniels explains how to do this in detail on various threads on LetsRun.com) so I’ve got a better idea of how fast (or slow) I’m actually running on my particular torture device.

I was zonked after yesterday’s run. But not as zonked as I’d expected to be.

RLaG in 2010: Plans and goals

My goals this year are modest. In years past, I had ambitious goals that revolved around mileage and race times. Not this time. Here are my goals for 2010:

  • Enjoy running, training and racing again
  • Avoid injury
  • Listen to my body and rest so I don’t get overtrained
  • Don’t race another marathon until I feel ready to do so

I’m exiting 2009 in a state of extreme rest. This was the year in which, if I ever wondered what my limits were in terms of training, I found out.

For now, between recovering from the CIM race, a head cold, work pressures, terrible weather and the holidays, I’m not worrying about running. I’ll get back into it in January. I accept that I will have lost fitness and will need to have some patience with myself.

The plan over the next few months is to get back into marathon training, but incorporate a lot of shorter races. I have no spring marathon planned. As for those shorter races, I don’t expect to pick up any PRs early on, but perhaps by sometime in late March or early April I can make some updates to my Stats page. Mostly, I’m looking forward to having fun racing again and not having all my eggs in one basket.

I’m awaiting the new training plan. But I do know that the mileage will come down in both peak and recovery weeks. That should help me avoid both the overtraining and injuries that have plagued me this year. I should be racing at least 2-3 times a month from February into April.

I’m registered for the full NJ Marathon on May 2, but I’ll be deferring my entry until 2011. If I’m feeling good in April, I may race the NJ half instead. The room’s reserved, so I can play things by ear without having to scramble for accommodations.

I’m also picking up a pair of inexpensive racing snowshoes. These will allow me to view a coming blizzard with delight rather than dread. The running path from Hartsdale to Valhalla allows for a good 10 mile out and back, except when it isn’t plowed (which is throughout the entire winter). Now I’ll be able to use it.

Plus, there’s this race. I’d have to drive for 2+ hours each way. But it’s at 11AM and it would be a new adventure.

Another decision I’ve made is to stop combining a major marathon with a vacation. Who wants to spend half or most of their vacation exhausted and in a crappy mood? So that era is over. I now get why people fly in and out on marathon weekend. In fact, I may not do any major travel at all in 2010. I spent six+ weeks and more money than I want to ponder on travel this year. My house needs attention and I need a break.

Looking farther down the road, we could Amtrak it to this race in the fall. Small, good course, and many good reviews. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Sitting here with a head cold, knowing my fitness is leaking away just a little more for every day I’m not running, it’s easy to feel stuck. But I suspect this rest is doing me more good than harm, and I’ve got a plan for next year, however loose at the moment.

Obligatory “year in review” blog post

Doing a “look back on 2009″ post seems to be all the rage among running bloggers this month. Although I normally purse my lips in disapproval at such conformity, I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

Now is as good a time as any to reflect upon the past year, which from a marathon racing perspective was a disaster for me. But it was not a disaster in all areas. For one, I ran some stellar races (and workouts) at various points in the winter and spring. I almost ran a stellar 5 mile race in the fall (only to DNF at 3.7 miles with a raging hamstring). And I learned a lot, oh, yes. I learned a lot — about training in general and about myself as a unique physiological running specimen.

Here’s what I learned this year:

  • High mileage results in huge gains for me, but only up to a certain point. If I run high mileage for too long, I will eventually break down in the form of either overtraining or injury.
  • If I have injured myself, I often have a short window of faux-recovery during which I can nevertheless run a spectactular race or speed session (and fool myself into thinking I’m not really injured). But if I continue to run hard after that I will get reinjured.
  • A hot, hilly long run or race will fuck me up for weeks, if not months.
  • Doing a very long and very hilly run at the end of one or two high mileage weeks is dangerous. Depending on how long I’ve been doing high mileage, chances are good that doing one of these will push me over the edge into injury, although it can take anywhere from 7-10 days to develop. Training in Central Park is an especially hazardous prospect in these cases.
  • Extreme changes in weekly mileage are a bad idea. Going from 50 to 95 (even if I’ve recently run 95 without issue) is a great big embossed and monogrammed invitation for Injury to attend my next workout, and perhaps even bring a guest.
  • If I’m feeling very worn down and don’t want to run, I need to take the day off. A few missed runs won’t destroy a season. But too many runs that I shouldn’t have done will.

Bonus realization:

  • My right gracilis muscle does not like running in weather below 20F. My left one, however, is completely okay with this.

The above lessons are hard won. But I won’t soon forget them.

As for what happened in Sacramento two weeks ago, here’s my theory: I suspect that I was undertrained for the marathon specifically. When you look back at my training in the fall, it was constantly being interrupted by one thing or another. First it was a two+ week trip to South Africa, which involved days of travel, a large time zone change, eating and drinking a lot of stuff that isn’t on the menu for marathoners in training, and big time stress in the form of all of the above along with the added treat of being a victim of major property crime. Not to mention some terrible workouts due to poor conditions (brutal heat among them).

Then I came home and had a few good weeks only to experience the first of two serious injuries: hamstring pull followed by inflamed tendon. I didn’t give myself time to heal properly from the first, piling on 95 miles after a 52 mile injured week, and the second injury came in to take its place. All told, injuries screwed up my training for close to a month total. So out of a 13 week schedule (3 of which were taper weeks), at least 6 were heavily compromised. For you mathletes, that’s a screwup factor of 60%.

I toed the line in Folsom thinking that there was a good possibility that I might have to settle for a 3:20 or even a 3:25. I might have been able to make that time somewhere else, but not on that course on that day. The downhills chewed up my quads a la Steamtown and the headwinds were just, wow.

This was all on top of whatever was wrong with me in the spring, which for the sake of simplicity let’s say was overtraining. After an amazingly good buildup from the fall into April, I crashed in May. I was a wreck in June and July, then ran in a holding pattern in August and commenced training in September, as described above.

So that was 2009. Good riddance.

2010 will bring some changes. More on that soon.

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