A random test

I just hooked this blog to something called NetworkedBlogs on Facebook. This post is a pointless waste of bytes, meant only to confirm that that hook-in is working.

See? I wasted at least 20 seconds of your life just now. You’ll never get those back.

New page: Faves

I thought it was time to collect my favorite posts somewhere. Find them on the new Faves page.

95 miles on the treadmill? But how?

I’ve noticed a common thread in the reactions to my recent blog postings and tweets about how much running I’m doing on the treadmill, including all of last week’s 95 miles: “WTF?! I could never do that!”

Well, guess what? You could. And many of you should.

I experience an equal measure of horror and amazement when I see the training logs of people who are out there running what are supposed to be easy long runs, but because of heat indices in the 90s and above are slogging away at tempo effort instead.

Sure, the treadmill is tedious. But I emerge from my treadmill runs unscathed by the weather outside and having expended the appropriate amount of effort for the workout at hand. Good training means training smart as much as it does training hard. If you’re training too hard, you’re not training smart.

So there’s my little lecture.

I realize that not everyone has access to a treadmill. In those cases, you do what I had to do in the summer, before I acquired one: run everything by HR and forget about paces. Forget about a social life, too, because most runs will now take forever to complete.

Have I managed to convince you of the benefits of running on a treadmill during the worst of the weather outside? If so, here are some strategies for making it easier, mentally and otherwise:

Make sure you’re distracted. I make sure I have multiple forms of entertainment available. I have a television three feet away from the treadmill and I sprung for a mini home theatre system so I can hear it. If I have movies, I watch those. If I don’t, I watch television. If there’s nothing on television, I listen to music. If I’m sick of music, I listen to the radio.

Bonus tip: For faster runs (like tempo or interval efforts), the din of the treadmill can drown out even the most powerful sub-woofer. For those runs, I get subtitled movies (or turn on closed captioning). I’ve discovered a lot of really good foreign flicks this way.

Make sure you’re comfortable. I’ve got an AC running. I’ve also got three fans: a ceiling fan, and one trained on my front and another on my back. This is essential for keeping cool and keeping effort in the appropriate range.

Introduce some variation. The treadmill is unrelenting. I think that’s what bugs a lot of people about it. Just as we naturally slow down or speed up thousands of times during a run over ground, we should have the same variation when running on the treadmill. So I frequently change pace by 10 seconds or so to give my legs and brain some variation and rest.

Have a goal for the important workouts. I’ve found that I can deal with the prospect of a long, difficult workout on the treadmill much better if I go in with clear goals. Examples might be: Run 20 miles under 2:45. Or, run the last three miles of this 10 mile general aerobic run 10-20 seconds faster.

Induce temporary blindness. Do you think I want to run 20 miles on a treadmill? Of course I don’t. So I do my best to forget about the distance I have to cover. One good way to do this is to cover up the display on the treadmill. I hang an old pillowcase over the mileage indicator. Based on the pace(s) I plan to run, I know when I’ll be done. Five minutes or so before that time, I look at the display to confirm where I am mileagewise (and celebrate).

Remember that it’s for the greater good. And it’s not forever. Winters and summers in NY State suck. That’s just how it is. I’ve accepted it. But the spring and fall provide fabulous running weather. I keep those wonderful, crisp morning runs (and races) in mind as I climb on the treadmill. I also keep my training and racing goals in mind too. I’ll be in much better shape when the good weather arrives than I would have been had I done all my runs in the heat outside (or skipped them during the winter).

Separted at birth?

Anthony Famiglietti

Jean-Paul Belmondo

Jean-Paul Belmondo

Thank you, fellow runners

I wanted to acknowledge all the kind comments here. I’m in vacation mode now, doing a lot of sightseeing and not thinking about running (or the marathon whose name shall not be spoken).

Even though the last thing I feel like doing right now is running, I hope to get a “runner’s tour” of Medford from a friend of a friend today. Failing that, I may go out on my own through the streets of Ashland, just to see if I suck as much on an easy run as I did on Saturday.

As an interesting side note, I do feel sort of crappy and my RHR was 60 this morning, about 15 beats higher than it should be. Although that may be owing to 9+ hours of driving yesterday, pie a la mode, and copious amounts of wine in the evening.

Happy running and, really, thank you. I’m touched by the kindness of strangers, acquaintances and friends here.

Referrals I have garnered. Part of an ongoing series.

Yesterday this blog got a web hit from this search string:

fuck girl in jangl

What does it all mean?

Winter Basebuilding: Week 1


A few days ago I posted about having hired Kevin Beck as my coach. His first order of business was to come up with a plan to help me rebuild my base. This past week marked my initial foray into this new venture.

I plan and track every day of running in Excel. This enables me to not only see what I’m doing at a glance, but I can do other nifty things, like calculate number of sessions, total mileage, miles at recovery pace, etc. I also keep diary-like notes below each week so I can easily see what was going on over the course of a season.

I’ll just post each week’s sessions (sans the diary entries) here. If anyone would like a copy of this Excel workbook, just let me know and I’d be happy to email it (virus free!) to you. It’s offered “as is,” meaning you’re on your own to figure out how to fill it in or make other changes to it (or fix it if you gum up the formulas). If I wanted to work in software support, I’d move to Bangalore.

Some comments about this week:

As compared to my last basebuilding round in the summer, there are marked differences. Most notably, no doubles! Note also that the recovery runs on a few days are very short. That will change as my mileage builds back up from 60 to 85 over the coming month. The inclusion of longer recovery runs runs counter to advice I’ve read in various places (including Pfitzinger), the “common wisdom” being that you shouldn’t do recovery runs that last more than an hour. Such rules were made to be broken, or at least questioned, it seems.

Also note that, unlike traditional, old school basebuilding approaches (think Lydiard), it’s not all “easy” (or, here, “recovery”) running, meaning below 70% maximum heart rate. I have some real workouts in here, and it’s only week 1. On the blue days, I’m running most of the miles around the quicker bits (ex: 8K effort segments) at a reasonably hard effort, meaning “easy” pace (between 75-82% mhr). These are challenging workouts, as evidenced by my need for a half our nap after Thursday’s effort.

I also am doing strides on one of the recovery days, something I never did in the past.

Despite all the fast running, I felt very fresh and ready for yesterday’s race. I also feel fine after a 16 miler this morning. True, I’m coming off of many weeks of recovery, and the mileage was low this week. But I’m pleased with how I feel and my ability to run faster paces without late-week exhaustion resulting.

Just to fill in all the blanks, here’s a rundown of what I did during my five weeks of post-marathon recovery:

Oct 13-19: 5 miles recovery pace
Oct 20-26: 39 miles, 75% recovery / 25% easy
Oct 27-Nov 2: 42 miles, 50% recovery / 50% easy
Nov 3-9: 48 miles, 40% recovery / 60% easy
Nov 10-16: 35 miles, 40% recovery / 60% easy, and a bonus cold!

Coming up in Basebuilding Week 2: Ten more miles, longer recovery runs, and still more running at 8K and 10K effort. Plus some delicious lamb on Thanksgiving.

Getting professional help

I hired a coach about two weeks ago: Kevin Beck. He was one name on a short list of other possibilities, all of whom I ultimately rejected for various reasons. More on that in a moment.

Why did I hire a coach?

But first a note about why I decided to work with a coach. Over the last couple of years that I’ve been training for and racing marathons, my finishing times have steadily (and dramatically) improved. But something went very wrong for the last race, in terms of the training and my experience of the race itself. I never felt adequately rested during training, nor did I feel that my “quality” workouts were going well. For months I had a nagging suspicion that I wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be, something that was confirmed on race day when I succumbed to fatigue in the last eight miles of the race.

A few years ago, a friend of mine went to see a strange Russian man whose business was helping people to stop smoking once and for all. The “treatment” consisted of going into a room with five or six other clients, handing the Russian a crisp, new $100 dollar bill, closing your eyes, and hearing the Russian say to you, “When I snap my fingers, you will have lost all desire to ever smoke again.” Sounds hokey (and a little shady), but it worked for her.

The reason I share this story isn’t because I think there was anything magical the Russian did. The effectiveness of the treatment had everything to do with the power of suggestion. Going to see some weird Russian to stop smoking, deciding to go to a therapist for help, hiring a coach — they all share the element of a catalytic action, and the raised expectations that come from having taken it. In some ways, I feel that’s just as important as the guidance you get. And, in the end, you’re the one doing all the work. Sometimes the thing you need most is for someone to say “go.”

Why did I hire Kevin?

I don’t know how you people shop for goods and services, but here’s what I tend to do: I decide I want to buy something. Then I look at what’s usually a pretty small universe of candidates. At some point fairly early in the shopping process, some thing (or combination of things) tips my interest in the direction of one candidate. At that point, although I’ll continue to do some research on the others, that activity drops off a cliff and I’m basically looking for reasons not to go with my favored choice.

I had a few leads on other coaches, some of them quite well-known, but I rejected them all for various reasons, including:

  • A young woman posted to LetsRun.com about her experience of approaching one of the coaches on my list and offering to pay him upwards of $500 a month for his services. His response was to suggest she work with one of his runners instead. Her response? I want an actual coach, not another runner helping me.
  • One of the coaches I was considering wrote a recent article that was so poorly written that I actually complained to the editor in chief. If I’m going to work with someone remotely, he or she needs to be a skilled and conscientious communicator.
  • I checked out the “remote coaching” site for another well-known person, but (and this will sound odd), it just looked too slick. My impression was “coaching mill.” I just got the sense that I’d get a training plan that might be slightly more individualized than what I’d get out of book, but not much more.

While I was busy rejecting the other candidates for these and other reasons, I had other forces tipping me toward Kevin. They included:

  • The fact that another writer/blogger whom I respect, Matt Fitzgerald, had also decided to start working with him. Realizing that a guy who writes books about training is working with a coach was sort of equivalent to the time I read about the fact that Adam Clayton (U2’s bassist) still takes bass lessons.
  • Kevin coaches through Pete Pfitzinger’s online DistanceCoach site. Pfitz’s book with Scott Douglas, Advanced Marathoning, is (in my humble opinion) one of the best training books ever written. Using it resulted in my best marathon experience (and biggest PR) thus far. So Pete, and anyone associated with him, can do no wrong.*
  • I have enjoyed Kevin’s writings over the years, most notably in Running Times. Here’s a particularly good article, but a Google or Running Times search will yield other goodies too. I also loved this page on his site for the clues it yields on his approach to running (and, presumably, coaching), specifically this snippet (emphasis is mine):

There will always be those who do not adopt mad training regimens simply because they do not want to. There are no demons flitting about compelling them to do more, ever more, and to make running a top priority in the face of swirling relationships, occupational and scholastic concerns, and what have you. These are legitimate issues often at odds with consistent training. And I do not believe that a runner can be taught to hunger the way some of us do. It may be as innate as the color of our eyes. It is not something upon which judgment need be placed or for which merit points ought to be allotted. There are runners and there are competitive runners, and there are racers.

Don’t get me wrong. I love running for its whole spectrum of benefits and the range of experiences I’ve had, many of them outside the competitive milieu. But I have one basic reason for doing what I do. The rest is gravy, basting the raw, tough, but often tender and delicious meat of competing against the rag-tag army of my alleged constraints — going into some awful yet welcoming zone, headed straight into downtown Hell to rip it up yet another time.

Once I’d gotten to the point where I was ready to look for reasons not to hire Kevin, I submitted him to a grueling litany of emailed questions. He answered them all in great detail (and with humor and humility, which was a bonus). Besides, he’s a writer. So he likes to write and writes well. As a writer myself, I’ll always be biased toward a writer in any area where I have a choice. The pre-PayPal phone call sealed the deal.

What did I get?

My next marathon is roughly seven months away, so I wasn’t ready to leap into a 31-week training program. Instead, I asked for a plan to rebuild my mileage over the next couple of months to lay the groundwork for the eventual training plan I’ll get. And I’m glad I did. The plan is radically different from what I designed for myself last time around: it’s high mileage, but with almost no doubles. It features lots of longer runs, pretty much every day, and a ton of shorter, faster work incorporated into at least three runs per week. Matt F. has a good summary (although, obviously, his plan has been customized in ways that are quite different from my own).

Three days in and so far, so good. I’m handling the challenging runs (despite running with the tail end of a cold) and feeling better than I did when I was grinding out doubles every day. On the other hand, I’m coming off five weeks of recovery, so come back in about a month…

*Incidentally, Kevin’s also written a book, Run Strong, which I have not yet read, but I will soon.

The Rabid Fox 5K

There’s a great idea for a race in here somewhere.

Steamtown strategizing

Once my pre-race taper begins next week, I’ll have lots of free time to work on a pacing strategy. Although Steamtown has nearly a net 1000′ elevation drop, it’s peppered with smaller hills in the first half, followed by three big hills at the very end. So I’ll spend a few hours with Google Earth and a calculator to put together my pace band.

In the meantime, here’s an interesting review of last year’s race.


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