Temp. Oh.

Well, here it is at 6:49 in the morning. And I’m trying to get my butt out the door for a 10 mile tempo run.

I rescheduled it from yesterday, as it was 3,000 degrees outside with high humidity. A couple of recovery sessions in that muck was plenty, thank you very much. Thunderstorms blew through and washed away the heat and stickiness.

Now it’s a cool 50 degrees with low humidity, although a tad windy.

I’m talking myself out of it. Then talking myself back into it.

I should just stop talking and go do it.

Yes, that’s what I’ll do.

Side note: Right after I purchased tickets to the Reebok Grand Prix, I noticed that NYRR was providing a promo code for its members, of which I am one. I guess membership has its benefits. Which I am apparently ignorant of until the point beyond which they are of value to me. Doh!

Also, the freelance work is finally taking a bit of a breather. I’m only working on one project at the moment, while Key Stakeholders mull over drafts for another. Although I was attempting to write while watching “The Andromeda Strain” last night.

By the way, what the hell has happened to Rick(y) Schroder? He’s old.

That must mean I’m old.


Chipmunks galore

The running path is teeming with chipmunks these days. As we were running along the other day, Jonathan wondered aloud what baby chipmunks must look like. Here’s the answer.

Running as entertainment

I’m considering getting tickets for the Reebok Grand Prix, which is next Saturday evening.

This may be a true sign of madness.

It’s tempting, though, as the best seats are just $50. For nearly five hours of entertainment. That’s a lot cheaper than going to see “Mama Mia!” Heck, we spent $30 on movie tickets and Milk Duds to go see “Iron Man” yesterday.

Plus we won’t have to suffer the usual terrible television coverage:

  • Inarticulate (and ignorant) commentators
  • Pathological focus on the shorter sprint events
  • Getting to see, if I’m lucky, the last 20 seconds of the 1500 and 5000 metre races


Fall Training: Week 1

I’m going to count this most recent week as week 1, since the real week 1 turned out to be a weak one. Ha ha. Isn’t that clever? It’s no wonder I get paid the big bucks as a freelance copywriter.

Recap of recovery — plus a race!
Here’s a high-level view of what I’ve been doing to lead up to rebuilding (and adding to) my mileage base:

April 6: Ran the More Marathon

Next, I spent a few weeks doing lots of very slow running to recover. But I did a tempo run during the second and third of these weeks in order to prepare for a half marathon in early May.
Week of April 7: 21 miles
Week of April 14: 42 miles
Week of April 21: 56 miles

Cut down the mileage a bit and capped the week with a fast (for me) half marathon on May 4.
Week of April 28: 47 miles

Lots of recovery again, to bounce back from the half.
Week of May 5: 59 miles

Then some travel, but a week with lots of quality miles jammed into just six sessions.
Week of May 12: 49 miles

Finally, the week of May 19, I’m ready to start basebuilding in earnest. I will be training for the Steamtown Marathon on October 12.

How to get faster
It’s always struck me as odd that no matter how many books or articles you read about training, no one ever tells you how to actually get faster. They’ll tell you how fast to run today based on your last race time. But they don’t tell you how to get faster, say, from one year to the next.

Since getting steadily faster is one of my goals, I’ve been left to my own devices to figure out how. The strategy I’ve used (and which seems to work), is this:

1. First, get a clear idea of what your fitness level is today, based on one or two very recent races (assuming the races went well and there was nothing artificially influencing the outcome for better or worse, such as headwinds, crowding, lots of hills, or — on the positive side — a big tailwind or miniature jetpacks attached to your ankles.)

2. Using something like the Macmillan calculator, map out a series of paces that are slightly faster than what you’re running today.

For example, my last half marathon time was deemed equivalent to a 3:20 marathon. I mapped out paces for a 3:18 marathon, so I’m pushing myself from the start. Here’s what they look like (along with the heart rate ranges I use for each):

Recovery* 9:00-10:30 60-68%
Long 8:05-9:05 72-83%
Easy 8:05-8:35 75-85%
Hills 8:05-8:35 75-90%
Mpace 7:34 82-86%
Tempo 6:50-7:10 86-88%
Speed TBD** 94-98%***

*Recovery times may be slower than this if I’m very tired. I go by heart rate always, so it’s not unusual to find me running 11:00+ minute miles some days.
**Since I run different interval lengths over different sessions, I figure out the speedwork paces before I head to the track by looking them up in a table in the back of the book “Advanced Marathoning” by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas.
***When doing shorter intervals, my heart rate may not get anywhere near this range; it will get up there doing 1000+ meter intervals, though. I stick to the paces recommended so I’m not running the shorter ones too fast.

3. Now spend a week or two running your workouts at those paces. Can you hit them within the target heart rates? Do they feel too easy? Too hard? Make adjustments downward or upward if so.

4. Next, pick your goal marathon pace (Mpace). This is the pace that you’d like to be able to run in the race that you’re training for and which is ideally about 4-5 months in the future. The pace you choose should be something that’s both aggressive and achievable (with hard work and consistency, natch). Set up a series of paces for that. Those are the paces you’re targeting to work your way down to as you get closer to the race.

5. If your first set of paces is “just right” in the Goldilocksian sense, then train at those paces until they start getting too easy (meaning you’re hitting the faster end of the pace spectrum at the lower end of the heart rate spectrum). When that happens, it’s time to adjust your time goal downward and start training at faster paces.

6. Monitor how you’re doing during the entire training cycle. You should be steadily working your way down to your second set of paces. If you’re having trouble getting there, you may need to adjust them to something less dramatic. And, perhaps more importantly, revisit your training to see what’s not working.

One good aspect to using this approach, which is really more art than science (since it’s all based on trial and error), is that you become very familiar with what your capabilities are. So much so that you can probably toe the line of your goal race with the knowledge of how fast you can run over 26.2 miles within a range of about 5-10 seconds per mile. This fact alone will give you an advantage that the vast majority of the runners around you will not have.

I’m neither a coach nor an exercise physiologist. But this method has worked for me.

The week that was
This week I reacquainted myself with the sensation of always either going out for or coming back from a run. Most weeks from here on out I’ll be running 11-13 times per week. I should also note that I’m building my base up to around 95 miles a week, and I’ll average 90 during the actual training phase, which starts in early July.

A look back at the week:

  • Monday: 6.2 miles recovery pace (AM); 4.9 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Tuesday: 6.9 miles recovery pace (AM); 4 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Wednesday: 9 miles easy with speedwork: 5 x 600m
  • Thursday: 6.1 miles recovery pace (AM); 3.7 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Friday: 9 miles easy pace
  • Saturday: 5.0 miles recovery pace (AM); 5.2 miles recovery pace (PM)
  • Sunday: 20.2 mile long run (steady pace)

Total mileage: 82 miles

Paces this week:

  • Recovery: 9:20 – 11:00
  • Speed: 2:24 per 600m
  • Easy: 8:24
  • Long: 8:15

Something to note is that my long run pace is pretty fast; it’s only 10 seconds slower than the bottom of the pace range. Some training philosophies call for doing your long run 1:00 to 1:30 per mile slower than your goal marathon pace. I don’t agree with this.

Here’s why: The long run is the foundation of marathon training, and as such needs to be exploited for its potential to facilitate real improvements in running fast over a long distance. Doing faster long runs introduces a particular kind of stress and forces adaptation to that stress week after week. A runner doing high mileage will already be doing a ton of slower miles during easy and recovery runs every week. It doesn’t make sense to me that you’d add in yet more slower miles on long run days.

The caveat to this is that, for a runner who is new to long distances, the weekend long run should probably be on the slower side, since the goal is to build endurance and prepare the body for harder training later on. But for someone who’s done that foundational work already, continuing to run long, slow distance seems like a lost opportunity.

Anyway, I’ve found the most success by doing all my long runs at a relatively fast clip (either as progression runs, long runs with lots of marathon pace miles at the end, or steady pace runs done at a quicker pace like yesterday’s).

Coming up in Fall Training Week 2: A jump to 88 miles.

The ace of base

Remember that terrible band? Oh, to have been born in 1993 and missed all those horrible late 80s/early 90s bands. But then your musical experience would have *started* with Christina Aguilera. Which is worse?

Anyhoo. This post isn’t about sub-standard pop bands from Sweden.

One note: “Iron Man” was a lot of fun. I haven’t enjoyed a superhero movie this much since “Batman Begins.” Good story (although the ending was a little lame), great script and an outstanding performance by Robert Downey, Jr. I could even stomach Gwyneth Paltrow, which is saying a lot. Unfortunately, you don’t actually get to hear Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” track in Dolby Surround Sound. Big disappointment! I’m resigned to pumping it out of my feeble 100 watt receiver and annoying the neighbors with it right here at home.

No, aside from the digressions, this a proper running post: an introduction to my new series of training posts to track my basebuilding for the fall marathon.

I officially started my basebuilding period two weeks ago, although that first week was a little screwed up since I spent three days traveling and couldn’t run as much as I wanted to. I compensated for a lack of quantity with some quality, running a lot more of the miles at easy (rather than slower recovery) pace. I only managed 49 miles that week, but that was o-kay.

Next up, post number one on basebuilding.

Are you excited?

I am.


Well, here we have a beautiful weekend coming up — a three day holiday weekend, no less — and I have to work! I have freelance work coming out of my ears these days, which is good. But not so good when it’s an ideal set of spring days.

I just wish the deadlines weren’t all so tight. And my regular 9-5 contracting gig has been crazy busy all week, especially today. Damned Europeans. Don’t they know it’s Memorial Day weekend?!

Just whining. It still beats being unemployed and starving. Sort of.

Goals are to spend no more than half of each weekend day working. Get all my quality runs in. Go see “Iron Man.” Drink heavily on Sunday evening and eat pot roast.


Up, that is.

I got my official finisher’s certificate for the April More Marathon only to discover that I’ve mysteriously been moved from 10th to 9th place.

Since I’m obsessive, I dug out a printout of the initial race results from my recycle bin and discovered that the original 9th place finisher, Ikuko Yabunami, has been removed from the list of finishers. I don’t know what happened there. Jonathan had told me right after the race that he thought he’d seen her being paced by three guys, so maybe she got disqualified for that (although I doubt it). Or maybe she was one of the people who was misdirected and didn’t hit all the mats.

In any event, 9th is always nicer than 10th.

Bad runs, good runs, fall training

With one notable exception, it’s been a bleh week for running. I spent Monday traveling to Iowa, Tuesday at a memorial service for my grandmother, followed by a reception at her retirement home, then Wednesday traveling back home with hours of flight delays.

So Monday and Wednesday, I did not run. On Tuesday morning, though, my sister and I headed over to the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, located along the Sac and Fox Trail, to attempt a run. Alas, after a week of rain the trail was a mudbath. So we hit the road; Otis Road, to be exact.

What a lovely run it was. I ran on ahead since I wanted to cover 8 miles to her 6 and we had to hurry along to get ready for the service later in the morning. We saw two trains pass by. She managed to get the conductor to honk by waving at him. Enthusiastic arm pumping by me on the way back yielded no honks from conductor number two.

Otis runs through farmland, and along the way I saw many deer, hawks, feral farm cats, a squashed squirrel and a bunch of friendly horses (or maybe just hungry ones) at a horse farm. We ran an out and back and at some point later in the run I was catching up to Susan, who was gliding over the crest of a hill, framed by a sterling Iowa morning sky. A beautiful scene indeed. I got choked up, realizing that the chances are slim that I’ll run in Cedar Rapids again.

Despite the fact that I was there for my grandmother’s service, I enjoyed myself. I spent a lot of time with my mother and her partner, my sister and niece, as well as with some extended family whom I don’t get to see that often. But, as was expected, it was also a rough trip emotionally. Not surprisingly, I came home feeling totally drained, and it wasn’t just from all the travel.

I did a terrible 4.5 miler yesterday. I gained about 3 pounds of water during the trip (eating lots of junk), plus I screwed up my left foot wearing formal shoes all day Tuesday. I don’t have bad runs very often, but they truly suck when they happen.

I got up this morning to try another, but it was pouring ran. So I did 5 miles inside on the treadmill at noon, and that went a lot better. Tomorrow I’ll do 10 in the morning, then 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Then a big 17 miler on Sunday, with the last few at marathon pace.

Westchester has changed the Bicycle Sunday rules, I’ve noticed. For most weekends in May, June and September Westchester shuts down several miles of the Bronx River Parkway on Sundays from 10AM – 2PM. It used to be limited to bicyclists and rollerbladers, but this year they’ve changed the rules to allow walkers, strollers and “joggers.”

Last weekend I was finishing up a 16 miler right around 10:30. I noticed that no runners were using the parkway. I suppose they either don’t realize they can, or, like me, they’re worried that it’s more hazardous than using the paved path. I’ll probably stick to the path again on Sunday — it’s more shaded there anyway.

One great aspect to Bicycle Sundays is the appearance of an ice cream truck right at the end of my long run. Last weekend I was starving for the last few miles and I cursed myself for not bringing either a gel or any money with me. I’ll take a fiver on Sunday so I can get a delicious treat after whaling on my legs for 17 miles.

I’ve mapped out my marathon training plan for the fall race: 8 weeks of base building, followed by a 14 week program that’s a modified version of what I used for the spring. The approach is pretty simple. The 8 weeks of base building consists of one long run on Sunday (alternating each weekend with marathon pace miles at the end) and one other hard run: either hills, tempo or intervals on the track. I’m also building up the miles from current 60ish to 90.

Then I go into 14 weeks of training in which I continue this approach, but throw in a midweek long run (to make it three hard workouts a week), more marathon pace miles, and a few tune-up races. The mileage tops out at 105, but I’ve put in more recovery runs (and more frequent full recovery weeks) this time around, so I’m hoping that will ward off injury.

I’ve decided to mix up the quality run types (tempo, hills, intervals) throughout training rather than doing them in phases. I believe that doing speed intervals every week for a month is what pushed me over the edge into injury. So I’m forgetting about Pfitzinger’s “mesocycles” this time around. Another grand experiment.

We decided to run the Fairfield Half Marathon on June 22. It’s supposed to be a well-organized race, and it’s a competitive field. I also need to get acclimated to running in the heat; what better way than to run a half marathon full out in late June? And I’ll do a couple of the Van Cortlandt Park 5K races on Thursday evenings, to replace tempo runs. Racing’s a lot more fun than a tempo run any day, even if it is hot. Especially if it’s hot. And at five bucks a race, it’s hard to pass up. Then, in September, I’ll do the South Nyack 10 Miler — my third year running this race. I missed an age group award by a few spots last year. I intend to come home with some cheap hardware this year, by hook or by crook.

Race Report: 2008 New Jersey Half Marathon

This report’s a bit late in coming, but better late than never.


In a nutshell, we both ran very good races. No, actually, that’s not fair. Jonathan ran a great race. My race merely gazed longingly at, but did not touch, greatness.

Jonathan did the full marathon, a race that had been his training focus for the last five months. He did the same Pfitzinger plan (from “Advanced Marathoning”) that I did, albeit with a bit more mileage (and, of course, faster training paces). His hard work paid off. Here are his impressive stats:

  • Finishing time: 2:44:43
  • First place masters male (with first place in 50-54 age group, obviously)
  • Seventh place overall
  • Age graded ranking: 85.4%

That last stat is particularly notable since it ranked him as the highest age graded runner in the entire race. Also, his new marathon PR is an improvement of nearly 28 minutes.

Is it obvious that I’m so very proud of him? Too obvious?

My performance was not too shabby either. My stats:

  • Finishing time: 1:34:39
  • Thirteenth place female
  • Seventh place masters female
  • Fifth place female 40-44
  • Eightieth place overall
  • Age graded ranking: 74.5%

My half marathon PR was five minutes faster than my time for the Manhattan Half in late January. It also gives me a marathon equivalent performance time of just under 3:20. Based on this, I’m using 3:18 training paces now, as I start my buildup for training for the next race in October, and so far my heart rates are in line. Something else: My age grading has jumped almost 15% in the last year.

It is so gratifying to have gone from placing in the top 40 percent of female finishers two years ago to consistently finishing in the top 10-20 females today. It really motivates me to do better and to dream of actually winning one of these things one day.

I had an interesting shift in perspective right after the race, too. I’d like to shoot for a 1:30:00 half PR in the next sixth months or so. That time is right around Jonathan’s first half marathon finishing time two years ago — a pace that I couldn’t conceive of being able to run at the time. This supports my theory that one reason why so many people train and train, but don’t improve very much, is that they get locked into thinking of themselves as only being able to run at certain paces. So they never push themselves enough because they can’t fathom ever running races at 7:00 pace, for example, since they’ve always run them at 9:00 per mile.

We both ran very consistent splits, with the only trouble spots being the 2.5 or so miles along the shoreline, where there was wind of 10-15 mph. The course is a good one; flat for the most part, with a couple of little hills.

Not a lot of crowd support, save for some very enthusiastic pockets at miles 5 and 18, but I don’t really care about having cheering crowds. It was funny, though. I was running with a guy who had a huge cheering contingent. They went totally nuts when we passed them.

I spent most of the race running within about 20 metres of the 3:10 marathon pacing group. For the first three miles, I was right behind them, but the pace leader’s variation in pace was driving me a little crazy — slowing down to 7:30, then speeding up to 7:05. So I finally passed them when they were in a slow cycle and ran about 10 seconds ahead of them until mile 10, when they passed me and I used them as a windbreak.

The race is exceptionally well-organized. Packet pickup and baggage were easy, there was plenty of food (although spoons were hard to come by) and porta potties, the course was well-marked and they managed the finish line split (between half and full runners) well, so it wasn’t chaotic.

One complaint was that the staging area was in a residential neighborhood, and there was too much traffic to warm up safely. But that’s a minor quibble. Best of all, they posted printed results quickly and there was no waiting around for hours for the awards ceremony. You just went and picked up your award (well, I didn’t…if I’d only run a few minutes faster…).

Finally, they have the coolest awards. It makes up for the horrible tee shirt. They feature a miniature replica of the town’s historic lighthouse, glued to a piece of marble (or maybe it’s granite; I can’t tell). To give you a sense of scale, the award pictured is about a foot wide and probably weighs about 15 pounds.

It was a good experience and supports my other theory (actually, I have lots of theories) that it’s possible to run a good half off of marathon training a month later, if you’re careful with recovery from the first race. I’d like to run this one again next year — maybe even the full race.

Lovely Betty

My grandmother died a few days ago. She meant a lot to me. Here’s the obituary I wrote for her, with help from my mother and sister.

I’ve had work to do this week, but took a few hours yesterday to plant some new flowers in our garden and reflect on my grandmother’s life and what I think about love, life and death. I don’t often use the term “bittersweet,” but it has been apt in those moments.

I’m off to Iowa again soon for the funeral. As my sister said to me recently, “Mortality sucks.”

We both ran our best races ever in New Jersey on Sunday, and I’ll give a full report soon. But I came home to this bad news that afternoon and it’s overshadowed everything for the past few days.