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.