Spring Race Training: Week 10

09spr-training-10Last week was a recovery week and then some.

Coming off of two 100 milers, I needed a break. Unfortunately, I got more of a break than I wanted due to our iffy spring weather here on the east coast. More on that in a moment.

The week featured the usual suspects, sprinkled amongst a lot of recover running:

Tuesday’s tempo run actually went better than expected considering how tired my legs still were after Sunday’s “run ‘n’ race” sandwich in Central Park. What was interesting about this run is that while I was running the faster miles at the very end, my legs felt exactly like they do around mile 18-20 of a marathon that isn’t going particularly well (or, I suppose, mile 25 of one that is).

That sensation certainly brought back some unpleasant memories. It also served as a reminder to never, ever, ever run a marathon too fast again. If I’m not ready for a 3:05 in a couple of months, I’ve got to accept that and run within my capabilities.

My legs felt relatively fresh on Thursday and the speed session went as well as it could with a steady wind slowing me for half of each lap around the track. The speedwork not being perfect has begun to bother me less and less. I know that running 800m fast is not my goal, but a stepping stone to the real goal (which is to run around 7:00 for many miles). I’m sweating the races and MPace efforts a lot more than I am the shorter stuff.

On Friday my legs felt like two-by-fours with blocks of concrete for feet: stiff, heavy, dead. The recovery run didn’t help. I skipped the strides since, well, they were out of the question.

Then I ran a little recovery run on Saturday to rest up for…

…the race that didn’t happen on Sunday.

This was very upsetting, as I’d done a modified taper all week, carbo-loaded like crazy, and mentally prepared myself to race a 30K. Not only that, but this was to be the first race that didn’t feature ridiculous hills all season — a totally flat course.

The forecast was bad all week, but I held out hope that the weather would clear. No such luck. We drove to CT in a driving rain, got out and did a 1 mile warmup in pouring rain and steady wind, and gave up. I would have been able to run maybe, at best, a 7:20-7:30 pace in that weather and it would have been miserable. So we turned around and drove home. But not before dropping by the Scarsdale 15K start to see if we could race that instead. By the time we got there (5 minutes before start), we’d debated the merits of racing this one, which were few. It was no substitute for the 30K we’d just bagged.

So we came home and Jonathan took the day off. I got on the treadmill and did a modified MPace run, with three sets of Mpace x 2 miles, with a 1 mile “rest” at 10-20% slower than Mpace. I’m glad I did something on Sunday, since I was ready to run fast, but it was still a huge let down. It’s virtually impossible to find a long and flat race now (too close to marathon season, probably).

Sunday’s events may have been for the best. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself. I could have used a solid recovery week and after my treadmill effort I needed a two hour nap, which was unusual.

I’ll try again this Sunday (which is also my birthday), with another sandwich run/race: a 10 mile tuneup race on Long Island (for those running the LI Marathon), which I’ll tack a few miles onto either end of.

Week 11 features 90 miles with more midlength+tempo running, some longer intervals and another footlong sandwich run out on Long Island.

Crocuses, daffodils and snowdrops

Just an aimless little post to check in and highlight some things…

Spring flowers are springing up, appropriately. It’s still quite chilly, which I don’t mind all that much, because at least it’s been dry and above freezing most days. We’ll be in the dog days of summer soon enough.

This is a recovery week — a very easy one, in an attempt to rest up for my 30K race on Sunday. Aside from a few bouts of unexplained insomnia, I’ve felt great this week. My legs have felt really good, and the two hard workouts (a tempo-y mid-length run on Tuesday and a set of 800m intervals on the track this morning) have gone well. I’m also dropping fat, after a few weeks of disciplined eating; pants are loose and I feel lighter on my feet.

With some hesitation (due, perhaps needless to say, to our crap economy and the fact of our self-employment), I’m booking no less than three major trips this year, all of which have a running component. First, there’s a major trip out to Oregon in the late spring, kicked off by the Newport Marathon. Next up, a trip to visit Jonathan’s family in South Africa in the early fall, where we’ll race a half marathon in Hermanus (lovely area near Cape Town). And finally, we’ve committed to running the California International Marathon in Sacramento early December, after which we’ll spend an early Christmas with my family in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Links to all these races are on the Races page.

This is more traveling in one year than we’ve done in several years put together. The Oregon trip is one I’ve wanted to do, but have put off for nearly five years. And we haven’t been to South Africa in several years, so it was our turn to make the trip to reconnect. And I try to get out to California at least every 1-2 years, so it made sense to combine it with the second marathon of the year.

My resolve to take these trips was further tested today as a new wave of layoffs decimated the employee rank and file at the massive global corporation for which I contract. Well, not quite decimated: about 4% of the North American employee workforce got the axe. At least two five of my favorite colleagues got pink-slipped yesterday and I’m sure I’ll learn of others this morning. As a contractor, I’ve thus far been immune to these “head count reductions” (since I’m not officially a “head” — just a relatively buried budget line item). But I still worry. Hmm. Maybe the insomnia this week isn’t such a mystery after all.

Someone I worked with many years ago told me the story of when both he and his partner lost their jobs in the same week. Their reaction was to go on vacation to a tropical paradise for a week, then deal with it. He said it was the best thing they could have done, as they made a pact to enjoy themselves and not think about work, money, the future, etc. until they got home again. They got new jobs. Life went on. And they had a good memory to share.

So fuck it. I’m living high this year regardless of whether or not everything implodes around me. Those spring flowers have no olfactory effect, but I’m going to stop and smell them anyway.

Total change of subject: Fellow blogger Joe Garland of RunWestchester has attained 15 minutes (maybe longer!) of fame on episode 21 of Runners Round Table. I’ve become addicted to this podcast, often whiling away the hour of a recovery run with it as a background.

The next couple of days are very easy, so I probably won’t post again until after the 30K race. Until then…

Spring Race Training: Week 9

09spr-training-09Another good week for me. Here’s the blow by blow:

The recovery runs throughout the week tended to be on either end of the spectrum, with most runs having me feeling a little tired, and two in particular where I had that familiar run-over-by-a-truck feeling. It’s funny what a number those runs can do on your head; you think you’ll never feel good again and you ruminate on exactly how fast you plan to run in The Big Race, which seems patently absurd as you shuffle along at 10:30…

I’ve had enough of those exhausted runs over the past couple of months to know that I can go from ass dragging to perky in a mere 12-24 hours. So I keep the faith, do the run, and try not to worry too much. It’s easy to see which was which this past week: The slower afternoon times on Tuesday and Friday are dead giveaways.

As usual, I had three hard workouts this week. Or, let me amend that: I’d gone into the week thinking I had two hard workouts and one colossally hard workout. As it turned out, the big scary workout turned out to be a paper tiger.

Since Sunday was the scary day, intensity was dialed back throughout the week. The Tuesday general aerobic run was sans tempo miles. Still, I felt good on Tuesday morning and took advantage of that by running a speedy pace after a very gradual, slowish warmup of 2-3 miles. Thursday was a fun session on the track (did I just include “fun” and “track” in the same sentence?). I felt the effects of that effort 24 hours later on Friday evening, but I recovered in time for…

Sunday!! Sunday!! Sunday!!*

Sunday was the huge workout that, oddly enough, I’d come to look forward to rather than dread. It felt sort of like engaging in a science experiment of questionable wisdom:

Enroll as your subject a 43-year-old woman. Have her run 101 miles in one week, followed by 78 miles the next. Make sure a fair percentage of those miles are fast. Then put her in Central Park and make her run 6 miles up and down hills. Then have her race a 15K. Then feed her a little, and have her do another six miles on hills. Finally, feed her an enormous stack of pancakes, place her in a recliner and observe.

The effects, at least so far, have not been dramatic. My legs are a little sore today (duh) and I’ve got some sort of weird problem with my left foot (inflamed tendon or something) that I’ll get seen to this week. Other than that, the crushing exhaustion and compromised performance I was anticipating yesterday didn’t materialize, nor am I particularly tired today.

Week 10 feels like a cakewalk until, again, Sunday. A little tempo work tomorrow, a little speedwork on Thursday, and no doubles. Then, on Sunday, the race I’ve been eagerly anticipating: a flat 30K that, weather permitting, I hope to run at goal Mpace or faster (7:04). I’d love to break 2:11 (that would be 7:02) pace, but I recognize it may be too early to hope for that.

*Remember those monster truck show ads? Jonathan and I were so enamored of them way back when that we actually decided to go to one to see what they were like. It was in Madison Square Garden — an enclosed space to offer extra exposure to exhaust and deafening engine noise. When I went to the box office to buy tickets, the agent actually said to me, “Uh, these aren’t for you, are they?” This is probably the actual ad that drew us in.

Elite blog: Nate Jenkins

You may not have noticed the “Elite blogs” list I have in the right well of this page, which contains all of two entries. I’m still looking for blogs from elite runners that are worthy of inclusion in this list, but so far I’ve only found two.

Over the past six months or so I’ve become a huge fan of Nate Jenkins. He is a self-coached runner and — always near and dear to my heart — fundamentally a marathoner (although he races other distances). What I love most about his blog is its honesty. His posts are completely lacking in pretention; they are unadorned, from the heart, and full of fascinating observations from a man who is learning how to coach and run as he goes along.

Here’s a wonderful post that represents the best of his chronicling of life as a distance runner.

Amended: The new home for Jenkins’ blog is here. It’s still worth poking around at that first link above at Flotrack to read his other musings.

False starts made worse

This little tidbit appeared in the New York Times today. It seems the IAAF is proposing to do away with “do over” false starts. For the unitiated, here’s a basic primer:

A false start happens when a runner literally “jumps the gun” at the start of a race. Imagine six 400m sprinters lined up in their blocks. They’re crouched down with one knee on the ground. The starter (the person holding the gun) says, “On your marks.”  Next, the starter says, “Set” and all the runners’ butts go up in the air, knees off the ground.  Then there is a short pause, after which the gun fires, and the runners start running. In a false start, a runner — let’s say the runner in lane 2 — starts running after the starter has said “set” but before the gun has been fired. When this happens, the gun is fired again to signal to the runners that a false start has occurred and everyone makes their way back to the start to try again.

The accepted rule today is that first false starter is forgiven. However, if in the same race there is another false start — let’s say that this time it’s the runner in lane 5 — that second false starter is eliminated from the race. The first offender, runner in lane 2, suffers no penalty.

There are obvious problems with this. For one, it can be abused by a savvy runner. A runner is free to commit a false start on purpose, with no repercussions, increasing the chances of eliminating a competitor in a second false start. Also, false starts tend to rattle runners. If you watch track races, you’ll see the racers going through all kinds of exercises to focus on the task at hand. Some of the rituals (slapping themselves seems to be the newest trend) seem ridiculous, but I believe they serve a purpose and that a break in concentration in the miliseconds before the racer is ready to perform has got to take its toll.

The proposed change would drop the “first time forgiven” approach, immediately eliminating the first person who false starts. On its face, it sounds like a good change. But it fails to take into consideration the vagaries of race starts. By this I mean the variations in the time between “set” being called and the gun being fired. Watch enough track and field meets and you’ll notice that some are rife with false starts. Why? Usually because the starter “holds” the runners too long. Imagine being lined up in your blocks, then told to (get) “set,” and then being held for two or three seconds. Every muscle is twitching to get started, but the gun doesn’t fire.

I’ve watched meets where there are multiple “two false start” races, which is truly tragic. And it’s usually because there’s some geriatric standing there with a gun, holding runners way beyond what could be considered a reasonable pause. For awhile, I began to develop a conspiracy theory that this trend was a deliberate attempt to add drama and tension to televised coverage. In fact, for me it had the opposite effect, as I was forced to sit through many wasted minutes of false start coverage at the expense of more expansive coverage of longer events (“Wow. Watching Carmelita Jeter walk slowly back to the blocks and spend three minutes slapping herself is great, especially when it means I only get to see the last three minutes of the men’s 5000m race.”)

But I don’t really think these things are deliberate. I think it’s simple ineptitude. Worse, no one at these meets seems to notice that there’s a connection between delayed gun firing times and recurrent false start problems. The long hold times continue, and so do the false starts.

I think it’s fine to change the false start rules, but only if a standard “hold” time is adopted. That might mean automating starters, replacing humans with slow trigger fingers with a machine that will always fire a gun, say, exactly one second after “set.” But it need not even come to that. If you can find a starter who can say “a thousand one” and pull a trigger, you’ll probably reduce an enormous number of false starts with that action alone. Failing to address the common cause of false starts  just puts more pressure (and punishment) on athletes, and will likely go one of two ways: either we’ll see the same number of false starts or they’ll drop off — right along with race times, as runners hesitate to get out of the blocks quickly for fear of being booted out of the race.

Race Report: Colon Cancer Challenge 15K

As previously posted, this race was to serve as the sloppy joe heart of an ambitious sandwich run. So, it was not truly a race. I’d say I ran at about 95% race effort. Which was a shame, because I still ended up with an excellent finishing time (and 7th in my AG). After crossing the finish in 1:07:18, I momentarily regretted that I hadn’t run harder. But then I remembered that I still had to run another six miles and immediately got over that.

I prepared as well as I could for today’s training run plus race. I took care to eat a lot of carbohydrates over the past two days, drank a lot of water, and got a lot of sleep. I also gave myself plenty of time to get to Central Park this morning so I wouldn’t feel rushed. Since the race didn’t start until 10:15AM, this wasn’t difficult to do.

I got to the park at 8:45, picked up my bib and chip, dropped off my bag, and got to work on the first loop. I’d forgotten that there was a four mile race as well this morning, which started at 9:00. So I had lots of company running around the park. I started my loop at the same time the race started, which got my adrenaline going (even though I wasn’t racing this one). Seeing the leaders speed by behind the pace car shot my heart rate up into the lower 80%s. It’s weird how you can get that vicarious race thrill just looking at other runners.

Things settled down about half  a mile later and I puttered along, up over the big hills and down around the bottom of the park, averaging a 9:17 pace at 74% max heart rate. This was harder than I’d wanted to work, but when I ran slower I felt like I was crawling. Besides, I felt good and I knew I only had a 15K race and another six miles to run after this, ha ha.

With the foreplay out of the way, I stripped down as close to my underpants as possible, choked down a mini-bagel with honey and dashed over to the race start. Until I can complete a NYRR race with a pace of sub-7:00, I’m stuck in the penultimate corral. I got two seconds closer today, but I’m still stuck in corral number two with my 7:14 best pace time.

As long as I’m in this predicament, I’ve got to learn to move up to the front of that corral, as I started more toward the back — it was packed in like sardines at the start — and as a result ended up in a 7:30 pace mob for the first quarter mile of the race. Once I got clear of the crowd clog, I opened up a bit and was running sub-7:00 to try to get back the lost time.

Today was one of those days when I didn’t trust my watch, but in a good way. It kept telling me I was running 6:49, or 6:57, or 7:04 and I kept thinking, “Well, that can’t be right.” Then I’d pass a mile marker and clock and do the math and figure that the watch was not lying. I felt exceedingly good for the first half of the race, just flying along and not really feeling the effort. At one point early in the race I peeked at my heart rate, saw it was 85% and thought, “Well, I need to start running faster than this.”

I really started to feel the effort just before mile eight, which coincided with a decision to try to pick up the pace. Just beyond the mile marker, I ran past NYRR president Mary Wittenberg, who gave me an “attagirl” in the form of a hale and hearty, “All right! Good job!” I know nothing about Wittenberg, but I’m always delighted by the fact that she runs so many of her own races, and impressed that she’s no slouch either. It turns out she beat me by two seconds despite the fact that I came in ahead of her, which means she must have started after me, passed me at some point, then got passed by me again. Where would we be without racing chips?

I motored along for the last mile plus, clocking a 6:35 for mile nine (assisted by a significant downhill grade) and 6:47 for the last bit. There were three women, of which I was one, coming to the finish very close, with me in third. About 30m from the finish I thought I’d see if I could pick off one of them, and, lo, I did, passing her with about 10 feet to go, while momentarily ignoring the fact that I still had some running to do after this foolhardy move. I didn’t care. Oh, I’m at 94% mhr? A temporary annoyance! It was fun to outkick someone on whose heels I’d been running for the last nine+ miles.

With my momentary victory in hand, I jogged back over to baggage to down some food before the last leg. The third loop wasn’t notable in any way. I ran a shortened loop, just under six miles at 8:42 pace, 75% mhr. Surprisingly, I didn’t experience the anticipated relief at having gotten those miles over with. I still had energy and experienced what I can best describe as a pleasant, satisfied exhaustion, not the other, look-what-the-fucking-cat-dragged-in kind that I’m all too familiar with.

Today’s race was a success. Not only did I better my time from last year, but I did so with much less effort (avg 87% mhr vs. avg 90% a year ago), and with an obvious handicap going in (not to mention already having 78 miles on my legs for the week). My pacing was a lot more even too.

I’m really itching to run next Sunday’s 30K now. I’ll be better rested (with just 52 miles on my legs), plus it’s a flat course that I’ll be actually racing all out.

Sandwich runs

Tomorrow I have what I’ve started calling a “sandwich run.” This is a workout that consists of a respectable number of miles to start with (at aerobic pace), followed by a race, then finished off with another chunk of miles immediately post-race.

In these runs, you’re not meant to race all out. Instead, the aim is to get in some aerobic miles so you go in tired. Next, you run the race at some predetermined goal pace that is slower than you could actually race it (for example, marathon pace, marathon+10%, etc.). And finally, you force yourself to run some more miles at a respectable pace once the race is finished and everyone else is off enjoying their bagels and hot chocolate.

I was first introduced to this concept back in November, where I saw that my coach had scheduled two miles on either side of a 10K race. I was told to really run these miles, not jog them. In fact, if I could manage it, it would be even better to work up to my intended racing speed at the end of the pre-race segment.

At the time, I thought this was a nutty idea. But that day I learned the value of running a mile or so hard before a short race; for the first time, I felt truly warmed up before a 10K, and I ran fast (considering the conditions) that day.

I’ve since had one other sandwich run: a planned 18 miler with 4.5 each on either side of the Ted Corbitt 15K in Central Park. It was very wet and cold that day, so I cut the two “bread” runs short (3.5 and 4.0), but nevertheless raced the whole 9.3 miles of “meat” in the middle.

That run was over three months ago. Tomorrow is the biggest sandwich run yet: the Colon Cancer Challenge 15K, with two full loops of the park (6.2 miles) tacked on either side, bringing the total distance to around 22 miles. I’m planning to do the first segment on the low end of the aerobic range, or around 72% max heart rate. Then I’m aiming for an average pace of 7:15 for the race. For the final miles, I’m taking the attitude that I’ll do what I can do, although I hope to again maintain an effort that is at least in the low 70s% mhr (recognizing that cardiac creep may push it higher anyway).

I find these workouts both intriguing and satisfying. In the satisfaction department, it takes the pressure off of racing. I know I can’t race all out, and so I don’t have to feel bad when I don’t. It’s also amusing when I’m running the course after the race and an astute volunteer says, “Hey, you’re on your third loop!” or something else that indicates they’re onto me (or they think I’m mentally challenged).

These runs are also a great exercise mentally, as the last thing you want to do after crossing the finish line is to go run six more miles. But that’s kind of how I feel every time I reach mile 20 of a marathon: I’m done. I don’t want to run fast anymore. But I have to. So I do. But, boy, does it take a mental effort to race those last six miles. The intrigue lies in whether a regular dose of sandwich runs helps with that particular aspect of marathon racing, which I have always suspected is as much mental as it is physiological in nature.