In praise of the training diary

I reported a few weeks back that I’d been diagnosed as having either a cyst or “thickening of the sheath” of a major ligament on the top of my left foot. I got a cortisone shot and the problem went away. Until the other day, when it cropped up again after a fast 16 miler.

Enter the training diary. I looked back over my notes concerning when the problem first appeared (10 miles into another fast mid-length run), and when it had flared up over subsequent runs. The common factor turned out to be a certain model of shoe: the Asics Speedstar. I have two pairs of these that I don’t wear all that often, as they are just “okay” shoes. I have other lightweight models that I prefer (the current favorite being the Pearl Izumi Streak) for faster running, so the Speedstar tends to be the neglected stepsister who only grudgingly gets taken out every few weeks.

I hadn’t worn them since the cortisone shot until the other day, after which — wouldn’t you know it — my top of foot pain was back. So I’m going to stop wearing them until after the marathon, and even then I may retire them if they aren’t suitable for shorter recovery runs either (I hate to throw away perfectly good shoes before their time).

I track everything: resting HR, running HR, distance, speed, weather, calories, weight, sleep hours (and quality of sleep), mood, shoes worn (and mileage on each pair), pains/niggles, and the quality of every run. Some may say this is overkill but it truly pays off at times like this.

Coach Greg McMillan on training for masters runners

Interesting interview by Scott Douglas via Running Times Online. McMillan makes some good points, particularly with regard to not lumping all masters runners together, and how the differences in background, rates of adaptation and recovery, and other factors influence how he coaches them.

Listen to the interview.

Welcome to Hell

Today was my only tough run of the week, as I prepare for the New Jersey Half Marathon on Sunday. The assignment was 10 miles at general aerobic pace + 4 miles at MPace (7:00).

Oh, my God. What a horrible run! Today was the perfect storm of bad runs: I woke up still fatigued from Sunday, with an upset stomach and bad allergies. Did I mention my right quads have been giving me grief too? I spent a couple of hours waiting for my stomach to calm down, only making it out the door at 8AM. By that time, it was already 75F.

I dutifully ran my 10 miles at the lowest HR I could that would still count as “general aerobic,” or 72% of max. The pace? 9:17. Lordy. That’s a recovery run pace on most days.

I got to the track to find full sun and a steady 8mph wind. By this time, it was 82F. Which means it felt like about 100F while running. I’d told myself not to look at paces, but instead focus on effort. I ran 1 mile and peeked at the time at the end: 7:13. Okay, not bad. But it was unsustainable. On the next lap, my HR was up to 89%, my pace down to 7:43.

I lay down in the shade for five minutes, debating whether or not to abandon the run. I’ve not yet abandoned any workout this season, so I didn’t want to start now. I ran another mile (7:52 at 88% HR) and lucked upon an abandoned, unopened bottle of water in the grass, amongst the dozen or so half consumed bottles. (Can’t be too careful with swine flu and cooties going around.) After a good guzzle I set out for the final mile: 7:49 at 93% HR).

I knew an MPace workout was not to be from the moment I woke up this morning. But it is always a shock to see just how much the heat can affect me. I was running tempo effort at the end at nearly a minute off MPace. It is what it is. But that degradation in performance, coupled with the extreme discomfort of running in high heat, has me dreading summer training already.

At least I get to relax for the next four days.

Spring Race Training: Week 14

09spr-training-14Crikey. I’ve been in serious training now for well over three months and I’m still standing, albeit at a slight lean some mornings.

Coming off of a recovery week, I was bursting with energy starting on Monday morning. Tuesday’s run was a big surprise, with my having planned to average 8:00 pace, but getting carried away and running nearly 16 miles at an average of 11% slower than MPace. For this, I have to lay blame where it’s due: squarely on Colleen De Reuck’s shoulders.

With yet more energy to spare, I ran Wednesday’s recovery runs too fast. The AM run because it was just so darned pleasant outside; the PM run because it was pouring and I was freezing and just wanted the damned thing over with.

I paid for my folly on Thursday. At least I was smart enough to swap runs and put the longer one in the morning, since the pattern is that I’m drop dead exhausted on Thursday evenings. This week was no exception. Actually, it was exceptional in that Thursday’s PM recovery run was one of the worst runs in recent memory. The image of myself resembling a shuffling, scowling reanimated corpse haunted me throughout. Even the ducks were laughing at me.

I have learned to have faith in a night’s recovery and Friday morning confirmed that this faith was not misplaced. The morning presented a rare combination of ideally cool temperatures and a mere 3-4mph wind on the track. I ripped through my 3 x 1 mile intervals at about the same pace as the half mile intervals just a week before. From reanimated corpse to Wonder Woman in just 12 hours, although my pride was tempered by the fact that there was no way I could have done a fourth. But the good news was, I didn’t have to!

Our freak heat wave moved in on Saturday. It was still cool on Saturday morning, but by the afternoon it was 85F out. I was in such a heat-induced stupor that I got all the way down to the running path before realizing that I’d forgotten to put my watch on. I can’t remember the last time I ran without a watch. It was liberating and relaxing. Something I’ll probably do a little more often on some recovery runs.

Sunday called for a “time on my feet” long run with nothing special. I’d been told to try to run at 8:20 pace. But since I was running in Central Park in very high heat (91F at the peak), I ran by the HR equivalent of 8:20 lately, which is around 76% max. I managed 8:46 pace at 77% MHR. It was not fun. But being in the park with water, ice cream and the odd Olympian nearby was a much more appealing proposition than slogging all the way up to the Valhalla Dam all by my lonesome.

The sun and hills did a number on me, though, necessitating my longest post-run nap ever: around three hours in la la land. I haven’t even slept for that long after a full marathon.

For week 15 I do just one hard workout on Tuesday (14 miles with the last 4 at MPace), followed by a short taper to get ready for the New Jersey Half Marathon on Sunday. So far, the weather forecast looks good: 50s at the start and overcast. But it’s only Monday…

The long, hot summer (run)

Is it summer? It sure feels like it. Today the “real feel” temperature topped out at 91F in Central Park. I know because I was there to combine a long run with spectating the More Marathon/Half Marathon event.

Well, half an event, as it turned out. They canceled the full marathon and declared the half as a non-timed “fun run.” There weren’t even any clocks on the course.

I have mixed feelings about the cancelation of the full distance event. The marathoners in that event get short shrift anyway, which is why there are typically about 150 women running the full, compared to 9,000+ (I shit you not) in the half. Had I spent six months preparing for this race…well, I honestly don’t know what I would have done given the freak weather. I probably would have not have bothered to race it (since I am terrible at hot weather racing) — which means writing it off and looking for a backup in cooler climes that still had open registrations.

But bagging a race should be my choice, not NYRR’s. On the other hand, with lots of marathon runners taking 5+ hours to finish, that would have had them out there in full sun, full heat. After the debacles in Chicago and elsewhere in 2007, I do understand the impulse to protect people from themselves.

My feelings about the downgrading of the half to a fun run are not ambivalent, however. NYRR did this with the Ted Corbitt 15K in the winter and it was annoying, to say the least. I simply don’t believe that removing the trappings of a race (meaning recording performances) makes a lot of difference to the runners who are there to compete. I still saw a lot of women pushing themselves and running surprisingly fast given the conditions. They should at least have the opportunity to see how they stack up against local competition, especially if they’ve been training for many months, after which an appreciable advancement in relative racing fitness can be measured.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

So it was a weird event. There were five invited elites there, three of whom I recognized: 2008 Olympian Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, who ran with one person I didn’t recognize, Katerina Janosikova.  A few minutes behind them were three-time course winner (and record holder) Susan Loken, Susie Meyers-Kennedy (second in the full race last year), and Christine Glockenmeier (fast runner from NJ, another new face).

I ran the opposite direction for 18 of my 20 miles. It was a little thrill to see Magda and the others go speeding by, and I cheered on the faster “regular Janes” behind them. It was surprising how many people showed up, despite the weather. Despite the miles long stream of people, the numbers did seem lower than the 9,600 registered.

The medical tally was, fortunately, not too grim. I saw two women being loaded into ambulances and another two on the ground being attended to. Most people ran a reasonable pace* and adjusted to the rising mercury (myself included). After sitting under a shaded tree for a few moments at the top of Cat Hill, I ran the last two miles going with the flow of runners. That was actually sort of fun. A few had their names on their backs and, as they were within half a mile of the finish, I gave some words of encouragement and ran with a few of them. Everyone looked so beaten up by the weather; I supposed I must have as well.

I finished up with a Good Humor ice cream sandwich and 1.5 liters of water. Then a three hour nap at home.

I am grateful for two things:

  1. I didn’t make the More 2009 Marathon my goal marathon for this year. What a colossal disappointment that would have been. The fact that we can have a severe heat wave in late April convinces me that I need to select and register for a backup race every season.
  2. I’m also glad I didn’t make the Half my tuneup race. Having had such bad luck with the weather this winter for virtually all of my races, this would have been the miserable cherry on top. This weather is supposed to clear out by Tuesday evening, leaving us back down to normal early spring temperatures for next weekend’s tuneup race in New Jersey.

The usual report on this week’s training (which, yet again, went exceedingly well) will follow once I recover a bit from today’s effort.

Including Lewy-Boulet and Janosikova, who ran around a 1:18. Why, that’s practically a crawl for Magda, who won the US Half Marathon Championships in sub-1:12 in January.

Beautiful little movie

This is the best thing you’ll see today, I promise.

Watch it.

Gina Kolata states the bleedin’ obvious

This article appeared in yesterday’s New York Times: Proper Training Is Critical to Athletic Success

No disrespect to Ms. Kolata is intended. The sad thing is that this needs to be stated at all. And yet, it does!

For the past couple of years I have followed the online exploits of several runners who claim to want to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Yet, year after year, they fail to do so. Not only that, but they never get any closer. Sometimes they get farther away. And they seem to find their lack of progress a huge mystery.

What are they doing wrong? Well, perhaps most critically, they’re failing to train properly. Many are “training” in the sense that they are following some sort of plan. But they’re running the same speeds they ran three years ago, for example, and wondering why they’re not getting any faster. Or they’re running the same low mileage and bare minimum number of long runs and wondering why they bonked at 18 miles again.

Kolata’s article (which perhaps should be thought of as a public service announcement for runners) is just a longer way of stating one of my all-time favorite running quotes, which comes from Kathrine Switzer: “Training works.” But it goes a step further and says “Consistent, rigorous, event-specific training works.”

I’m not sure that I buy the idea that one necessarily needs to join a training group or hire a coach in order to approach one’s running potential. But if your problem is chronic lack of progress, then it sure can’t hurt. What’s most important is working hard, working hard often and regularly, and working progressively harder with each new training cycle.

Now is that such rocket science?

NY Running Bloggers Happy Hour

On May 14, we’re making another attempt at a face to face for NY area runners who blog. Or bloggers who run, if you prefer. Learn more here!

More Marathon, Half Marathon course changes

[Edited 4/22]

The More Marathon, site of my first and third full marathons, takes place this Sunday in Central Park.

The good news is: NYRR seems to have taken some steps to reduce the crowd clog issue, at least for the first lap — I predict the usual chaos once the full marathoners hit the half marathon crowd on their second loop. They’ve also tried to simplify what was a complicated course: two outside loops, then three inside loops, then a fourth that rounds the bottom of the park. Just try to keep that straight when you’re already “loopy” from a lack of glycogen.

The bad news is: Marathoners now have to run four full outside loops of the park — hitting the hills at the north and south end four times. Killer course. I know because I did one training run there that featured four times around and it was quite an effort. Moreover (*cough*), even faster runners in future events can probably kiss their chances of breaking the course record (2:45:35) goodbye now too. [Or maybe not, as becomes clear in this press release.]

I’m somewhat tempted to do my 20 miler in the park on Sunday, to soak up the racing vibe and relive some pleasant memories. But that would probably be insane. What’s worse: Doing battle with vicious geese and idiots on bikes up here, or running alongside [7,000] 9,600 runners and walkers down there? [The following is a poor attempt at humor] At least I could score some free water, probably. Hmm.

Another “magical” run, powered by inspiration

In early January I had what I described as a “magical” run — a mid-length run that felt effortless, yet featured faster and faster running. I had another one today, just over three months later. I went out with the intention of doing a progression run, and to try to average 8:00 over the whole run by starting off at 20% slower than Mpace (8:20ish) and finishing up at 10% slower (7:40ish).

I was mostly going by heart rate today. I figured I’d keep it around 73% in the beginning and then max out at 84% at the end. As it turns out, I did end up running quite a bit faster than 7:40 for the final miles. This would explain the average pace of 7:47 — that was a surprise when I got home and looked at the splits.

I am pleased.

I spent the first few miles thinking through a work problem. Once I came up with enough ideas to mollify my various bosses, I let my mind drift. What did I think about? I thought about Colleen De Reuck and Elva Dryer. While I know the women’s race in Boston this year was ridiculously slow, verging on offensively slow, I still felt such a thrill seeing those two (De Reuck at 45 and Dryer at a “no spring chicken either” 37) leading the pack for about two thirds of the race.

We all need heroes to inspire us, and De Reuck especially, one year my senior, yet running at a level that I can only dream of,* was very much in my thoughts this morning.

*De Reuck came in 8th overall, Dryer 12th.