Spring Race Training: Week 16

09spr-training-16Well, this was it — the last week of real training. From here on out, it’s taper, taper, taper.

I took two days to recover from the half marathon last Sunday. Not surprisingly, I was still tired by Tuesday evening and after a conversation with Kevin, downgraded the Wednesday workout from 15 miles w/last 5 at 6:53 to a more doable 12 miles w/last 4 at 7:00. Wind and hills thwarted those plans slightly, but I was close enough at 7:05.

Thursday and Friday were not notable, although as the weekend drew near I needed to make a decision about the major 22 miler: Do it on Sunday as planned, despite a forecast of 20mph wind with gusts at 30? Or move it up to Saturday, with a 3-6mph wind, but extremely high humidity. I opted for Saturday despite the fact that it meant sacrificing one day of recovery (and running hard in sticky conditions). I just couldn’t look forward to running 48 laps on the track in energy-sapping wind.

So although it was uncomfortable running hard in 90% humidity, at 60F it was cool enough that it wasn’t horrible. I feel good about the effort, having done the “warmup” 10 at a respectable 9:20 pace (70% mhr) and managing an average 7:18 for the 12 on the track. I figured I’d “lose” 10-15 seconds due to conditions and residual fatigue, so I was mentally prepared for something slower than the goal pace of 7:05.

I finished up with a slow 10 miler this morning, also good for getting rid of a slight hangover.

I’m happy to report that all niggling injuries are gone at last. I tested carrying gels in my race shorts yesterday (which will require some modification with a needle and thread to better secure the gels in their special gel pockets), selected and tested race gel flavors and settled on which shoes I’ll wear.

Next week features another MPace run on Wednesday (just 2 easy + 10 at MPace, which I’ll again do on the track). Then a little 14 miler next Sunday. I think the total is under 60 miles. Then it’s all recovery running from there on out, save for one rehearsal run a few days before race day.

Excited. Nervous. Relieved. Take your pick. I’m feeling all three right now.

The More Marathon: Either feed it or kill it

Late last month I spent a Sunday morning in Central Park, combining a long training run with spectating the More Marathon and Half Marathon. This post won’t be a tirade about NYRR’s decision to cancel the full marathon and turn the half marathon into a fun run. There are already enough angry tirades about that. Actually, it won’t be a tirade at all. No, I think the word “lament” most appropriately applies in this case.

My personal history with the More event

I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with the More Marathon event. I have a great deal of affection for the race, as it was the scene of my first and third marathons, the latter also being my “best” marathon not in terms of time but in terms of preparedness and running a good race. The first marathon, aside from being where I popped my marathon cherry, was notable for the galvanizing mid-race epiphany I had when Susan Loken blew by me, running about a 6:25 mile. “Hey,” I thought, “She’s running the full, which means she’s over 40. Why shouldn’t I eventually be able to run that fast too?”

I also love the idea of a marathon exclusively targeted for masters women. So few of us are fast enough to lead a marathon pack or break the tape in big races (or even some of the more competitive smaller ones). Or, even if we’re very fast, we’re nonetheless usually lost in a crowd of male runners in most races.

But the race has its definite shortcomings. The most obvious one is the inevitable chaos that ensues when you mix faster runners with slower runners and walkers on a multi-loop course. This problem is especially pronounced in Central Park, where only part of the road can be devoted to the race, making it even more crowded. I ran the 2008 with a GPS watch, which reported my distance as nearly 28 miles. I believe it, considering that I spent most of the race dodging around runners, or running wide around the crowds hugging the right curb; in some cases, I had to run outside of the course tape and cones entirely just to move forward.

The crowding is inevitable in any race in Central Park. But the problem in this race has become especially acute as the number of half marathon participants has swelled in recent years. In 2008, the 140-odd full marathoners were sharing the course with over 7,000 half marathoners. This year, the official registration count was around 9,600. It’s just not possible to run your best race (either in the full or the half) when you’re running through crowds of slower runners and walkers for several loops.

The event — which is really a half marathon event at this point, with a few marathoners thrown in — has many merits. It raises a ton of money for charity and encourages women of all abilities to participate in a demanding physical activity, whether that be walking or running 13.1 miles, or the full 26.2. The sheer number of out-of-towners also probably contributes quite a bit to the city’s coffers in terms of tourism dollars spent. So, I get it — NYRR makes a lot of money on half marathon registrations with little additional overhead to accommodate the growing numbers every year.

The More full — a race in decline

The More marathon, which debuted in 2004, started out well. Over 350 women ran the race, although no one broke three hours that first year. Then, in 2005, it clearly was on the radar of some faster masters elites; Susan Loken and Janet Robertz showed up and both ran well below 2:50. Although participation dropped off to around 250 runners, it got more competitive: the average finishing time also plummeted by about 15 minutes. A year later, participation dropped off by another 75 runners and the winning/average times stagnated.

2006 was the year during which the race locked into its current trajectory of decline, both in terms of participation numbers and quality of competition. In 2007, the number of runners was down to 143 and, aside from Susan Loken (who, with her three wins there and a course record, has become the competitive “face” of the More marathon) the faster runners were all gone. Finally, in 2008, the last year there was actually a timed race (this year being cancelled due to a heatwave), Loken ran the half as a tuneup for the Olympic marathon trials and again no one broke three hours.

In the meantime, participation numbers for the half ballooned and, in direct proportion, so did the scathing reviews of the More full marathon on sites like MarathonGuide.com. I won’t analyze the competitive pattern of the half because, quite frankly, it’s marketed as a non-competitive event. This has worked well for NYRR and half marathon participants alike. But at what cost to the full marathon?

Either make the More into a world class race or pull the plug

I believe the More marathon could be made into a uniquely great event if NYRR wanted to do so. Here’s how:

Separate the two races

The only reason I ran the More again in 2008 was because I was obsessed with cracking the top 10 after I cracked the top 20 in 2007. But now that I’ve made training and running just two races a year my priority, I’m not going to “waste” one of those efforts on a logistically nightmarish course like the More race’s. If  NYRR wants to halt the decline of full marathon participation, as well as the terrible reviews, they should separate the full from the half. In 2008, it wasn’t just the runners who were overwhelmed by crazy race logistics. The race marshalls were too, as evidenced by a large number of women who were misdirected at a critical point late in the race and ran a short course and were disqualified as a result.

One strategy would be to hold both races on the same day, but that makes for a long day for volunteers. Instead, they would do well to run the races on separate days, which brings me to the next idea…

Make the half racers your cheering section for the full

Why not promote the event as the “More Marathon Weekend”? Hold the full a bit later on Saturday morning (and the half on Sunday) and allow race day packet pickup for the full race participants. Stage the expo somewhere nearby. Then encourage the half participants to come watch the full event before they head off to the expo. Imagine how different a race atmosphere you’d have if even a few thousand of your half race participants turned up to watch and cheer the full marathon runners. I for one would love to run in — or watch — such a race. NYRR and BAA learned the value of piggybacking the men’s and women’s Olympic marathon trials on the NYC and Boston marathons. Why not take the same approach with the More races?

Increase the prize purse for the full to attract great masters runners

Consider this: some of the world’s best female marathoners are fast approaching 40 (or they have even already passed it: more here and here). Also, the F40-44 and F45-49 age groups tend to be among the most competitive (this is an admittedly anecdotal statement, but apparently others have noticed the same pattern). There is an eager demographic, hungry for a great race like this.

Imagine if you could draw some of these faster runners who, once past their prize-winning (and appearance fee) primes, could nonetheless compete for a decent cash award in the More. Couldn’t some of the dollars made on half registrations be devoted to growing participation in the full by upping the prize incentives? In the process, you might even get some of the masters elites and sub-elites who ran in its early days to come back too. Dare I imagine the likes of Paula, Deena and Constantina running those big hills in a few years?

Institute a dedicated training/mentoring program

NYRR markets the More event as a “get out there and move, you can do it” event, which has worked well for them. It’s a fact that the half marathon is growing in popularity faster than the full, which is why you see so many combination events. But the unfortunate side effect of this growth in the half’s popularity is that the shorter event often eclipses the longer one. Up here in Westchester, they’ve done away with the full Westchester Marathon after just a few years for this very reason; why bother keeping volunteers and sponsors around for six plus hours for a hundred or so runners when the real money is in the thousands of half racers who are done in three hours?

What if NYRR marketed the two events differently? Namely, rebrand the half as an event for two distinct audiences: for the majority, it remains about community and fun, but for another group it’s a gateway to competitive running and perhaps “moving up” to the full race. I imagine that if you put a bunch of half participants out on the course to cheer on the full racers, the wheels might start to turn for some of them in terms of sparking a desire to try the full distance. For those women, have a table at the expo where they can explore a future full race with the support of training resources: a training group (virtual, local or both) dedicated to preparing for the More full event, connecting full participants with aspiring runners to offer support and advice, etc.

If it’s going to continue to wither, just pull the damned plug

I love the More Marathon not for what it is but for what it could be: Not just the world’s only full marathon exclusively for women over 40, but a race that attracts world-class talent and fosters talent growth among masters runners. I said at the start of this post that I wouldn’t be posting a diatribe about this year’s race. But I will say that there was something sad about this year. Despite the presence of Loken and Olympian Magda Lewy-Boulet, there was no real sense of excitement; the event had the distinct vibe of neglect and afterthought. (Although, to be fair, that may have been more a reflection of the last minute changes due to weather. It’s hard to know.)

Anyway, I say that if NYRR isn’t going to nurture the full marathon, it’s time to put it out of its misery.

Updated: It looks like the More full is no more.

NYC Running Chicks and a Few Dudes need YOU

Pigtails Flying is recruiting a few more warm bodies for the vermont Green Mountain Relay in June. I’d love to do this, but it’s too soon after my Newport race.

My bologna has a first name…it’s mechanically separated…

Someone dumped an open container of Kraft Turkey Bologna on our driveway this morning. When I picked up the mess I took a look at the ingredients out of curiosity, not being a regular consumer of processed meat. Here’s how the ingredients list started:

“Ingredients: Turkey ingredients (Mechanically separated turkey, turkey), water…”

So what’s the difference between “mechanically separated turkey” and “turkey”? And what exactly is involved in mechanical separation? Why is a food manufacturing process part of the ingredients? Is a process now also an ingredient? If that’s the case, shouldn’t one of the ingredients be “debeaked turkey”?

My mind is reeling.

“Julie! Your bad photos are ready!”

Does anyone really get excited when they get the notice that their race photos are available? I always look horrible in all of mine. I’m fatter than I think I am, I look ungainly (legs either splayed or in a semi-collapsed state, arms akimbo) and, of course, I’m never wearing the look of quiet determination I hope for. Instead, I look like I’m either in extreme pain, in the early stages of food poisoning, or someone has just told me a very bad joke.

Here’s the latest batch of pictoral humiliations. Jesus.

Steamtown ‘08 vs. Newport ‘09: A training comparison

Flo of Girl-in-Motion recently posted some questions regarding how certain aspects of this round of training (for the May 30 Newport, OR marathon) compare to the last round (for the Steamtown marathon in PA last October). If my training run paces are anything to go by (and I sure hope they are), then I’ve made tangible improvements in speed and endurance* during this training cycle. Put more simply: I’ve obviously improved more over the course of training this time around, relative to the level of improvement I made during the last cycle.

I had been meaning to do a comparison myself, and this was a great excuse to buckle down and look at the numbers.


Newport Training

Steamtown Training

Avg recovery run pace 10:00 10:00
Avg recovery run HR% 65% 65%
Avg weekly mileage 84 80
Mileage in peak week 100 101
% miles at recovery pace 44% 56%
Avg runs per week 9 11
Avg length of run 8.15 miles 7.50 miles
Frequency of full recovery weeks Once every 3 weeks Once every 4.5 weeks

To the casual observer, it appears that I am a solid 100 mile-a-weeker. But in reality I’m only averaging a measly 4 mpw more than I was in the summer and fall. This is because more frequent recovery weeks bring the average mileage down.

Also note that despite an increase in fitness, my recovery pace has remained the same. There are wide swings from day to day (anywhere from the low 9:00 range all the way up toward 11:00). But it averages out to a ten minute mile. I would not be surprised if it stays in this range for the next cycle as well.

The three major differences are found in these areas: number of sessions per week, frequency of full recovery weeks and, perhaps most interestingly, percentage of miles run at recovery pace. Let’s look at each of these.

Number of sessions: Running shorter, more frequent runs works well for some people. I tried this for Steamtown and found that I was constantly tired. When Kevin put me on a basebuilding plan in November, I was surprised to see no doubles, but lots of recovery runs on the longer side. I followed the plan with some trepidation, yet quickly discovered that this arrangement works better for me.

If I run one 10 mile recovery run, I’m recovered and ready for a hard workout 24 hours later. If I instead do two runs (one in the morning and one about eight hours later in the afternoon), I’ll be tired the next morning, regardless of how the mileage is broken up between the two. What you don’t see in this comparitive table is the distribution of double days over the course of the Steamtown training. During recovery weeks they dropped off, obviously. But in peak weeks it was not unusual for me to be running 12-14 sessions per week.

Frequency of full recovery weeks: I took my cues from the frequency of recovery weeks in Pete Pfitzinger’s book Advanced Marathoning. Meaning they were few and far between. This may work for some people, but I recognize now that it wore me down. Why this is is anyone’s guess; perhaps it’s a side effect of being over 40, or maybe it’s an individual thing. The current arrangement (two high mileage/high intensity weeks followed by one lower mileage/high intensity week) has worked out well. With rare exception, I have emerged from the recovery week mentally ready and physically able to handle the demands of the next two “on” weeks.

Percentage of miles at recovery pace: This is the measurement that I find most interesting. The amount of time I’m spending running hard has increased by about 8%. I believe I have improved fitness as a result of that increased amount of time running harder miles (as well as the variation in workout types), and I believe the previous factor (recovery week frequency) is responsible for my being able to handle that increase.

It will be interesting to see if, with some tweaks to some of these factors, yet more improvement can be yielded. After I’ve run Newport and we’ve done the post mortem, perhaps we’ll make further adjustments. If I lowered mileage but increased intensity,** would that offer a bigger benefit? What if I reduced the doubles even more and did slightly longer runs? I suppose this is why runners are thought of as “experiments of one.”

*And, dare I say, running economy, although this is a bit harder to gauge outside a laboratory. Unfortunately, my laboratory is in the process of being redecorated at the moment.

**As recently suggested in some comments by “Coach Tom.”

Race Report: 2009 New Jersey Half Marathon

You asked for it, so here it is. The good, the bad and the ugly.

On Sunday I ran the New Jersey Half Marathon in Long Branch, NJ. This was my second go round for this race. Last year, I ran this half a month after a very good marathon. I was rested, but with a couple of tempo runs to my credit, and I obliterated not only my previous half marathon PR, but all of the sub-distance PRs as well. It was a magical race.

Alas, the magic did not last. Or at least, I had not properly set the stage for magic to happen.

Let’s examine what did happen. It’s pretty entertaining, and offers some object lessons in why all races are not created equal and why it’s sometimes very bad to be stubborn.

I’ve separated various individual miles or sets of miles into blocks. These sections of the race help tell the story of what went horribly wrong and why. But the story begins long before the miles shown on this chart. I carried into this race not four glorious weeks of recovery but 14 weeks of hard labor training, as well as 9 weeks of basebuilding before that, which also were nothing to sneeze at.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was fatigued and not in the state required to run anywhere near even my outside goal time of 1:32ish. What’s ironic about this is that my confidence about this race was largely due to a week of stellar workouts in late April (training week 14) — a week of what Kevin calls “happy extravagance” — and which, when combined with the horrible following week (training week 15), served to knock the stuffing out of me and leave me in a semi-constant state of not-quite-recovered.

So here’s how the race unfolded:

Pre-race: After standing on concrete, shivering for a half an hour due to a late race start, they finally start the frigging race. I’m in row 3, behind two women in their underwear (they would come in 1st and 3rd, as well as a 48-year-old woman who would come in 2nd). They are chatting about their goal times (“Oh, we’re trying for around 1:23.”) and I am hanging my head in shame. I vow to run my own race, since I’m obviously going have my ass handed to me by these three. As it turns out, my own race would suck. Theirs would not.

1 (blue box): The horn blows and I take off so as not to get run over. I take five steps and immediately know that I am in trouble. My legs feel stiff and heavy and my calves and ankles are actually hurting. This is exactly how the Steamtown Marathon started out, and fans of this blog will recall that by mile 18 of that race I wished for a quick and merciful death.

My goal pace for this race was somewhere in the neighborhood of 6:52. I did my best, but after just one mile I was falling off pace. Miles 2 and 3 showed a slight decline, but I fought to stay in that range. Then we turned the corner into mile 4. And that was when I felt the headwind.

2 (purple box): Miles 4 through 6 show my personality — made up of equal parts determination and capacity for denial — shining through. I knew I was running into wind and that I was working too hard, but I ignored all consequences. When I got home and looked at the splits and saw that 93% heart rate, I knew that these were the miles in which I screwed myself. Had I simply accepted after mile 1 that I needed to slow down, well, I might have run a more even pace throughout and gotten a better time. But slowing down is for pussies!

3 (green box): The aerobic chickens came home to roost for mile 7. I felt physically ill, not quite barfworthy, but I made sure I had some space around me, let’s put it that way. A keen realization of the consequences of my tragic failure to run reasonably earlier on began to creep into my mind. This was the first point in the race when I considered dropping out.

4 (orange box): My stomach settled a bit toward the end of mile 7 and the general feeling of malaise began to pass. I rallied a bit and managed another faster mile, but then cratered again for mile 9, faced with the one real hill in the race.

5 (plum box): Mile 10 was the nadir (both in terms of course elevation and my mood). I probably spent half of this mile entertaining the idea of quitting. Bear in mind that for the last 50 minutes I’d been battling a headwind, anger, nausea, pain and suicidal despair. It all seemed so pointless. Then we turned another corner and the wind was suddenly behind us.

6 (yellow box): You’d think with a tailwind I’d have been able to speed up. But it was too late for that. I’d used up all my aerobic credits (or so I thought). Note how my heart rate goes up for miles 11 through 13, right along with my pace.

7 (red box): This was my Ron Howard movie moment. Here I’d thought I’d spent everything in miles 1 through 6. But look at my last quarter mile: I ran it at 6:41 pace. The fact that I could pull this out of my hat gave me one of the day’s few glimmers of hope. Expressed simply, “I can’t run fast when I’m tired, but I can sure run hard.” That has to be worth something for a marathoner.

The data behind the drama. (Click to enlarge.)

The data behind the drama. (Click to enlarge.)

I still managed to set a new PR of 24 seconds, along with new PRs for 5 miles, 10K and 15K.

What’s the big lesson in all of this? Well, there are several:

  • If you’re going to race during marathon training, then you’ve got to lower your expectations. This is especially true if you are racing at the peak of marathon training. (Duh.)
  • If a race isn’t going well, then for god’s sake just accept it and adjust your plan as soon as possible. Hoping won’t make it so.
  • Pay attention to signs of pre-race fatigue. They were all there, but they were subtle. Or maybe I just didn’t want to see them.
  • Running a half marathon as a MPace run isn’t the worst thing in the world. I got a great workout and, once I recogized what went wrong, it was not a huge blow to my confidence.

Finally, something interesting. I had a whole host of nagging physical issues going into this race: quad problems in my right leg, the lingering groin issue from all the way back to January, some left foot pain. All of that went away after the race. Sometimes I think a good, hard race can knock everything back into place.