Fall Training: Week 5

09fall-training-05Having recovered from the difficult previous week, I decided to have another go at running some miles at marathon effort before leaving South Africa. This run went much better than Friday’s semi-disaster, as it was again in the low 60s and the sun was behind the clouds.

Despite a weekend of drinking, staying up late and stuffing myself, I felt pretty good for this run. Although I have to admit that I was looking forward to getting home and swearing off shortbread biscuits, chocolate and buckets of wine and beer. At least until after I run CIM in December.

Tuesday and Wednesday were consumed with getting home and getting ready for my reentry into work and serious training again.

I guess I managed to kill a few brain cells with all that fabulous local wine and beer because on Thursday I went out and hammered a workout that was supposed to be on the easy side. My Thursday speed session should have been run at recovery pace, with the exception of the 8:00 at speedy effort. Instead, I ran the whole thing at moderate-to-hard effort. My legs felt great and I just forgot that I wasn’t supposed to run this hard for these workouts.

Not surprisingly, I was tired on the subsequent recovery runs. I cut the Saturday run short by a mile and ran it at a slow jog pace to try to save my legs for Sunday’s race.

I went into the Westchester Half on Sunday expecting…well, not really expecting anything. I didn’t know if I’d do badly, well, or somewhere inbetween. As it turns out, I did very well under the circumstances. Maybe those lighter mileage weeks gave me the rest I needed to race well. Or maybe it was the wine, chocolate and beer.

Between this and the Whale half, I’m feeling good about my current level of fitness. The next few weeks of training — under what I hope will be healthier, more amenable conditions — should yield more clues as to where I am.

Race Report: 2009 Westchester Half

Short report since work is nuts, I have lots of training logs to catch up on, and I have to run 90 miles this week (eek).

Like the Whale Half in South Africa two weeks ago, I came into this race with an open mind and no real expectations. But unlike that race, the conditions were near perfect, with a starting temperature of around 48 degrees and almost no wind until the last few miles. True, the course is hilly, but not as bad as what I faced in South Africa. Plus I was familiar with the course, so I could come up with something resembling a pacing strategy.

I tried three new things in this race. I know you’re never supposed to try new things in a race, but this wasn’t an important race for me, so what the hell. The three experiments were:

  • Shoes: I wore my new pair of Adidas Adizero Ace’s (with only 8 miles on them), just to see how they compare to the Saucony Fastwitch 3’s for racing. They were great racing shoes and I’ll wear them again in my next few races. I’m not sure how they’d hold up over the marathon distance, but I plan to try them on a 22 miler this Sunday in Central Park to see.
  • Warmup: I tried a new warmup routine, a modified version of what’s discussed in this online article in Running Times. While I didn’t follow it to the letter (it was for a 5K anyway), I used the principles: a solid block of very easy running, followed by some active stretching and skipping, topped off with some short intervals at close to race pace.
  • Mental approach: I dumped the data, at least during the race. Meaning I decided not to look at my watch and run completely by feel. Although I was 3.5 minutes off my PB for the half, this was a very successful race and I suspect that this data-free approach had a lot to do with that.

Why was I 3.5 minutes off my best? I chalk it up to several factors:

  • Course: My best half was run on the nearly pancake flat Long Branch Half Marathon course. The Westchester course has significant hills throughout the race.
  • Training cycle: I’m in the middle of a marathon training cycle. When I ran my best in NJ, I’d had over a month of rest after a good full marathon race.
  • Jetlag/stress: I got home on Wednesday afternoon after close to 30 hours of travel on two flights. On subsequent nights I was sleep-deprived. We also had to deal with the burglary/rental car damage in the last few days of the trip and that caused a lot of mental stress.
  • Terrible nutrition: I’d spent the past 2+ weeks eating garbage and drinking like a fish.
  • Weight: I gained about three pounds while on vacation. So I guess I was literally hauling ass during this race.
  • Lack of recovery: Thursday featured a run that was supposed to be 8 miles at 70% MHR with four 2:00 repeats at 91-92% and 2:00 rests. Instead, I ran an average effort well into the low 80% range and only did 1:00 rests between repeats. Not until I got home did I realize my error. So my legs were still somewhat tired going into Sunday.

All things considered, this was another good race. Unfortunately, as with the Whale Half late last month, lots of factors conspired to obscure the quality of my performance. But I feel good about both races.

The Westchester course featured a steady climb in the first mile, and two other notable hills in subsequent miles, but the first half is a net downhill drop. That means the way back is uphill. So I reserved energy in the first half and ran at a manageable pace.

During the first half, some people passed me and I passed other people. I was cruising along and not really worrying about what other people were doing. The pace was hard, but comfortable, a full breath every three steps. About a mile before the turnaround I spotted the leaders and was happy to see Jonathan in sixth. He held that position to the finish. Then I started counting boobs and by the time I hit the turnaround had figured out that I was in ninth. Suddenly, I cared more about this race.

So I made a deal that I would do my best to work my way up to fifth, but exercise enough control that I wouldn’t kill myself in the next few miles only to fade in the last two. I easily passed the first woman in my sights, who was fading fast anyway. The next one was tougher, although I surged by her as she slowed at a water stop and that seemed to work. I spotted the next just beyond the 9 mile mark, right before a big hill. She was holding her pace on the hill so I thought it would be foolish to try to pass her then (especially since I’ve done no hill training). As we crested the hill, a friend of hers on the sideline yelled, “Go, Mary! There’s someone right behind you.”

I wanted to ask her friend, “How old is Mary?” but I didn’t. Instead, I felt slightly annoyed that my cover had been blown. But it was a great motivator. So I followed Mary down the hill and recovered over the next few hundred yards. Then I decided to try a longer surge on the flat bit that was coming up. So I passed her “decisively” (as they say in strategy articles) and held a pace of about 20 seconds per mile faster than she was running for a good quarter mile, then picked up the pace again on subsequent downhills. She came in a minute behind me, so I guess this was the right thing to do.

After that, the only other woman I saw was blowing her Wheaties just past mile 11 (isn’t racing fun?). I thought she was the leader at the time, but now I realize she wasn’t. She may have been a quarter marathon runner (we bumped into them on the way back), but I don’t know. But for a good couple of miles I was convinced I had fifth place, and it was a good feeling to know I did everything I could to move up. [Updated: it turns out I did get fifth.]

The penultimate mile ends with a huge hill and I felt done at the time. But I managed to rally in the last mile and ran that one the fastest, a good 20+ seconds faster than the overall average pace for the race. This makes me wonder if I should have run the whole thing slightly faster if I had that much left.

I ended up with sixth fifth overall and first in the 40-49F age group, with a net time of 1:37:35. The woman I passed, Mary Fenton (2nd in our AG), came up and congratulated me, which I appreciated. The other funny thing was seeing a young woman win an age group award and go completely batshit with excitement. It was very endearing and a good reminder that I need to remember how hard it was to win awards until very recently. Jonathan won the 50-59M age group. We have matching ugly trophies, New Balance gift certificates and enough powdered Heed drink mix to poison a small cult.

Did I say this would be a short post?

Summer Basebuilding: Week 1

sum09-base-01Here we go again.

Now that the dark days of May (and somewhat drunken days of June) are behind me, it’s time to put nose to grindstone once again in preparation for the California International Marathon, taking place on December 7th. On that morning, at 7AM, I will run from Folsom to Sacramento. And I plan to run it a lot faster than an anemic 7:45 pace this time around.

Was my pace in Newport literally anemic? I’m beginning to think it may have been at least flirting with anemic the more I read about blood test results and after a couple of dismal performances in local races. In any case, I’m taking action to try to correct the problem via handfuls of iron and vitamins B, C and D.

I’m also working on dropping some fat during the coming weeks of basebuilding. I’ve found it impossible to lose any significant extra fat while actually in the throes of marathon training, but I’ve had luck doing so in the past during basebuilding. Throw in a pledge of complete sobriety until after Labor Day (since weekend drinking tends to derail the weight loss effort) and you’ve got either a recipe for success or misery.

I winged it last week since Coach Kevin was still off in the wilds of Colorado, basically taking an early week from our last go-round of basebuilding and modifying (okay, bastardizing) it. I also threw in a race yesterday, which didn’t go nearly as well as I’d hoped.

Highlights of the week: Lost of slow recovery running as I continued to try to become acclimated to the summer heat and humidity. On Wednesday I went to the track and attempted some faster running. It was quite hot and humid, though, so it was hard to run fast or particularly hard. I got my HR up to 92% but found that my lungs gave out before my heart did on those efforts.

Yesterday I did an 8 mile race, the Putnam County Classic, which I’d thought would be flat, as the majority of the course was running around a large lake. But it was actually quite hilly, with lots of sharp ups and downs and very little flat bits. The weather was very nearly ideal, at least for a race in July: 65-70F and dew point around 58 or so. Since I’ve been racing so badly lately I decided to just run the whole thing by effort and not even look at pace during the actual race, since I’ve found it so depressing to do so. It’s hard to keep running the remaining miles when you know how slow you’re going.

I ran at as high an effort as possible, which averaged 93% MRH, although I did finish up the last half mile at 95%. Still, I was slloooowww. I was not happy to see a time well over an hour upon reaching the finish line. All I could muster was an average 7:40 pace. Barely faster than I could run for 18 miles five weeks ago in Oregon. Sheesh, it’s so depressing to see how far I’ve fallen, and continue to fall.

I should note that I’ve become a chronic napper lately. I needed a 3 hour nap on Friday (thank goodness it was holiday for the company I contract for and I’d already put in my work hours for the day). Then another yesterday post-race (not quite as surprising). It’s probably a reaction to the increased mileage + heat/humidity running + two races in eight days. Still…uh…what the fuck is wrong with me?

Today I felt okay and the weather was fantastic: mid-60s and an unheard of July dew point of 48. I had to take advantage of it since it will be hotter than Hades soon enough. So I did a hair short of 16 miles up past White Plains at a halfway decent pace.

My experience over the past few weeks has shown me how performance issues can sneak up on you. Everything can seem fine during regular “bread and butter” runs like recovery and long, steady distance efforts. The problems only make themselves known — and in quite dramatic fashion — when trying to run fast, or at least they do for me.

I may do a few more races over the summer if the weather isn’t horrible, just to try to gauge if taking supplements is helping at all. There’s a nine miler later this month that I might try, as well as the Van Cortlandt Track Club’s summer series of 5K races on Thursday evening. And I’ll definitely do the 10 miler I do every September in South Nyack, the weekend after Labor Day. I really hope I’m in better shape by then. I ran that one in 1:14:20 last year (with 80 miles on my legs already going in). I’d love to break 1:09 this time around.

Don’t get me wrong — I know so many people right now who are struggling with injuries and who can barely run at all. I’m grateful that I can run. I just wish I could run fast again.

NYC Blogging Runners Meetup #2 is July 7

Live in or around NYC? Run a lot? Blog and/or podcast about it? Then this event is for you. Learn more.

Boring vacation photos: Oregon Coast, Ashland and on to Central Oregon

There’s nothing like a little beautiful scenery to take the edge off one’s post-DNF despair.

After Newport, we skipped down the coast to Coos Bay, where we spent a night in the horrible Red Lion Inn and had a surprisingly good meal at the Blue Heron Bistro. The Blue Heron is the most schizoid place I’ve ever eaten in. While the name evokes, well, a bistro, it is in fact a German restaurant with pizza and seafood thrown in. It also featured what was probably the most valuable collection of WW1 memorabilia I’ve seen assembled in one place outside of a museum. I hope that stuff is insured! I went for the beef stroganoff and Jonathan had der weiner schnitzel. Washed down with an Abbey Brown Ale from Belgium, both were excellent.

That’s about the only good thing I have to say about Coos Bay. The place is a total tip and we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Sorry, no pictures of Coos Bay. But here are some of the sights along the way.

Seal Rock, near Waldport. Great place for tidepools and kite flying.

Seal Rock, near Waldport. Great place for tidepools and kite flying.

Another shot of the beach at Seal Rock, Waldport.

Another shot of the beach at Seal Rock, Waldport.

Then is was on to Cape Perpetua and the Sea Lion Caves. Lordy, what a ripoff that was. Eleven bucks each to take an elevator down a few hundred feet into a dank cave to gawk at a bunch of stroppy sea lions. At least the views of Heceta Head were good.

Cape Perpetua, near Yachats (yah-HOTS).

Cape Perpetua, near Yachats (yah-HOTS).

Heceta Head lighthouse. Million dollar view? Or $22? You decide.

Heceta Head lighthouse. Million dollar view? Or $22? You decide.

The highlight of the day was Florence, which features sand dunes. Not just any sand dune. Huge fucking sand dunes that are 300 ft. high and go on for miles. It was like something out of … “Dune.”

But first: Here are two of Florence’s fine retail establishments.

"BJ's" isn't just one unfortunate retail naming mistake. It's a chain of franchises!

"BJ's" isn't just one unfortunate retail naming mistake. It's a chain of franchises!

"Dog Style." Are people really this naive?

"Dog Style." Are people really this naive?

Okay, here are the dunes.

It's two miles from the beach to the ocean.

It's two miles from the beach to the ocean.

No. Seriously. It is two miles to the ocean from here. See?

No. Seriously. It is two miles to the ocean from here. See?

That tiny figure is Jonathan. Tinier than usual.

That tiny figure is Jonathan. Tinier than usual.

"You take a picture of me."

"You take a picture of me."

"Now I'll take a picture of you."

"Now I'll take a picture of you."

After our Germanic night in Coos Bay, followed by a fry up at the Pancake Mill, it was on to Ashland. (On the way, I got hollered at by a gas station attendant for attempting to pump my own gas. Just checking!) But not before taking a six hour detour north and east to sample the Umpqua-Rogue scenic byway. And scenic it was. Look!

Along the way to Susan Creek falls

Along the way to Susan Creek Falls

Your hostess. I still look sort of depressed, don't I?

Your hostess. I still look sort of depressed, don't I?

Falls gone wild. Featuring hot "falls on falls" action.

Falls gone wild. Featuring hot "falls on falls" action.

Mt. Bailey, along the Umpqua Highway, Central Oregon

Mt. Bailey, along the Umpqua Highway, Central Oregon

Finally, after nine solid hours of driving and oohing and aahing, we arrived in Ashland. This was one of our self-catering rentals, a lovely little 1BR/1BA craftsman high on a hill and just minutes from a trail leading down to Lithia Park. I did two runs here, both around 5.5 miles, and both very pretty (although hilly and with the added challenge of 1900′ altitude, which my sea level lungs didn’t like).

We spent a few hours with Annie McIntyre, a friend from childhood whom I haven’t seen since high school, which means roughly 25 years. We didn’t know each other that well growing up (although we did play together as very young children, then drifted into different circles after about third grade). But it felt, as Annie put it, very natural to see each other again. Annie and her husband, Jeff, gave us the insider’s view of life in Ashland, both good and bad, as well as an extensive tour of the place.  They also turned us on to Chozu, a bath and tea garden where we wiled away the evening in various saunas and pools, under a beautiful sky and completely mosquito free.

We were too busy to take many photos of Ashland. Here’s the only one.

Backyard vermin in Ashland

Backyard vermin in Ashland

Having properly recovered from our scenic drive opus, is was time for the next leg: Crater Lake. That drive took us through Klamath Falls, which I also took no pictures of. But let me say this: If you ever want to disappear from the face of the earth, go to Klamath Falls. There is nothing there, and the streets are teeming with what we’ve come to call “Oregon guys.” These are men who have cultivated the Unabomber look: scraggly beard, emaciated figure, rags and bad limp. We saw loads of them in Springfield as well, darting across traffic (which might explain the limps). From a distance they look like extras from a zombie film.

I had a great espresso in Klamath Falls. That’s about all I can find to say about the place.

Next post: Crater Lake.

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.

Hope, change and tempo runs

Matt Fitzgerald recently wrote about how he was afraid of his upcoming workout. I have one like that in a few hours, a 10 mile general aerobic run with an additional 5 miles at 6:51 pace tacked onto the end. That’s about my current half marathon pace, which I’ll need to sustain just over 34 minutes.

These 34 minutes and 15 seconds will be difficult. I know this. What I want to avoid is having them be pure hell.

A few weeks ago I had a run that was very similar to this, one that I didn’t think went particularly well. I was 13 seconds off pace and had to stop a few times. Since then, I’ve looked at what may have gone wrong that day, and experimented with a few potential remedies, all in order to help prepare myself for another try today.

First, I looked at how I ran the initial non-tempo miles and concluded that I ran them too fast. All of them. From the get go, I was so eager to work hard on this run that I started working hard too early, then paid for it during the miles that counted at the end. I was also running into a headwind for the initial 5.5 miles, which I know tired me out. I should have taken this into account and adjusted my pace, but I was too bull-headed at the time to do so. Also, this run was scheduled for the first day of my new menstrual cycle, a time that has proven itself time and time again to be the day when I am likely to run at my worst.

I also looked at what I was doing in the days before that sub-standard run. For one, I’d cut calories fairly drastically (I’ve been cutting them to shed fat), so I may have been low on glycogen reserves. I’d also done a fast finish 17 miler on the Sunday before that Tuesday run, so I was probably not fully recovered from that.

Here, then, was data I could work with — a whole bunch of factors that I could influence next time around.

I knew I’d have to do this run again — except with the fast miles a little longer and a little faster — in a few weeks, so I conducted a few experiments. First, I tried doing a fast finish long run with the aerobic section done at a lower heart rate than my typical 75-78% for general aerobic efforts. I kept it right around 72% max heart rate, then only sped up in the mile or so before the very fast ones at the end. I also did the first two at very slow speed and low heart rate — under 70% mhr.

The other thing I did was make sure I didn’t cut my calories too severely in the two days before this run, and I loaded up on carbohydrates and water. I also made sure I got plenty of sleep and stayed away from alcohol.

The result? I had no problem running at 7:00 pace for the last 2.5 miles of a 17 miler.

I’ve taken care to do all the pre-run preparations described above. In a few hours, I’ll put that together with my pre-tempo-miles pacing strategy and hope for the best. At least I’m going in knowing I’ve done everything I can to help myself, and that can only benefit me mentally.

Now let’s see if this actually works.