Thursday, March 31, 2011

A welcome uneventful run

After yesterday's exciting 14-miler in a downpour, and Saturday's dramatic fall in the National Half Marathon, I was looking forward to today's planned recovery run: 5 miles or so at a relaxed pace in good weather.

To further improve my odds, I waited until after sunup to begin. I also wore two rabbit's feet, had a Tarot reading, and avoided all ladders and black cats. I donned a football helmet, flak jacket, and full riot gear. I mounted an air raid siren on my back to warn nearby cars of my imminent approach, and carried about a half-gallon of mace to ward off any approaching dogs or grizzly bears. [note: the preceding 329 characters may have employed just a touch of hyperbole]

Then, slowly, gingerly, I stepped out of the door and outside. It was a lovely gray morning, birds were chirping, and I had a fascinating podcast to accompany me along my run (Note to self: Do not, under any circumstances, get arrested for a drug offense in southern Georgia).

I ran 5.6 miles, saying "hi" to several runners along the way and thoroughly enjoying myself. The end.

Details of today's run, as usual, are below.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


If you just looked at the Garmin record of today's run, you wouldn't see anything special. I covered 14 miles in a 9:18 pace. On a lot of days, I would have been very disappointed in a performance like that. But today was different. I was a little startled earlier in the week when I looked at my schedule and saw that I had a 14-miler planned for today. But my workout plan calls for a lot of mileage, and what's really startling is how few miles I've put in over the past couple weeks. Last week, I only ran 44.8 miles, and the week before, 46. What happened to the 65- and 67-mile weeks I had been logging in February?

Last week I cut my mileage short on a couple days because of the half-marathon, the week before, it was skiing, and yesterday I decided not to run intervals because I was worried about my IT band.

By this morning, I was tired of making excuses. I was going to run my 14 miles no matter what, so I lept out of bed when my alarm went off at 5:30. The plan was to run 1.3 miles into town and join the DART group for 6.3, then run the remaining 6.4 miles on my own. I knew it might be rainy, but it wasn't particularly cold -- about 50 degrees, so I put on a long-sleeved compression shirt, my National Half Marathon T-shirt, and shorts. Then I went downstairs, ate a banana, got my fuel belt ready, and headed outside. It was an absolute downpour. As I started running, I decided my wet hands might get cold (I normally don't need gloves when the temperature is above 40), so I returned to the garage to get my gloves. That turned out to be an excellent decision.

At 5:45 a.m. in late March, it's still pitch black outside. I wore a headlamp, but that mostly served to illuminate the raindrops before they spattered on my face. Within a few minutes, I was soaked to the bone. At least it wasn't too cold. I spotted a die-hard runner on Concord Road. I don't think there's been a day when I haven't seen her running alone in the darkness. We exchanged familiar waves.

I didn't expect anyone from the DART group to be at the CVS when I arrived at 6. I stopped for 30 seconds or so just to make sure, then resumed running. I couldn't decide whether it was better to run in the street, where cars might not see me in the darkness, or on the sidewalk, where large puddles loomed and low-hanging branches threatened to smack me in the face. I ended up doing some of both. Even though I had a fuel belt and could run wherever I wanted, I decided to run the regular DART loop, which would keep me near houses most of the time, away from roads without sidewalks, and close enough to home that I could bail out if things got really bad.

I ran through the greenway to Avinger Road, and was surprised to see another runner, an older woman in a raincoat who I'd also seen before. This would be the last runner I'd see all morning.

I wasn't paying attention to my splits; I just wanted to get through this. Although there were occasional, very brief let-ups in the rain, for the most part it was a solid downpour. When I arrived at the next section of greenway, the volume of rain actually increased. It was like running through a waterfall. To enhance the effect, the greenway in this section was very poorly drained, so it was pretty much a solid 2-inch deep puddle. It felt rather more like surfing than running.

I realized I should probably stop and eat some energy gels and drink some water. To do this, I had to remove my sopping-wet gloves, which at this point had more in common with sponges than articles of clothing. I also realized I needed to urinate, which I did on the side of the trail. I was quite sure there wouldn't be any nearby dog-walkers or bikers to offend.

As I looped by my house around Mile 7.6, I thought about dropping off my gloves, but I had found that my hands would alternate hot and cold, so I decided it would be better to keep them, even though my fingertips were starting to wrinkle from contact with the sopping-wet, spongelike gloves. For the rest of the run I'd alternate between wearing and carrying the gloves depending on whether I felt hot or cold.

Amazingly, my new iPod shuffle kept playing throughout the run. Even though it is tiny, the other day I had managed to operate it with gloves on. However, soaking-wet gloves proved too much for it. Despite this, I highly recommend its voice-navigation feature for easy operation on dark mornings.

I repeated the same loop again, with no letup in the rain. Other than a lone dog-walker, I saw no other runners or pedestrians. As I approached home, I knew I'd need an extra two miles, so I ran an extra leg into River Run, trying to time my turnaround so I'd arrive home at exactly Mile 14. I also tried to pick up the pace a bit for the last two miles. Looking at my GPS record, I did speed up a little: My splits for miles 12, 13, and 14 were 9:42, 9:24, 9:03.

Arriving home, I took off my shoes and walked into the kitchen in sopping-wet socks, leaving little puddles everywhere I stepped. I was soaked from head to toe. I got Greta to take a picture of me, but I don't think it does justice to how thoroughly drenched I was:

The details of today's run are below:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The National Half Marathon: Pace Analysis

Yesterday's half marathon was disastrous in terms of my overall finishing time. My unofficial net time was 1:50:34 for an 8:27 pace. I've done nearly that pace in 20-mile training runs. But of course, there were extenuating circumstances. I fell hard just after I finished mile 1, dislocating my right shoulder. I was fortunate to be able to walk to a medical tent and have it popped into place, but I lost valuable time in the process, completing Mile 2 in 15:18 when I was shooting for a 7:30 pace.

So let's do some calculations and see what might have happened if I hadn't fallen.

My overall time was 1:50:34 over 13.1 miles. So if we ignore Mile 2, that's a time of 1:35:16 over 12.1 miles. A quick visit to the Cool Running Pace Calculator reveals that to be a 7:52 pace. Not what I was shooting for, but definitely better than an 8:27 pace! If I had run that pace for the entire race, my overall time would have been 1:43:06, or just off my PR of 1:42:55.

Would I have PRed if I hadn't fallen? That's hard to say. Maybe I would have pushed myself too hard at the start of the race and had nothing left for the finish. But I do think if I had been running on an empty course after my fall, I could have made up more time than I did. Thousands of runners passed me while my shoulder was getting treated, and when I rejoined the race, the runners around me were running a much slower pace. I passed hundreds of runners over the final 12 miles of the race. How many?

Given that I was running at an extrapolated pace of 1:43:06, I can look at the results and see how many runners finished between that time and my official time. I finished in the 2,311th spot. If I'd actually run a 1:43:06 I would have finished in 1,222nd. There are some problems with the assumptions made here, but it suggests I probably passed over a thousand half-marathoners -- and that doesn't even count relay runners and marathoners.

But even that number may be low. At the end of Mile 2 my average overall pace was 12:37. Someone running a 12:37 pace would have finished at 9,303rd position in the race. That would suggest I passed nearly 7,000 half-marathoners, because I advanced from a 12:37 pace to an 8:27 pace by the end. That number is probably high, though, because people running slower paces were placed in corrals farther back. Many did not even cross the start line until more than 10 minutes after the gun.

DARTer Josh Schieffer, for example, had a faster net time than I did, 1:49:12 (congrats, Josh!), but he probably hadn't even reached me by the time I left the medical tent -- his net time was more than 12 minutes faster than his gun time, and I only lost about 8 minutes or so getting treated.

So I probably passed somewhat fewer runners than that -- perhaps 3 or 4 thousand half-marathoners. I can't do the same calculation for marathoners, though, because the results page for marathons currently shows the half-marathon results (!). Given that there were about half as many marathoners as half-marathoners, I'm guessing I passed about 5,000 people over 12 miles. That's 417 per mile, or 54 per minute. I may have passed nearly one runner per second. Amazing as that sounds, it actually matches my experience quite well. Remember, I was running on three- and four-lane roads, filled side-to-side with runners. It was like a 12-mile obstacle course. How much did those obstacles slow me down? It's hard to say, but I guarantee you, it's something I'd prefer to experience only once.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Race Recap: The National Half Marathon

6:15 a.m.: I've never seen so much traffic this early on a Saturday morning. It's wall to wall cars, crawling through narrow Washington streets. Originally the Metro was supposed to open early enough for runners to use public transit to get to the race, but perhaps due to recent budget shortfalls, that's not an option, so we're all driving in. Very, very slowly. We're supposed to get to RFK stadium at least 45 minutes early so we have plenty of time to find our corrals and get ready for the start. But 45 minutes from the starting gun, the stadium isn't anywhere in sight. I've got ambitious goals for this race. I'd like to run a 7:30 pace, finishing in a 1:38 PR. It's a relatively flat course, so I think it's doable.

6:30 a.m.: Finally, I see the D.C. Armory, across the street from the starting line. Now if only I can find a place to park....

8:57 a.m.: I'm crossing the finish line. I look up at the clock and see a disappointing 1:52. That's an average pace of 8:17, worse than I've done on training runs of this distance. My chip time will be a little bit faster, naturally, but still, I wonder what I could have done if things had worked out a little differently.

8:55 a.m.: I finish Mile 13 in 7:32. I'm still passing people right and left. It's been like this for nearly the whole race, just trying to make my way through the crowds.

8:47 a.m.: Mile 12's split is 7:56. I think I just let myself slip in to a bit of a funk for that mile. I know I can do better than that.

8:39 a.m.: Mile 11, 7:26. That's what I'm talking about! I knew I could do this.

8:32 a.m.: Miles 9 and 10 are solid, 7:38 and 7:39. Still not what I'm capable of, but it's difficult weaving through people on these narrow streets. There are potholes everywhere. I've got to watch out for those potholes.

8:20 a.m.: I pass the 1:50 pace team. Yes! This is the designated group of runners who agreed in advance to pace half-marathoners to a 1:50 finish. Now if only I can catch the 1:45 pace team. That would be a pretty decent bit of redemption, all things considered. Some streets are wide enough that I can easily weave through the slower runners, but on others it's quite a challenge. People tend to run in little clusters, and sometimes you get caught behind a group and can't figure out a way to get by.

8:17 a.m.: Miles 7 and 8 are okay: 7:44 and 7:38. Mile 7 was nearly entirely uphill, and I passed a ton of people there; the street was just wide enough to give me room. Although Mile 8 was flatter, the roads were also narrower, so there were fewer opportunities to slip by.

8:01 a.m.: I complete Mile 6 in 7:40.

7:58 a.m.: I pass the 3:45 full marathon pace team -- that's a 1:52.5-minute pace for the half. A few years ago I would have been thrilled to finish a half at this pace. Now I'm thinking I might still have a shot at 1:45, but I'll have to really turn it on.

7:56 a.m.: Heading under DuPont circle, I'm looking for Greta, Pat, and Suzanne, who said they'd be here to cheer me on. Slightly behind me I hear Pat's voice: "Is that Dave?" I turn around to see my wife and friends. I try to give them a big smile and a wave; I don't want them to think anything has gone wrong.

7:53 a.m.: I complete Mile 5 in 7:49. The street ahead of me is just one vast sea of people, all of them running at what seems to be a sub-9-minute pace.

7:46 a.m.: I pass by the White House. I wonder if the Obamas are going to come out and greet the runners. I've just run through the most famous part of the Capital, with all the museums and monuments, and I barely noticed them. Too many runners to avoid.

7:45 a.m.: Miles 3 and 4 weren't good enough: 7:50 and 7:44. I've got to do better if I want to make up for all the time I lost...

6:45 a.m.: I finally find a parking spot. Thank goodness! Do I have time to go to the bathroom? I don't think so. There are people everywhere, and long lines at all the porta-potties. Some guys are just taking leaks against trees. I'm not that desperate.  Off to the starting line. I've got plenty of time... I walk briskly and confidently towards the starting area... until I look down at my wrist and notice I left my Garmin in the car! Do I have time to go back and get it? I'm in the third corral, so they might not even start me until 7:10 or so. I decide to risk it. Fortunately it doesn't take long, and I arrive at my starting corral at 6:55. Plenty of time to spare! I decide to snap a picture of the crowd. It's just an immense mob of people (I later learn there were over 16,000 runners). This is by far the largest race I've ever been in:

It's a brisk morning, perhaps a couple degrees above freezing. For me, this is ideal running conditions. The wind is very light. I'm wearing my DART shirt, a long-sleeved compression shirt, the free gloves provided in our bag of goodies from the race registration, and compression tights. I'm also attempting to track my run with MapMyRun's iPhone app, but I'll save that discussion for a different post.

7:04 a.m.: The race starts, just a bit late. I'm amazed at how quickly we start moving, even back in Corral 3 out of 10.

7:06 a.m.: I cross the starting line and start my Garmin. I have my sights set on the 1:40 half-marathon pace team, just a bit ahead of me. I need to finish a couple minutes faster than them in order to make my goal of a 1:38 half-marathon, which would be a huge PR for me (my previous best is 1:42:56).

7:14 a.m.: I've caught the pace team and complete my first mile in 7:57. I need to pick up the pace a bit, but it's crowded and hard to negotiate my way through the crowd. Hopefully things will start to open up within the next mile or so.

7:15 a.m.: I notice a slight depression in the road just about the same time I step in it with my right foot. It's probably only about 12 inches wide and two inches deep, but it's enough to cause me to stumble. I try to regain my balance, but it's too late; I can't get my left foot under me in time, and I go crashing to the ground. I land on my left knee and elbow, but as I wave my right arm in a last-gasp effort to regain my balance, I feel my right arm pop out of the shoulder socket. I know this feeling; it's happened to me several times before: A dislocated shoulder.

Amazingly, several runners come to my aid and help me to the side of the road before others can trip over me. I tell one guy what happened and he offers to help me pop it back in. He seems to know what he's doing, so I let him try. We try a couple times, but my shoulder muscle is too tight. I tell him he should get going and I'll find a medical tent. Fortunately there's a water station just 50 meters away. I ask if they know where the medical tent is. They don't. I keep walking, and finally I see it, just past the end of the water station (which, to the first guy I asked's credit, extends over nearly an entire block).

"Can you help me out?" I ask the woman who's minding the station.

"Sure. What's wrong?"

"I've dislocated my shoulder. Do you think you could help me pop it back in?"



"I don't think we're equipped to do that." Their medical supplies don't seem much more extensive than a cot and a couple of clipboards.

Then the other guy manning the station says "Hey, we could ask the doctor."

I'm wondering why they didn't think of that right off the bat. The doctor turns out to be some guy who was standing next to the course taking pictures. Or maybe he really was manning the station, and just didn't expect to very busy only 1 mile into the course. In any case, he's happy to help. I tell him I've had this happen before but my shoulder is a lot tighter than usual and I think we should be able to pop it back in.

He seems a little perplexed, and asks me what happened. I tell him about the pothole and the fall, and he looks relieved. "Oh, you fell. I thought you meant you were just running along and it popped out." Then he shows that he really does know what he's doing, carefully positioning my arm so it pops back into place. They take down my name and phone number, but fortunately it looks like they're going to let me keep running. A minute or two later, I'm back on the course.

7:29 a.m.: Oh. My. God. My split for Mile 2 is 15:18. How am I ever going to do this? Is it even possible to make up this much time? Is it worth it?

Then I see a tiny yellow flag, waving about 100 meters ahead. Is that the 1:55 pace team?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I guess the idea of doing a long-ish run the day after a hard workout is that you learn how to run when you're already very tired. Today I was scheduled to run 15 miles, the day after a tough interval workout. I had already decided I would be cutting back on the mileage because I'm running a half-marathon on Saturday, but as it turned out, even my reduced-mileage plan ended up being quite a challenge.

The DART group was planning a 6-mile trail run starting at 6 a.m., and normally I'd just get up at 5:30, leave the house at 5:45 and run into town to meet them. But I decided it would make more sense to get up 30 minutes early and run 5 miles before meeting the group. That way I could take it easy at the start of the workout and then go faster with the group since they were only doing 6 miles.

The first problem with the plan is that I didn't give myself quite enough time to run the 5-mile route into town. I left home at 5:16, which gave me 44 minutes, so I'd have to run somewhat faster than a 9-minute pace, which isn't terribly hard under normal circumstances, but is a bit faster than I want to go when the group will be running closer to 8-minute miles for the second half of my run.

That said, I very much enjoyed the extremely early-morning run into town. I've never run this early before, and there's a remarkable difference: Much less traffic, and an amazing feeling of quiet and solitude. Even the birds weren't up yet, so there were long stretches when the only thing I could hear was the periodic thumping of my feet on the pavement. There was a beautiful moon in a cloudy sky, and a light breeze kept me cool on a 60-degree morning.

The second problem is that I probably didn't hydrate enough before the run. I was a bit rushed getting ready this morning because I needed to prepare a fuel belt and I wanted to eat something before I started. This meant I had only one glass of water before leaving instead of my usual two. I also probably didn't drink enough water last night. Combine that with the morning's warm temperatures, and I don't think the 16 ounces of water I was carrying along were really enough to keep me hydrated for a 12-miler.

After running 5 miles at an 8:45 pace, I met up with the group and we took off for the trails. Immediately I could see their pace was going to be a problem for me. After a half-mile I was about 20 meters behind the group. I finished Mile 6 in 8:45, but I was determined to catch up to the group, so I ran Miles 7 and 8 in 8:24 each, rejoining Chad, Rodney, and Jeremy for a mile or so. It didn't last. I could only muster an 8:52 for Mile 9, and I was falling farther and farther behind. About halfway through Mile 9, I saw that Jeremy was skipping the last mile of trails and heading back to town early. I was very tempted to join him, but I persevered and followed Chad and Rodney for one more loop on the trails. But I was losing ground quickly. Mile 10 was even slower: 9:05. At Mile 10.42, I emerged from the trails and Chad was there waiting for me. I was ready to run the half-mile back into town and call it a day, but he asked how many more I needed for 12, and we decided to run an extra mile around the Davidson campus. We ran Mile 11 in 9:35, and .76 miles of Mile 12 at the same pace, before mercifully arriving back at the CVS in town. I felt no compunction to run that last quarter mile to give myself an even 12.

Overall, my pace was 8:53 -- not terrible, but I was disappointed that I couldn't finish strong. My workout plan specifies that I should run my long- and medium-length runs in a 9:36 to 8:48 pace, so I'm well within that range. But given yesterday's tough workout, I should have started at closer to the 9:36 pace, and built up to a stronger finish. I'm scheduled to do 12 miles tomorrow as well, but that's because I had already revised the schedule to accommodate the half-marathon I'm doing on Saturday. Ideally I'd run a recovery run tomorrow, a longer run on Friday, and then do my long run on Sunday. So I think what I'm going to do is run a much shorter route tomorrow, perhaps just 6 or 7 miles, and take it very easy. I would like to be feeling good for Saturday's half-marathon and really see what I can do.

Details of today's workout are below.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More intervals, less music

I don't mind running intervals as long as I have a good soundtrack to accompany them. Unfortunately for me, my stone-age iPod died on Friday, so I wouldn't have any tunes at all to motivate me on today's planned run, 5 X 1000 meter intervals. My goal was to run them at 5K race pace, about 6:56 / mile, or 4:20 per interval.

I knew the DART group would be meeting in town at 6, so I decided to run in and start out with them, then take off after a mile or so. I didn't think anyone would be up for joining me on an interval workout, but at least I'd have someone to say "hi" to as we passed each other every few minutes. Chad, Todd, Chris, and Jeremy were there, and we took off together at roughly an 8-minute pace. After about .75 miles, I decided to take off on my first interval.

The Garmin Forerunner 305 has the ability to program interval workouts, so you don't need to run them on a marked track, you can do them anywhere and it will track your mileage and time for you. Unfortunately, it doesn't show you your pace as you run -- the screen just tells you which interval you're running and how much distance or time you have left. In my case, I was doing 1000 meter intervals, 0.62 miles, so the screen simply indicated how much distance was left in the interval. I hadn't used this function before, so I got a little confused after the distance was less than 0.1 miles. When you have more than a tenth of a mile left, it gives you two decimal places: .43, .42, etc. But after you get below a tenth, it gives you three decimal places: .098, .097, etc. It's difficult to see the decimal in the dark, so I just thought the thing had gone haywire -- it seemed like it had switched from mileage to some other measure. Meters? Seconds? Finally as you approach your target distance, it starts beeping, then plays a distinctive multi-toned beep at the end of the interval. Phew!

After the first interval, I walked for my planned rest-time of 2:15. The group passed me on the way up Avinger Lane, and I started up on my second interval, running up the hill towards Pine road. This was a tough, uphill leg and I began to worry that I wasn't going to be able to keep up the pace for five intervals. I passed the group again, then turned onto Pine and a gentle downslope. I haven't run intervals at this distance before, so it seemed to take forever before my GPS finally beeped to let me know I could stop. Exhausted, I started another 2:15 recovery walk. All this time, I neglected to glace down at the GPS to note my time for each interval. In fact, I was running them too fast. I did the first one in 4:03 -- a 6:31 pace, and the second one in 3:57 -- a 6:23 pace. This pattern continued for the next two intervals: 3:52 and 4:01.

For my final interval, I was on an upslope, and I was thoroughly worn out. I knew I wouldn't be able to run it as fast as the previous four, so I just ran as fast as I could manage. I ended up finishing it in 4:39, for a 7:31 pace. I'm sure if I had run the first four at my planned pace, I could have done a fifth at the same pace, but I wasn't paying close enough attention to how I was doing on the early legs. Despite this, I was happy with the workout. I had done four very strong intervals and one not-so-strong but still respectable one. I didn't have music to keep my mind off the sheer exhaustion of the workout, but for the most part I still managed to keep focused. That said, yesterday I ordered a new iPod, so hopefully I'll have it by the next time I need to run intervals.

I finished up with a 2-mile cooldown, catching up with the group at the meeting point and joining Chad for coffee afterwards.

Details of the workout are below.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A tale of two runs

It wasn't the best of runs; it wasn't the worst of runs. Mainly, it was a long run after a hard race the day before. All you need to know can be summed up with two numbers:

Miles 1-9: 8:23 pace
Miles 10-18: 9:08 pace

Chad and I had committed to an 18-miler today. This was after I had run a hard 10K race yesterday—a total of 9 miles if you count the warm-up and cool-down. I wasn't expecting I'd be fast. Indeed, I would have settled for a 9-minute pace for the whole run. But when 9 people show up for the Sunday long run, there's a strong incentive to run faster than you probably should. So we took off at an 8:10 pace on a very hilly Grey Road. I was pooped by the time we got up the first major hill, just 3 miles in. Chad and I managed to keep up the aggressive pace for another 6 miles, even though we were still falling behind the rest of the runners in the group. They were only doing 13, though, so they could afford to keep up the pace.

After a break at Mile 10, we put up a good fight for a while, running 8:40-ish splits, but after Mile 13 our splits got progressively slower: 9:22, 9:12, 9:05, 9:44. Finally on the last mile I did all I could to pick the pace up again, 9:13. I jogged in the last third of a mile to our meeting point, totally sapped, and looking forward to a day of rest tomorrow.

Details of the workout are below.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Race Recap: The St. Leo School 10K

It used to be that nearly every road race other than marathons covered the 10K distance. When I was a college student and on the track team, the coaches encouraged us to sign up for 10Ks over the summer, and I signed up for one, the Bar-S Stampede. I have a vague recollection of running it in about 45 minutes, and being quite disappointed. A few years ago, I ran my second 10K, a turkey trot in Hickory, North Carolina, and I would have been thrilled to run it in 45 minutes. In fact, I was thrilled with my actual result, about 49 minutes for an 8-minute pace.

Today I ran my third 10K, the St. Leo School road race, and I was hoping once again to do better than 45 minutes. After completing a 5K in 21:32 last month, I thought I might be able to do a 10K at the same pace, for a 43-minute overall time. I might have been able to do it under perfect conditions -- cool weather, a good week of training beforehand -- but conditions weren't perfect today. It was a little warm for me, in the mid-60s, and I had been off in the mountains of Colorado skiing instead of training for the race, and probably overextended myself trying to make up for lost time when I got back.

Me after the race
Still, my plan was to run 7:00 splits for as long as possible and see if I could run that elusive 43-minute 10K. One hitch in my plan was that this year's race covered a new course. I didn't know what to expect -- when I could run fast and when I just needed to hang on.

The race start was odd. Usually as many runners as possible push up to the starting line and there's a lot of jostling for position. In this race, only about 15 or 20 racers seemed to be interested in standing closer than 20 feet from the start. I started to wonder whether I really belonged among them, but I figured I might as well get close to the start and avoid the crowds. After the starting whistle (yep, there was no gun, and no chip-timing either), we all took off down a steep half-mile long hill. I took it easy on this part; I didn't want to injure myself before the race started. The next half mile was all uphill, and as usual, my Garmin beeped about 20 meters before we reached the official Mile 1 marker: 7:04. I'll give my Garmin splits for the rest of this recap; after the first mile the Garmin's mileage gradually creeped earlier, but I didn't keep track of my "real" splits. Overall the Garmin measured the course at 6.29 miles, about 120 meters longer than the official 10K distance of 6.21 miles.

After that first mile, the rest of the course was gradual, rolling hills. None of the hills were especially challenging, but there was also rarely the relief of a long downhill stretch, or even a flat stretch. We were running along lovely residential streets with really nice old houses. There weren't a lot of folks cheering us on, but every couple of blocks someone would be standing at a corner clapping and shouting words of encouragement. I ended up running at about the same pace as a woman wearing full-length running tights. I wasn't complaining because she looked great in them, but it seemed an odd choice for such a warm day. My Mile 2 split was 7:12, and I wasn't feeling great. A 43-minute race was probably out of reach at this point and I'd just need to hang on.

Just after Mile 2, we circled a roundabout and headed back on the same route, the same gradual rolling hills. My Mile 3 split was 7:13. As we turned the corner off of the road we had been running on, a teenager was calling off times: 20:30, 20:31, etc. I looked down at my watch and it read 22:57. This girl was nearly 2 and a half minutes off! I said "that's not right" to no one in particular, and a guy in a green shirt said "I wish it was!" Green Shirt Guy passed me, and we rambled along pretty residential streets with the same gradual hills. I was really starting to feel worn out.

Up ahead I could see we were coming up on a road with runners headed the opposite direction. Could that be the 5K runners, who had started 10 minutes earlier than us? They were clearly running too slowly to be the 10K race leaders. As we got closer, I could see they were wearing yellow 10K bibs -- the 5K runners had white ones. What was going on? Woman in Tights seemed very confused -- had we taken a wrong turn? Finally I figured it out: We had actually tripled back, and were running along the same road we had been on twice before. Those runners were the middle- to back-of-the-pack 10Kers. I reassured Woman in Tights that we were headed in the right direction. Finally, just before the Mile 4 marker, we turned off this street for good. My Mile 4 split was 7:30. Yegods!

On Mile 5 I tried to pick up the pace. There were, after all, only a bit more than 2 miles left. The gradual, rolling hills and the heat were taking their toll though. I was sweating profusely. I did manage to pass Green Shirt Guy again on a downhill, but he passed me for good on the next uphill stretch. I pulled away from Woman in Tights for good at this point, but not because I sped up. My Mile 5 split was 7:29.

Mile 6 started off with a slightly steeper-than-usual uphill stretch. I tried to stay focused on good form. I had warmed up on the end of the racecourse, so I knew that at least the final quarter-mile would be downhill. I was hoping for more downhill than that, and my GPS record suggests that most of Mile 6 was indeed downhill. It didn't feel like it as I ran it. I did, however, manage to pick up the pace a little: 7:19. Still, a couple of people passed me during Mile 6; they clearly had more left in the tank than I did.

The last two-tenths of a mile were a real struggle. I knew I should be sprinting, but I barely had the legs. I did manage to pick up the pace a little, and no one passed me during this stretch, which I covered at a 6:36 pace. I crossed the line in 45:41, about the same as I had done in my first 10K, 20+ years ago. I don't remember so many hills on that course, though! My average pace according to Garmin was 7:16, but for the official distance of 6.21 miles, that works out to a 7:21 pace. Not bad, but not as fast as I was hoping.

It did turn out to be good enough for third place in my age group, however -- that's my first age-group award, ever. Here I am "testing" the metal content of my medal:

The full GPS record of the race is below.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Back to the grind

I missed running a lot while I was up in Vail skiing. I was in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, enjoying a thrilling activity and eating amazing food, and yet I often found my mind wandering to hard 6.3 mile runs in the darkness of a frigid January morning. Perhaps that's why some people say runners are obsessed!

Be careful what you wish for. Yesterday I finally got my chance to hit the pavement again, with a 12-mile afternoon run. The plan was to start off on my own, then meet the DART group for a 6-miler. I decided to challenge myself with some hills, so I headed off on Grey Road, planning to turn back in time to meet up with the group at 6 p.m. I did a little figuring as I ran, and settled on 24 minutes as the turnaround time. This took me down the toughest hill, and halfway up to Abersham on the other side. Then I turned and ran back. As I started back up the big hill, a couple bikers passed me. Sometimes, riding my bike up this hill, I've been tempted to get off and walk, so I challenged myself to keep up with the bikers. After they lost their momentum from the previous downhill, I was able to match their pace all the way to the top, trailing them only by 20 meters or so.

It was a warm afternoon, in the lower 70s, so it might not have been advisable for me to push things only a few miles into my run. I was sweating a lot, and I didn't have a fuel belt with me. But I continued to feel good, so kept up the pace all the way back into town. In the car, I had a packet of chomps and a liter of water. I ate four of the chomps and drank about two-thirds of the water. That's when things stopped going so well. First, my iPod stopped working; I think my sweaty earbuds were shorting out. Next, no one showed up for the DART run. The final 6.5 miles would be on my own, with not even an iPod to keep me company.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I was worried that my iPod was broken and I'd have to shell out for a new one. I'm fine running without an iPod on any given day, but day-in and day-out I like to have some entertainment. Plus, I'm a fan of several podcasts and this is really my only chance to listen to them.

I decided to try out the Davidson trails, which is where the Thursday DART run usually goes anyway. It was pleasant, but warm, and for the first few miles I kept up a good pace -- 8:30ish miles. I entertained myself by working on a problem that has been bothering me for a couple years: Is the Garmin accurate on winding, wooded trails? I had a hunch that the Garmin always measured the Davidson trails a little short. As it happened, I was about 50 meters short of the 1-mile marker on the trail when my GPS beeped indicating I had covered an even 7 miles up to that point. Assuming the mile posts are accurate (and I have seen the Davidson coaches calibrating them, so I believe they are), all I had to do was see if my GPS agreed with the 2-mile marker. As it happened, the timer beeped again when I was even with the marker, suggesting that the GPS was short-changing me by 50 meters on Mile 2 of the trails. Mile 3 was accurate, but my timer beeped 50 meters past the Mile 4 marker. So between Mile 2 and Mile 4, I had to run an extra 100 meters for the Garmin to credit me with those miles. That might not seem like much, but at an 8-minute pace, 100 meters takes 30 seconds. Over two miles, an 8:00 mile becomes an 8:15 mile—not a trivial difference.

Why were just those two miles off? I think it's because the trail passes through the same, very curvy section on both miles. Check out this close up from my Garmin record of the run:

If you look closely, you can actually see that the GPS record cuts off some of the corners, shortening the route. Over the course of two miles, that adds up to about 100 meters. The rest of the trails are relatively straight, so there's no opportunity for errors to be introduced.

After keeping up an 8:40-ish pace for 9 miles, the heat of the day started to get to me, and I slowed down on Miles 10-12. I was hoping for some water at the end of the trails, but the handle was missing from the water fountain by the practice fields. I kept going back to town, running an extra couple hundred meters past the CVS to assure myself of an even 12 miles.

I finished my quart of water, then went home and drank two more large glasse. As it happened, I had weighed myself before the run, so I weighed myself again, and found that even after consuming about a half-gallon of water, I had lost six pounds through sweat over the course of the run. That's about 10 pounds of sweat, total! I spent the rest of the evening trying to re-hydrate.

This morning I went for an easy five-mile recovery run, and found it anything but easy. I was still sore from yesterday's run. Plus I ran in to Chad and Chris G., and ran with them for a few miles at a pace that was a bit faster than I had planned, and going further than I'd planned: 6.25 miles. Hopefully I haven't plunged into running again too quickly after my ski trip. I've got a 10K race scheduled for tomorrow and I'd like to see how well I can do. Stop by tomorrow afternoon for the results.

Details of the last two workouts are below.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How does skiing compare to running?

For the last 5 days, I've been on a ski trip to Vail. I haven't run since Saturday (though I intend to rectify that situation today), but I have done a lot of skiing. So how does skiing compare to running? Unlike running, you get an assist on the uphill portions. However, the downhill portions are very active, and I'm often winded at the end of a ski run. But it does make me wonder: How much of a workout do you get in a day of skiing?

To find out, I wore my Garmin GPS trainer for an entire day of skiing. The lifts open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 4, so that's a potential 7.5 hour workout. But naturally you need to take a break for hot chocolate, and another break for lunch. How much actual ski time remains?

According to Garmin, I spent a total of about 5 hours and 21 minutes skiing. There were, however a couple of mistakes — I left it running for a bit during one break, and I forgot to turn it off once when I restarted. So let's call that a wash and say there were about 5 hours and 20 minutes in my workout. But some of that "workout" was actually resting time. How much? At first glance, it's difficult to tell. This graph gives my pace (in MPH) for the whole workout:

How do you make sense of that? Since I didn't stop the Garmin when I was riding the lifts, how do I know when I was skiing and when I was resting? Fortunately, the lifts travel at a pretty consistent pace— right around 10 mph. So the flat parts of the graph at the 10 mph mark are probably resting time. Note that there are also a couple of flat parts at around 5 mph — those correspond to a couple rides on an old-skool, fixed chair lift. But a much better way to tell how much time was spent actually moving is to look at the elevation chart:

Now things become much clearer! I took exactly 18 runs that day. And how much time did that take? Garmin says my average moving speed was 11.2 mph. The total moving time was 4.5 hours or 270 minutes -- the rest of the time was probably spent waiting in lift lines or taking quick breathers on the slopes. I traveled a total distance of 51.6 miles, half of which was spent riding lifts moving 10 mph (except for those two 5 mph rides, which we can probably ignore for these purposes). At that rate, since each mile takes 6 minutes at 10 mph, 25.8 uphill miles were covered in 154.8 minutes. That leaves 115.2 minutes of active, downhill skiing. My average pace per mile was about 4.5 minutes, or roughly 13 miles per hour. That seems rather slow, but remember, that includes picking through mogul fields, skiing slowly in traffic or on gentle slopes, and so on. My top speed was more like 30 mph.

So over four days of skiing, I got about 8 hours' worth of workout. In the 28 days of February, I ran a total of 235.72 miles, in about 35 hours. So in a typical four-day period, the number of hours spent running was about 4.85. Even though I got a free ride uphill when skiing, I actually spent more time actively exercising than I do while training for a marathon.

Which workout was tougher? I'm not sure. One thing I can say is that I was thoroughly worn out after each day of skiing. Normally at home I get about 7 hours of sleep, but at the ski resort I slept 9 hours every night. So while I took four days "off" of running, I did get a very good workout when I was gone.

Update: On second thought, I made one assumption that probably isn't right: That the distance traveled uphill was the same as distance traveled downhill. The lifts go straight up the hill, so I probably traveled fewer uphill miles than downhill miles. But that means I spent even more time actively exercising. So the point remains: A day of skiing is in fact a pretty good workout.

Details of the day's ski workout are below.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Greetings from Atlanta

I'm here at the Atlanta airport, on my way to Colorado, and I thought I'd take this opportunity to reflect on the past week's runs and what's to come. Yesterday's 22-miler was the culmination of 11 weeks' worth of intensive training. There are just 7 weeks to the Big Sur Marathon, with only one 20-miler planned between now and then.

For the next 7 weeks, while I'll be keeping the mileage up nearly as high as I have been, the focus will tilt slightly towards speed. I'm entered in a 10K, a half-marathon, and an 8K race. I've got several interval workouts on the docket, and I'll be continuing to do strides once or twice a week as well. As long as I can keep my injuries in check, I think I'm on track to do quite well at Big Sur. While the goal of a 3:30 marathon and a Boston Qualifier might be out of reach, I don't think I'll be far behind that pace.

With that in mind, I've registered for another marathon in June: the Steamboat marathon in Colorado. Steamboat is a very Boston-friendly course. It's downhill almost all the way. Unless it's unseasonably hot, I should be able to complete the course much faster than Big Sur. In a dream scenario, I'd qualify for Boston at Big Sur, then improve on my time at Steamboat to assure myself of a slot in Boston in 2012.

Week in review:

Number of runs: 6
Miles: 62.94
Elevation gain: 2,411 ft
Average elevation gain: 402 ft

The week included my fastest tempo run yet and my longest run yet, so needless to say, I'm very happy with my progress. In addition, my knee is beginning to feel much better. In previous weeks, especially after long runs or fast runs, I had quite a bit of difficulty walking up and down stairs. But even yesterday afternoon I had little trouble with my knee at all.

Of course, if you're concerned about your knees, it's probably not be a great idea to head to Colorado for a 4-day ski trip, but skiing has been a passion of mine since childhood, and this is my daughter's senior year in high school -- she's the only family member who also skis. Since I'm not sure when my next chance to go skiing will be, I'm going to take this one. I'll miss four days of running, but I'm going to take my Garmin on the slopes. It'll be interesting to see how many gravity-assisted miles I manage in four days!

Today's run was an easy 5-miler with Gabrielle, at least until she got bored with my slow pace and took off. You should have seen me yesterday, Gabrielle! Details are below.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The last longest run

About a month ago, I wrote about my longest run yet: 21 miles. Today, I topped that distance, for my longest run ever, and the longest training run I have planned before Big Sur.

My first goal was to run 22 miles. The second goal was to run it in roughly a 9-minute pace. The third goal was to finish strong. I also didn't want to carry a fuel belt, so we planned a route that had water stops every 5 miles or so.

But first things first: Why am I doing my long run on a Friday instead of a Sunday? Because tomorrow, I'm flying off to Colorado for a ski trip (it sucks to be me, I know). Since I'm not planning on running at all in Colorado, I really needed to get the long run in early. Fortunately, Chad and Chris were also interested in running this morning, so I met them at 7 a.m. at our usual spot.

One key to a good long run is discipline in the early going. I can run 6, 10 or more miles at a sub-8-minute pace, but keeping that up for 22 miles would be foolish to attempt in a training run; I'll save that effort for the race itself. So we toned it down a bit, running Miles 1-4 in 8:50, 8:47, 8:40, 8:45. We took Mile 5 a little fast, 8:26, then stopped for a break outside of Fleet Feet, our local running store. There's a spigot outside the building, and I've learned the trick of drinking from it without getting wet, even though it's only about 30 inches about the ground. I had a gel, and we headed back towards town. Miles 6-11 were as follows: 8:44, 8:48, 8:47, 8:44, 8:40, 8:39. Consistent, even though most of those miles were uphill.

At that point, Chris had had enough: 11 miles was the most he'd done in several years, so this was a great workout for him. Chad and I fueled up, and I stretched my back, which had been beginning to bother me over the last few miles. Chad decided I needed to run some hills, so he took me north and through the Davidson campus on a route I rarely take, which included a few steep little stretches. The big hills were yet to come. Then we ran in reverse direction along the familiar DART course. Miles 12-15 were 8:36, 8:45, and 8:21 and 8:28 on a downhill stretch. Mile 16 was solid uphill, up Robert Walker Drive towards Bailey Middle school. Since I'm supposed to be training for a tough, hilly marathon, I decided to push the pace a bit on this section. I pulled away from Chad and finished the mile in 8:26 while climbing 145 vertical feet. We stopped for a rest at another water stop, the bathrooms at Bailey Road Park. Once again, with the drinking fountain out of commission, I was reduced to drinking out of a faucet. This one required a different strategy, as it was mounted on the bathroom sink and controlled by an IR sensor. I finally decided the best way to get water was to cup my hands under the faucet and sip from them.

Now both Chad and I were starting to feel the strain of the miles. My hips were hurting, and I felt an occasional twinge in my knee. The knee pain wasn't bad at all, so we pressed on. Miles 17-20 were 8:44, 8:39, 8:45, 8:53. Even though we were under the 9-minute target pace, I really wanted to finish strong, so the 8:53 mile set off a bit of an alarm in me. Chad encouraged me to take off for the last couple miles if I was feeling good, so I decided to pick up the pace a bit. I was surprised when I looked down at my GPS after Mile 21 to see an 8:06 pace.

But Mile 21 was mostly downhill. Ahead was the dreaded South Street climb back into Davidson. I've frequently been reduced to a 10-minute pace by this hill, and I decided to see if I could maintain the strong pace I'd set on Mile 21. I've seen runners complain about a similar-sized hill in Mile 25 of the Big Sur marathon, so this would be a good test. I tried to maintain solid running form as I headed up the hill, telling myself I could slow down as soon as my GPS beeped signaling the end of Mile 22. The watch chimed about a quarter-mile outside of town, registering an 8:12 split. I'll take it! I slowed to a 10-minute pace and made my way back to the car, where Chad arrived a couple minutes later.

I couldn't be happier with this run. It was a gusty day, a hilly route, and I kept a consistent pace all the way to the finish -- an average pace of 8:39. While that's (intentionally) slower than my target race pace of 8:00 miles, if I ran that pace for a marathon, I'd still end up with a respectable 3:46 finish. I think I've earned that ski trip! Congratulations are also due to Chad, who is getting some speed back as he continues his recovery from a nasty stress fracture.

Details of the workout are below.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

New Shoes

Remember when you were a little kid, and getting new shoes was a really big deal? You felt like you could run faster, jump higher, and you definitely looked cooler. Now that I'm running over 200 miles per month, shoes only last a couple months. The easy thing to do is just get the exact same model again, so they don't even look very different—a little cleaner, a lot less worn on the soles, but otherwise the same. Buying shoes has become almost as boring as buying groceries for the week.

My latest pair does have one tiny difference from the old shoes: They a half-size larger. My toes were feeling cramped in the old model, and Chad confirmed that they were a bit small. Today I took the new ones for their first spin. As expected, they felt just like the old ones, only slightly roomier, and with a bit more spring in their step.

Tomorrow I've got a 22-miler planned, and ordinarily I wouldn't use almost-brand-new shoes on such a long run. But I figure that these shoes aren't really very different from the old ones, with the exception of the extra room, which should only be a good thing. To be sure, I asked Théoden Janes to post my plan on his Facebook page. Pretty much all the responses said the same thing: It's not that big of a deal to use new shoes on a long run. One poster pointed out that now that shoes don't have any leather in them, there's not really anything to "break in." Good point. I'll be running in the new shoes tomorrow.

Details of today's easy 6-mile recovery run are below.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Area runner hit* by** marauding*** car

Please note the asterisks. Explanations are below.

So, the day started ordinarily enough. The plan was to run 1.3 miles into town, meet up with the DART group, run the 6.3 mile loop with the group, then tack on another 4.3 on my way home, for a total of 12. Since I'd be doing almost 6 miles on my own, I decided to bring the iPod. Mistake number 1.

The run into town was uneventful, except that Wednesdays are trash / recycling days in Davidson, so Concord Road was a bit of an obstacle course. Our town allows residents to just pile yard waste on the street for pickup, but since Concord is a busy road with a very narrow shoulder, most residents just heap piles of branches on the sidewalk for runners to trip over in the darkness. I suppose that's better than getting it strewn all over tarnation by passing pickup trucks. Instead, the passing runners leap out into the street to avoid the branches, and they get strewn all over tarnation by passing pickup trucks.

Somehow I made it into town unscathed. When I met up with Chad and Jeff, I took off my earbuds and put them in the pocket in my shorts, leaving them attached to the iPod, which was still strapped to my upper arm. Mistake number 2.

We took off at an easy pace, 8:30-ish, while Jeff regaled us with hilarious stories about his experience this past weekend at the GUTS Reactor 50 mile run, which was conducted in a nonstop downpour on a poorly-drained trail, with 6- to 8-inch deep mud along the entire route. That wasn't the funny part, unless you count Jeff's descriptions of the places he found mud after the run. The funniest parts are not appropriate for this family-oriented blog. Suffice it to say they involve half-naked Canadians. Jeff told us he didn't want to run the extra half-mile spur that puts the DART loop over 6 miles, so Chad and I decided to go with Jeff so we could hear the rest of his stories. Mistake number 3.

The DART loop takes us back along Concord road, the same route that was littered with, well, litter, awaiting pickup by the trash collectors. All the way, Jeff kept us entertained with the stories of his experience in the mud bogs of Georgia. As we approached town three abreast, the better to hear Jeff, my iPod headphone cable got snagged on something -- I'm not sure exactly what -- and was ripped out of the iPod. I wasn't sure whether the earbuds were still in my pocket, and looked back to see the cord dangling out of my pocket. I reeled the cord in, then turned around to resume my run. I was actually running on the parking strip and was now leaning dangerously towards the road. As I teetered along, I started running on the 4-inch wide curb like a balance beam between the grassy parking strip and the gutter. It was then that I noticed the car. A large, white minivan loomed in front of me, and my momentum was carrying me straight toward it.

Okay, so the minivan was actually parked, but its rear-view mirror was precisely at the level of my genitals, so if nothing else, the family jewels were briefly in some danger. I managed to avoid involuntary castration and any other injuries by pushing off the van's hood. I kept running, only to be mercilessly mocked by Chad and Jeff all the way back into town. After a brief stop at Summit for water, I left Chad and Jeff to their coffee, still chuckling about the headline that might have been if I had done a full facial into the van. I then started up the iPod again and finished the run without incident.

Details of the workout are below.

**next to

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Going for it

I haven't had a chance to do a full-out tempo run for several weeks--either I wasn't feeling good, I was saving my energy for another workout later in the week, or my training plan simply didn't include a tempo workout. After a while, it began to wear on me: Can I still run fast? Or are all these long runs just slowing me down?

Finally today the stars aligned and I was ready to do a nice, fast 6-miler. It was a Tuesday DART run, and I was hoping for at least a 7:30 pace. I ran an easy 1.3 miles to the meeting place at CVS, where Chad, Jeremy, and Chris were waiting. I knew Chad and Chris would probably not be interested in a fast pace, but I thought Jeremy might want to run with me. As it turned out, Jeremy wasn't feeling good, so I ended up doing the whole run on my own.

The first mile is mostly downhill, and I wanted to get going quickly. I took off at a strong pace, but kept it under control. I was actually a little surprised to see my first split: 7:34. I thought I was doing a little better than that. The next mile included a 50-foot vertical gain, and I focused on keeping good form and not letting up. It paid off: 7:23. Mile 3 had lots of downhill, and also included a small spur that took us around a small block and back along the same road. As I finished rounding the block I could see Chad, Jeremy, and Chris just starting it -- I was at least two minutes ahead of them. I finished Mile 3 in 7:07. Mile 4 included a downhill stretch on a greenway, then a long, grueling uphill, 62 feet of vertical. If I could keep up the pace here I'd have a chance at a really strong run. I was hoping for better than a 7:40, and so was very pleasantly surprised to see a 7:26 split. Mile 5 continues uphill for another half mile before offering a slight downhill section (which actually didn't register on my Garmin as a decline at all). I was able to keep the pace on the uphill and coast a bit heading back down. I saw one of my old soccer buddies running the other way, which inspired me to try to maintain good form as I ran a 7:28.

Finally, Mile 6. Once again, this leg starts with an uphill section, 56 vertical feet. As I neared the top of the hill, a woman who had been running towards me turned around and headed back into town, about 50 meters ahead of me. I was feeling tired, but decided to try to catch her. As it turned out, she was running at a good pace, and it was all I could do to keep up. I gained perhaps 20 meters, following her for almost a mile. As my Garmin alerted me to a 7:21 split, she turned off onto Baker Drive. I was headed into town, so my race-within-a-workout was over. I was still feeling pretty good, but not good enough to start an all-out sprint to the finish. I completed the final .38 miles at a 7:05 pace. I had run 6.38 miles in 47 minutes flat, a 7:22 pace--significantly faster than my 7:30 goal!

Since I knew I'd be sitting down for coffee in a few minutes, I decided to do a bit of a cool-down run, and headed back up Concord to meet the other runners. They were about 5 minutes behind me at this point, so that gave me about a half-mile to bring my heart rate back to normal.

It was quite satisfying to see that all the miles I've been logging at relatively slow pace haven't precluded me putting in a nice, fast run when I need to. This was the fastest I'd ever run the DART loop--my previous best was a 7:34 pace. I've got a 10K coming up in just under two weeks, and I'm thinking I just might be able to run it in under a 7-minute pace. Full details of today's run are below.

Monday, March 7, 2011

What happened?

One of the things that bugs me a bit about my GPS trainer, a Garmin Forerunner 305, is that it shows dramatic variations in pace, usually inexplicable. Check out this plot from today's run:

What's with all of those changes in pace? Am I really changing from a 12-minute pace to an 8-minute pace within the space of 50 meters? (Answer: Of course not. I probably went under a tree and lost the satellite signal briefly. But I wish there was some way the Garmin could correct for that.) And what's with that dramatic slowdown at Mile 5? I zoomed in on it on the map, and as you can see, it's in the middle of a residential area where two streets dead-end. There certainly wasn't any traffic there to speak of at 6:45 a.m.

Then I remembered: That's when a podcast I was listening to ended and I had to stop to cue up another one. Sometimes the GPS is telling the truth!

Today's run was otherwise uneventful, a 7.5-mile recovery run at a 10-minute pace. Tomorrow I've got a fast run planned with the DART group. I'm hoping to turn on the afterburners and see what I can do. Details of today's workout are below.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Running in the rain

For some reason, the first thing I wanted to do after completing a 15-mile run in a nonstop downpour was take a shower.

I had tried to avoid the rain, but circumstances beyond my control were limiting my options. Yesterday was beautiful, but I had just completed three tougher-than-planned workouts in a row. My knee was sore, and my throat was too, so I decided to take the day off. Then I got a message from Tim: "I'm hoping to go long on Sunday; what do you have planned?" Then Ashley chimed in on Facebook: "It looks like rain tomorrow—is anyone running?" At first I thought I could put off the run until the afternoon when it looked like things would have cleared up, but then I remembered we had tickets to see Cirque du Soleil in the afternoon. So much for that plan; it would have to be a rainy 15-miler this morning.

Amazingly, seven runners showed up in a very heavy drizzle, six of whom were interested in running 15 miles: Ashley, Tim, Matt, Chad, Todd (who had already run six), Tony (who was only planning seven), and me. Two sopping-wet hours later, this is what the floor of my bathroom looked like:

The rain-soaked gear was so heavy I actually decided to weigh it. Even with an empty water belt, the wet conditions meant I was hauling around an extra 8 pounds, putting me briefly back above 200 pounds even though I now weigh 192 unencumbered.

But let's go back to the start of the run. I had told Tim I wasn't planning a quick pace like we had done last week. I need to save my energy for a 22-miler on Friday. Chad was pretty much the only runner who was interested in a relatively slow pace. As the rest of the group opened up a 30-meter lead on us, Chad and I started off at what we thought was a reasonable pace. But our splits for the first five miles were still pretty aggressive: 8:18, 8:03, 8:06, 8:18, 7:55. We took a quick break at Jetton park before heading back out on the road, once again, with Chad and I taking up the rear: 8:08, 8:34, 8:25. For some reason at Mile 9 I decided I wanted to try to catch up to Tim, Matt, Todd, and Ashley, so I picked up the pace and ran the next two miles in 7:44 and 8:00, leaving Chad behind for a bit. We met up again at the park for a rest and I had had my fill of running fast, so Chad and I once again joined forces in the back of the pack as the rain continued to pummel us.

At times there was so much rain that I was forced to take off my glasses. If too many water droplets are covering the lenses, it becomes nearly impossible to see, and despite my extremely weak vision (probably something like 20-400), I could still see better without them. Then around Mile 12, we were passed by what seemed like every fire truck within 10 miles, each one wailing louder than the next, and prompting cars to pull over dangerously close to where we were running on the shoulder. Somehow we managed to avoid catastrophe, but we were definitely slowing down. Miles 11-15 were as follows: 8:32, 8:52, 8:53, 8:56, 8:42. I felt pretty good about my 8:22 overall average pace. When we arrived at the CVS, Tim told us they had run their last mile in under 7 minutes! Glad I didn't try to stay with them till the end!

Despite the bone-drenching conditions, it was fairly warm—about 55 degrees, so at least I was relatively comfortable. I savored my nice, warm cup of coffee in Summit as Chad, Todd, and I discussed our racing plans for the next couple of months. Then I came home to a warm shower, which never felt so good.

Workout details are below.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Not much letup

After Wednesday's tough interval run at Biltmore, I was planning an easy recovery run for yesterday. But Chad and Todd wanted to do an evening trail run, so who was I to turn them down?

We headed out for the Davidson College trails and ran the familiar 8K loop, plus a half-mile to and from the CVS meeting place, for a total of 6 miles. I felt good, completing the run in an 8:10 pace and not letting up on some steep uphill sections. I used to run these trails all the time, but have been favoring road runs lately in preparation for the marathon. I was pleased to see that what I used to think of as tough hills now seem quite easy, even at a fairly quick pace a day after a tough workout.

That said, this morning I needed to do another 11 miles, and my legs were beginning to feel the strain of a week that, while it didn't feature a lot of distance, ended up having little letup. Chad met me at the CVS and we headed out on a relatively flat run, to the Fleet Feet store in Huntersville, 5.5 miles away. I felt pretty strong as we started, and we rattled off a series of fairly fast miles: 8:09, 8:15, 8:14. We hadn't wanted to take it that fast and slowed down a bit for Mile 4: 8:29. But by Mile 5 we were back up to an 8:09 pace. We stopped for a quick break at the Fleet Feet. I had decided not to wear a fuel belt, so I sipped a little water out of a spigot next to the store, which wouldn't be open for another hour.

Then we turned around and headed back uphill towards Davidson. There's a nice little stretch of greenway for about 1.3 miles between Fleet Feet and Westmoreland road, and we enjoyed the scenery as we headed home, 8:19, 8:29 and 8:36 for miles 6-8. At this point I was beginning to tire due to the lack of hydration and fuel, but I kept pushing the pace. Chad seemed to be getting stronger -- not surprising given that he was carrying a water bottle and ate a couple gels along the way. We ran miles 9-11 at 8:20, 8:19, and 8:26. This ended up being only 10.8 miles, but that was plenty for me, so we called it a day, an average pace of 8:20, which is pretty quick for what was supposed to be an easy 11 miles. Tomorrow I'm going to do an honest-to-goodness recovery run.

Details of both runs are below.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An awesome change of scenery

My three nieces are visiting, so we've been taking them to some of the nearby sights. Last night, we drove up to Asheville to see the Biltmore Estate, a huge mansion and vast grounds in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains.

Thanks to a great off-season discount, we stayed in a very fancy hotel on the estate grounds. This gave me access to a gorgeous running path before the estate even opened to day visitors. Our hotel was about 200 feet above the French Broad River. I found out from the hotel staff that there was an excellent paved path along the river, so I headed out at about 7 a.m. to try it out. For some reason when I'm travelling, my GPS trainer always seems to take longer to locate the satellites than when I'm running from home (I suspect it "assumes" it hasn't moved much, so when it has, it takes a while to defeat that assumption). That meant the first half-mile or so of my warmup didn't get recorded.

No matter, the key to this run was the intervals. I was scheduled to do 6 X 800 meters, at my 5K race pace. My training regimen, based on Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning, doesn't place a lot of emphasis on intervals. Pfitzinger feels a tempo run is a better way to simulate marathon conditions because a marathon is, in fact, one steady run. Nonetheless, intervals do help you condition your body to perform at lactate threshold conditions, so there are a few interval workouts on the schedule. This is actually the first one!

After the 2-mile warmup, I took off on the first interval, a half-mile at what turned out to be a 6:46 pace. then I slowed to a jog for two minutes and took off again. The course was flat and drop-dead beautiful. I didn't see a single soul on the path all morning. The sun was just beginning to clear the mountains surrounding this peaceful valley, illuminating a glowing mist over the river. There were geese everywhere, but these seemed like genuine migratory wild animals, not the loafers and beggars that populate the parks nearer to home. The next three intervals were much like the first: 6:48, 6:44, 6:43. During the third interval, I passed a trail that went all the way to the base of the Biltmore house, but decided to stick to the paved road instead. The path was a bit rocky, and I had forgotten my knee brace at home. I'd be seeing the house up close later in the day anyways.

By the last two intervals I was beginning to tire a bit, but kept up the pace: 6:43 and 6:49 on a gradual 30-foot incline. At this point I had covered about 6 miles and I was a mile from home, so I doubled back for a mile and enjoyed the scenery for three more miles, including a steep climb back up to the hotel. Despite the slow warmup and cooldown and the rests between intervals, I still averaged an 8:43 pace for the whole workout. I'd rate this workout among the most enjoyable 9 miles I've ever run.

Details are below.