Saturday, April 30, 2011

Big Sur

I've been in Monterey for over a day now getting ready for the race, and I think I've done everything I can. I ran 5 miles yesterday, and 3.5 this morning, at a very easy pace. I've eaten plenty of carbs (though I occasionally splurged on a bit of chocolate or whipped cream).

This afternoon, Todd and I drove the course, and it looks absolutely fantastic. Yes, it's hilly, but none of the hills are especially steep or long. I've seen hills this big before -- just not this many in a row. The predominant feeling is simply shock: "I get to run in a place like this?" I snapped a few pictures along our drive, and I think they do give a sense of how special this place is:

An early glimpse of the ocean

A small slice of an epic view

The surf pounds the shore at the turnaround point
Even though the course is "only" an out-and-back, it almost immediately enters a realm of spectacular scenery, which just gets more spectacular as you run farther. At one of our many stops, we could see sea otters swimming lazily among the kelp, some of them with babies resting on their bellies.

While we don't get to run up Hurricane Point, we do get to see a truly awesome portion of one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. And we get to do it with no cars spoiling the idyllic beauty. We decided to drive up Hurricane Point to see what we'd be missing, and we agreed that though it was obviously a dramatic vista and would have been a satisfying challenge, we're happy with the revised course. Todd, who's run 25 marathons, said this was by far the most scenic.

Now all that's left is for me to get my gear ready, get some sleep, and run the race. I can't wait.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Carbo Loading

For someone who has spent the last year losing 35 pounds and being fairly careful with his diet, carbo loading is a scary thing to do. Carbohydrates are the enemy of most dieters. But to maximize performance in a marathon, you need to consume lots of carbohydrates, not just the day before the race, but for three days before the race. It's not possible to elevate your glycogen levels enough to make a difference in just one day. But eating a diet that is 75 to 90 percent carbohydrates can cause you to (hopefully) temporarily gain weight.

Most guides I've read suggest that carbo-loading will lead to temporary gains of two or three pounds. I've found my weight fluctuates more than that from day to day, so I wouldn't be surprised if I end up gaining five pounds or more. Gaining five pounds in three days after spending a year losing weight is the stuff nightmares are made of!

From what I've read, many runners fail to adequately carbo-load because they don't realize just how much carbohydrate consumption is necessary to elevate glycogen levels. During a distance run, your muscles can get energy from two sources: Glycogen stored in your body, and fat. Glycogen is the preferred option because it's much easier for your body to metabolize, but you have a limited supply. Even a very thin runner is probably carrying over 5 pounds of fat, which would be plenty to get you through a marathon, you just wouldn't do it very quickly.

A typical runner has about 1,500 calories worth of glycogen available for quick metabolizing. Unfortunately, a marathon takes about 4,000 calories to complete, with most of them coming from glycogen. You can eat some food during the course of a race, but your digestive system won't process it fast enough to come up with the extra calories needed, so by the end of the race, if you don't carbo-load you'll be relying on fat stores to get you to the finish. This is one way runners hit "the wall."

The solution has actually been known for decades: Build up excess glycogen supplies in the body before the race. This used to be an arduous process involving a long run just a week before the race, three days of glycogen depletion, and three days of carbo-loading. Fortunately, more recent research has found that the long run and depletion are not necessary, and may be counterproductive as they could wear you out just when you need to be restoring yourself. All you need to do is reduce your mileage (taper) and eat more carbs in the three days leading up to the race.

But how many carbs do you need? This article suggests that you need quite a lot: 3.6 to 5 grams of carbs per day per pound of body weight. I weigh 192 pounds, so that's a minimum of 690 grams of carbs in a day. Since every gram of carbs has about 3.5 calories, for me that would mean eating 2400 calories a day in carbs alone, and since it's hard to find foods that are 100% carbs, it probably means eating a lot more than that!

And there are other potential problems with a major diet change right before a big race. Your digestive system can be thrown off. If you eat a lot of high-fiber foods (which also tend to be high-carb foods) like whole wheat bread and fruit, you can get gas, constipation, or diarrhea. Not a pleasant thought halfway through your first marathon. Fortunately my diet is already fairly high in carbs, and I can increase the ratio of carbs in the diet with fairly minor changes. I can also add some foods that are just straight carbs so I don't overload with fiber. Sugar is the ultimate carbohydrate, so pancakes with lots of syrup, toast with lots of jam, and even sugary cola work fine as part of a carbo-loading diet. Yesterday I ate a huge plate of pancakes for lunch, and this morning I actually bought a 20-ounce bottle of non-diet Coke for the first time in decades.

To make sure I'm getting plenty of carbs, I decided to record everything I eat over these three days. It's actually sort of shocking when you see it all in print. Here's yesterday's menu:

1.5 cups Life Cereal
3/4 cup milk
1 glass V8

1 large banana
1 apple
3 slices toast with strawberry jam
1 Nutri-grain cereal bar

7 pancakes
1/2 cup maple syrup

1 large banana
1/2 cup raisins

The biggest plate of spaghetti I've eaten in years; about 1/3 of a pound, cooked.
1 cup marinara sauce
1 cup roasted eggplant
2 ounces mozzarella cheese
2 glasses red wine

That adds up to over 4,000 calories, and about 760 grams of carbs. Some protein and fat snuck in in a few places: The milk, the toast, the pancakes, and the pasta. The calories from carbs alone are only about 3,000. When I weighed myself this morning I was already up to 194 pounds. Yikes!

Now I'm on a plane on my way to California. I figured it would be hard to find carbs unaccompanied by fat and protein along the way, so I brought a bag of cereal bars and fruit to eat as I fly across the country. I will definitely be heading out for a run sometime this afternoon in California. It will be refreshing to get a couple easy miles in, and I'll feel better if I burn off at least some of those calories.

So far I'm finding that I'm actually fairly calm about the race that is now less than two days away. I didn't have any trouble sleeping last night; here's hoping I can maintain that calm as the race approaches.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Does "corrected" GPS elevation ignore bridges?

Elevation data on the typical GPS trainers runners use is notoriously bad. You can take a look at the raw GPS data from a run through Kansas and it will look like the Himalayas. To get around the problem, many running websites allow you to correct the elevations by cross-referencing against known databases maintained by NASA and the USGS. The Garmin Connect website I use to track my runs can do that. Take a look at the elevation profile from today's run, for example:

On top is the uncorrected elevation chart, and below is the corrected version. Not only does the uncorrected version appear more "jagged," it also reports a hillier overall course -- a cumulative elevation gain of 472 feet, versus 245 feet in the corrected version. The corrected version definitely feels more like what I actually experience on a run. But is it possible that even "corrected" elevation charts can be wrong?

My standard hill workout ends with a tough quarter-mile climb. But when I use the corrected elevation chart, it simply doesn't show up. I know it's there: My lungs tell me that, but Garmin doesn't see it. I guess there's just a discrepancy in whatever database Garmin uses to make its corrections. But a recent comment on the Big Sur Marathon facebook page made me wonder if there was a consistent bias to elevation corrections.

The commenter said he had noticed that corrected elevations seem to always get bridges wrong. It makes some sense: The US Geological Survey isn't going to measure the elevation of the man-made bridge; it's going to measure the elevation of the earth (or water) below the bridge. I searched around the web to see if I could find any independent confirmation of this, and didn't find much, except for this forum post: "I shut off my elevation correction because it tells me that I only traveled + or -4 feet on each run and it's more like several hundred feet because I cross over a lot of very high bridges that are high enough to allow cruise ships pass underneath."

While it's just a couple of anecdotal reports, it makes sense, and it sure sounds like the corrected data is ignoring bridges! What would that mean for Big Sur? The original course had eight high bridges; I haven't been able to get a good number for the new course, but I think it's around five. Since the course is now an out-and-back, that's around ten bridge crossings. If a corrected GPS reading measures the distance to the ground below the bridge, when a bridge spans a canyon the way the bridges at Big Sur do, the corrected elevation change will be overestimated: The corrected version assumes you ran to the bottom of the canyon and up the other side, when in fact you crossed over a level bridge. Supposing these bridges are an average of 50 feet high, that means the corrected elevation gain for the course would be overestimated by 10 X 50 or 500 feet -- not a trivial amount! That would bring the cumulative elevation gain from the official course map down from 2,406 feet to 1,906 feet!

Details of today's workout are below.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Packing for a marathon

I've never been particularly good about packing. Part of the reason, I think, is that I don't like making lists. This has gotten me into trouble, most notably when I went on a hike with two sets of raingear, but no spoon or cup (fair warning, I swear like a sailor in that blog post).

But given that I've been training for nearly a year for this marathon, I've decided to break down and make a list. A bit of googling for "marathon checklist" and "marathon packing list" came up with some examples, but not all of them seemed particularly well-thought-out. One list, for example, listed "running shoes" as an "essential" carry-on item, but suggested packing your shorts and singlet in your checked luggage. I mean, sure, if your luggage was lost, you could run a race naked, but where would you attach your bib? More than one list suggests Body Glide as a "might be handy" item. As in: If your thighs and nipples were chafed raw during the marathon, it might have been handy if you had packed the Body Glide.

I think I like the Runner's World checklists the best of the ones I found. They actually offer several different lists depending on how far you're travelling for the race. Here's my list, which takes their "overnight race" list and updates / refines it for my own needs (I removed "film" and added card reader to the camera item, for example!).

  • Race / Hotel / Flight / Car rental info in PDF on iPhone and computer
  • Body Glide
  • Band-aids
  • Sunscreen (in ziploc w/gels & toothpaste)
  • Fruit and Granola bars for flight (buy bottle of water at airport)
  • Camera / Card reader
  • Extra cash/credit cards
  • Street clothes and shoes
  • Toiletries including a travel-sized first aid kit
  • Watch with alarm for race-day wake-up
  • Buy food for race-day breakfast in advance when I arrive
  • Computer / iPad / cords / iPhone charger
  • Compression socks for flights/post-race/the race itself if it's colder than expected.
  • Shoes, orthotics if necessary
  • Singlet
  • Short-sleeve compression shirt
  • Long-sleeve compression shirt
  • Hat
  • Shorts
  • Spi-Belt to hold gels/bib
  • Compression underwear
  • Socks
  • Gloves, which will probably be tossed after a few miles if worn at all
  • GPS and charger
  • Racing prescription sunglasses. Contact lenses as backup.
  • Old sweats I can toss after a few miles
  • Gels - in easily accessible ziploc for security checkpoint!
  • Knee brace 
  • Extra socks
  • Extra shirt and shorts/pants
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Ibuprofen
  • Towel
  • Plastic bag for ice, dirty clothes, etc.
Tourism items:
  • Binoculars

I think I should be able to fit all this in a carry-on duffel bag plus a small computer bag. The nice thing about going to a big race with a giant expo and arriving two days early is that if there's something I forgot (or didn't know I needed), I can always buy it there.

Details of today's workout are below:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The weather in Big Sur

With any luck, by precisely one week from now I will have finished my first marathon. The Big Sur Marathon starts at 6:45 a.m. on May 1, so if I run a 3:30 marathon, I'll finish somewhere between 10:15 and 10:20, depending on how long it takes me to make my way across the starting line. That's around 1:15 Eastern Time, or about an hour ago as I write this.

While here in Davidson it's currently about 80 degrees and very humid, in Carmel, California, where the race starts and ends, the temperature is a much more manageable 50 degrees. now has the forecast all the way out to race day; here's how it looks:

If this is what we get on race day, I'll absolutely take it. Sure, it's a bit warmer than I'd like (though I imagine it might only be around 57 or 58 when I finish), but there's very little wind, and I'd rather have a bright sunny day to enjoy the views by than a cooler, cloudy or rainy day.

My main concern is actually the wind. I've read many race reports describing 20- to 30-mph winds at Big Sur. The number one piece of advice for runners in the wind: Get behind a big guy. That's a problem when you're the big guy!

I've been following the weather in Big Sur for the past couple of weeks and the main thing I've noticed is that it's very consistent; usually in the upper 40s overnight and around 60 during the day. What changes the most is the wind. The other concern for runners is the cool mornings. Because we all have to be bussed to the start, we'll be arriving 1.5 to 3 hours early, and it could be in the 40s. While that's a great temperature to run in, it's rather cold for standing / sitting around. I'm going to bring an old pair of sweats to wear to the race, and be prepared to just throw them away once the run starts. In my past races, however, I've found that as the start-time approaches, I'm usually warm enough just from adrenaline, so I can safely check my sweats and still have plenty of time to get to the start.

I'll keep my eye on the weather as race day approaches, but for now, things are looking great. I can't wait!

Details of today's workout are below

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Too many miles on a taper?

My training schedule calls for a 13-mile run this weekend, just one week before my race. After the miles I've been logging as I train for this race, 13 doesn't seem like much to me, but my running companions have been telling me that's too far to be running just a week before the race.

For me at this level of fitness, 13 miles at a relatively easy pace doesn't take much out of me. I could see if a person had done a more minimalistic training regimen, a run this long wouldn't be a great idea. After all, it's possible you could get injured, and then all that hard work would have been wasted. On the other hand, there are lots of ways to get injured even if you didn't run at all. All told, this week I'll be running about 42 miles. The last time I ran so little in a week was last December. I even ran farther than that the week of my ski trip to Colorado. Next week I'll be cutting down the miles even more, to just 28 miles (not counting the marathon itself). That's less than half of what I did at peak intensity. So although in some ways it seems like I'm running a lot of miles during this taper, it definitely feels like a taper. I have no doubt that I will be very well-rested come race day.

Since tomorrow is Easter, the DART group decided to do their long run this morning. I met up at CVS with Chad, Matt, Tim, Jeff, David, Chad's neighbor, whose name I've forgotten, and a new guy, Jacob, who was in town visiting family.

Matt, Tim, Jacob and I took off at a relatively fast pace on a hilly route up Grey road. Miles 1, 2, and 3 were 8:19, 7:54, and 8:00 on a leg that included 121 feet of climbing. When we got to the top of the hill, we waited for the rest of the group, then took off again with Chad joining us in the faster group. After Mile 4 clicked in at 7:39, I decided I probably shouldn't be running this 13-miler at near-tempo-pace, so I slowed down and waited for ultra-runners David and Jeff to catch up. My Mile 5 pace was 9:19. Then the three of us rattled off a series of 8:30-ish miles, all the way down Shearer Road to the new greenway in River Run, and out the other side of River Run. I was a little surprised to find that I wasn't feeling great on these miles, which were a little hilly but shouldn't have given me too much trouble. With two miles left to go, Jeff split off to do some more hill work, and David headed home. I decided I should pick up the pace for the finish, and completed uphill Miles 12 and 13 in 8:13 and 7:53, and felt good doing it. It's another case where speeding up can sometimes make you feel better during a long run. The finish of this run definitely gave me a nice confidence boost going into Big Sur.

My average pace for the 13.16-mile run was 8:20 per mile, which is actually nearly the same as my official pace for the National Half Marathon. Not bad at all!

Details of today's run are below.

Friday, April 22, 2011

More strategizing for Big Sur

My primary goal for the Big Sur Marathon is to run it in 3:30:00 or better. That's an 8-minute pace, which is fairly ambitious for a first marathon, especially since my half-marathon PR pace is only 7:51 (yes, I'm almost certainly faster than that now, but you never know until you actually run the race).

What's the best way to run your target time in a marathon? There's a bit of debate about this, but most research points to an even pace. Just run a consistent pace throughout, with some adjustments for terrain, and you've got the best chance of success. I've read a few articles suggesting that it might be slightly more efficient to run the first half a little faster, but not much -- perhaps only 5 to 10 seconds per mile faster than the second half. For me that would be a 7:55 pace for the first half and an 8:05 pace for the second half. That's really not much different than running a consistent pace throughout. What's more, Big Sur's first half is tougher than the second half this year, so running a consistent pace would effectively mean you're running harder at the start.

That said, I'm not sure how easy it is going to be to run a consistent pace on such a hilly course. How slow do you go on the uphills? How fast on the downhills? My experiences with hill training suggest that I slow down by 15-30 seconds per mile on uphills, and I speed up about the same amount on the downhills. I think I'm going to have to do this primarily by feel, and by consistently monitoring my progress. With the exception of the short Point Lobos loop, the hills are pretty consistent throughout the course. So I should be able to monitor my average pace throughout the race and get a very good sense of how I'm doing.

But what if I'm feeling good, say, around the halfway point? Should I go faster? At this point in my running career, I don't think I have enough experience to make that call. I've never run a marathon, so I don't know what "feeling good" feels like. On long runs, I've noticed that the first 10+ miles are always quite easy unless I've gone out exceptionally hard. I'm certainly not going to do that at Big Sur, so chances are I'll be feeling pretty good at the halfway point. What's unknown is what's beyond that. If I bump up the pace to 7:30 starting at Mile 13, I might have to slow down to a 9-minute pace at Mile 20; that's not a good trade-off! I think it's better just to try to maintain as close to an 8-minute pace as possible this time around. Maybe I could speed things up incrementally if I'm still feeling good at Mile 20, but at that point I won't be able to make up a whole lot of time. Big Sur is not the place to try to run a 3:25:00!

Fortunately, this race does have a 3:30:00 pace team, so the simplest strategy is just to run with the group. Running with a group has the added bonus of motivating you to do better. If I can stay with the team for 26.2 miles, I will have qualified for Boston on an exceptionally difficult marathon course. If I fall off the pace, I'll do what I can to keep a 9:00 pace. I've run better than a 9:00 pace in 22-mile training runs, so hopefully finishing in 3:56:00 or better should not be a problem. Supposing I just slow down to that pace for the second half, I'd still be better than a 3:45:00, which isn't bad for a first marathon.

Details of today's training run are below:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One last tempo run

As I mentioned Tuesday, I've been substituting tempo runs for other types of speed work for the last few weeks. This afternoon, I ran my last tempo run before Big Sur. I still can't quite believe that I'll be getting on a plane for California just one week from tomorrow!

The plan was to run 4 miles at a 7:30 pace, with a warm-up and cool-down. Chad, Christie, Joe, and I met at the CVS at 6 p.m. for a trail run. I didn't think anyone wanted to run as fast as me, so I ran with the group at an easy pace for two miles, then took off.

As usual for me, the first mile of the tempo section was a little on the quick side, 7:13. I was pretty tired at this point. I tried to slow things down for Mile 2, and ended up slowing down a little too much: 7:55. However, I think this is a section that the Garmin measures short (see this post), so my pace was probably actually about 7:40. Mile 3 was 7:34, and Mile 4, with a steep uphill finish, was 7:41. Overall my pace (without adjusting for Garmin error) was 7:36 for the 4 tempo miles. Then I slowed down for an abbreviated cooldown, a little less than a mile into town, and met back up with the group.

In my experience, the trails add at least 15 seconds a mile to your time, so the equivalent road pace would have been about 7:20. Perhaps I took these miles a little too fast! I guess we'll find out on tomorrow's run, which will be another easy recovery run.

Details of today's run are below:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The curse of the Internet's long memory

Yesterday I was surfing around and found this article about Boston Marathon registration, indicating that the registration process would start later, in October rather than September.

What I failed to notice is that this article was referring to 2010 registration for the 2011 marathon. You know, the one that they just ran on Monday? Next year's registration is going to be in September, not October.

In the meantime I had spun all sorts of ideas about running a fall marathon to try to qualify for Boston. On this morning's run with Mark, Marc, and Chad, I had convinced myself that I should not bother running the Steamboat Marathon and instead focus my training on an October race.

Then I got home and started looking around for confirmation of the date and couldn't find any additional information about next year's registration, and finally realized my error. Oops.

So that means I'll be running the Big Sur Marathon in a week and a half, and Steamboat five weeks after that. It's not ideal, but I think that gives me the best shot at putting up a good time for Boston. Any later in the summer and it's almost certainly going to be too hot to run a Boston qualifier.

As of right now I'd rate my chances of actually qualifying somewhere around 20 percent. I'd either need to run a spectacular race at Big Sur in my first-ever marathon on a very difficult course, or recover amazingly quickly and do it at Steamboat just five weeks later rather than the recommended six-month marathon recovery time!

If I don't qualify at either of those races, I'll take some time to reassess whether I want to train seriously for Boston. In 2013 the qualifying time will be 5 minutes faster, so it will be that much harder to qualify. On the other hand, I could pick a marathon on a faster course and give myself a better shot at qualifying. And I'd have more time to train for it. Fortunately, I don't have to make that decision right now.

Details of today's run are below.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

This is tapering?

One of the key tenets of tapering is that you decrease your mileage, but not your intensity. You make up for lack of distance with speed work. The only problem for me has been that if I run too fast, I tend to aggravate my IT band injuries. Tempo runs at, say, a 7:30 pace, aren't too much of a problem, but any faster than that and my legs tend to be shot for several days afterwards. My workout schedule features two types of workouts that are faster than that pace: Intervals, and strides. With that in mind, I've taken those workouts out of my program and replaced them with a few tempo runs -- short- to medium-distance runs at faster than marathon pace. Tempo runs take a lot out of you, though, so I can't do quite as many tempo runs as I would strides.

So here's what my workout plan was originally for this week:

  • M: rest
  • T: 7 mile medium pace run + 8 X 100-meter strides
  • W: 4 mile recovery run
  • Th: 3 X 1600-meter intervals at 5K race pace
  • F: 5 mile recovery run
  • S: 5 mile recovery run + 6 X 100-meter strides
  • Sun: 13 mile run

Here's how I modified it:

  • M: rest
  • T: 6.3 mile tempo run
  • W: 4 mile recovery run
  • Th: 8 mile run with middle 4 at 7:30 pace
  • F: 5 mile recovery run
  • S: 5 mile recovery run
  • Sun: 13 mile run

So Tuesday and Thursday are now tempo runs, and I've gone from three speed days to two. My mileage is much shorter than in recent weeks, a total of about 41 miles, but the intensity is still the same.

In the spirit of my reduced-mileage plan, today instead of running into town, I just drove in for the DART run. Chad, Jeremy, and Chris G. were there, but so were two new runners, Adam and Sarah. As it turned out, Adam is pretty fast, and I ended up running with him. We went out quickly: Miles 1, 2, and 3 were 7:34, 7:14, 6:51. As we started in on Mile 4 I realized I wasn't going to be able to maintain that pace, so I told Adam that he should feel free to take off if he wanted. He said he thought he had started off a little too fast as well, so we both slowed down. Miles 4 and 5 were 7:28 and 7:45. I didn't have much left for Mile 6 but managed a 7:31, and we cruised in for the final 0.37 miles at a 7:17 pace. The pace was uneven, but we still averaged a very respectable 7:23. I told Adam that was about as fast as I ever ran that loop, but he seemed pretty tired as well, so hopefully he won't decide we're too slow for him.

I'm definitely looking forward to a 10-minute pace on my recovery run tomorrow. Details of today's run are below:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

17, 13, 15, whatever

My training schedule called for a 17-miler today, but after I decided to run a 5K yesterday, I decided I probably didn't need to go that far. Indeed, counting my warmup and cooldown, I ran about 9 miles yesterday, so 17 did seem a little excessive as I headed into week two of tapering. I settled on a plan to run 13.

What I forgot is that I don't have a car this weekend. My wife took one car to the airport, and my daughter needs the other car for yoga class. That meant I needed to run into town to meet up with the DART group. After joining up with Chad, Todd, and Jeremy, we established that Chad and I were the only ones going longer than 6 miles.

That was fine -- Chad and I would do a long loop out to River Run, and Todd and Jeremy would turn back after three miles. For the first three miles I mostly ran with Todd, who'll be joining me at Big Sur in two weeks. Todd had run a marathon last week and a half marathon yesterday, so he was feeling quite sore today. I told Todd and Chad that I was planning on running 13 miles next week, and they were quite shocked that I was planning that many miles so close to a marathon. I pointed out that I've been running 60+ miles a week, and a 13-miler on Sunday feels very short to me. They didn't buy it, but I'm going to stick the the program that has gotten me this far.

After four miles at an 8-minute pace, Jeremy and Todd headed home and Chad and I continued on. Chad wanted to take a look at the new greenway in River Run. We eased off the 8-minute pace, but still maintained a fairly aggressive pace: Miles 5-10 were 8:32, 8:13, 8:08, 8:22, 8:30, 8:21. Miles 8 and 9 were on the new greenway in River Run, roughly a mile through a beautiful forest. It's a gorgeous stretch of trail, but it made me a bit sad that none of the bits and pieces of greenway in Davidson actually connect up with each other. We have a mile stretch near Davidson Elementary, another mile and a half by Davidson Woods, a mile away, and a mile or so ready to open in River Run, perhaps four miles away. Fisher Farm has some great trails and greenways, but again, they are more than three miles from any other trail or greenway. The plan is to eventually have them connect together; hopefully I'll be able to ride, run, or walk on a single interconnected system before I have grandkids.

After Mile 10 I was finally beginning to feel the effects of yesterday's race. We took one last break and then headed home at a slower pace: Miles 11-14 were 8:18, 8:37, 8:44, 8:39. When you add in my 1.3 mile run into town, I had done exactly 15 miles, at an average pace of 8:20, even including those 9-minute miles I ran into town. I think if I can do that on the day after a hard trail race, I should be able to run Big Sur at an 8-minute pace on fresh legs and a carbo-loaded body. Let's hope so!

Week in review:

6 runs
Distance: 51.84 mi
Average pace: 8:43
Elevation gain: 2,239 ft
Avg Elevation Gain: 320 ft

Nearly 52 miles would be a long week for a lot of people, but for me, it seemed very minimal. The weekend was a little tougher, but still a reduction in miles compared to what I've done in recent weeks. This coming week my taper will be even more dramatic, with only about 41 miles total and four days of 6 miles or less.

Details of today's run are below:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Race Recap: The Run of the Mill 5K

As Saturday's race approached, things weren't looking good for the Run of the Mill 5K. The weather was slated to be stormy all day Saturday. "Bring a towel, a hat, and a change of clothes," Chad suggested on Facebook. But when Chad showed up at my door at 7:20 to give me a ride to the race, it seemed for a moment that our fortunes were changing. The rain had stopped, and the weather websites showed the rain holding off until well after our 9:00 start.

We arrived at the lovely Murray's Mill just before 8, and had to wait a few minutes for the volunteers to get organized so we could sign in.

We hoped this sign wasn't foreshadowing our race pace

Fortunately, we still had plenty of time to preview the course, which we'd never seen before and hadn't been able to find a map of in advance. The race website says it's "run on mowed fields and trails around the beautiful and historic Murray's Mill." How hilly are they? How rough? We didn't know. In fact, we had a hard time figuring out where the course was: No one seemed to know for sure. Finally someone pointed us in the general direction we'd be running, so we headed off on a preview/warmup run.

Here Chad runs the wrong direction around the first loop of the course

At one point along the preview we had to make a hairpin turn around a fence and run down past the mill. It seemed clear enough at a leisurely preview pace, but this turn ended up being less obvious at race pace. One thing was certain: It really was a beautiful course, running along open fields, the shores of a pristine pond, past the historic mill, and through lush forests. And the rain seemed to be holding off.

We ran what we were pretty sure was the full course, which Garmin measured as 3.2 miles. In fact we had run the first loop backwards, but that turned out not to matter much. It was 8:45 a.m.; all we needed to do now was find the starting line.

Where's my corral?

As you can see from the photo, it was next to an old barn. Since it was a cross-country course, they lined us up all in a row, about 35 people wide and only 2 or 3 deep. We could see the finish tents from the start, and while the race director was making final announcements, a huge gust of wind blew one of the tents across the field below us. We all giggled as the timing crew chased it down. Finally everything was tied down and they started the race.

It was the sort of start I hadn't experienced since my days on my high school cross-country team: A mad dash across a field, everyone trying to establish position before the trail narrowed. When the dust (or mud, as the case may be) settled, I was in third place, with just two highschoolers in front of me. As I climbed the first hill through a field and headed back down the other side, I could hear footsteps behind me. I hoped it was Chad, and in a few more moments my hunch proved true, and Chad was next to me telling me I had a good shot at third overall. As I grunted an acknowledgment, I was thinking he might have a better shot. My timer beeped indicating Mile 1 was over: 6:59. Not bad for a trail race.

Chad noticed the highschoolers up ahead were looking a little lackadaisical. Maybe we could catch them. We seemed to be gaining ground on them as we passed back through the mill area near the start. Chad had pulled about 10 meters ahead of me, and the two leaders were perhaps 20 meters ahead. They ran straight past the fence where we were supposed to make a hairpin turn! Or maybe we weren't supposed to turn there. There were no course spotters directing us, and there was no sign indicating a turn. The trail crested a hill and headed back down towards the start-finish area. This was definitely not right. I could see Chad and the two highschoolers heading towards the finish line, but the timer turned them around. Chad later told me he asked him where they were supposed to go. The answer: "I don't know."

At this point, before I got to the finish area, I just stopped running. I stopped my Garmin too. Clearly I had no chance of a PR or a decent placing. Then someone who looked authoritative pointed me back towards the fence where I had thought we were supposed to make a hairpin turn. I decided if I couldn't finish the race at least I could direct the other runners the right way, so I sprinted back to the point of the turn and yelled at the runners who were heading the wrong way, telling them to turn around. I had directed about 5 or 10 runners when Chad and the two highschoolers came running up the trail. "C'mon, Dave," Chad said. I figured the runners behind us could now just follow along, so I decided to join back into the race. I started my timer and took off. Soon we ran past the historic mill. Since our times were shot, Chad and I decided to stop and take pictures:

Chad still isn't sure this is the right way

I think this waterfall is quite picturesque

Just kidding! We actually took the pictures during our preview run. Next we ran up a narrow trail and between two old millstones:

You'd think the trail goes straight ahead; actually it goes to the right

Along this section we regained our stride and started to pass the slower runners. After we passed what should have been the original two-mile marker, we were down to the original group of four leaders: A highschooler in a UNC shirt, another one in a gray shirt, Chad, and me. I could hear another runner not far behind me though. My 2-mile split, which was really rather pointless since it involved me stopping and restarting the timer, was 7:17. Now we were running through a wooded area on narrow trails. Here's another shot from the preview run:

Chad weaves deftly through the trees
Then we ran across a boardwalk:

Lovely! At the end of the boardwalk, there were two spotters pointing us to the right (why couldn't one of them have been stationed at that hairpin turn?). I asked them if there was anyone ahead of our group, and they said no. I was still in fourth place! But I was also starting to drag. I could see Chad ahead, neck and neck with UNC guy. Gray shirt guy was still ahead of me, but not by much. Whenever there was a sharp corner, he cut it much closer than I dared; the grass was longer in these rough areas and I didn't want to twist an ankle. This meant he gained 5 or 10 meters on me. I could still hear another runner right behind me, so I did all I could to maintain my pace. With about 200 meters to go, Gray shirt guy took off in a sprint. I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to pass him, but I didn't want to be passed, so I picked up the pace as well, finishing in a dead sprint.

The results are posted here. My official finishing time was 26:19 for an 8:28 pace. But that didn't count the extra half-mile or so we ran when we went off course. My partial Garmin plot records a 7:20 pace. Chad said he recorded over 3.6 miles in what is supposed to be a 3.1-mile race. Overall, I was fourth. Chad was second overall. I didn't get an award because the race only gave prizes for first overall and first in each 10-year age group. So "UNC guy," 14-year-old Dakota Lewis, got first, Chad got first in the 40-49 age group, and "Gray shirt guy," 14-year-old Jordan Thompson, got first in the 11-15 age group. The guy who was right on my tail, Jason Hoyle, won the 20-29 age group.

After Chad picked up his trophy, we headed home. Naturally we stopped along the way for some DART-brand coffee!

Notice the label in the center of the lid!
Overall, a strange race, but a beautiful course, and an enjoyable overall experience. I'd like to come back next year and give it another shot now that I know the course.

My incomplete Garmin record of the race is below:

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Remember a few days ago when I said the Elizabeth 8K was my first-ever 8K? That was #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement (If you don't get the reference, check out this video).

It turns out, I ran another 8K last year on February 21, back when I had barely hatched the idea of running a marathon. The race was the Salisbury Winter Flight 8K, which had been postponed due to snow and ended up being run on a very warm Sunday afternoon. The results are posted here (PDF link), and if you scroll waaaayyyy down, you'll see that I finished in 43:32, for an 8:45 pace. No wonder I had forgotten about that!

So, in a little over a year, I improved my 8K time from 43:32 to 34:20, from an 8:45 pace to a 6:55 pace. Not bad, eh?

Now my goal is to run an entire marathon at an 8:00 pace. Indeed, if I just ran a marathon at the 8:45 pace I ran last year over a distance of only five miles, I'd probably be a bit disappointed, even though that's a perfectly reasonable pace for a first marathon on a difficult course.

This morning I did a 5-mile recovery run that was supposed to be very easy one. It wasn't terrible, but it didn't feel great, even at a 10-minute pace. I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, just a few creaky bones, but it's a reminder that I need to keep working at this. I have another recovery run slated for tomorrow so hopefully I'll feel better for that one.

Details of today's workout are below.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tapering is weird

My training program for the Big Sur Marathon requires a lot of miles. I've had 3:15 marathoners tell me they've never run the kind of mileage I'm running to get ready for this race. Of course, these guys weigh 30 pounds less than I do, but that's beside the point. I'm doing this program because top marathoners run a lot of miles, and studies have shown that mileage is the single best predictor of marathon performance. That might be related to the fact that people who are injured don't run a lot of miles, but I do think the sheer number of miles I have run has really helped me improve.

But nearly any training program you choose will also ask runners to taper -- to decrease the number of miles they run, starting three weeks before the race. So that's what I'm doing. A week ago today I ran 10.5 miles; today I did 8.85. Last Thursday I did 14 hilly miles; tomorrow I'll do 5 easy miles. Overall this week I'll run about 50 miles; last week I did 62. That may not seem like much of a difference, but the reality on the ground is a lot different. Instead of doing runs that push me to my limit, I stop when I'm still feeling strong. Next week will be even stranger, with only about 42 miles planned.

Today, for example, I did the usual DART run, 1.3 miles into town and a 6.3 mile loop, but I didn't push too much, running with Rodney at about a 7:45 pace. After coffee with the guys I made the easy run home and felt like I still had another 5 miles in me. And yet after this easy run, I have two recovery days planned, just 5 miles on each day at a 10-minute pace! Sure, the weekend will be a little tough, with a 5K trail race on Saturday and a 17-miler on Sunday, but it's nothing like what I've been running the past several weeks. It just feels strange.

The idea is that you're not going to lose any fitness over three weeks, and the taper will ensure that you're fresh for the main event. But it doesn't make it any less weird when you're going through it.

Details of today's workout are below.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Never say "last"

On Sunday I was pretty sure I had run my last tough 17-miler before the big marathon. Today, I'm not so sure.

On Facebook, Chad had mentioned that there were lots of great races coming up this weekend, and this morning during our usual DART run he said he had settled in on one: The Run of the Mill 5K Run/Walk for Charity in Catawba, NC. He didn't exactly talk me into it, but somehow I've decided to do it. I live about a mile from the Catawba River, but I've never been to the town of Catawba, about 40 miles from here.

It was only after I signed up that I noticed that the race is run "on a cross-country trail." Yikes! This could be anything from singletrack to smooth, hard-packed gravel. At any rate, it probably means my 5K PR is safe for the time being. Whatever the trail is like, it also probably means my planned 17-mile run on Sunday just went from being a relatively easy one to another toughie on tired legs.

Today's run marked the start of my taper for Big Sur. Often on Tuesdays I'll run a very aggressive pace for the 6.3 mile loop with the DART group, but today I decided to take it easy. I ran the 1.3 miles into town in a light drizzle, and was surprised to see Todd, Chad, and a new runner, Michael, waiting at the CVS despite the rain.

We didn't know how fast Michael wanted to go, so we took off at an 8-minute pace. That ended up being a little fast for him, so he and Chad slowed down while Todd and I kept going at roughly the same pace. It was good to talk to Todd about his performance in the Charlottesville Marathon last weekend. He set a 3:18 PR in the race, qualifying him for Boston and helping him relax a bit about Big Sur. He told me he was planning on starting off Big Sur at a relatively easy pace, and only picking it up if he was really feeling great. I've heard that before, right before he ripped out a few 7-minute miles. Todd and I will be running Big Sur together, but I doubt we'll actually be running side-by-side for long, if at all.

After Todd and I finished, I jogged back to meet up with Chad and Michael, and ran back into town with them. I'd done 8 miles, which I decided was close enough to my planned 9-miler, so after a cup of coffee at Summit, I got a ride home with Chad. Tomorrow I'll do another 9-miler, which, assuming everything goes according to plan, will be my longest midweek run between now and Big Sur.

Details of today's run are below:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My last tough 17

It's never easy doing a long run the day after a hard tempo run or a race, and today was no exception. After a hard-run 8K, a total of 8 miles run yesterday including warm-up and cool-down, I knew today's 17-mile run would be a grind. As usual, the DART group took off quickly, and as usual, I stayed with them even though I knew it would make it harder for me later.

After running the first 8 miles at around an 8-minute pace, it was time to slow down. Fortunately, Chad was sympathetic. He had run a 5K yesterday and a 100-miler last weekend, so he was ready to do some easy miles. We let the rest of the group run ahead and slowed to an 8:30 pace for the next 4 miles. We arrived back in town, chatted with the rest of the gang, then headed out on our own for five more miles. These we did at closer to a 9-minute pace.

We were really starting to drag on the last mile when Chad had a suggestion: "Let's pick it up for the next block. Just one block, and then we can slow it down again." I groaned, but one block seemed doable, so I took him up on the offer. Amazingly, after a block at about a 7:30 pace I really did feel better, and we were able to maintain a slightly faster for the last mile, which we completed in 8:49 (compared to 9:10 for Mile 16). At this point, we were still about a half-mile out of town, but we had done our 17, so we walked it in from there. I'm going to have to remember that strategy if I'm ever dragging in the race.

It wasn't an ideal run, but not bad given the circumstances. My average pace for the day was 8:24. Yes, I slowed at the end, but the fast start gave me a chance to chat with running buddies instead of running the whole 17 miles alone.

This week I'm going to begin my taper for the Big Sur Marathon. The last couple weeks I've run longer than 60 miles; this week I'll do 53. Then next week I'll do 42, and finally 28 the week leading up to the marathon. My longest midweek run for the upcoming week is just 10 miles, and for the following week it will be 8.

Details of today's run are below:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Race Recap: The Elizabeth 8K

With just three weeks to go before the Big Sur Marathon, I wanted to do one last tune-up race to make sure I'm still firing on all cylinders. Ideally it would have been a 10K, but those seem to be harder and harder to come by these days, so I settled on the Elizabeth 8K. It's a race with a long tradition in Charlotte, so it's quite popular, with over 500 registrants (compared to just 204 in the St. Leo 10K).

I've never run an 8K before, so I spent some time yesterday coming up with a strategy for the race: I wanted to run 6:50 per mile for the first three miles, then slow a bit on the uphill Mile 4, and pick it up for the final .97 miles in Mile 5. Overall I was hoping for a 35:00 time or better — under a 7-minute-mile pace.

Race registration was cheerful and efficient, with a new kind of race chip I'd never seen before — a flexible strip of plastic that you slide under your shoelaces. It seemed similar to the in-bib chips they had at the National Half Marathon, but you still had to place it on your shoe.

Thankfully, the lines at the porta-johns weren't long at all.

The race was started by a guy in an Elvis suit, who was really getting into the act, waving a big "E" flag and interacting with all the runners. He saw my knee brace and pulled up his pantleg to reveal that he had a similar injury. Then we were off. I was breathing hard, but the pace didn't feel too labored. There wasn't a lot of passing at the start, so I think most of us had placed ourselves about right (I was about 15 feet behind the starting line).

The first mile was a very slight uphill, a total of about 50 vertical feet. I completed it in 6:28, a little faster than planned. I tried to slow my pace a bit for Mile 2, which was mostly flat. Garmin recorded it as minus 20 vertical feet, but I swear there was a little uphill too. I finished the mile in 6:42, still a little faster than I'd planned. On the plus side, I had banked 50 seconds in my quest for a sub-7-minute pace.

I had planned to get a bit of a breather in Mile 3, which looked to be downhill from the elevation chart I found online:

But Garmin elevation charts are notoriously fussy, and this turned out to be no exception. The first part of Mile 3 was actually uphill; the downhills don't really start until after about 2.5 miles. I did finally get my breather, but it didn't last quite as long as I had hoped it would be. My Mile 3 split was 7:03, so I still had 47 seconds in the bank.

Mile 4, however, was true to the elevation chart: It was solidly uphill. My Garmin record tracked it as 66 vertical feet; it felt like a fair bit more than that. Somewhere during Mile 3, a guy about my age wearing a sun visor had passed me, and I was trying to keep him in my sights. But Visorman stayed steadily about 20 meters ahead of me, now matter how hard I tried to gain ground on him. I thought my hill training might help me reel him in during Mile 4, but it was no use. My Mile 4 split was 7:27, so I still had 20 seconds in the bank.

In fact, I might have had a bit more than that: Unlike most races I've been in, my Garmin was tracking this course a little short. So my mile split was recorded a little farther past each mile marker as I ran along. I think this might be because of the large number of sharp turns in the course; the GPS can sometimes clip corners.

I expected Mile 5 to be basically flat with a downhill finish. In fact, it started on a bit of an uphill. I probably should have pushed myself a little harder than I did here, because I was so close to the finish, but I was still tired from Mile 4. I also think my lack of experience with 8Ks didn't help: In every other common race distance, the race is just a bit longer than a round mileage: 5Ks are 3.1 miles, 10Ks are 6.2 miles, and half-marathons are 13.1 miles. 8Ks, by contrast, are 4.97 miles. So the last mile isn't even a mile long, whereas when you start Mile 6 of a 10K, you've actually still got 1.2 miles left. In an 8K, I now realize, you can start pushing the pace sooner.

This all meant I was surprised to see the finish line when it arrived. I had plenty of energy left for a full-out sprint to the finish, as I watched the clock tick upwards starting at 34:00 flat. There was no question I'd break 35 minutes; the only question was by how much.

I crossed the line at 34:20, ten seconds behind Visorman (who turned out to be a very nice guy named Kent Walker, and he was indeed in my age group). I ran the final .97 miles (or .93 according to my Garmin) at a 7:13 pace. I think if I'd been a bit more aggressive on that final mile I might have been able to do it in 6:50, putting me safely under 34 minutes. But all in all, I'm happy with the result. I was shooting for a sub-35-minute run at a sub-7-minute pace, and I did it in 34:20 and a 6:55 pace. Here's the obligatory post-race self-portrait:

The race results have been posted here. I finished 5th in my age group and 27th overall out of 506 finishers. Although the results aren't broken down by gender, it looks like I was 23rd out of 233 men, which puts me in the top 10 percent—I think that's the best I've ever done. My 6:55 pace was actually faster than my 6:56 5K PR pace (albeit on an easier course). So even though I faded a bit at the finish, this is a pretty good result, and gives me a lot of confidence going into Big Sur.

The details of the run are below:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Race Strategy: Elizabeth 8K

Tomorrow I'll be running the Elizabeth 8K, my last tune-up race before the Big Sur Marathon. I've never run an 8K before, so I'm guaranteed to PR, but I'd like to really put up a good time. The weather is slated to be a bit warmer than I'd like, around 57 degrees, but it should still be comfortable. I searched around on the Garmin site and found this record of a runner's race from last year. Mainly I was interested in the course's elevation profile, so here it is:

The small jags are probably just GPS artifacts, but the larger patterns make it clear that the course starts out with an uphill leg, it's flat for a bit, then there's a long downhill and a long uphill before a flat-to-downhill finish. What does that mean for strategy? Overall the course isn't actually that hilly, with a cumulative gain of 178 feet. The easy 5.68-mile recovery run I did today, for example, has a gain of 266 feet. The UNCC homecoming 5K, where I PRd, has a gain of 338 feet in just 5K! I also think the course plays out a little better for me than the St. Leo 10K, because it has a nice sustained downhill which should allow me to get a bit of a rest in Mile 3 before heading uphill in Mile 4.

So what's the strategy? I'd like to run Miles 1, 2, and 3 at a 6:50 pace. While Mile 1 has a bit of uphill, it's also Mile 1. Mile 2 is flat, so I should be able to sustain that pace, and Mile 3 is downhill so enough said there. Then on solidly uphill Mile 4 I'll do the best I can — if I can keep up the 6:50 pace, that would be ideal, but even if I slow down to, say, 7:10, that's okay, because Mile 5 is flat to downhill. I should at least be able to get back to a 6:50 pace, if not go faster, assuming I'm feeling relatively good that day.

That would put me solidly under a 7:00 pace, under 35 minutes for the whole race, which would really feel like a PR — I'd be running this race at about my 5K PR pace. Today's 5-mile recovery run felt good, so hopefully it's not unreasonable to think I can do well tomorrow.

Details of today's workout are below.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Comparing a local run to the Big Sur course

Today was a big day for me -- my last long midweek run before Big Sur. I did 14 miles, and the longest run on the midweek schedule between now and May 1 is a 10 miler next week that I'll probably trim down to 9. Since we're starting to get a sense of what the course will be like, I decided to run a fairly hilly route to see how the local terrain compares to Big Sur. Here's what I came up with:

The elevation profile on the bottom is the route I ran today. On top is Brian Rowlett's profile of a portion of the Big Sur course. I've normalized the vertical and horizontal scales on the two graphs, so a hill that's the same size on both graphs should be about the same size in real life. The fact that my course is a little more "jagged" than Brian's is probably due to differences in the smoothing algorithms our running software uses (or the fact that there are fewer trees in Big Sur)—my experience running here is not a bunch of tiny little hills, and from what I've read about Big Sur, there aren't hills like that there either.

But take a look at the larger hills and what you'll find is that they're actually pretty similar. I count about six major hills on my route and five on the Big Sur route. I think the hills on my local route are a bit bigger than the hills in Big Sur, though, and this is reflected in our overall GPS figures. My GPS recorded a cumulative elevation gain of 990 feet over 14.2 miles, while Brian recorded 1,203 vertical feet in 24.2 miles. That works out to about 700 vertical feet over 14.2 miles of Brian's route, compared to 990 for my route. It's looking like my route today was just a bit hillier than the Big Sur course.

I took it easy today, running this route at roughly a 9-minute pace. Could I run a course like that at an 8-minute pace, adding an extra 12 miles? Assuming the weather cooperates and I'm healthy, after a nice taper and four days of carbo-loading, I think it just might be possible.

Details of today's workout are below:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Some thoughts about the revised Big Sur course

A few weeks ago, a landslide took out a portion of Highway 1 along the Big Sur Marathon route:

The news from the marathon organizers is that the road will not be repaired in time for the race on May 1, so they will have to revise the route. The traditional route for the course runs from Big Sur to Carmel, California, a point-to-point course along Highway 1:

The landslide occurred between Hurricane Point and Bixby Bridge, two of the most dramatic spots along the run. Hurricane Point is the top of an epic 2-mile, 500-vertical-foot climb, and Bixby Bridge is a huge, high bridge that affords fantastic views of the ocean and coastline.

Since the route has been cut almost perfectly in two, the new course will be an out-and-back, from Carmel south to a point-to-be-determined. Despite the fact that Bixby is almost an exact halfway point, the course won't be going that far. Instead, it will turn around at some point before that, and add an extra 1.6 mile loop into Point Lobos State Park near the start/finish. By all accounts this should be a spectacular addition to the course.

So how will this revised course affect the race? Fortunately, local runner Brian Rowlett has provided a partial answer, which he kindly posted to the Big Sur Marathon facebook page. Check this out:

The elevation profile on the bottom shows the original course, as he ran it last year. On top is an out-and-back he ran last Sunday to Mile 14 on the original course, between Palo Colorado Canyon and Bixby Bridge. He didn't run the loop into Point Lobos, but otherwise it gives a good sense of the terrain runners will be likely to encounter when they run the race. His GPS gives a 1,751-foot elevation gain for the original course, compared to a 1,201-foot gain for the revised course (he thinks the Point Lobos spur will be "very slightly down then back up"). So the new course won't be quite as challenging. Indeed, if his GPS tracks elevation in a similar fashion to my own, it shouldn't be much hillier than the Thunder Road half marathon, which I recorded as a 551-foot cumulative gain (which would be 1,102 for a full).

It's nice that the course is easier, but I'm actually quite disappointed that the race won't be as much of a challenge. That's what I signed up for, not a prettified version of Thunder Road. From what I've read, the new course is quite spectacular, and the Point Lobos loop should be a dramatic addition. But still...

That said, I now need to start thinking about strategy for the new course. Aside from the fact that there are fewer hills, a couple of things stand out for me. First, instead of a downhill start, the beginning of the race is now predominantly uphill. Yes, it's rolling hills, but the downs are going to add up to less than the ups are -- the highest point on the course will be the halfway point. Second, there's no big, dramatic climb. The biggest hill looks to be around Mile 4 (and repeated around Mile 20), and it's only 100 or so vertical feet. So while on the original course there was a temptation to bank some time in the first 5 miles, on this course, there should not be. If you get through Mile 4 at a slightly slower pace than your target pace, you're probably running the course perfectly. 

In my case, I'd be happy to run Miles 1-4 at an 8:10 pace. If everything goes according to plan, I should be able to gradually pick up the pace over the remainder of the race and complete the marathon at an average 8:00 pace. I'd much rather start a little slow than start too fast and hit the wall at Mile 20.

Details of today's run are below.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Weather or not

Looking at the weather report last night, I was torn. There were thunderstorms forecast all night long, but they were slated to end around 6:00. But when exactly? Our regular Tuesday DART run is scheduled for 6 a.m. If the storms ended at 5:45, then a run should be no problem, but if the stormy weather continued until 6:45, it could be dangerous. I decided to set my alarm for 5:30 and reassess.

When I awoke, I couldn't hear any rain on the roof. I checked the weather again and it looked like we were in a lull, with only "showers" and no lightning in the forecast. I put on a pair of shorts and a compression shirt and headed downstairs, checking Facebook as I put my shoes on. No one had posted a definite "I won't be there" but since it had been thundering all night, I wouldn't be surprised if no one showed up. Chad, the most reliable Tuesday companion, had just run a hundred miler this weekend and would only be showing up for coffee afterwards, if at all.

I drove into town, noting that there were small downed branches everywhere. I waited until 6:02 to confirm that no one would be showing up. Then I decided to head out at a fairly quick pace. There was no rain, it was quite warm, but also windy. The first mile was downhill into a strong headwind: 7:40. Mile 2 was surrounded by trees on the uphill segment, and again featured a downhill-into-the-wind section: 7:32. Mile 3 is usually the fastest on the DART loop. There was a little wind here, but not enough to really slow me down: 7:13. Mile 4 was annoying. My shoe came untied twice. Once again, however, only the downhill section was into the wind. As I started the long, nearly constant uphill segment that went from Mile 3.5 to 5.5, I had a nice crosswind to keep me cool in the 60-degree weather; my split was 7:31.

Mile 5 is always the mile that determines how the DART loop will go; it's nearly all uphill. I used to strive for an 8-minute pace on this mile, but as I've gotten faster, I try to push the time on this mile closer to 7:45 or 7:40. Today I completed it in 7:42. Mile 6 starts out uphill, then heads down and back into town. At this point the rain started coming down hard. After about 30 seconds of rain my glasses were useless and I took them off. This made it harder to see the branches that were littering the sidewalk -- and the runners and walkers headed my direction. I kept pushing as hard as I could, avoiding several branches and people at the last second. Mile 6's pace: 7:40 -- a little slower than I would have run it under normal conditions. Finally I cruised back into town for a 7:28 pace for the final 0.36 miles. That was a 47:55 loop, a 7:32 pace; my second-fastest ever. Not bad given the weather!

Since I had pushed pretty hard on the run I decided to do a bit of a cooldown, about another mile at a 9:30 pace. Then I got back to the car and changed into a new shirt before heading over to Summit for coffee.

Details of today's run are below:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The last 20 miler

The Big Sur Marathon is just four weeks away. That means soon I'll begin my taper, gradually decreasing the total number of miles run and the length of my longest run. But there was no rest this week—I was determined to keep my mileage up this week after two relatively easy weeks. So today I needed to do a 20-miler.

My original plan had been to run last week's long run like a marathon preview, running 18 miles with the last 14 at race pace. But the lure of participating in the National Half Marathon was too strong, so that plan was scrapped. This week was planned as just a regular 20 miler, but I had half a mind to run the last part faster—maybe not quite at race pace, but not at 9-minute pace either.

I had set my alarm for 5:30 so I could get in 6 miles before meeting up with the group, who were interested in 13 miles at the most. As it happened, I woke up at 5:20, and I took that as a sign I should try to get 7 miles in so that I didn't have to make up any miles after the group was finished. By 5:50, I was ready to go in front of the CVS where the DART group normally meets up. I started off with a four-mile DART loop at an easy 9-minute pace. It was dark, but the birds were already up, so I did have a little "company" along my run. I returned to the car, ate some GU and drank some water, then headed out again. I decided on an out-and-back to the college trails, so I could turn around whenever I needed to in order to meet up with the group at 7. Again, I took these miles at an easy 9-minute pace, knowing the group would be running faster.

I arrived at the CVS at 6:58 and met up with Todd, Matt, Tim, Terry, Jeremy, Mark, and Gabrielle. Todd is doing a marathon next week, so he only wanted to do 7, as did Jeremy and Gabrielle. That left me, Matt, Tim, Terry, and Mark planning on 13. Mark ended up having to turn back after only a mile or so due to a sore hamstring. Tim, Matt, Todd, Jeremy, and I cranked out three and a half sub-8-minute miles before I decided I should probably slow down a bit. At Mile 11 I stopped for a gel and waited for Terry to catch up. We stayed together for the next three or four miles, running 8:20-ish miles. As Terry started to fade a bit, I took off and did Mile 16 in 8:15.

I knew the last four miles on Grey Road would be very hilly (they are part of my "hill route), but I wanted to try to pick up the pace. Unfortunately my legs didn't cooperate. My splits were 8:32, 8:27, 8:35, 8:27. Not bad for miles that included 267 feet of climbing, but not quite what I hoped for. Still, if you compare my splits to some earlier runs at this distance, I didn't do bad, especially when you consider the hilly finish:

My finish wasn't quite as fast as February 20, but today I was running a very hilly route at the end, while on the 27th I was doing the relatively easy DART 4-mile route (that said, we did a pretty hilly run that day!).

Overall I averaged 8:32 per mile, and 8:19 on miles 8-20. This compares pretty well to the 8:32 average on February 20 and 8:58 on February 13.

Week in review:

7 runs
69.33 miles -- my most ever
Elevation gain: 3,019 feet -- a lot!
Average elevation gain: 503 feet, not counting yesterday when I didn't have my Garmin on

Details of today's run are below.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Volunteering is hard work!

Today I had my first-ever race volunteer gig as run spotter for the Pawz Too Run 5K in Davidson. I figured it wouldn't be too tough a job since I live just 1.3 miles from the starting line. The race started at 8:00 a.m., and volunteers were expected to show up at 7:15. This was just enough time for the race director to explain the route and send us off to our stations. I would be handling the turnaround on Pine Road -- this was a pretty important spot, because if runners missed the turnaround, they could continue on for miles in the wrong direction.

I had run in from home, so I was wearing light running gear and was a bit worried about being cold, so at 7:30, when I was headed toward my station, I decided to grab a cup of coffee at Summit. Here's the race route:

As you can see, I was stationed about 1.7 miles from the start. I had to carry my coffee, a big "5K turnaround" sign, and a map of the course. As I strolled down South Street at 7:40, I realized that I probably wouldn't reach my station in time just by walking: If the frontrunners were running a sub-6-minute pace, they'd arrive at the turnaround around 8:10. Walking 3 miles per hour, I'd arrive at about 8:15! I needed to run. When I started to run, my coffee sloshed all over the place, so I had to stop every 50 meters or so to try to drink it down. On top of that, I was wearing an old (pre-30-pound-weight-loss) pair of sweats and they were starting to fall down -- and I didn't have a free hand to pull them up.

When I reached the 1-mile marker, I decided to ditch the coffee and run up Avinger carrying just the sign. I arrived at Pine road about 7:55 -- the race should be starting in just a few minutes. I told the spotters there what to expect, then turned down Pine and started to look for the turnaround. The race director had told me that it was marked in the road with "faint" spray paint, but also gave me a slip of paper on which he had scrawled the address of the house next to the turnaround. Did I still have the slip of paper? What was that address? I think it was 610 Pine Road. I passed what looked like a turnaround spot at around 430. Could that be it? I kept running down Pine. The street petered out before the address numbers reached 600, and I didn't see any markers. Maybe that earlier marker was the real spot...

I sprinted back up the road before realizing that I should probably check my pockets for that slip of paper. As I arrived back at the first turnaround, around 8:03, I finally found the address -- it was 560, not 610! I ran back down the road and finally found the very faintly painted turnaround marker in the street at about 8:08 a.m. Then I hiked my pants up, turned around and started looking for runners. Fortunately, no one had reached Pine Road yet.

At about 8:15, I began to worry. Shouldn't the leaders be here by now? Since the turnaround was before the 2-mile marker, that would be worse than a 7:30 pace. Surely someone would be faster than that. Had one of the spotters pointed the runners the wrong way? Of course, it was always possible that the race had started late. After a couple more tense moments, I finally saw the first runner charging towards me down Pine Road.

Now, for the next awkward moment: There was no physical turnaround marker. Most races I've been in use cones or some other physical marker to mark the course. This race had none, other than the mile markers. I decided that I'd have to serve as the turnaround marker. I yelled to the runner, who I now recognized as Bobby Aswell, a DARTer who I've interacted with on Facebook but never met in person, telling him to run around me and head back into town. He seemed a little confused but figured it out fairly quickly.

Next came Todd Hartung, another DARTer and a good friend of mine who'll be running with me in Big Sur. He was looking strong for second place (he did finish in second, with a 19:30 PR). Eventually I saw several more DARTers and others I recognized, including Mark Ippolito, who had just edged me out in the UNCC Homecoming 5K. Then, after the main pack of runners passed, I started to wonder how long I'd need to stay. Perhaps some walkers would be straggling in. Sure enough, I saw two groups of walkers make their way down Pine Road. Finally, about 35 minutes after the start, I was convinced that the last runner had passed. She had a determined, slow, steady jog, but this was clearly a difficult run for her. As she made her way back up Pine Road and the finish, I saw DARTer Tim Gruber and his Cannon School cross-country teammate Stephanie Schauder coming down the road on their cool down run. They turned around when they met up with this final runner, and accompanied her back into town, chatting with her and offering words of encouragement.

I decided to jog along the course back into town to see who had won. A glance at the leaderboard confirmed that Bobby had won and Todd was second. I ran into Bobby and decided to introduce myself. Then I found Todd and congratulated him on his PR. Finally I jogged back home. Overall I ran about 6 miles in the course of not running this race. I even got some speed work in! Unfortunately, I didn't carry my Garmin along, so there's no record of my mad dash as I searched for the turnaround marker.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Good and hilly

I've noticed that whenever I do speed work, it seems to really wreak havoc on my legs, especially around my hips. I'm pretty sure this is related to the IT band issue I've been dealing with for some time now: The added stress of the fast runs aggravates the injury.

So this week, I've cut out all my speed work. On Tuesday I was supposed to run 5X600 intervals; I did a tempo run instead. Yesterday and today I was supposed to do easy 5 and 8 milers, ending with 100-meter strides, and I didn't do that either. But I didn't want to completely wimp out, so today I challenged myself to run my hilly route at a relatively fast pace: sub-8-minute miles. It's a 9-mile route, with little respite from hills throughout, a cumulative total of nearly 700 vertical feet. Here's the elevation profile:

I also decided to try a new bit of equipment, some KT tape. I didn't do as thorough a job as in this video, though:

I just used a half-piece of tape on each hip. I do think it might have actually helped a little bit.

I wanted to give myself a bit of a chance to warm up before I went all-out, so I ran Mile 1 in 8:52. I gradually built up speed so I'd hit the start of Mile 2 at an 8-minute pace (7:59 as it turned out). Mile 3 was where the big hills started. In fact, this mile was a solid 162-foot climb: 7:57 (!). Then I headed downhill, trying to build up even more speed, 7:36. This course is like a lollipop, but I go around the top twice, so Mile 5 was once again a solid uphill, a 135-foot climb that I finished in 8:14. I was tiring, so I didn't hit the downslope of Mile 6 quite as fast: 7:50. Finally, Mile 7 completed the second loop of the lollipop and headed back towards home: 108 feet up, 92 feet down, 8:07.

I think I'm most proud today of my performance on Mile 8, which includes the notorious Grey Road climb back into Davidson. This is a hill that starts out fairly steep, but then just keeps on going at a reduced pitch before finally cresting after a hundred foot climb in a little over a half a mile. I finished the mile in 7:59. Mile 9 was no slouch either, starting off downhill but ending in an 82-foot climb that feels bigger: 7:46.

My overall pace for the run was 8:03, but that includes the warmup mile. Remove that, and I averaged 7:57. I decided to cool down for a half-mile or so and then headed home. Not bad for a Friday morning!

Details of the run are below: