Saturday, October 29, 2011

Race Recap: The Mooresville Pumpkin Run 8K

The good news: My wrong turn didn't affect my overall placement in today's race.

The bad news: I took a wrong turn in today's race.

I came to the Mooresville Pumpkin Run 8K hoping to break my PR and keep a 6:30 overall pace. I knew it would be a little hilly, but not much different from the 6-mile loop that I run almost every day, so I felt like I was well-prepared for the race.

I also knew there would be lots of support from fellow DARTers, both on and off the course. Julie Alsop, Chad Randolph, Tommy Wagoner, Mark Ippolito, and Johane Hirschfield would all be joining me on the course, and everyone except Mark and me had spouses and other family members cheering them on. Johane's husband, DARTer Marc, took all the pictures in this post. Here's the group of us getting ready before the race:

Johane, Tommy, Me, Chad, Mark, Julie, and Chad's crew chief, James

There were a few delays getting started, so we all stood at the starting line trying to stay warm and nervously chatting. I introduced myself to a runner from Wilmington who looked fast, dispensing any thoughts I might have had about sneaking in an overall win in a diluted field (there are at least 14 races going on in the Charlotte area today, including the very popular Runway 5K, which gives runners the opportunity to run on an actual runway at the Charlotte-Douglas Airport as flights are taking off and landing nearby on the active runway!). DARTer Chris Goodrum was handling the timing for the race, and he joked with me that it was never a good sign when a race starts more than 5 minutes late. He turned out to be right.

We finally started about 10 minutes late, and Marc got a great photo of the scene at the start:

To my right in the yellow headband is Wilmington Guy

He also got another great photo of Chad and some other guy:

Mark, you need to work on hamming it up for the camera!

Tommy and the Wilmington Guy sprinted off to an early lead. I felt like I was running plenty fast and filed in behind Tommy. We cruised up the hill for the first third of a mile, then mercifully started downhill. I took a look at my watch and saw that I was running at about a 6:12 pace. Like I said, plenty fast.

About this point, a guy dressed in black blew past both Tommy and me. I tried to stay optimistic, figuring third was still an option if I could keep up with Tommy. I finished Mile 1 in 6:22.

For this race I wanted to try a new system: Instead of letting my GPS automatically click off miles, I would manually record each mile as I passed the marker, minimizing the error introduced by the GPS. So far it was working great. I kept Tommy in my sights as I ran the tangents. Mile 2 had plenty of downhill and finished on a nice, steady downslope. I passed Tommy and cruised past the marker in 6:18.

Man in Black was still in my sights, but seemed to be pulling away a bit. We came up to a stop sign, and Man in Black went straight ahead onto a street marked "No Outlet." This didn't seem right to me, but there was no one there to point us in a different direction, so I followed. Wilmington Guy was nowhere in sight. Then ahead I saw Man in Black stop in confusion. I heard a shout and turned around to see the runners behind us making a right turn at the stop sign. We had taken a wrong turn! I ran back to the intersection and fell back in line. There were now three runners in sight ahead of me, including Tommy.

I started to sprint to catch up to them, then realized I needed to just maintain a consistent pace, and fell back in stride. When I passed Mile Marker 3, my GPS read 7:14, but I had still kept a 6:28 pace for the mile because in fact I had run 1.12 miles.

I had figured Mile 4 would be the hardest mile on the course, with a steep uphill to start and a gradual uphill for the rest of the way. Man in Black passed me, but I started reeling in the other runners. I passed a man and a woman, and only Tommy was left. Finally I passed Tommy for the second time, even though he had never passed me. I was gaining ground on Man in Black. He was running a solid pace, and I felt it wouldn't be fair to pass him since he was well ahead of me when he made the wrong turn. Honestly, I'm not sure I could have passed him if I had tried. But by the end of Mile 4 I was right behind him. As I suspected, this was my slowest mile, at 6:37, but I was still on track for a sub-6:30 pace.

Mile 5 had a long steady uphill, then a downhill finish. I stayed right behind Man in Black as we pushed to the top of the hill, then kicked as hard as we could to the finish. He finished about 15 yards ahead of me.

Me, striding into the finish. No pix of Man in Black.

At the finish, there was another bit of confusion. Chris said I was actually the fourth to cross the line, behind Wilmington Guy, some other guy, and Man in Black. He asked me if I had seen that other guy on the course and I said I hadn't. Apparently he had made an even worse wrong turn and skipped a half-mile of the course, and so was disqualified. That meant I was third overall, with a time of 33:09. Awesome!

I turned and waited for the other DARTers to finish. Tommy was right behind me, first in his age group. Mark and Chad finished 1-2 in the 45-49 group, and Julie and Johane were 2nd and 3rd overall females! Every DARTer in the race got an award!

Tommy, just ahead of the women's overall winner


Mark is almost too fast for Marc to catch on film

Chad and Crew Chief crossing the line

Johane schooling a Man in Black imposter

I won a trophy and a $20 gift certificate to Dick's Sporting Goods -- not bad. Then I was pulled aside with the overall winners for an official photo, which the photographer said would appear in the local newspaper, although she was not sure which one.

Here's a shot of (nearly) all the DARTers with their hardware after the race.

Apparently Johane, Chad and Julie didn't get the memo about wearing BRR shirts for the photo

My Garmin measured my average pace at 6:25, but officially it would be 6:40 per mile because of the missed turn. Either way, it's a PR at this distance, and it makes me confident that I may be able to break the 20-minute barrier in a 5K, since all that's needed for that is a 6:26 pace.

Hopefully the next 5K I run will have a better-marked course.

Note to race directors: Ideally you should have signs in addition to people standing at each turn in a race. I don't why the volunteers weren't there in our race, but it affected several runners. Even Wilmington Guy, who finished in 30 minutes flat, said that he was confused at that turn and nearly missed it. There was an arrow painted on the street, but it was very difficult to see.

Below is my GPS record of the race.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Race Strategy: The Mooresville Pumpkin Run 8K

Tomorrow I'll be doing my final tune-up race before Richmond, the Mooresville Pumpkin Run 8K. I signed up because my friend Chad said it should be a fun race and I wanted to do something longer than a 5K as a tune-up.

Chad also gave me a link to his GPS record of the 2009 race, which, he hastened to add, he ran pushing a baby stroller. What I'm always most interested in when I preview a new race is the elevation profile, so here it is:

This makes it look rather hilly, and it is fairly hilly, but it's also quite similar to what I face in my daily training runs. The DART Loop, 6.34 miles long, has 246 feet of climbing, and this race, 5 miles long, has 234. So at a minimum, based on my run on Wednesday, I should be able to do this race faster than a 7-minute pace.

The weather tomorrow will be cool and it could be rainy; right now the hourly forecast calls for a 70 percent chance of rain and 40 degrees at race time. As long as it's not an absolute deluge, that's not too bad, but there's also a 10-MPH wind. That could slow me a bit.

Still, I think I'm going to shoot for a 6:30 pace. It's shorter than the DART loop, and I'll have the adrenaline of race day. Mile 4 will probably feel the toughest, with a dramatic, short climb at the start and a gradual uphill through the remainder of the mile. If I can hold pace for that mile, I should be able to keep it up for the final mile despite its more-intimidating-looking climb.

I'm looking forward to the race; I'll report on the results tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cracking the DART 7-minute barrier

Nearly every Tuesday and Wednesday morning I run the same loop with "teammates" from our running club, the Davidson Area Running Team (DART). Originally the loop was just under 6 miles, but we adjusted it about a year ago so that it would be a solid 10K. Actually, it's more like 6.34 miles, but who's counting, right?

Last spring as we were all getting faster and faster, regularly doing the loop under an 8-minute pace, we began to wonder what it would take to do the loop at a sub-7-minute pace. Obviously someone could do it, but no one we ran with regularly ever seemed to manage it. The fastest I completed the loop in the spring was about a 7:22 pace. This fall I had occasionally run a little faster than that, but still I never actually completed the loop in a sub-7:00 pace. I knew I could do it; after all I had completed a half-marathon at that pace, but somehow my workout plans and the DART loop never matched up.

So this week I decided to modify my plans: Instead of doing a tempo workout Thursday (4 X 10 minutes at tempo pace), I'd run the DART loop as hard as I could on Wednesday. Since I'll be doing an 8K race on Saturday, this will also give me extra time to recover from my hard workout before the race.

I jogged into town, met up with the group, and asked if anyone wanted to take the loop fast. No one spoke up, but as we took off, Tommy caught up with me and said he'd be doing an abbreviated loop of 4.5 miles, and although he had done a hard tempo run yesterday, he'd see how long he could keep up with me.

As it turned out, we stayed together until our routes diverged, about 3 miles in. To this point, I had managed around a 6:45 pace. But the toughest part of the DART loop is the finish. At Mile 3.6, you start a mile-long, 150-foot climb. I made it to Mile 4 with a 6:51 pace and continued up the hill, laboring heavily. Somehow I completed Mile 5 with a 6:56 pace. Now I was quite tired, and still had one more hill left, about 50 feet of climbing. I told myself if I could hold my pace around 7:10 to the top of the hill, I could cruise into town and keep the final mile under a 7:00 pace. When the timer beeped, once again I had run a 6:56 mile. All that was left was a third of a mile, but I had almost nothing left. Somehow I held steady and completed this bit in a 6:41 pace, for an overall average of 6:49 per mile.

I had finally cracked the 7:00 barrier on the DART loop. I waited for the others to finish so I could gloat over my accomplishment. Post-workout coffee never tasted so good!

Details of today's workout are below.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Let the taper begin!

Yesterday I completed my final long run before the Richmond Marathon — 22 miles with Chad, accompanied for nearly that distance with Todd, and for 15 with three guys who will be running Richmond with me: Tim, Matt, and Terry. Tim is an amazing runner who generally destroys his age group (55-59) and often finishes races in the top 3 overall. Matt is an amazing runner who just joined my age group on the low end, so I'll be glad in January when I exit this group! Terry also regularly racks up age-group placements, as do Chad and Todd, so it was a great group to run with.

Fortunately for the rest of us, Tim had run a half marathon on Saturday, so he was taking it easy. In fact, all of us were running at a relatively easy pace, just hoping not to break anything as we got ready for our race. It was a perfect day for a run, about 45 degrees with a bright sun just peering over the horizon. I focused on good form and an easy stride. I had been hoping to run this at a consistent 8:45 pace, but as we proceeded, the pace quickened a bit, and we ended up doing quite a few miles in the 8:20s.

I was feeling okay for the first half of the run, so I didn't let the fast pace bother me too much. About 12 miles in, however, my thighs were starting let me know they didn't appreciate being worked this hard. It was nothing that concerned me, but I think all those 60- to 70-mile weeks are just beginning to add up.

In addition, this was a new route and it was taking us along some very busy roads with little-to-no shoulders. Matt would later post on Facebook that I was a "cult" leader, and they were all just blindly following me on a road to ruin. I had to agree, while the first 10 miles were great and took us along some beautiful roads, there was a stretch of 3 miles or so that was very unpleasant.

At Mile 15, we said goodbye to Matt, Tim, and Terry, and headed back towards Davidson. Now I was really starting to feel tired. Not winded, so much, but sore in my back and thighs especially. Chad wasn't feeling great either and we slowed to an 8:45 pace. This was the pace I had been planning for the whole run but somehow now it felt a little bit like a letdown. Meanwhile Todd cruised ahead.

15 minutes later, at Mile 19, Chad and I limped into town and had a chance to say hi to Todd before he hopped in his car and headed home. Chad and I had three miles left, so we ran the Town Day 5K route. I really wasn't feeling great but knew I needed to gut this out. It was a struggle to keep those final miles under a 9:00 pace, but we did it, finishing the 22 miles at an 8:33 overall pace.

This run marks the end of the intense workout phase in preparation for Richmond. Now, the taper begins. This week I run 49 miles, then just 42, and finally only 23 in the week leading up to the race. That might seem like a lot of mileage, but I'm now used to running 56 to 70 miles a week, so this feels like a real break.

Chatting with these experienced runners, however, made me reconsider my plan for next Sunday. I had had 17 miles on the schedule, which again isn't especially long for me, but they argued that 17 is too long for two weeks before the race. I decided to shift some of my warm-up miles to another day, so I'll only be running 15 on Sunday.

Details of yesterday's workout are below.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Race Recap: The Bridges Half-Marathon

Last week, when Todd Hartung asked on Facebook if anyone wanted to join him as he headed to Chattanooga to run the 7 Bridges Marathon, he probably didn't think he'd get any takers.

But as it turned out my weekend was clear, and since Todd had already paid for a hotel, it would be a cheap way for me to do a scenic out-of-town race. I opted to run just the half marathon, less because the full was sold out and more because I'm not ready to run a marathon; I have been focusing my efforts on the Richmond Marathon next month.

Todd picked me up on Saturday morning and we headed across the Blue Ridge towards Tennessee. It was a gorgeous 5-hour drive, as these photos I snapped along the way attest:

Fall leaves in the Smokeys

A kayak launch on the Ocoee River

After checking into the hotel in Chattanooga, we headed over to the packet pickup. There wasn't an "expo" to speak of but we were able to get the lay of the land and figure out where the race started. A good omen: I got an awesome race number!


After a good pasta dinner, Todd and I laid out our gear, watched TV and tried to relax before trying to get some rest. Todd set his alarm for 4:00 a.m., while I tried to sleep a little longer. Race time was 7 a.m. and I figured I could get up at 5:30 and be ready to head out the door by 6. In the end, I ended up getting up at 5:00 and we headed out a little early, 5:45.

The scene at the start of the race was a little confusing. We had been told to head to Renaissance Park for the start, but when we arrived we saw lots of runners wandering aimlessly, but no race officials, and nothing marked as a starting line. I couldn't tell if there was going to be a place to check my gear, so I decided to drop it at the car, about a third of a mile away at the finish line and near the packet pickup. There were plenty of race officials there, so I asked if there would be gear check and was told "no." I reluctantly headed the car and stripped down to singlet and shorts in the 46-degree morning. I'd have to shiver for 30 minutes before the race start.

When I got back to the starting area, after 15 minutes or so some race officials showed up and set up a PA system. The first thing they said: "Those red bins over there are for your gear." Sigh.

The reason no one could find the starting line, it turned out, was that there was no starting line. We simply lined up behind a crosswalk in the parking lot in the dark. At about 7:07, a police siren signaled the start and we were off.

Since I had run a 7:13 pace at the Run for Green half marathon, my plan was to try to go even faster this time around. I decided to try to keep every mile under 7 minutes. We ran around the corner and headed across the first bridge. The marathoners would be crossing 7 of them, while the half-marathoners, who started together with the marathoners, would cross four. Here's a photo I found of the first bridge:

It looked just like this, only darker

It was a gradual uphill to cross the bridge, then a slight downhill on the other side. We ran first through quiet downtown streets, then turned onto an arterial heading out of town.

Mile 1: 6:51

The road headed into an industrial area, so perhaps it wasn't such a bad thing that it was still pitch dark out. The police were doing a great job keeping the streets clear, mileage was very well-marked, and water stops were well-staffed. I was laboring a bit for breath, but was determined to keep the pace up.

Mile 2: 6:50

I kept running. The course wound along on an empty four-lane road and there were cones between the lanes going in each direction. Were we supposed to run outside the cones or inside them? Could we use the whole width of the road, or were we supposed to stay to the right? No one told us, so I ran tangents as much as I could. Then I saw the race leaders coming back down the opposite direction and figured it out. We were supposed to stay in the inside lane on the right side of the road -- the outside lanes in each direction were actually open to traffic (although there was none).

Mile 3: 6:44

We reached the turnaround and headed back down the same winding road. There were three or four guys in sight ahead of me, but beyond them I couldn't see any runners ahead. Hundreds of runners were going the opposite direction. I saw Todd running a much more reasonable pace in the marathon and we shouted encouragement to each other. Some runners I didn't know were also shouting words of encouragement in my direction: "You go, girl!" and "Girls rock!"

"There better be a girl behind me," I exclaimed. There was indeed a woman with blond hair in a pony tail running right behind me, and she laughed and asked what time I was shooting for. I said I was on pace to run about 1:30 right now, but I wasn't sure I could keep it up. She said she usually ran 1:29 or so, but this course was a little hilly so she wasn't sure she could do that here. Where I come from, so far this course counted as "flat," but I didn't mention that to her.

Mile 4: 6:52

We were still running along the same industrial road but we were gradually reeling in the guys ahead of us, headed back towards town. We wound through downtown streets, then started climbing the onramp onto bridge number two. Ponytail girl passed me and the last guy ahead of us, and I tried to follow.

Mile 5: 6:41

Now we were on a freeway, crossing the river again. Although cars were whizzing by at high speed, the runners had a full lane and a broad shoulder to themselves, and both the onramp and the offramp we used were completely closed to traffic. As we started down the hill on the back side of the bridge, I followed the bouncing ponytail. Then when we hit the somewhat steeper offramp, I accelerated and passed her.

Here's my exit: Cherokee Blvd

Now there was no one in sight in front of me. We were back on the same side of the river where we started and passed the original starting area as the sun finally peered above the horizon.

Mile 6: 6:41

We ran along a paved running / biking path next to the river, then up some steps and through a parking lot, and finally onto another onramp, for Bridge #3. This one was a fairly nondescript urban viaduct, and I couldn't find a picture of it online. But it was also the toughest bridge because the approach was solid uphill, and the bridge itself was a gradual incline.

Mile 7: 7:00

I was more than halfway done, but I was also beginning to feel exhaustion setting in. Every time I looked at my Garmin, my pace was creeping above 7 minutes, and I had to put extra effort into speeding up. Finally I made it across the bridge and went up an onramp and onto another freeway. This time I was running against traffic, but as before, the runners had a full lane plus a shoulder -- plenty of room since I was basically running alone, with no one in sight ahead. Or was I? I heard footsteps behind me. Was it Ponytail Girl? I didn't want to show weakness by looking back, so I tried to focus on good form and solid running. Then the runner behind me coughed and I could tell it was a man's voice. Possible age-group competition?

Mile 8: 6:43
Mile 9, more of the same: 6:47

Near the end of Mile 10 I could finally see a pair of signs. Could this be where the half-marathon splits off from the full? It could, and it was. But about 20 feet past the turn was a water station, and I needed a drink. I ran to the station and grabbed a cup, and not one but two runners passed me, skipping the station. I followed behind. What could I do, I needed water, right? Then 70 yards later I cursed myself: There was another water station for the half-marathoners.

Mile 10: 7:04

This was my first mile above 7 minutes, but I chalked it up to the water/turnoff episode. I soon passed the woman, who it turned out was not Ponytail girl. Perhaps her older sister? But the man, wearing a long-sleeved tech shirt, proved more elusive. I followed about 20 yards behind as we wound along one of the most scenic sections of the course, a lovely paved path overlooking the river. Finally I passed Long-Sleeve guy again, but again he stayed close on my tail.

Mile 11: 6:58

The next mile was confusing. I could see what must be our final bridge, but every time we seemed to be approaching it, the course would take a turn. While there were plenty of volunteers on the course to point us in the right direction, apparently they hadn't been instructed to actually point in the the direction we should be going as we approached. We couldn't see any runners ahead of us, so we didn't know which way to go. I took to yelling "which way?" as I approached anyone who looked like a volunteer. Sometimes they weren't volunteers, just old ladies out walking their dogs. Hopefully I didn't scare them too much. The course wound across overpasses and around corners, until finally a volunteer pointed sharply to the right. I turned, and faced a steep, block-long downhill. I wasn't ready for it, but Long-Sleeve Guy was, and he took the opportunity to sprint past me as I plodded down.

Mile 12: 7:29

Finally it seemed certain we were headed for the last bridge. Long-Sleeve Guy was about 20 yards ahead, and seemed to be slowing on the uphill approach to the bridge. As I slowly reeled him in, I decided I would pass him with authority. I breezed by as we crested the hill and started down the back side of the bridge, which was a lovely old pedestrian-only bridge with wooden floors.

The final bridge, site of my final conquest

I kicked it as hard as I could and didn't look back. I didn't hear footsteps behind me as I came off the bridge and was directed onto the sidewalk by a volunteer. The sidewalk? Really? There were pedestrians on the sidewalk, and so I decided to take my chances in the street, which was open to traffic but only had a few cars on it.

Mile 13: 6:52

At the point my Garmin showed 13 miles, the official Mile 13 marker was nowhere in sight. The Garmin had been recording the course as long on each mile, so I was getting farther behind the mile markers at each split. I turned into a park and spectators were shouting support: "You're almost there!" But I still couldn't see the finish line. I was directed onto a winding path, and a kid said "You're there!" I still couldn't see it. Finally, I ran past a magnolia tree and could see the finish line and clock. I sprinted in as the clock ticked 1:31:37.

Mile 13.34: 5:47 pace

The Garmin had been off by nearly a quarter-mile, but that's within the margin of error for this distance, and I was extremely pleased with my overall time. Although my watch showed a 6:52 average pace, based on the official 13.1-mile distance it works out to exactly 7 minutes per mile. I'll take it, as it is a PR by more than 2 minutes!

I went over to congratulate Long-Sleeve Guy, who finished right behind me. I thanked him for pushing me so hard at the end of the race. He thanked me too -- a great finish to a great race. Here's a photo of the finisher's medal.

I didn't figure out what the 4 was for until I saw Todd's with a 7. Aha! I crossed 4 bridges!

Then I grabbed a banana and headed back to the car to change. I returned to the finish area and saw that they were bringing pizza in for all the finishers. Awesome! I had a delicious slice, then went to the finish line to watch the half-marathoners and 5Kers finishing their races. It's always neat to see how excited everyone is when they finish their race. Whether you run a 1:05, a 1:31, or a 2:31, it's an impressive achievement to complete a half-marathon! Some moms ran across the line with their kids. Some fathers had clearly run the whole race with their sons or daughters. There were boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, and best friends holding hands as they crossed the line.

Finally the first marathoner crossed, in about a 2:40 overall time (the clock was off at this point -- more on that later).

First place!

He doesn't look too excited now, but he was absolutely thrilled when he realized he was the overall winner! About 40 minutes later, Todd came across the line, looking strong:

Well done, DART!

Todd's GPS had died at around Mile 15, and so he ran nearly half the race on feel, finishing in 3:22. Amazing! Just behind Todd was the female winner:

Another first place! Couldn't place the shirt but looks like she's on the same team as the male winner.

After a few minutes to recuperate and chat with some of the runners who had talked with Todd on the course, we headed back to the car for the celebratory post-race photo:

A good day for DART

It was about 11 a.m., and we heard the awards would be around 2 p.m., so we decided to go back to the room for a shower, grab lunch, and then catch the awards.

We got back around 1:15, and saw that all was not well. The clock had been shut down because the computers tracking the race had lost power mid-race. A couple of the timing guys were huddled over their laptop, but couldn't make sense of the results. Meanwhile an anxious group of runners was patiently awaiting the results. We waited, and waited, and waited. Finally around 2:15, Todd and I left to buy some souvenirs, hoping things would be sorted out when we returned. When we did finally return, the awards for the full marathon had been given out (very attractive beer mugs). We asked the timer if they had a result for Todd and he had placed fourth in his age group, just out of the beer mugs. Then we asked about my results, and were told that they would have to sort that out overnight. As of now, 4:38 on Monday, they still haven't figured it out.

That's not cool, not for a race that people paid $70 or more to participate in. In my case I'm not overly concerned about the official results (though I'd like one of those mugs if I earned one). But some people may have been attempting to qualify for Boston or New York with this race. If their times are not found, that could spoil months of training and preparation.

Overall, I had a great time at this race, but it's disappointing not to be able to see official results. I'll update this post if the results are ever posted.

Update: The results have finally been posted. Better late than never, but I wish the race directors had been more communicative about the problems. Here's what they should have done:

  • They should have explained to the runners that there was a technical glitch, that they expected to have the full results eventually, but they were going to take the time to get things right. 
  • They should have given the awards to the overall winners right away since that would be easy to sort out.
  • They should have announced they would hold off on the age-group awards, and notify those winners via email when the results could be verified.
  • They should have responded honestly to the many queries on facebook about when the results would be posted.

That said, I'm glad they finally got things sorted out, and that there did appear to be a backup plan.

So, how did I do? Not bad. My time was good for first place in my age group, and (I think) 13th overall and 11th male (there's no overall results listing, just age group listings). That easily puts me in the top 5 percent of finishers, both overall and within gender, which I believe is the best I've done in any race. Very pleased!

Todd finished third in age group, so it looks like both of us our going to receive those handsome beer mugs in the mail. A good day for DART.

You can see my GPS record of the race below.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Track Work

I don't do much running on the track. I prefer running on the roads so I can enjoy the scenery. But today my workout plan required me to do 6, 1000-meter intervals followed by 4, 400-meter reps. That's a total of over 11 miles counting warm-up and cool-down, which means I'd need to carry water and gels, and running that hard while carrying all that stuff is -- well, hard.

So I decided to run over to the Davidson track and do the intervals and reps there -- that way I could leave the water and gels on the bench while I did the workout, stopping for a drink between intervals when I needed it.

For Daniels (whose program I'm following), the difference between intervals and reps is that you don't fully recover from intervals, but you do for reps. Intervals are designed to improve your aerobic capacity, while reps improve strength and form. In this case I'd be taking 2 minutes between intervals and 3 minutes between reps.

For the 1000-meter intervals I'd be running at a 6:30/mile pace, which is a little faster than my 5K pace (Actually I haven't run a 5K recently and I think I might be a bit faster now, but it's close enough). The Davidson track only opens the outer 4 lanes to visitors, so I amused myself by trying to figure out how much short of 2.5 laps I could run and still reach 1000 meters. I'm not sure I ever got it, and my GPS record of the run shows them at around .66 miles, which is longer than the .62 I should have been running. But the pace I ran was solid for each one: 6:14, 6:28, 6:25, 6:22, 6:21, 6:18.

Next it was time for the reps, 400 meters at a 6:00/mile pace, or 90 seconds a lap. Again, running in lane 5 and starting whenever my 3 minutes was up, I couldn't use the markings on the track to get the distance exact. But with a GPS it doesn't really matter. In the end my reps were a bit long -- .27 miles rather than .25. But I did pretty well on pace (in minutes/mile): 5:51, 6:04, 5:43, 5:32 (Okay, maybe I was showing off a bit on that last one). Sometime after rep 2 I forgot which rep I was on, but fortunately I could look back at my GPS history while I did my recovery jog and figure it out. This is the sort of thing it would be useful to have a coach for.

One thing I haven't done during my buildup to Richmond is "Yassos." Yassos are the creation of legendary marathoner Bart Yasso, who found that his time (in minutes) for 800-meter intervals (when done in a set of ten) nearly perfectly predicted his marathon time (in hours). But today's workout is fairly close. 6, 1000-meter intervals is the equivalent distance of 7.5 800-meter intervals. Given that I'm only taking a 2-minute break, and in a true Yasso you take a break about the same length as the interval itself (for me, over 3 minutes), I'd say my pace today might be a fairly good approximation of what I could do in a Yasso. I averaged about 6:21 a mile, which would be 3:11 for 800 meters. That suggests I could run a 3:11 marathon. I won't get my hopes up for that! I will be happy if I manage a 3:25.

Details of today's workout are below.

Monday, October 10, 2011

More tempos

Yesterday I had a familiar workout plan -- a set of tempo runs that gradually declined in length. I would start with a 22.5 minute tempo run, take a break, then do 18, 13.5, 9, and 4.5-minute runs. The breaks would also gradually decrease in length: 5, 4, 3, and 2 minutes.

Tempo runs are done at a fast enough pace to get you to VO2 max fairly quickly -- 7-minute miles in my case. By taking breaks between each tempo, you can increase the amount of time you spend at VO2 max and therefore increase your fitness.

In the real world it means you are running at near-exhaustion for longer than you ever imagined possible. I'm currently staying with some friends in Fairfax, Virginia, near Washington DC, and they have an excellent, flat greenway near their home. I had figured out that this run would be about 15 miles, so I wanted to run 7.5 miles out the greenway, turn around, and come back. It didn't quite work out that way -- more on that later.

I started with a 2-mile warmup that went fine, but it was difficult for me to see my GPS in the dim 6:45 am light. With my 44-year-old eyes, sometimes I need to remove my glasses to see the display, and I did that at just the wrong point, where the trail deteriorated into large chunks of rock and gravel. Somehow I managed to negotiate the obstacle without being able to see it, and I vowed to be more careful when looking at the GPS as I ran. The greenway was uneven -- some parts were paved, others were good gravel, and others were more like a rough trail. This turned out to be the biggest challenge of the day. I think if it had been just solid pavement the whole way I would have found the run quite a bit easier.

As it was, I managed to hit my splits on the first 22.5-minute tempo, even though near the end the trail got so rough that at one point I literally ran through a stream! I kept it under a seven-minute pace the whole way and took my first rest. At this point the greenway seemed more like a road than a trail and I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn. I decided to turn around and head back towards home, figuring I could always run back and forth rather than point-to-point.

The next tempo was probably the most difficult. After the 22.5-minute run I needed to do it again for nearly as long -- 18 minutes. I broke it into chunks -- mile 1, 2, and 4 minutes' worth of mile 3. The first mile was 7:05. Would I really be able to keep this up? Somehow I sped up and brought my pace back under 7:00 for the remaining 11 minutes. I took a much-needed 4-minute break and figured out that I was now over halfway done; I had completed 40.5 minutes worth of tempo and had just 27 minutes left.

Still, the third tempo was nearly two miles -- 13.5 minutes. Despite that, I kept it solidly in the 6:50's. As I ran, the trail gradually became filled with more runners, walkers, and dog-walkers. Even though it was wide enough for four people to walk abreast, it seemed that inevitably when I needed to pass a pair of walkers, another pair would be passing in the opposite direction, and so I would run off-trail to get by at my fast pace. Hopefully these Virginians didn't decide that the North-Carolinian intruder was being rude!

Even though I was now down to just a 9-minute tempo I still found it a challenge -- all those previous tempos had worn me down. I maintained the pace and took my final break, then ran the final 4.5 minutes. At last I could slow it down to an "easy" pace. As usual, this ended up being a real challenge as well. The workout had taken so much out of me that I needed to take several walk-breaks just to make it home.

In the end I had run 15.1 miles, with 9.69 miles at tempo pace, under 7:00. Despite running my final two miles at a 10-minute pace, the overall average pace including all the breaks was under 8-minute miles.

For the week, I ran 70.69 miles, breaking my previous record week by over a half-mile. From here on out I will gradually decrease my mileage. I have 56 miles scheduled for the next two weeks, and then I start my official taper for Richmond.

Details of today's run are below.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Another long one is in the books

I spelled out today's plan in yesterday's post: The plan is to run 8 easy miles, then 40 minutes at marathon pace, then 5 min at tempo pace, then 20 min at marathon pace, 5 min tempo, 5 min marathon pace, before finally slowing down for a 2-mile cooldown.

As it turned out, I did about 99 percent of that plan. But the one percent I missed was during the tempo-paced portion of the workout -- arguably the hardest part. But I'm still happy with what I did because not only did I hit all my other goals, I did it on an extremely hilly route, especially for the fast part.

I wanted to to start at 6:30 so that I wouldn't have to wear a headlamp, and I also wanted to be on the road the whole time; no coming home for a break halfway through. So I planned a route that passed near a bathroom and water fountain at roughly the halfway point. After 8 easy miles, I arrived at the Bailey Road soccer fields, emptied my bladder, and refilled my bottle. 

Now for the fun part. I switched off my podcast, turned on some lively music, and picked up the pace. Marathon pace is 7:40 per mile, and it felt quite comfortable with the sun just peaking over the horizon on a cool 55-degree morning. I hit my first hill and kept up the pace. Not much traffic on these country roads, but I knew in a mile or so I'd have to do a half mile on busy Highway 73, with its 55 mph speed limit. I reached the highway and stayed on the shoulder, which was fairly rough. I focused on a smooth, consistent stride as the cars and tractor trailers roared by just a few feet away. Finally I reached the turnoff at Concord Road and then June Washam, a very quiet country lane. I kept up the pace. At 12 miles I reached a familiar fence across the road. I stopped to eat a gel, climbed over the fence, and kept up the pace. Since I had messed up a couple earlier workouts, I did the math over and over in my head: At a 7:40 pace, I would run 5 miles in 38:20, so I would need to run 1:40 more to get 40 minutes worth. Since I started my marathon-pace segment at mile 8, I'd need to keep this pace up until 1:40 past mile 13. But I was actually going a bit faster than 7:40, more like 7:35, so I decided to go 2 minutes past mile 13, then pick it up to tempo pace. Was my math right? Looking back at my GPS record, I was spot on. Splits for miles 8 to 13.27: 7:36, 7:35, 7:33, 7:33, 7:41, 7:34. Total vertical gain: 256 feet. Total descent: 308 feet.

Now it was time for a 5-minute tempo run. I didn't actually find it too hard to pick up the pace here; fortunately this section started with a downhill, but ended with a climb, and I completed it right at the start of Mile 14. My pace: 6:50 -- faster than my goal of 7:00. Vertical gain: 17 feet, descent: 30 feet.

Next I had 20 more minutes of marathon pace. This is where things started getting tough, as I was on Shearer road, and it was mostly uphill. Somehow I made it through. Splits for Miles 14 - 16.6: 7:35, 7:37, 7:41.

Now I had one more tempo run. It started on a downhill, but it would finish on the steepest uphill of the route, on Grey road. I barely had any legs left. I handled the downhill okay, but as I headed uphill I realized I wasn't going to be able to maintain this pace for five minutes. I held on as long as I could, but stopped my timer after 3:45 of running, a half-mile at a 7:11 pace. I walked for about 60 seconds up the steepest part of the hill, then started in on my final marathon-pace segment. I wasn't sure I'd even be able to manage a 7:40 pace, starting on an uphill stretch like this, but somehow when I reached the top of the hill I saw I had been running at a 7:00 pace! I slowed it down a bit but cruised through this 5-minute stretch at a 7:18 pace, nearly as fast as my "tempo" a few minutes earlier.

I was done with the guts of the workout, but I still had a two-mile cool-down. As often seems to happen to me on these intense long workouts, it was the cool-down where I really started to feel exhausted. I ended up taking a couple of walk-breaks and it was all I could do to maintain a 10:20 pace for those final two miles. Still, I was pleased overall with the workout, which included 930 feet of climbing -- way more than I'll see in Richmond. Assuming the weather is good and I don't get injured, I think a 7:40 pace is well within reach.

This graph gives you a good sense of where I picked up the pace on today's run. It really felt like a solid effort:

You can also see how difficult those final cool-down miles were. I still think that with adequate tapering and a bit of carbo-loading I should be fine for a 7:40 pace for the whole race.

Details of today's workout are below.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Another day, another 70-mile week

Where did the time go? When I posted last, I had just finished my first-ever honest 70-mile week. Now, 10 days later, I'm two days into my next 70-mile week.

To review: Last week was a bit of a break, a 49-mile week which featured a 6-mile tempo run and and a 22-mile easy long run. The tempo was fun; I paced Heather on a 10K time trial, which was a good tempo pace for me. Then on Saturday I became a member of the Mangum Track Club by completing their coveted shirt run. What is the shirt run? It's a run at the crack of dawn, from the middle of nowhere to a spot 15 miles east of the middle of nowhere, near Ellerbe, NC. About 50 people showed up, and they make a party out of it, ordering about 30 pizzas and a couple coolers of coke, which they consume in the middle of the road at the end of the run. Here's me with Sarah and my new friend Michael on the run:

And here I am with my new MTC mates at the finish line:

Why do I look so tired? Because I added an extra 7 miles to get 22 miles!
This was a fun run but a serious commitment because Ellerbe is about 2 hours away from Davidson, so I woke up before 4 am just to get there on time! Here's the official DART photo of the five new MTC members who made the trip:

From left: Me, Sarah, Chad, Dave, and Todd
This week, as I mentioned before, I'm stepping the mileage up to 70 for one last time before Richmond. Yesterday and today I did two 9-milers with DART but tomorrow is when the real fun begins: a 19.9 mile run. The plan is to run 8 easy miles, then 40 minutes at marathon pace, then 5 min at tempo pace, then 20 min at marathon pace, 5 min tempo, 5 min marathon pace, before finally slowing down for a 2-mile cooldown. I'm tired just thinking about it. I think this time I will stay out on the road the whole time for a nice long run. Here's the plan:

Actually, this is backwards, but you get the idea
The route takes me on a grand tour of Davidson, Cornelius, and Huntersville, and finishes with the big hills on Shearer Road and Grey Road. If all goes well, I should complete it in just under 3 hours. Wish me luck!