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.

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