Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Next up: Mississippi Blues Half

My original plan after qualifying for Boston had been to take a month or two to really rest and recuperate. But I couldn't resist one last challenge: Qualifying for guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon.

Unlike Boston, New York opens up most of its slots to any runner who can go the distance. There are no "qualifying times," just a lottery to winnow the 100,000 or so runners who want to run the race down to a manageable 40,000. But there are a couple of ways to get around the lottery system, and one of them seems like it might be manageable for me.

New York has a way to qualify and get a guaranteed entry slot, you just have to be quite a bit faster than you do for Boston. For my age group, the qualifying time is a 3:10 marathon (compared to 3:25 for Boston). That's 12 minutes faster than I've ever run, and unfortunately, for next year's race, the qualifying time must be run before January 31, which wouldn't give me enough time to prepare.

Fortunately, you don't have to run a full marathon; you can also qualify with a half marathon at a bit faster clip: 1:30. Since I've done a 1:31, that seems attainable, and since it doesn't take as long to train for a half, it just might be doable before the deadline.

There's one other catch to the deadline: After January 31, the standards tighten, to a 3:00 marathon and a 1:25 half for my age group. That means a race in January might be my only shot at qualifying. Unfortunately I have previous commitments for two weeks in January, and marathon pickings are quite slim at the end of the month. That leaves the weekend of January 7. There is a marathon/half marathon being run that day, in Jackson, MS: The Mississippi Blues. A couple friends will be running the marathon, so I can share a room with them and run the race without spending much money. The course looks to be relatively flat, so it's a reasonable place to try for a qualifying time.

So what do I do next? Normally a marathon requires at least a month to recover before training hard again. I'm going to have to accelerate that quite a bit. After running just 14 miles last week, this week I'll be back up to 40 miles, all at a relatively easy pace. Then I'll start ramping up quite aggressively, with a hard training run at the end of next week and a total of 50 miles. That's cutting things rather close, with that hard run coming just four weeks after the marathon. My core training period will be just three weeks long, and I'm going to run 55, 55, and 70 miles those weeks. Then I will have one week to taper before the race.

A one-week taper may not seem like much, but I think it's the only way I'll be able to peak in time for Mississippi while giving myself enough time to recover from Richmond. There's some science behind this plan as well. World-class ultrarunner Jonathan Savage has noted that many runners—even distance runners—tend to do better at the end of competitions lasting a week or more than they do at the start. So he has created a tapering plan that calls for an extremely heavy amount of mileage 2 to 3 weeks before a race. He calls it a three phase taper. The phases are Overload, Reduction, and Rebound.

The overload phase consists of an increased training load, typically 20% more. This period has to be kept fairly short to prevent overtraining, typically 1-4 weeks. The level of overload will depend on how intense the normal training load is. A runner who is already training near their maximum capability would want to overload for a shorter time than a runner who has more training headroom. Many training plans tend to have the peak training load towards the end of the program, but often the peak is a little too early and too minor to be considered an overload period.
The reduction phase is the same as the traditional taper, with reduced training load. Typically a greater reduction in training load for a shorter period is used with a three phase taper than with a traditional single phase taper.
The rebound is a short increase in training load, just before competition. This approach was developed from the observation that some athletes in multiday competitions such as track races have their performance improve as the heats progress. How much the training load should be increased is not well defined, but the general idea is to focus on increased intensity with a moderate uptick in volume. The rebound should be in the last few days before competition.
Savage tried this approach before Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon, bumping his training up to over 170 miles two weeks before the race, then tapering quickly while maintaining intensity, and running a fairly hard 6 miles the day before the race, when many runners might just rest or run a mile or two to keep their muscles loose.

My plan won't be quite so intense, with just a 70-mile overload week, and probably 5 miles the day before the race. Savage believes that you shouldn't run slower than race pace during a taper, so I'm going to try that too, doing all my taper-week runs at race pace of 6:47 per mile. It sounds crazy, but I think it's the only way I have a chance at running a NY-qualifying time.

Details of today's run are below.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Running in the city

I'm in New York for the week, and I've been enjoying the sights and sounds of the city. But naturally I also brought my running gear as well. I'm still technically recovering from the marathon but on Thanksgiving Day I couldn't resist running in the Thanksgiving Marathon, in Van Cortlandt Park, where I ran regularly when I lived here (I would just be doing the quarter-marathon).

Unfortunately, Thanksgiving had other plans for me. As my friend Pat and I headed towards the subway line to ride up to the Bronx, we began to realize that the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade route was in our way. Although the parade hadn't started yet, the street was fully barricaded off, and spectators were lined 10-deep. We needed to get to the other side in order to catch the subway, and it simply wasn't happening.

So instead we decided to run the famed Central Park loop, where the New York Marathon had been run for many years. It was a lovely run, and we even got to see part of the parade through the trees.

Believe it or not, that's Buzz Lightyear floating through the trees

But we took the whole run at an easy jog, and I was feeling restless. So this morning I decided to head out on my own at a faster pace. I have been holding back on every run since the marathon, and I've been feeling like I might be losing a bit of my speed. Today I decided to not exactly put the pedal to the metal, but give it a solid test drive.

I headed out at about a 7:45 pace, and felt quite good all the way around Central Park. When you add in the half-mile to and from the park, it was over a 7.5-mile run, on a beautiful, crisp New York morning. I was a little winded at the end, but it was nice to realize that I could still run at a decent pace after nearly two weeks of extremely light running.

Technically I should still be running easy recovery runs, but I think I'm going to gradually amp things up a bit as I get ready for my next challenge, a 1:30 half-marathon and guaranteed entry into next year's New York Marathon. Stay tuned!

Details of today's run are below.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Uh, how many miles in a marathon?

Funny video of last week's marathon made by my friend Matt Williams and co-starring some guy named Dave Munger.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I qualified for Boston!

I did it!

Richmond was a fantastic race. The weather was nearly perfect. And I finished in 3:22:56, beating the Boston-qualifying mark for my age group by 2:04.

I've written a full recap over at the DART blog, so if you want the narrative, head over there. Here, for your perusal, is the hard data of the event.

Note that I did manual lap times for each mile when I passed the official marker, so you'll see that many miles are "off" by .01 or .02. All in all, I think this is a much better way to do this than using the auto-lap. Much easier to keep track of where you are relative to your goal.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Carbs, Carbs, Carbs

Despite research suggesting that carbo-loading isn't usually done well, I've decided to attempt a trimmed-down version of carbo-loading for Saturday's race. The goal is to consume 4.5 grams of carbs for every pound of body weight. I weigh 187, so that's 840 grams of carbs, or 3,360 calories in carbs per 24 hours. 

In the past I've had trouble maintaining a high-carb diet for a full three days before a race -- I just get tired of carbs -- so this year I'm going to cut back. I'll attempt to carbo load for only 48 hours (which the linked article suggests will maximize my benefit). How am I planning on downing 6,720 calories' worth of carbs in just two days?

Here's the plan:

Thursday (today!):

First breakfast: Scone (59 g carbs), coffee.

Second breakfast: Cereal (80 g), milk (24 g), V8 (10 g)

Lunch: Three turkey tacos w/flour tortillas (57 g)

Snacks: Apple (22), banana (56), toast (32), jam (26), raisins (66), granola bar (17).

That's a total of 429 grams. Yikes! I'll still need 365 grams at dinner.

Dinner: Spaghetti (1/2-pound uncooked = 130 g carbs), sauce (26), salad (1), bread (40)

That is still only 646 grams!

To get the extra 200 grams of carbs, I'm going to have to drink them. Excuse me while I head to the store to get some Coke.

Okay, I'm back. Four cans gets me 156 grams. That will have to do. A total of 802 grams of carbs for the day.

Now, for tomorrow.


First breakfast: Cereal (80 g), milk (24 g), V8 (10 g)

Second breakfast: Scone (59 g), coffee.

Lunch: Wendy's spicy Chicken sandwich (55), Baked potato (63), Coke (88)

Dinner: Some kind of pasta at a restaurant (150?). A beer (5).

Snacks: 2 Bananas (112), raisins (66), granola bar (17).

Drinks: 3 cans of Coke (117 g)

That wasn't so bad -- 846 grams. The Coke really helps.

Finally, on Saturday morning I will have a light snack when I wake up at 6.


Breakfast: Granola bar (17). Honey Stinger Waffle (21). Possibly a half-banana (28).

Pre-race: 1 vanilla GU at 15 minutes prior to start (25)

During race: 5 to 6 GUs (one every 4 miles, with mile 24 optional) (125-150)

The research is actually much more definitive about in-race nutrition than pre-race carbo-loading. But seeing as the pre-race loading can help, I'm going to give it a shot.

In the past I have been very, very tired of carbs by the time the race rolls around. For this race, I'm doing only two days instead of three, so hopefully it will work out a bit better.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The last time I'll be out of breath for four days

The consensus among the running books I've read for how to handle a taper is this: You don't decrease the intensity of your workouts, you decrease the distance you run.

Occasionally I'll see someone post a comment like "I'm SO tired of going SLOW during this TAPER!" I'm not sure where they get the idea that you're supposed to slow down for a taper, because I haven't seen that advice in any running guide.

Tapering before a race, especially a long race, makes intuitive sense. You've been working extremely hard to build strength and endurance. During these long weeks of training, rarely a day goes by that your muscles aren't sore. Why would you want to go into a race feeling that tired? It stands to reason that you should ease back in the weeks before a race like a marathon, so that you're feeling fresh on race day.

I've achieved that for each of my marathons by decreasing mileage. I've been running as many as 70 miles in a week this time around. But three weeks before the race, I started decreasing my mileage. For the first two weeks of the taper I ran 42 miles. This week I will only be running about 21 miles before the race: 5, 6, 4, 4, and 2 miles. But even today, I still did some light speed work: A set of four 1200-meter tempo runs at 6:40 pace.

For someone who's planning a 7:40 race pace, that might seem a little fast, but it's pretty much the speed I've been running all my tempos at recently. The difference is that today I did a total of 3 miles at that pace, while last month I did a similar workout with over 9 miles at tempo pace! That's a taper.

While it is true that my next three runs are all slated to be done at an easy 9-minute pace, that's not any different from what I do on a normal week. I have two "quality" workouts, and the other days are all "easy." I'm not running any slower than I normally do for my easy days.

That said, tapers are definitely strange beasts. Your body gets accustomed to high mileage, and all of a sudden you stop running those long miles. Something feels wrong. You're constantly itching to run more, to run harder. Fortunately, that itch will be scratched soon enough.

Details of today's workout are below.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Strategy for the Richmond Marathon

It's now less than five days before I run the Richmond Marathon. My primary goal for this race is to qualify for Boston, which for me requires a total time of 3:25 or better. To do that I'll need to run an average pace of 7:49 per mile, which is about 30 seconds faster than I've ever run a marathon. That said, assuming we have good weather, this should be by far the easiest marathon I've ever run. Check out this elevation profile I found from a runner who completed the race last year:

As you can see, there's a fairly large hill just after Mile 5, then some rolling hills Miles 10-13, then what looks like a real doozy in Mile 16.

What's going on in Mile 16? By clicking through on the Garmin player it seems to be just after the Lee Bridge. But speedy local runner and blogger Paul Mainwaring, who ran Richmond in 2:35 last year, told me on Facebook that he doesn't remember a hill there. What is going on?

I went online and found this picture of the Lee Bridge:

As you can see, it's quite large. If you zoom in on the photo, you can see pedestrians on the walkway suspended underneath it. My guess is the bridge is 80 to 100 feet tall. But if you look at the elevation profile of the race, the route descends to below 20 feet at this point. You guessed it, it's another example of a GPS profile messing up on bridges. I think the true profile would be a gradual incline across that deep gap that starts at Mile 15. This corresponds to Paul's description of the bridge as "slightly uphill."

Paul says the toughest hills are a small steep one in Mile 10 and a climb over an overpass in Mile 18-19 [update: It's actually in Mile 20]. Lee Bridge is notorious for being a windy spot, but Paul says the wind didn't bother him last year. Here's hoping I won't have to deal with strong winds this year!

And that's it for terrain difficulties. Other than the possibility of wind on the bridge, none of them strike me as especially daunting, so I think the best strategy will be to just maintain a consistent pace. I want to have a little bit of leeway in case my Garmin is slightly off, so I will go out at a 7:40 pace. I'll slow a bit on the hills, but I should easily make that up on the downhills. If I manage to complete the race at that pace, my time would be 3:21, handily below my target time. Even if I run into wind on the bridge, it shouldn't take 4 minutes off my time, so I should still be comfortably below my target pace.

In a dream scenario, I'm still feeling good when I cross the overpass at Mile 19 and I pick up the pace enough to go sub 3:20. If I don't make my 3:25 target, I hope to at least PR in this race, breaking 3:37. Frankly, given how hard I've worked over the summer and how much I've improved this fall, anything worse than that will be a disappointment.

As I have done in the past, I will be eating GU gels every 4 miles, and drinking something at every water stop. I've had good success with not drinking too much right before the race, but carrying a small water bottle to drink right at the start, so I will do that again this time.

And that's about it. As of now, the forecast is for an overnight low of 33 on Friday night, and a high of 61 on Saturday. Ideally the high temperature would be a little cooler, but that's actually cooler than my previous two marathons. At this point there is no prediction of what the temperature will be when the race starts at 8:00 and at the finish at 11:30, but my guess is that it will be close to 40 at the start, and maybe in the mid-50s at the finish. At this point the wind forecast is 8 mph. Given the other possibilities, I would certainly take that weather!

This week I've gone into full taper mode, running just 10 miles for my long run yesterday and 5 today. Tomorrow I will do a very short tempo run, then it's just easy 4-mile runs for the rest of the week leading up to the race. I can definitely feel my muscles beginning to recover from months of hard workouts. I can't wait for the race!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Are we nervous yet?

My friend Tim Richter has started a new running blog. So far it's got just one post, but it's a good one, offering a frank discussion of pre-race jitters, which for him start several weeks before a race.

I was one of the people he asked about getting nervous, and I told him that I felt more "determined" than anxious. I haven't yet gotten butterflies in my stomach as I prepare for Richmond, and I don't typically get them for races until right before the starting gun sounds.

That doesn't mean that I don't have trouble sleeping the night before a big race, but even then it's typically due to being energized, rather than anxious about the race. Indeed, I often have trouble sleeping on ordinary nights, so there may be no relationship whatsoever between my sleep (or lack thereof) and pre-race jitters.

But even though I'm not nervous about the race, I still worry about it quite a lot. What will the weather be like on race day? (So far it's looking like 44 and Sunny at the start.) What if I catch the flu three days before the race? (Cry?) I spend way too much time with pace calculators, trying to figure out the optimum splits to help achieve my goal. Plus I write this blog, which, while it does have a bit of a following, certainly isn't attracting any sort of widespread notice. What other reason could there be for writing it than simply to have a place to vent my concerns about the race?

Speaking of which, you can find details of today's workout below.