Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Marathon Math

The Steamboat Marathon is a bit of a mystery to me. While the course is mostly downhill, it's also at a fairly high elevation, ranging from 8,200 feet to 6,700 feet. Although I have spent a lot of time in the mountains, I've never run at altitude, so I don't know how exactly I'll perform.

The plan is to arrive in Colorado three days early to give myself a bit of time to acclimate to the elevation, so hopefully that won't affect me too much. Hydration will be another problem because there are only nine aid stations on the course, compared to 15 at Big Sur. My plan this time is simply to take two cups of water at each station, walking for a few seconds if necessary to make sure I get enough water.

But the biggest question of all is how to handle pacing. Here's the elevation profile of the course, taken from a runner's Garmin plot from last year:

As you can see, it is primarily downhill, but there are four significant climbs, in miles 2, 4, 21-23, and 26. They may not look like much on this chart, but they are all around 100 vertical feet, which is nothing to sneeze at. Based on my experience at Big Sur, I don't expect the first two hills to be much of a problem. I'll be fresh, and the key here will be not starting off too fast. The last two hills, however, will be very tough, especially considering the pounding my legs will have taken during the first 20 miles, including 18 miles of downhill running. It will also be starting to warm up, with temperatures possibly in the low 60s.

My goal is to run a 3:30:00 marathon, which is an 8:01 pace per mile. While most marathon coaches would advise a relatively even pace for a marathon, obviously I will want to take advantage of the downhills on this course. But how fast to run on those hills? My average pace for the first 20 miles of Big Sur was 7:53, but I was quite tired at that point and slowed dramatically over the final 6.2 miles. But those first 20 miles featured over 1,200 feet of climbing. With only 200 feet of climbing in the first 20 miles of this race, I think a 7:53 pace would be much more comfortable. In fact, I'd like to shoot for closer to a 7:40 pace. That would give me a 7-minute cushion for the final six miles. I could slow to a 9-minute pace and still finish under 3:30. Or if I'm feeling really good, I could finish a bit faster. Unless the elevation and hydration issues turn out to be a large burden, I don't think a 7:40 pace is unreasonable. I ran a couple of the downhill legs at Big Sur faster than that. If it does turn out to be too challenging for me to maintain that pace, then I probably wouldn't be able to run a 3:30 marathon on this course no matter what strategy I use.

If I make it to the top of the hill at Mile 23 still feeling strong, then I think I will finish the race strong. Mile 21 was where things started unraveling at Big Sur, but I still had several major hills to contend with before the finish. At the end of Mile 23 at Steamboat, there are 2 downhill miles and one big climb left, and I'll have just finished the biggest climb of the race. But even if I'm not feeling great at that point, assuming I have a few minutes worth of cushion left, I may still be able to run a sub-3:30. Hopefully in that case I'll still be able to gut it out to the end.

Details of today's workout are below:

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Preparing for a mountain marathon

One week from now, with any luck, I'll have finished my second marathon, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Here in North Carolina it's hot and steamy even early in the morning when I usually run. But in Steamboat Springs, they actually got some snow last night! The overnight low for next week is slated to be around 40 degrees, but it could end up being much colder than that -- perhaps even below freezing. Generally it warms up during the day, but I'll need to be prepared for a chilly start. As in Big Sur, we'll get bussed to the starting line, and although the wait at the start won't be quite as long, it will still potentially be very cold.

With that in mind, I decided to head to Goodwill to see if I could find cheap, warm clothes that I could just throw away at the starting line or a short distance into the race if necessary. Although Goodwill doesn't have a "sportswear" section, they do have sweatpants mingled in with "slacks," and fleece jackets in the "sweater" section. I found a pair of sweats and a very nice (if bright red) fleece jacket from the Grove Park Inn (one of the nicest hotels in the state), for about $8. Score! I still have an extra pair of $1 gloves from Big Sur, so the total value of my race-morning discards will be less than $10. If it turns out not to be so cold or the bag-check is easily accessible from the start-line, I might actually even get away with keeping some of these items for next time.

The rest of my gear for the race will probably be similar to what I wore at Big Sur: A singlet, shorts, shoes, and socks. I did order a pair of shorts from Race Ready that I might decide to wear during the race. Their shorts have a series of back pockets that can hold up to 14 gel packs (I'll only be carrying about 7), which means I wouldn't need to wear a belt at all. Depending on when the shorts arrive, I may end up wearing them during the race. One big change from Big Sur: I will not be carrying a camera. This race is all business as I try to break 3:30 and qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Details of this morning's run are below:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Are race photos worth it?

In most big races, a professional photography outfit has photographers snapping pictures of the runners at several points during the race. Then after the race, you get an email with links to proofs of your pictures and an offer to purchase them. In my case it's usually easy to resist because either you can barely see me in the photo or I'm in some horrifically unflattering pose. But occasionally there's a real gem.

Looking strong at Elizabeth 8K, not looking so strong at Big Sur

I really like these two pictures, for entirely different reasons. The photo on the left, from the Elizabeth 8K, shows me looking quite strong. I think I'm fairly close to the finish, with a good-looking stride and good posture. And I'm absolutely drenched with sweat; that shows what it's like to run a good race. The photo on the right, from the Big Sur Marathon, shows me in a very different light, around Mile 22 when I'm nearly totally exhausted and reduced to walking. I think it says a lot about what it takes to complete a marathon.

But I don't think I like either picture enough to buy it -- at least not at the prices they're being offered at right now. Carolina Snapshot actually has a fairly reasonable deal for an individual photo: $14.99 for a web-resolution individual image. Depending on what "web resolution" is, I can imagine myself going for that deal. But not for an 8K race I was using as a tune-up. MarathonFoto has a $14.95 offer for a 5 X 7 print, but the cheapest digital photo is $44.95. If I bought a photo the main thing I'd be using it for is to share on blogs and Facebook, and I'm certainly not going to pay $44.95 for the privilege.

If either of these companies offered a reasonably-priced web-resolution photo, say 800 X 600 resolution, for 5 bucks, I probably would have bought one of each, and maybe one or two more from Big Sur. Instead, they've priced me (and I'd wager, thousands of other runners) out of the market. I'd love to see a race photo company try that out; I'd like to think they could do better than they do with their pricey $70 framed photos.

Details of today's workout are below:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

2 Tempi

The plural of "tempo" in Italian is "tempi." My training schedule this week had me running a moderate-paced 8 miles yesterday and a 5-mile recovery run today. So naturally that means I actually ran a hard 5.5 yesterday (plus warm-up and cool-down) and a hard 6.38 today (with no warm-up or cool-down). That's okay, it makes up for the 3 X 1600 meter intervals I won't be running tomorrow.

What made me do it? Peer pressure. Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are DART group runs, and both yesterday and today, some folks showed up who wanted to run fast. Yesterday, it was Jeremy and Matt, and today it was Adam. Yesterday, after I warmed up with the 1.39-mile run into town, we started out at about a 7:45 pace, and just got faster with every mile. By the end, Jeremy and Matt left me in the dust and I "decided" that my last three-quarters of a mile would be a cool-down while they cranked out something like a 6:30 pace for the final mile.

Today, I told Adam I wanted to take it easy, which ended up being around a 7:30 average pace for the whole DART loop, with a 7:10 thrown in on one of the miles for good measure. Uh, I don't think that counts as "easy." While neither of these runs was quite at race pace for the 10K distance, but they were both hard efforts—solid tempo runs.

With just a week and a half to go before the Steamboat Marathon, I'm getting into serious taper mode, which means shorter runs of equal intensity. Tomorrow I won't be running at all—I'll use my spin class as a cross-training recovery effort. My long run on Sunday will be just 13 miles, and all next week I'm only doing recovery runs. So this week I'm only going to log about 38 miles, plus an hour-long spin class that's roughly the equivalent of a 6-mile run. Next week I'll do even less, only about 28 miles before the race. The idea is to be well-rested, but not lethargic, come race day.

Details of the past two days' workouts are below:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Is it the end of recovery or beginning of taper?

Today I ran my one and only long run between Big Sur and Steamboat: A 17-miler. Since I had run a hard 10K race yesterday, I knew this would be a bit of a challenge, made even more so by the warm weather, about 65 degrees at the start and closer to 75 or 80 by the finish, with lots of humidity.

I met up with the DART group at 7 a.m. as usual. Jeremy had already run 7, Todd was up for 17, Matt and Tim only wanted to do 10, and new runner Heather was interested in 10 as well. After a minute or two, Chad showed up, having run 3+ miles from his house to the start, and already drenched in sweat. We decided to run a 10-mile loop, then go for 7 more with whoever was still interested. Despite the heat, it was a gorgeous morning, and we all chatted about our races the previous day and got to know Heather, a former college cross-country racer who was starting to move up to longer distances. Chad and I tried to take it easy, both having raced the day before and knowing we had a long day ahead of us. Despite our best efforts, our first 10 miles were a little fast, between 8:20 and 8:30.

Back at the CVS, we hydrated as much as possible. I refilled my fuel belt and Chad bought two bottles of Gatorade to add to the two water bottles he was carrying. Since all the Gatorade wouldn't fit in his bottles, I took several big gulps of one of his bottles. I didn't want to drink too much because Gatorade doesn't always settle well in my stomach.

Todd, Chad and I said goodbye to the rest of the group and decided to run on hilly Grey road for those last 7 miles. It was now quite warm, but at least there was a breeze to cool us off a bit. Our pace now slowed into the 8:40s as we went up and down the hills. When we got to the top of the last hill, we took a break and I drained my two 8-ounce bottles of liquid. We were soaked through with sweat. Then we turned around and headed back to town, trying to push the pace where we could but slowing a bit on the hills. We ran the last mile at a 9:26 pace. Surprisingly to me at least, it didn't feel any slower than the other miles we had run -- we were simply that tired.

After the obligatory coffee at Summit, I gave Chad a ride home and then headed home myself. As I peeled my shoes and socks off I saw that my toes were wrinkled, as if they had been sitting in a bathtub for a couple of hours. Which, I guess, in effect, they had.

Starting this week I'll begin a full taper, with Steamboat just two weeks away. Weekday runs will be shorter and easier, and next Sunday's long run is only 13 miles.

Details of today's workout are below:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Race Recap: The Siskey Y 10K

My workout schedule called for a 10K tune-up race today in preparation for the Steamboat Marathon in two weeks. I decided to see if I could round up a few DART teammates to join me running the Siskey Y 10K, and Mark Ippolito, Tim Richter, and Terry Ake signed on. Unfortunately Marc Hirschfield was a last-minute scratch due to illness.

The DART crew post-race
The race had an early start: 7:00 a.m., which meant that Mark picked me up at 5:10. As we soon discovered, that's 20 minutes before Starbucks opens. After driving to Starbucks and waiting for it to open, we finally got on the road to Matthews, NC at 5:35. Fortunately there wasn't any traffic at that time, and registering for the race was a breeze.

We had enough time for a quick warm-up, and the first thing we discovered is that the start of the race isn't exactly downhill, as I had thought in Thursday's strategy post. To the contrary, it was the steepest uphill segment on the course. Here's how my Garmin profile compares to profile I'd planned for (the course repeats the same 5K loop):

Above: my planned profile; Below: The actual profile
As you can see, the start was quite different -- it was roughly a 50-vertical-foot climb in about a third of a mile. After that, the course was pretty much as expected, with nice, gentle rolling hills. My goal was to run a 7:00 per mile pace, for a 43:30 overall time and a personal record. Back when I thought Mile 1 was all downhill, I had been hoping for a 6:40 first mile.

As we lined up for the start, there was another surprise -- pace teams! I'd never seen a pace team at a 10K before, but given the fact that there was a 7-minute pace team, I figured I'd join up. After a "ready-set-go," we took off, up that tough little hill. My hopes for a 6:40 first mile were dashed almost instantly. Instead, I struggled to a 6:58. Mile 2 was mostly uphill, but there were some small bits of relief, and I ran it in 7:01. I knew Mile 3 would start with a downhill section but end with a long uphill, so I just hoped to hang on until I could make it to mostly-downhill Mile 4. I passed a couple people heading up the hill, but as I neared the crest, one woman passed me back. She was a 5K racer, and sprinted to the finish while I headed back up the steep hill we had started on.

My time for Mile 3 was 7:06, but I was tiring fast, and as before, I hadn't really counted on the steep uphill start to Mile 4. At this point I had dropped the 7-minute pace team -- I guess they couldn't quite handle an actual 7-minute pace! There was no one in sight ahead of me; I knew there were at least three runners in front, but I also knew there was no chance of me catching them. The new goal was to avoid being caught! When I finally reached the downhill section of Mile 4, I knew there was no chance of making up time; I just had to hang on. Mile 4 split: 7:11. I still had some gas in the tank, but I wasn't sure I could hang on until the finish without slowing more. During Mile 5, I spotted the two race leaders, who turned out to be Jason Holder and Aaron Linz, guys I had seen at races and on Facebook but didn't really know. They had already finished the "lollipop" loop at the end of the course and were heading back on their final mile, looking strong. I pushed onward, finishing Mile 5 in 7:19.

One mile to go, all I needed to do was hang on. Mile 6 starts with a downhill, and I tried to cruise as fast as possible while still taking a bit of a breather. Now there was just .7 miles, uphill, to the finish. I pushed as hard as I could, around a corner beyond which I hoped to see the finish line. The hill just kept going up. I slowed a bit, then reminded myself that there was surely less than a half mile to go. I pressed on harder. The last little bit of the course was a slight downhill, and I tried to pick up the pace even more as I raced to the finish line. I was disappointed that I wouldn't make my goal, but I knew I had run a solid, hard race.

Then, surprisingly, I saw the timer at the finish register just 43:00, less than 100 meters away. It ticked 43:17 as I crossed the line! Somehow I had run sub-seven-minute miles even though my only sub-seven-minute split was a 6:58. It took a few moments for me to remember to stop my GPS, and it had only recorded 6.07 miles, not 6.21-mile 10K. So the course was probably a little short. Still, Garmin recorded my average pace as a 7:09, which would still be a PR for the 10K distance.

The official results are here. I got credit for a 6:59 pace, and finished in fifth overall out of 62 participants. Tim ran a great race and finished third, while Terry placed first in his age group and Mark was third in his group (I was first in the same group). A great day for DART!

I actually got a $25 gift certificate for the age group win, so this race was effectively free for me (assuming I make my way down to Charlotte to cash in my prize). Not bad for a morning's work!

This was a well-run race with good timing and excellent support on the course -- there was never any question which way to run. The only thing I'd suggest to make it better would be to place mile markers on the course and make sure it's a legitimate 10K distance. And maybe smooth out some of those hills!

The details of today's race are below:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Strategy for the Siskey Y 10K

On Saturday I'll be running my one and only tune-up race before the Steamboat marathon, the Siskey Y 10K. Marc Hirschfield has made a map of the route on MapMyRun.

The 10K simply repeats the 5K loop twice -- both the 5K and the 10K start at the same time.

If the elevation data from that site is to be trusted, the loop has two hills, each of them relatively small. The 5K has a cumulative gain of 105 feet, for a 210-foot gain for the whole route. That's quite similar to the 6.38-mile DART loop I run several times a week. The link takes you to MapMyRun of that route, which gives a 200-foot gain. That's not nearly the 338-foot gain of the UNCC Homecoming 5k, but it's still a fairly hilly route. On the plus side, the hills seem quite gradual, with each of its two climbs rising about 50 feet in around .7 miles (again, nothing like the 140-foot climb in Mile 2 at UNCC). Here's the elevation profile of the 5K loop:

Siskey 5K elevation profile

One thing I don't like about this race is its downhill start. I'd much rather have a flat stretch or even a gradual uphill to get warmed up. And the steepest uphill on the course (albeit gradual) is reserved for the finish. But all in all, I don't mind this sort of gradual hill. It's what I work out on all the time:

The DART loop elevation profile

Note that we're talking about much bigger hills here -- each gridline represents 50 feet in this graph, and only 10 feet in the Siskey profile. But the hill that starts at about Mile 0.7 on the DART loop rises about 50 feet in .7 miles, just like the Siskey climbs. So, how do I run this race?

My goal is to run it in 43:30, which is a 7-minute-mile pace. For a race this long, I figure a steady pace is best, but since Mile 1 is downhill, I should probably take it faster than 7-minute pace. I think I'll shoot for about 6:40. Then I could run the remaining miles in 7:04 pace and still meet my goal. Mile 4 (the first mile of the second lap) is downhill as well, so depending on how I'm feeling, I might pick up the pace again there, or use it as a recovery mile to save something for the finish.

Weather for this race looks to be about 60 degrees, which is a little warm for me, but I think I'm better prepared for warm temperatures than I was a couple months back at the St. Leo 10K. I'm looking forward to this one!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Impromptu speed work

I'm not sure what exactly I was thinking this morning. The plan was to run into town and do the regular 6.38 mile DART loop at a pretty quick pace, maybe even 7:30 miles. When I arrived, however, Chad and Jeff were there and neither one of them was interested in going very fast. Jeff only had time to do four, so I decided I'd run four with them and see if Chad was interested in doing a bit more later. After 3 miles at about an 8-minute pace, I decided to see what I could do on the final mile, so I took off and hit the "lap" button on the GPS. As it turned out, there was only 0.79 miles left on the loop, so I got a 1200-meter speed workout. My pace: 6:29/mile. I took a cooldown lap around the block and met back up with Chad and Jeff.

Here's the graph of my pace for the whole run. It's pretty obvious where I started to push the pace.

Someday soon I need to see if I can maintain that pace for a full 5K -- 6:26 miles gives you a sub-20-minute time, which I think I might be able to do if the stars align properly.

Chad and I both needed some more miles, so we ran down to the Davidson College Trails and did the 5K loop at a moderate pace. This gave me a chance to get a good GPS recording of the route. Over at the DART Blog, I've been cataloging our favorite local runs, and this morning I added the trails to the list.

Below are the details for the two runs:

Monday, May 16, 2011

How much noise does GPS correction remove?

A few weeks ago I wrote about how elevation measures on GPS devices are notoriously inaccurate. Correcting the data based on more accurate geographic surveys can fix some of problem, but can also introduce error. For the most part, however, the corrected data seems to be better.

But when I'm running a new race, I frequently use Garmin Connect's Explore feature to see if anyone has shared their recording of the race route. It can be tricky to find an older route (hint -- focus the map on the start of the race and enter the date and approximate mileage of the previous year's run), but when you do, it can come in very handy! In less than three weeks, I'll be running the Steamboat Marathon, and I was able to find this record of one runner's race from last year (Congrats on your first marathon, bhatton59!).

Unfortunately, when you're looking at someone else's route, GPS elevation correction is disabled. That means the cumulative elevation gains reported for the route are likely to be off by quite a bit. But how much? It's hard to know exactly, as each location has its own GPS problems (trees, buildings, mountains, and so on), but I think I have come up with a couple ways to guestimate how much error there is in uncorrected elevation data.

I took my six longest runs (all over 19 miles) and viewed the corrected and uncorrected cumulative elevation data for each. For these runs, the difference between corrected and uncorrected data ranged from 171 to 626 feet. That's a pretty big range! Even when you figure out the difference based on the average correction per mile, there's still a big range. For the Fellowship of the Idiots run, the correction per mile averaged only 8.9 feet, but for a 20-mile training run I did in February, the average was over 32 feet -- that's nearly three times the amount of correction. Overall, the amount of correction ranged from 12 to 42 percent.

So how does this affect bhatton59's elevation data from last year's Steamboat Marathon? Her uncorrected record shows a cumulative loss of 2,128 feet and a gain of 742. Now since we know the race starts at an elevation of about 8,128 feet and descends to 6,728 feet, the true cumulative elevation loss must be at least 1,400 feet. So there's about 728 feet of wiggle room in the record. Based on my data, that 728 feet could be off by anywhere from 12 to 42 percent -- from 87 feet to 305 feet. That doesn't change the cumulative elevation loss much -- it's going to range from 2,041 feet to 1,823, but it means the actual uphill on the course could be anywhere from 664 to just 437 feet -- that's a big difference from the uncorrected 742 feet of gain reported on the Garmin site.

Another way to guesstimate the uphill on the course is to look at bhatton59's player:

Garmin Connect actually allows you to click on any point along the graph to get the elevation and distance information. In this way, I could click on the obvious major hills and avoid data points that look like they may be noise. Adding all these points up, I came up with a cumulative loss of 1,961 feet and a gain of 563, which is right about the middle of the range predicted by my initial calculation. That's a lot of downhill, but actually about the same as the corrected total elevation loss I recorded at Big Sur: 1,863 feet. So I should probably be able to handle the downhills, and the total of around 563 feet of climbing shouldn't add too much difficulty. My major worry will be the hill from Mile 20.23 to 22.27: a climb of about 186 feet, on tired legs. There was a similar hill in a similar spot at Big Sur, and I slowed from an under-8-minute-pace to a 9-minute pace, and never recovered. Hopefully this time around, with better hydration, I'll be better prepared for a hill in the closing miles of a race.

Details of yesterday's workout are below:

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Downhill Speed Workout

Yesterday I had a "rest" day so I took my first-ever spin class. It was quite a workout: You ride stationary bikes to loud music with a group of people while a leader guides the pace. For this workout, after a warm-up, she had us imagine climbing a steep hill. You can adjust the resistance on your bike, so as we rode, we gradually increased resistance until it was so strong we had to stand up. After riding standing for what seemed like forever, she announced "three minutes to go!" I couldn't make it, so I ended up sitting and decreasing the resistance for a bit, then standing for the last two minutes. "Okay," she said, "you're done standing, but you're STILL CLIMBING! Decrease the resistance, but pedal faster. If this isn't harder than the first part of the hill, you're not doing it right!" This went on for seven or eight more minutes, until finally we were allowed a couple minutes of recovery before heading up the next hill. One thing I noticed over the course of the entire 55-minute workout: We never went "downhill" -- it was either up or flat the whole way, preferably with an imaginary headwind.

So, inspired either by that workout or by the fact that I'll be running a mostly-downhill marathon in just over three weeks, today I decided I needed to do a downhill workout. The plan: Run my 8-mile hill route, but take the downhills as fast as possible, while recovering (as much as possible) on the uphill segments. I figured I'd probably be doing the downhills at about a 7-minute pace and the uphills at 9- or 10-ish.

After a short warmup, I hit the first downhill stretch (which as you'll see below, doesn't register as a hill on Garmin. Trust me, it's a hill). I managed a 7:20 pace. Not bad, but I need to do better. After a block of uphill, it was back downhill for a quarter-mile. I only managed a 7:30 pace here, perhaps partly due to the fact that half of this section was on trails/gravel roads. After nearly a mile of rolling hills that I counted as uphill (net 58-foot elevation gain), I hit the first major downhill: 7:10. That's more like it! After another long uphill stretch, I hit the second long downhill, a mile with a flattish-to-uphill section in the middle. I counted it as all downhill, 7:01 pace. Then it was back to the top of the hill, nearly a solid 150-foot climb with a short downhill in the middle.

Now it was time to turn around and head back down what is really two chunks with a slight uphill in the middle, a little under a mile long. I decided to try to maintain an equal effort on the uphill section. Chunk #1, 6:54, uphill, 8:00, Chunk #2, 7:11. Just one major uphill left, a half-mile long. After topping that one, I decided to run hard to the finish. First, .87 miles of rolling-but-mostly-downhill: 7:41. Then, .58 miles with a 62-foot climb (including that last hill that my Garmin counts as zero): 8:28. Then I jogged around the block for a .46-mile cool-down.

I was definitely spent, and absolutely sopping with sweat. I was a little disappointed in my "all-out" final legs, but I chalk that up to the high humidity and my intense spin workout the day before. I felt good about how I handled all that downhill running, at faster than marathon pace.

Just to geek out a little bit more on this, here's a graph showing my pace and the hills for the run (I still say leg 2 is downhill, despite what Garmin says):

As you can see, I sped up dramatically for all the downhill legs. It's also interesting to see the graphic representation of my disappointing uphill leg 19 (the final hard leg before cool-down on leg 20). In that context, you can see I was working much harder on that hill than on the other uphill legs. The difficulty of this workout showed me that I definitely don't want to be doing 7-minute miles at Steamboat, despite the downhill. I'll have some posts on strategy as the race approaches.

Today's workout included 604 feet of downhill over 8 miles, which works out to 1,978 feet when stretched over an entire marathon. The Steamboat marathon includes about 2,100 feet of downhill, so that's not a bad approximation of what I'll be experiencing there. Of course, at Steamboat, you only have to climb about 700 feet, so overall other than the fact that it's at 8,000 feet elevation and more than three times as long, it should be a little easier than what I did today.

My overall pace was 8:39, but it was 9:51 on the uphills (4.42 miles including the cooldown lap) and 7:13 on the downhills (3.76 miles).

Below are the details of today's workout:

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Back up to speed

As I continue to recover from the Big Sur Marathon, I've done a couple runs now at faster than recovery pace, but nothing I could consider "fast." This morning, the plan was to actually do a tempo run, of sorts. I didn't want to kill myself, but I definitely wanted to push the pace.

I got up at 5:30, so I'd have enough time to eat a banana and do an easy 1.3-mile warm-up into town. At the CVS were Chad, Jeff, and Adam. The last time I ran with Adam, we did the loop at a 7:20 pace -- quite a bit faster than I wanted to go today. I asked him if he was okay with a 7:45 pace, and he said that sounded good, so the four of us took off. Adam and I quickly pulled away from ultra-runners Chad and Jeff, for whom a 6.3 mile run is a warm-up for their warm-up.

By the way, Jeff is going to be doing a 24-hour (!) run to benefit Batten Disease research in June. Check out his web site, and give generously. If you're in the Davidson area on June 4 or 5 you can join him and run a few laps, or even get him to run a portion of the event in a silly costume: "If you want to come by and pay for me to run with a rubber chicken on my head this will be your lucky day."

Adam and I started off quickly, with a couple 7:22 miles on some mostly downhill segments. Then the uphill came, and with it the rain. On the hills, we slowed to about a 7:50 pace. Concord Road added an extra challenge: Dozens of branches weighted down with rain made running on the sidewalk an obstacle course. You could run in the street, but then you risked getting hit by a car in the dark morning rain. We ended up settling for the sidewalk, dodging branches as we went. I don't have a good recording of the whole run, but I think we averaged about a 7:40 pace, maybe a bit faster.

After the run, Adam needed to take off right away, so I waited for Chad and Jeff. Since I was soaked to the bone, Chad let me borrow a shirt and Jeff bought me a cup of coffee. I ended up leaving the GPS on in the coffee shop and messing up my recording, but for what it's worth, here's the record of today's run:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Back to the grind

The week after a marathon, according to most guides, is no time to leap right back into training; it's unlikely to do you any good and there's a good chance of doing actual harm. So last week, the only runs I did were slow recovery runs.

After a week of recovery runs, I finally did a hard-ish run on Sunday -- 8.6 miles at an 8:42 pace. Even that is an easy pace for me, but at least it felt like running rather than jogging.

After a rest day yesterday, today I was scheduled for yet another recovery run, a 6-miler. But today is also the day the DART group meets for one of its regular runs. I told myself I'd join the DARTers, but take it relatively easy. Chad, Jeremy, and Mark were there, all runners who can leave me in the dust on any given day. My best bet was to run with Mark, who's still recovering from a couple nagging injuries. After an 8:11 first mile, we let Chad and Jeremy take off while we tried to slow it down a bit. We didn't slow down much though -- Mile 2 and 3 were 8:19 and 8:13. We did slow it up on the uphill Miles 4 and 5: 8:26 and 8:29. We finished in 8:11 for an average 8:17 pace. That's not exactly a "recovery" run, except that I can honestly say I felt refreshed rather than tired at the end -- probably because this run came after a rest day.

The plan is still for this to be a relatively easy week, running a total of just 37 miles. Tomorrow will probably be the toughest day, a 9-miler including running the 6.3 mile DART loop at a brisk pace, if not a full-out tempo pace. But I get a rest day on Thursday, so I'm not concerned about burning myself out.

Details of today's workout are below:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Are marathons worth it?

Over at 3quarksdaily, I've written a reflective column on whether marathoning is worth all the time, money, and agony. Here's a snippet:

It's 10:00 on a beautiful Sunday morning in California. To my left is some of the most spectacular coastline America has to offer. I'm walking along a road on Point Lobos that is ordinarily packed with cars on days like this, but today, thanks in part to my $135 entry fee, the road has been closed to traffic.

There's only one problem: I should be running, not walking. Over the past year, I've spent hundreds of dollars on running gear and race entry fees. I've logged more than 1,600 miles training for this event, including nearly 1,000 miles in the past four months alone. I've lost over 35 pounds and steadily improved my speed and stamina. Why can't I make my body do what I've trained it to do?

Dozens of runners pass me on either side, each of them experiencing varying degrees of misery similar to my own. Most of them, like me, have traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to get here, spending $500, $1,000 or more to participate in this event, the Big Sur International Marathon. Like Boston, New York, Paris, and Berlin, Big Sur is a "destination marathon," a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is so beloved, many runners return year after year.

The race was run on May 1 this year, but Big Sur's 4,500 spots for marathoners had already sold out last October. Other races sell out even faster. This year's Boston Marathon, despite strict qualification standards, sold out in 8 hours. The 2011 Marine Corps Marathon, which tours the monuments of Washington, DC, sold out its 30,000 spots in 28 hours.

I've been bad about updating Mungerruns for the past few days, and this post was part of the reason (the other part was that I haven't been running much as I recover from Big Sur). I did have a good run yesterday, what I consider my first serious run since the marathon. The GPS details are below.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Training for a race on a short turnaround

I know, I know, I've just finished my first-ever marathon, I should take plenty of time to rest and recuperate before jumping in again. But as I trained for Big Sur, I saw that I was getting fast enough that qualifying for the Boston Marathon could actually be an attainable goal -- just one I wasn't likely to achieve at Big Sur, with its relentless hills. I will be 45 next year, so my qualifying time is just 3:30, an 8-minute pace. Based on my times in shorter races and my 3:37 at Big Sur, that pace looks to be doable. Since there aren't a lot of marathons over the summer and registration for Boston is in mid-September, my best option was to race again soon.

So I registered for the Steamboat Marathon on June 5, just five weeks after Big Sur. How do you train for a race like that? I spent 18 weeks training for Big Sur, after another 6 months training to get ready for the training program! Of course, I'm now in much better shape than I was a year ago, so my baseline is higher, but still, between recovering from Big Sur and tapering for Steamboat, there's not much time for training.

Fortunately, the book I used as a training guide for Big Sur, Pfitzinger's Advanced Marathoning, has a section on fast marathon transitions, and it offers training schedules for turnarounds as short as four weeks. But it doesn't have a five-week program, so I created my own based on Pfitzinger's four- and six-week programs. Here it is:

Click for a larger version
I actually did my first run today -- a short recovery run at a 10-ish minute pace. Tomorrow I'll "cross-train" by mowing my lawn, and then do a couple more recovery runs before my first "long" run -- an 8-miler on Sunday. My longest run will be a 17-miler three weeks from Big Sur and two weeks before Steamboat. There's a little speed work in the schedule, but as before, I'll probably switch to tempo runs if the speed work starts to affect my IT bands. I'm also thinking about doing a 10K race on Saturday, May 21. If I do that, I'll probably shorten my long run even a bit more, to 15 or 16 miles. I don't think I will actually be able to improve my conditioning over this short a period, but if I wasn't doing some hard workouts, I think I'd definitely lose something, so this will probably serve more to maintain fitness than to improve.

Steamboat is another beautiful course, but it shouldn't be nearly as difficult as Big Sur. It starts at an elevation of 8,000 feet and descends gradually to about 6,700. While there are a few climbs, it is essentially all downhill! And yet the course still counts as a Boston qualifier. The biggest challenge will probably be the elevation of the course; I'll be heading out a few days early to try to get used to it.

Some have suggested that the pounding on my quads during all those downhills will also be challenging. I agree, but it's also true that this course has no more downhill than Big Sur, so I think it's a level of pounding that I can probably handle.

Details of today's workout are below:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Race Report: The Big Sur International Marathon

As I drove towards Monterey, California, last Friday, the wind was blowing furiously in from the sea. Beside Highway 1 was a row of dunes over a hundred feet tall, and sand was being driven over the top of them, half-burying the paved recreational path at the foot of the dunes.

I checked into my hotel and arrayed my electronic gear for charging:

You can never be too thin or have too many electronic devices!

I donned my running gear and went for a recovery run before visiting the expo to pick up my race packet. The wind continued to gust, blowing sand from the beach into my face as I tried to relax and loosen up during an easy five-mile run. If it was this windy on the shores of the relatively-protected Monterey Bay, what would it be like in two days, when I would be running along the exposed cliffs of Big Sur?

The race expo on Friday afternoon was a relaxed affair, with runners just beginning to trickle in. I picked up my bib, D-tag, and shirt, then strolled into the exhibitor's area where I bought a couple pairs of $1 throwaway gloves. Prominently on display was a stack of Big Sur souvenir fleece blankets. In retrospect, I probably should have bought one!

The next morning I met up with fellow DARTer Todd Hartung, and we went for another easy run along Monterey Bay. This time, the wind was much lighter; it was actually quite pleasant, if a bit chilly. At race pace, the weather would have been perfect. Big Sur would be Todd's 26th marathon and my first; he's a lot faster than me, so this would be my only chance to run with him all weekend. Later that day we drove the Big Sur course (I wrote a recap of that drive here). Suffice it to say that, while the hills on the course were daunting, the scenery was breathtaking. We stopped at several points along the way and tried to imagine what it would be like on race day, when the runners would have the highway all to themselves. By this time, the wind had picked up again. What would tomorrow's weather bring?

At dinner we once again stuck to the carbo-loading regime. Our restaurant featured an annual "marathon pasta" in honor of the race, and Todd and I both ordered it: Whole-wheat noodles with potatoes, peas, and corn. It was a little bland, but that was okay -- I'd rather have bland food than something exotic that might upset my stomach. Joining us for dinner were Todd's wife, and my father and stepmother, who had flown down from Oregon in Dad's small plane to watch me race. The three of them mocked us with their protein- and fat-laden meals, and we pretended not to care. I like pasta as much as the next guy, but it doesn't hold a candle to a nice piece of steak or fish -- especially when the pasta isn't bathed in delicious, fattening sauce.

I went to bed around 9:30, grateful that my parents, who were sharing a room with me, were also turning in early. I set my alarm for 3:30 and hoped to get at least a couple hours of sleep while I fretted about the race. The weather forecast was sunny, light winds, and 43 degrees at race time, warming to 55 or 60 by my projected finish time. I couldn't decide whether to wear a singlet alone, or to wear a short-sleeved compression shirt underneath. The decision was made for me when I realized I hadn't packed a short-sleeved compression shirt! I put on an old pair of sweatpants and sweatshirt over my shorts and singlet, and headed to the hotel lobby to meet Todd.

We walked to the bus pickup area, just two blocks from our hotel. The pickup was meticulously organized by race officials wearing matching jackets, ties, and running shoes. We were on a bus and on our way in a matter of minutes. We arrived at the starting area in Carmel at about 4:30, walking through the largest array of porta-potties I've ever seen before finding a stone wall we could sit on while we awaited the 6:45 start. That was the good news. The bad news was that it was unbelievably cold. I was shivering within minutes, even while I maxed out my layers and wore my $1 gloves. Why hadn't I bought one of those blankets?!? The other bad news is that we were directly in front of the loudspeakers used to make pre-race announcements. Somehow Todd and I managed to protect our ears and shiver our way through the hour and a half wait, availing ourselves of the generous porta-potty array multiple times before getting herded towards the starting line. It was only then that we realized what hundreds of runners had already figured out: There was a huge, heated grocery store right next to the start line, open 24 hours!

As I walked to the starting area, I began to warm up, and by the time I arrived in our "corral" (actually just a loosely defined area with no physical separation from the other starting groups), I knew I wouldn't be too cold on this race. My plan was to stay with the 3:30 pace team for as long as I could. Most large marathons have designated pacers running at set speeds, helping the runners achieve their goals. For Big Sur, 3:30 was the fastest team, and it was also my goal. There were also teams running 3:40, 3:50, and so on.

I knew that a 3:30 pace would be very difficult for me on a course as hilly as Big Sur, but I had trained hard for this race and figured I might as well give it a shot. Todd, fresh off a 3:18 performance in Charlottesville, was going to be going even faster, so this was a way to stay with someone running a pace I should be comfortable with for many miles. Here's the scene at the starting line:

Many runners, many cameras

There were a couple hundred runners ahead of me, but thousands arrayed behind me. Here's a self portrait:

 Me and a few of my closest friends. The tiny guy to the left finished about 10 minutes ahead of me

At this point, between the adrenaline of the imminent start and the proximity of hundreds of warm bodies, I was finally feeling warm enough to remove my sweatpants and sweatshirt. I tossed them to the side of the road, where we assured they would later be picked up and donated to charity. After the Star-Spangled Banner and the rockinest invocation I've ever heard (including something to the effect of "God grant me the strength to persevere in the face of adversity, the courage to stop in case of injury, and the wisdom to know the difference"), we were off.

The race starts with one of its hilliest sections. Within a few hundred meters, we were headed up a hill, which crested in a half-mile, then descended just as rapidly. This would be the notorious 25-mile hill on our return, but at this point it seemed only a minor obstacle. The hills kept coming, rolling higher and higher in a lovely residential neighborhood of million-dollar homes with tantalizing glimpses of the ocean every few hundred meters. This is the Carmel Highlands, considered by many to be the toughest section of the course -- when encountered at the end of the race! By Mile 4, we crested the highlands and started down a long hill. My splits for miles 1 to 4 were 7:56, 7:42, 7:50, 7:59. Here's a photo of me crossing one of the many beautiful bridges in Carmel Highlands.

Yep, that's one fine bridge

Mile 5 was a solid downhill stretch. I figured I should run this hill in an equal effort to the uphill sections, so I strode down at what seemed like a comfortable pace, which turned out to be 7:23! Perhaps a little too fast. The 3:30 pace group was now well behind me. I was still feeling very strong, not winded at all, so I decided that was okay -- as long as I didn't start running up hills at that pace. At this point we emerged into much more open country, with sweeping views of the dramatic coastline. Here are a couple photos from this stretch:

Looking good, Dave!

Feeling good, Dave!

The gorgeous scenery just goes on and on

I struck up conversations with a couple of folks in this section, including a guy who actually owned one of the multi-million-dollar homes we were all drooling over as we ran by. He had run Boston two weeks earlier and was hoping to just hang on for a 3:30 pace (kind of like me, with the exception of the whole "just ran Boston" part). He said the hardest part of the race for him was going to be resisting the temptation to turn up his driveway the two times he'd be passing it. Between the scenery and the conversation, the miles passed quickly. My splits for miles 6 to 9 were 7:57, 7:56, 7:53, 7:51.

The Big Sur course had to be revised this year due to a landslide just past the Rocky Creek Bridge, which had only been partly repaired a week before the race. Normally it's a point to point race, starting in Big Sur and ending in Carmel, where we started this year. This year it was an out-and-back course, with a turnaround just past Mile 12, right before the bridge, and a small extra loop at Point Lobos State Park. This means we wouldn't be running one of the most dramatic sections of the course, Hurricane Point, nearly a 600-foot climb to a spectacular bluff overlooking the ocean below. Although the consensus was that this year's course was harder, I couldn't help feeling like we hadn't done the "real" Big Sur Marathon. Besides, we missed out on an amazing view. Here's a picture I took from Hurricane point on Saturday when Todd and I drove the course:

As I approached the turnaround, the hills got nasty once again, but I still felt quite strong. I dropped the Big Sur Homeowner and maintained a pace solidly under 8-minute-miles. Here's a self-portrait:

Still looking good and feeling good, Dave!

As I climbed the last, tallest hill on the course, I wondered when I'd see Todd. I knew he was ahead of me, and I figured by this point he would be several minutes ahead. I had the idea of taking a picture of him as he ran by, so I got my camera out. Here's a shot from the crest of that final hill:

No Todd here

After a few minutes running along carrying the camera, I began to feel self-conscious. How long was I going to have to keep this up? Was the turnaround farther ahead than I thought? What if the camera fell out of my hand? WHERE ARE YOU, TODD?!? Finally I put the camera away. A couple minutes later, Todd ran by, chatting away with another runner. "Looking great, Dave!" he shouted. I shouted something encouraging back, but had no time to take out the camera and take a picture. I had also wanted to take a photo of the turnaround point, but it was also a water station, so I decided the better of it and took the opportunity to hydrate.

Fortunately, I had taken a picture from the turnaround point the day before

Then I headed back up the hill, still feeling quite good when I reached the 13-mile marker. My splits for Miles 10-13 were 7:56, 8:06, 8:07, 7:58.

I don't have an exact half-marathon split, but I do remember looking down at my watch just after I passed the 13-mile marker and seeing a 1:43. That's the same as my half-marathon PR, on a much flatter course. I hoped I wasn't being too aggressive. But this is also the section where the 3:30 pace team started to catch up to me. My watch still showed something like a 7:50 average pace, so it seemed odd to me that the 3:30 team would be here -- they were supposed to be running 8:01s; they should be two minutes behind me. Each time the pace team caught up to me, I'd pick up the pace just a bit. I just felt more comfortable in front of them than behind them. I decided to snap some pictures to pass the time:

I'm not the only one taking pictures

I noticed the guy ahead of me was taking pictures too, so I asked him if he'd mind if we swapped cameras and took pictures of each other. His camera was an iPhone, and even though I have an iPhone myself, somehow I screwed up and pressed the wrong button on-screen, and couldn't take the shot of him. He didn't mind, and still managed to get a picture of me:

Still looking good, Dave! But, um, next time would you mind not taking a picture when there's a car parked between you and the view?

By now my legs were starting to feel a little tired. I began to labor a bit on the uphills. It was getting warm. But I was staying ahead of the 3:30 pace team, and the scenery was as spectacular as ever. My pace for miles 14-17 was 7:58, 7:49, 8:06, 7:50.

Around Mile 18, the 3:30 pace team finally passed me, along with Big Sur Homeowner and the tiny guy from the starting line. I kept up with them for the next couple of miles, running miles 18-20 in 7:50, 7:42, and 7:53. But just after I passed the Mile 20 marker, I entered Carmel Highlands. Remember that 7:23 downhill mile? Now I'd have to run up that same hill.

This was also the final relay change point, and there was a big crowd of runners waiting for their teammates for the exchange. I saw a big table loaded with water about 10 feet off the road, but no one was handing out water to the racers. With a big hill ahead of me, I wanted some of that water. I weaved through the crowd of relay runners to the water table and reached for a cup as I ran by. Instead of grabbing it, I knocked it over. I briefly thought about stopping and grabbing another cup, but I decided against it. There had been plenty of water stations along the course, sometimes coming even more than once a mile, so I figured there'd be another station soon. I'm not sure if this was a critical error, but it certainly contributed to my losing steam. I took that hill slowly... very slowly. Mile 21's split was 9 minutes flat.

Finally there was a water station, and I was able to keep going. But I never got back to my 8-minute pace. Miles 22 and 23 were 8:51 and 9:00. I was spent. I hadn't taken any photos since around Mile 15. At this point I was on the Point Lobos spur, a march through a narrow, tree-lined road with no breeze to cool me. I was hoping for a stunning view when we reached the ocean, but when I arrived, I didn't have the capacity to appreciate it. Finally, I decided to walk. I hadn't walked yet, except for a few steps at water stops to make sure I drank every drop.

The 3:30 pace team was now a distant memory, and I shifted my goal: I didn't want the 3:40 pace team to pass me. I ran for a hundred meters or so, then walked again at the Point Lobos aid station. I told myself that I needed to run until I hit the Mile 24 marker, under a half-mile away. I didn't make it. I told myself I had to start running again after 30 seconds. Finally I passed Mile 24, a 10:14 mile. I was now four minutes behind my 3:30 pace. I told myself to run five minutes before walking again. I made it four, then walked for 60 seconds.

I was back on Highway 1, and ahead loomed the final hill of the race. What had seemed so easy at the start of the race now seemed like a huge barrier. I decided to snap a picture to show the world what a horrific ordeal I now faced:

Uh, Dave? That's really not a very big hill

I told myself to run at least to the bottom of the hill. I made it all the way to the aid station at Mile 25.1, halfway up the hill. Mile 25 split: 9:32. Maybe I'd be able to crank out a fast finish. But first, I walked for 60 seconds as I finished my cup of water. Then I started running. I wasn't going to let myself walk again. I told myself I could run slow, but I couldn't walk. I crested the hill and started down the other side. This should be easy, it's a downhill finish. Somehow, it wasn't easy. I shuffled down the hill. Practically there, right? Not quite. There was a seemingly interminable flat stretch until I finally arrived at the bridge where we had started. Looking at my GPS record, I now see that it was in fact about a third of a mile. My Mile 26 split was 10:16. The finish line, I knew, was a little farther up the highway than the start. Surely I'd be able to pick up the pace for that last, final sprint to the finish. I did speed up, but not much. My Garmin records the last 0.32 miles at an 8:25 pace—slower than my average pace for the entire race.

But I was credibly running across the finish line—I hadn't walked for over a mile. I even remembered to raise my arms in victory as I finished.

My final time: 3:37:50 according to my watch, but officially 3:37:55. That's a bit slower than my goal, but still a very credible first-marathon time. I had two backup goals: Faster than 3:45, and sub-four-hour, and I beat those handily on a very difficult course. While the corrected elevation recorded by a Garmin isn't necessarily accurate, my record shows a cumulative elevation gain of 1,859 feet. The hilliest training run I've done is the Fellowship of the Idiots, with a cumulative gain of 1,210 feet. Even if you extended that terrain over 26.2 miles, it would still only be 1,653 feet. While the hills at Big Sur were never especially steep, they were relentless: this is a very challenging marathon.

I finished in 354th place out of 3,218 runners, 280th out of 1,670 men. In my age division, I was 42nd out of 246. My average pace for the race ended up being 8:19 per mile. Many of the commenters on Facebook who have run Big Sur in the past said that this out-and-back course was actually tougher than the usual point-to-point course. Fellow DARTer Todd Hartung said he felt as good as he ever did for this race, but his 3:32:29 time was more than 14 minutes slower than his PR, so that gives you a sense of how hard the course was. So, despite not attaining my top goal, I'm very happy with my performance in this race, my first-ever marathon.

After I crossed the finish line, I handed my camera to my dad, who was waiting in the spectator area, and he snapped this photo of me.

I'm amazed I managed to raise my arms this high. Heck, I'm amazed I was able to stand up at this point.

Then I wobbled over to accept my one-of-a-kind, hand-made ceramic finisher's medal. This is definitely a keeper!

Simulated wood-grain desktop not included

Next we were funneled through a station where we were given nice trays of fresh fruit and energy bars, and finally to a surprisingly small self-service water station. While I can understand that bottled water is wasteful, it's quite difficult to get yourself a cup of water when you're feeling woozy and holding a tray of food in one hand. Fortunately by this time my dad had arrived and was willing to get me as much as I wanted. I collapsed in the grass a few yards from the water station while Dad continually refilled my cups of water. I must have drank at least 12 of them.

I do have to say the the experience of completing a marathon, especially such a dramatic one, is unlike anything I've ever experienced. While I've struggled at the finish of races before, I've never felt so simultaneously drained and elated at the end of a race. It was a fantastic journey, and I'm already planning my next one.

Below is the GPS record of my run.