Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cadence work: Day 2

Once again today I was running with a big group, but I still wanted to work on cadence. It was tough because Julie, Jeremy's wife, who I've heard a lot about but never met, was running with us for the first time (or at least the first time when I was there). So I wanted to chat with her, and also with Chas, who has run with the group a few times but who I hadn't run with for several months.

It's tough to keep up your end of a conversation when you're also trying to count steps. I've gotten a bit of a sense of what a 180-step-per-minute cadence feels like, but not enough of one to do it automatically. My plan was to change the conversation topic to cadence. I got Rodney and Chas on board and we were all counting steps for a few minutes. But how long are you going to keep that up? Not long, it turns out, so soon we were back to talking about other things and I lost track of my cadence once again. I do think, when I was focusing on it, which was perhaps about 25 percent of the time, I did manage to maintain my 180-step-per-minute goal fairly effectively.

The run itself was a fairly easy 6-miler. I didn't feel bad, despite considerable humidity this morning. Maybe I'm finally starting to acclimatize to the heat and recover from my two marathons. I'll have a better sense of that when I run a 13-miler this weekend.

I didn't have a chance to upload my GPS record of today's run, but I think I averaged roughly an 8:15 pace.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Working on Cadence

I've long suspected that my running cadence (the number of steps taken per minute of running) is a little slow. I've read in a few places that a faster cadence can help you reduce injuries, most critically, in the Jack Daniels running guide. Daniels suggests that most runners do best with a cadence of 180, which seems quite fast to me.

During today's run, I decided to try checking my cadence, so about 3 miles in, I looked at my watch and started counting every other step. I figured I'd count to 30 and see how long it takes -- a cadence of 180 would correspond to a 30-count every 20 seconds (30 counts * 2 paces per count * 3 20-second intervals in a minute). It took 22 seconds, quite consistently. That's 180 paces every 66 seconds, or 163 paces per minute. Slow!

Next step: See what it's like to run at a faster cadence. So about halfway through Mile 5, I tried to maintain my pace but run at a cadence of 180. It definitely felt harder, but I could see that it also felt as if I was lighter on my feet. A check back at my GPS record of the run suggests that I actually did speed up at this point, then slowed a bit for the first half of Mile 6. Finally I picked up the pace at the end of the run, doing the last .34 miles at a 7:30 pace, compared to roughly an 8:15 pace for the rest of the run. This felt quite strange indeed; usually I try to lengthen my stride to run faster. I was doing that, of course, but I still had to take shorter strides than I was used to, going that pace.

In the spirit of Jack Daniels, I will try keeping this up for a week or so and see how it feels. I'll probably write it up over on Science-Based Running when I'm done, so stay tuned for that.

Details of today's workout are below:

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Did you hear about my new blog?

After a month of planning, yesterday I launched my latest blog, Science-Based Running, which should be a destination blog for runners of all levels. Here's how I explain what it's all about:

The goal of this site is to focus on peer-reviewed research: Truly independent work from experts about what does and does not improve your running. Scientists have conducted thousands of studies on exercise, fitness, and nutrition, but the results are not always easy to understand, so with the help of experts, I’ll try to explain the implications of this research and how to apply it to your training program. It will never be as easy as just gulping down the latest fad nutritional supplement or buying a new gadget, but it should be more lasting.

I’ll also try to look into mainstream media reports to check their claims. Often findings that seem “scientific” wouldn’t pass muster among legitimate researchers.

Hopefully along the way I’ll be informative, entertaining, and most of all, useful, whether your goal is to run faster and win more races or just to have fun and stay fit.

The first two posts are already up: One asks whether running marathons can lead to heart disease, and the other debunks a media report claiming beer is better than water for rehydration.

My plan is to keep blogging about my daily workouts and races here, and write about issues of more general interest to runners over there. Hope you'll add it to your reading list.

Details of today's workout are below:

Friday, June 24, 2011

Finally starting to get the hang of this

Today was my fourth run carrying water bottles, and I think I'm finally starting to get used to it. I don't have guns of steel or anything, but I didn't have that feeling of total exhaustion I experienced the first few times I did it. Today I went out for a 5.5-mile recovery run, the same sort of run that slayed me last week. But while I wasn't exactly effortlessly tripping along, I actually felt pretty good, despite a temperature in the 70s and very high humidity.

Meanwhile another part of my body wasn't feeling so great: I was starting to feel a little discomfort in my IT bands, despite -- or perhaps because of -- my new exercise regimen. I've been pretty good about doing an abdominal workout every day I'm not doing a hard run, but now I'm starting to think that's part of the problem. The workout I do, based partly on Pilates, involves a fair amount of lateral leg motion that could be involving the IT bands too heavily. I think I'm going to try more standard leg lifts and see if that alleviates the problem.

Otherwise it was an enjoyable morning run, 5.58 miles at a 9:45 pace. Details are below:

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The next marathon: Richmond

After running two very tough marathons, I've decided that my next challenge should be to see what I can do on a "regular" marathon: Something at or near sea level, with minimal vertical gain. I also would like to do a race that doesn't involve quite as much travel.

Among the fall races in the area, four stood out: Outer Banks, Savannah, Thunder Road, and Richmond, Virginia. Outer Banks and Savannah are the farthest away and probably would be the most expensive. They're also pancake-flat, which actually worries me a bit since I rarely train on perfectly flat routes. Thunder Road is the local Charlotte marathon; I did the half this past year and I like it a lot, but it's still quite hilly, with almost 1,000 feet of vertical gain.

That leaves Richmond, which I've heard great things about from runners in the area. It's got about 500 feet of climbing, which isn't bad at all (Big Sur had nearly 2,000 feet of vertical gain), and the finish is downhill. Several friends will be running the race, which means I may be able to carpool and/or share a room. The drive is reasonable -- about 4 or 5 hours -- and the weather should be perfect there in mid-November. The only serious concern is wind; I've heard the course can be a bit windy, but hopefully that won't affect the pace too much.

I went ahead and signed up for the race yesterday. I have fairly lofty goals for this race, but with almost five months for training, hopefully I'll be able to run that elusive 3:30 marathon in Richmond. I'm looking forward to it.

Details of today's workout are below.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The heat is still on

Somehow I missed the start of summer. I spent a week and a half in Colorado / Utah, where the morning were always cool and the humidity never rose above 30 percent, while the of the country was sweltering.

Now, back in North Carolina, I'm really feeling the heat and humidity. Or maybe I'm just feeling the fact that I ran two marathons in five weeks. Or the fact that I've started hand-carrying water bottles for the first time. Whatever the root is, the result is the same: Workouts that would have been easy for me two months ago are now a struggle.

On Sunday I joined the DART group for a 13-miler. Actually I was hoping for more like 10 to 12 miles, but naturally plans evolve when a group of seven or eight people is trying to compromise. Based on my experience on Saturday, I decided to carry just one water bottle, switching hands every few miles.

The first 5 or 6 miles actually didn't feel too bad, and I managed about an 8:20 pace. But then around mile 7, I started to labor, a lot. I let three of the other runners run ahead, but fortunately Chad, who had done 6 miles before meeting up with the rest of us, was interested in a slower pace as well. We ran 9-minute miles for several miles, but at the start of Mile 13, even that was too much for me, and I told Chad I needed to walk a couple blocks. My pace on Mile 13 ended up being a 12:07. We did manage to pick up the pace to 9:27 for the final half-mile, a 9:02 overall average pace, but I was thoroughly exhausted at the end of the run, gulping down glass after glass of water.

Yesterday was a much-needed rest, but today I was hoping to return to form for a 6-mile tempo with the group. Adam, who always gives me a good workout, was there, and we started out at a 7:30 pace. This felt very fast for me, even on the downhill first mile, but eventually I settled into a rhythm and was able to maintain that pace through Mile 4. But Mile 5, the uphill mile that always determines how the DART loop is going, was a tough one: 8:08. I told Adam to go ahead and cruise in while I cooled down for the last 1.38 miles at an 8:40 pace. Overall it was still a 7:54 pace, so not bad, but not what I was looking for.

Details of the past two days' runs are below.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The heat is on

Through strategic travel to mountainous regions, I've somehow managed to avoid the worst of the late-spring heat wave that's plagued most of the U.S. Until now.

This morning I had planned a fairly easy 6-mile run. I wanted to do something harder than a recovery run, but not a fast run by any stretch. I also wanted to continue carrying my handheld water bottles in an attempt to do something for my upper body.

I also wanted to sleep in a bit. Instead of getting up at 6 or 6:30, I decided to wait until 8:00 to start my run. That may have been where things went wrong.

Or maybe it was just that the sum total of all my goals were incompatible. You can't carry four pounds worth of hydration gear and water, run in 80-degree heat, and maintain a pace that seemed easy in cooler weather.

After a mile or so I was already feeling the weight of the water bottles.

In Mile 3 my breath began to feel labored. I had to double-check my Garmin to see that I was still not even running 9-minute miles. By Mile 4, the weight of the water bottles was once again too much to bear, so I emptied them. Mile 5 was slower yet -- the uphill slog up South Street that often destroys me on 17-mile runs was now taking its toll after only 4.

I managed to recover a bit for the final mile home, but I couldn't have been more drenched if I had just jumped into a pool of sweat. I had to change out of my running gear so I could do my core exercises without soaking the carpet. I soaked through the new clothes, too! My average pace over 6.31 miles: 9:23.

Details of today's run are below.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Starting a new regimen

Having completed my first two marathons and done quite well in one of them, it's time to start thinking about what's in store next. Summer in the south is not a great time for marathoning, and that's fine with me -- I think I need several months to fully recover and ramp up training for my next major challenge. In fact, I haven't even decided what that challenge will be. I'd definitely like to run a marathon on a flatter course closer to sea level, and I have a couple ideas rattling around, but nothing set in stone yet.

That said, I have a few things I'd like to fix about my training regimen. First, I need to do more strength work, particularly in the core and upper body. Second, I need to find a better way to deal with my nagging IT band issues. Finally, I need to make sure I'm better prepared for those critical final miles in a marathon.

Last fall, I was taking a Pilates class weekly that I think helped a lot with core strength. Unfortunately, the class was cancelled at the end of December, and while I got a Pilates video which I followed fairly regularly, it wasn't as intense as the full-hour class. Then when I injured my shoulders in the National Half Marathon, I found I couldn't really do Pilates at all: Just lifting my arms over my head aggravated the injuries. The result: I simply didn't do any core work.

I've decided that I need to do core work every day I'm not doing a long run or tempo/speed work, which is four days in a typical week. From my Pilates experience, I now know plenty of exercises that don't involve the shoulder-aggravating moves, and I can do those exercises now, and add in shoulder work as I recover from the injuries. In addition, I've decided to start running with hand-carried water bottles rather than a fuel belt; that should help strengthen my arms (at least compared to zero arm work, which is what I had been doing).

For the IT band, I have been pretty good about stretching after every run, but I haven't done much to address the strength issue that may be at the root of the injury -- weak hip abductors. I've decided to incorporate some hip abductor work into a core exercise routine that I'll be doing four days a week. Just stretching was enough to keep the injury at bay so that I could complete long runs and tempo runs, but any time I tried to do more focused speed work, the injury would flare up again. The result was that I didn't do any speed work at all other than tempos and 8K and 10K races. I think I need a little more speed work than that, so hopefully adding the IT band exercises will allow me to do it.

The bonking issue is a little tougher to deal with. I felt like I was well-hydrated and fueled at Big Sur, and yet I still hit the wall at around Mile 21. I bonked even earlier at Steamboat, but I can probably chalk most of that up to a short recovery from Big Sur, plus inadequate compensation for the effects of altitude. Perhaps I simply started out too fast in both of these races given my level of fitness. But I can't help feeling that I still don't have enough experience running longer distances. I've actually only done three training runs longer than 20 miles: 20, 21, and 22. I think I either need a training regimen that includes more and longer long runs, or I need to change my strategy in those runs. Part of the reasoning behind the theory that you only need to do a 20-mile or so long run is that you're not running at race pace, so you don't need to run as far because you're actually on your feet just as long as you would be in a race. But looking back at my records for those three runs, I never did spend that much time on my feet: My times for the runs were 2:51, 3:08, and 3:12. My longest training run was still 25 minutes shorter than my fastest marathon. Maybe I just need to do my long runs slower!

There are actually a couple ways to deal with this issue. One is to start out the long run a little tired -- this can be accomplished by running a hard tempo or race the day before. Another would be to just do longer long runs. Or I could try running slower during my long runs. That last option might actually be the toughest, because one of the best motivation factors for long runs is running with a group, and it's hard to get the group to go slow enough.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at a new marathon training program, Jack Daniels, because it seems to feature the longest long runs. I've ordered the book, but since it has no electronic version, I'll have to wait a week or so for the post office to deliver it. I'll keep you updated on my thoughts about the Daniels program as I read it.

Details of today's workout are below:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Walking is different from running

I'm back!

Where have I been? Not running, that's where. After the Steamboat Marathon, I had planned a week-long vacation to see the sights in Colorado and Utah.

I figured while I might not be able to run for a few days, surely I'd be able to enjoy a couple short hikes while I recovered. Unfortunately, the first one I chose was a very steep hike along a creek that, more often than not, overflowed onto the trail.

Yes, that is the trail

Needless to say, this trail, while beautiful, didn't do much for my aching quads.

Over the next few days, my legs gradually felt better, and by the end of the trip, I was completing rough 12-mile hikes with no pain at all. But I didn't run at all on my vacation. I figured even though I was doing some tough hikes, my legs would be recovering and I'd be able to start up where I left off when I returned home.

Yesterday, my first full day back in Davidson, I got to test that notion. I decided to do a 9-miler: the 1.32-mile run into town, the 6.38-mile DART loop, and the 1.32-mile run home. My legs were feeling okay but not great during the warm-up run, and I hoped to take it fairly easy on the DART loop.

When I arrived in town, Chad and Marc were there. Chad was fresh off a 50-miler and Marc hadn't run for over a week, so I figured I would be able to go easy. Then Adam showed up. Adam always gives me a workout on the DART loop, and this day was no exception: we went out in 7:38, 7:29, 7:27. I was still not feeling great, and as we started uphill at the end of the run, I could tell I wasn't going to be able to maintain this pace. Adam stayed with me as I ran a 7:50 and then an 8:15 on the always-challenging uphill Mile 5. Finally I suggested that he take off while I slowed down for the final 1.38, which I completed at an 8:18 pace, for a 7:51 average pace. Not great for me on what I thought would be fresh legs. I guess hiking on rough trails isn't an ideal way to recover from a marathon. Humbled, I took it very slowly on the 1.32-mile run home.

Today I decided to just drive in for the DART loop, for a total of just 6.38 miles. Chad, Jeff, Jeremy, and Rodney joined me and they were taking it fairly easy, running roughly an 8-minute pace. Once again, by Mile 5, I was struggling, even though the pace was slower than yesterday. I managed to barely hang with Jeff as Chad, Jeremy, and Rodney picked up the pace at the end. Average pace: 8:09. Tomorrow I'll be recovering with a spin class, and hopefully by the weekend my legs will feel solid again.

Details of the last two days' workouts are below:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Race Recap: The Steamboat Marathon

The best-laid plans come to naught when confronted with the immutable laws of physics. At 8,000 feet above sea level, the air contains 25 percent less oxygen than it does at sea level. While the human body can adapt to these circumstances, all else being equal, it will never perform as well during aerobic activities at altitude as it does at sea level.

Somehow I thought that this fact of nature wouldn't affect my attempt to run my fastest marathon (in two attempts). I was wrong.

I felt great as I awoke this morning at 5:00, having spent the previous three days carbo-loading and acclimatizing to the altitude. I strolled into the town of Steamboat Springs and hopped onto the bus that would climb 1,300 feet to an elevation of 8,124 feet, near Steamboat Lake, exactly 26.2 miles away. I chatted nervously with the other runners on the bus, each of us revealing our plans for completing the race. Mine, as it turned out, was hopelessly optimistic. My strategy was to run a 7:40 pace for the first 20 primarily downhill miles, then try to hang on for a 3:30:00 finishing time, an average of 8:01 per mile.

After my experience at Big Sur, I was prepared for a long, cold wait at the top. I brought an extra layer on top of the $8 secondhand sweats I had bought, ready to discard if necessary at the starting line. I got a fellow runner to take my photo at the starting area:

Nice and toasty!

It was about 40 degrees, so perfect weather for running, but a little chilly for sitting around trying not to waste too much energy.

After a short speech, the starting gun went off without so much as a "on your marks, get set." I settled into my planned 7:40 pace but almost immediately found myself a little out of breath. The first 10 miles or so of a marathon should be relatively easy. The miles add up, and if you work too hard at the start you'll have nothing left for the finish. The first mile was downhill, then there was a short uphill, followed by another long downhill before the first major hill of the race in Mile 4. I decided to take it easy on the hill, running up it at an 8:30 pace. Then we started the long, 16-mile descent. Here's a photo of the Mile 4 hill from my preview yesterday.

There's a climb there, honest -- right after this long straight stretch

Even on the rapidly declining Miles 5 and 6, where we would descend about 600 vertical feet, I still found myself laboring for breath. Splits for miles 1-6: 7:41, 7:43, 7:41, 8:24, 7:41, 7:40.

Starting at Mile 7, the course leveled out a bit, but still continued downhill. I found it increasingly difficult to maintain my planned 7:40 pace, and gradually slowed over the next six miles. As you can see here from another preview photo, the course was beautiful, but it still didn't inspire me to run any faster:

The scenery just went on and on...

My pace for Miles 7-13: 7:47, 7:43, 7:45, 7:55, 8:08, 8:09, 8:16. This simply wouldn't do. If I was going to make my goal of an 8:01 pace for the whole run, I needed to take advantage of this extended downhill, and I just couldn't do it. I was spent. We had arrived at the half-marathon start, with its legion of porta-potties, and I decided to take a quick bathroom break, as pre-constructed in this photo Nora took during the preview drive:

Imagine me at the other end of the row, looking totally exhausted

This did not have the desired effect of making me totally refreshed and restored. Instead, I gradually got more and more exhausted. I began to contemplate taking walk-breaks. By Mile 17, I was taking a 1-minute walk-break every mile. My splits for Miles 14-20 were 9:44, 8:43, 9:12, 9:28, 9:52, 8:47, 9:52. I remember thinking that my 8:47 on Mile 19 would probably be my last sub-9-minute mile, and I was right. There was beautiful scenery all along this section, but I was hard-pressed to enjoy it. Here's a sample from the preview drive:

How picturesque! Too bad I was too exhausted to care...

All along this section of the race, the road was partially open to traffic. Runners could use one lane, but cars and (mostly) trucks were being escorted up and down the other lane. I'm not sure if this was better than just letting vehicles fend for themselves, because we ended up coughing on diesel fumes as 20 pickup trucks passed us at a time. Then at Mile 20, we passed the area where a long line of vehicles were waiting their turn up the road. I had the rare pleasure of running past a half-dozen highly-aromatic fully-laden cattle trucks. 

Another runner and I had developed similar backup strategies for this stretch of the race: Run as long as you could, then walk as long as your conscience allowed. Our runs and walks were out of sync, so Inadvertent Galloway Guy and I ended up passing each other repeatedly during this section, trading frustrated comments about how this wasn't the race we had been hoping for. After an uphill section through Mile 22, Mile 23 was finally downhill, taking us along a busy road that was open to traffic in both directions, relegating runners to a narrow, dusty shoulder. By Mile 24, I was walking more and more. My splits for Miles 21-24 were 12:51, 11:58, 10:03, 15:29.

As I approached the Mile 25 marker, I began to wonder if I would be able to run at all for the final 1.2 miles. In the distance, I could see a woman walking opposite the direction of traffic, clearly looking for a friend. When she reached the Mile 25 marker, she let out a shriek as her friend ran past me toward her. They exchanged ecstatic greetings, and then her friend ran on toward the finish. I was walking along and asked Shrieking Girl if I could be her friend too. She shrieked convincingly in support of me, but just as I passed her, my left calf cramped badly. I couldn't walk; I could barely stand. I asked Shrieking Girl to help me sit down so I could stretch my calf. She wasn't sure that was allowed because she'd be assisting a runner (I'm pretty sure it's okay to help someone as long as you're not assisting them moving forward), but finally she helped me sit down. I stretched, and it seemed to feel better. Somehow I hobbled to my feet while Shrieking Girl walked further up the course looking for more friends. A man headed the other way in his car asked if I wanted a ride to the finish. I said "Are you kidding? There's just a mile left!" I was going to make it to the finish under my own power, whether it was a 10-minute pace or a 30-minute pace.

After about a quarter-mile of walking, I decided to try running again. I told myself to go slowly, but just to run. I was gradually able to pick up the pace, until I was actually running credibly for the final mile. Mile 26 pace: 15:29. As I approached the finish, I saw Nora and Greta, who had been patiently waiting for me. I had told them to expect me around 3:30 from the start. My actual finishing time was more like 4:08 (the official results haven't yet been released), so they had been waiting a loooong time. Despite the long wait, Nora was ready with the camera, and got these shots of me at the finish:

While this wasn't the race I had planned, I was genuinely excited to be finishing!

They still give you a medal if you finish 38 minutes slower than you had hoped to.

It was about 68 degrees at the finish line, but they were handing out ice cold towels for runners to cool off with. I guess in Colorado this counts as hot! I got rid of the towel and obtained a bottle of water and lowered myself gingerly to the grass in the shade in front of the county courthouse. They were a bit stingy with the water at this race, and since I wasn't able to get up on my own power, Greta and Nora had to keep going over to the water tent to get me new bottles. Inadvertent Galloway Guy had settled nearby, and we both joked about how pathetic our races had been. It was good to see that I wasn't the only one struggling today.

After sitting on the grass guzzling water for 45 minutes, I finally confronted the problem of how to get up for the 5-block walk back to our hotel. My quads were absolutely shot, so every time I tried to stand up, I had to sit back down. Finally we found a folding chair I could use to pull myself up with, and I limped back to the room.

After a shower, four Advil and wearing compression socks for a couple hours, I was able to walk relatively easily. We went out to dinner at the local steak house, and after a couple glasses of wine, my finish in the race didn't seem nearly as disappointing.

The Garmin plot of my race is below.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Steamboat Marathon: Previewing the Course

I'm spending a relaxed day in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, trying to consume plenty of carbs and not wear myself out with too many activities before tomorrow's race.

One activity that doesn't take much energy at all is driving the course route, so I took the opportunity to get a better sense of what I'll be experiencing tomorrow. The race starts near Steamboat Lake, at an elevation of 8,126 feet. While the temperature up there was around 60 degrees, there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground. Here's a photo from nearby Pearl Lake:

Beautiful! But of course I won't be running through snow: the road itself is completely dry. What I am more concerned with is exactly how steep the hills were, and whether the elevation profile I mentioned a few days ago is accurate:

Based on this profile I had surmised that there are four major climbs. It also looks like there are two steep downhill sections, after Mile 2 and Mile 4. Driving the course, I could confirm that, but also get a sense of exactly what I'd be dealing with. None of the uphills looked especially difficult. The hilly section near the end in Mile 21-23 will be hard because of its position in the course, but it's really not very steep at all. I also am not especially concerned with the steep downhill sections near the start. I handle steeper hills at home without much problem. But one thing I hadn't noticed previously is that the downhill that starts Mile 24 is also quite steep. That might be a tough to handle on tired legs that late in the race. Fortunately it will be over fairly quickly.

Other than that, this course looks to be nearly as spectacular as the Big Sur race. I took some pictures of the course, but since I'm not planning on taking pictures during the race this time, I'm going to save them for tomorrow's recap.

What I'm really looking forward to in this race is the long, gradual downhill from Mile 5 through 20. The hill is so gradual it almost looks level, but every step will give me a nice little boost. Some of the tiny bumps on that elevation profile really are hills rather than just GPS artifacts, but they're small enough that they should just add a bit of variety to the course. This section is also probably the most beautiful -- winding through farm country with a swollen river running past the road, and snow-capped mountains in the distance. There are cattle in green fields punctuated by purple and yellow flowers, under a blue sky with just enough clouds to make it interesting. Even if I don't perform well in the race, it should be a fantastic experience.

It's down to hours...

Steamboat Springs weather forecast for tomorrow morning

For the past few weeks I've been checking the weather in Steamboat Springs, Colorado almost every day, trying to figure out what it will be like when I finally get to run the marathon there. Today I'm in Steamboat Springs, so I can see for myself. In fact, 24 hours from now as I write this, I should be running.

Right now it's about 38 degrees outside; tomorrow it should be a bit warmer (although perhaps not at Steamboat Lake where the marathon starts—1,300 feet higher in elevation than the town). I'm not as concerned about the weather at the start of the race, where it should be cool and very runnable, as at the finish, where it could be starting to get uncomfortably warm for a marathoner. The forecast for tomorrow is for a high of 80 degrees!

The race starts at 7:30 a.m., and the temperature at that time should still be in the 40s. I imagine I will shed my sweats at the starting line and wear gloves for the first couple miles, if at all. Then it will be shorts and a singlet all the way to the finish. If all goes as planned, I should be halfway through the race by 9:15, when it will still be below 60 degrees. By 10 a.m., nearly 20 miles in, the temperature will start to be a bit uncomfortable, especially where the course is not shaded. There aren't a lot of tall trees in this area, so I don't expect much shade. If I've met my goal, I'll finish by 11 a.m., with a temperature of 67 degrees. That's tolerable, especially given the fact that there's no humidity here. But I will need to be very careful to hydrate; that's going to be the key to the race.

The other concern is elevation: The race starts at 8,126 feet and descends to a still-lofty 6,728. I really can't be sure how exactly I'll handle that. I got my first taste of running at elevation yesterday. We were on a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park and we were running late, so I gave Greta my pack and ran about 2 miles to the car so I could drive back and pick Greta and Nora up at a different trailhead a half-mile from where we were. The run felt good, but I was a little lightheaded at a couple of points.

From what I've heard, the first few miles of a run at elevation can be a big of a shock, but after a while you're able to adapt. Let's hope that's the case, otherwise I may be disappointed in the results.

For now all I can do is carbo-load and try to stay well-rested. There are gorgeous mountains all around me and I need to avoid the temptation to hike up them! Tune in tomorrow and you'll get my report on how I did.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Marathon preview run

With 5 days to go before the Steamboat Marathon, today it was time to do a preview run. Ideally when you do a marathon preview, you wake up at the same time you're planning for the race, eat the same food, and wear the same clothes. I didn't do all that today, but I did want to try out the new shorts I had just bought from Race Ready, a pair of LD Easy shorts with a whole array of webbed pockets in the back for gel packs.

I brought along 7 gels (which I wouldn't be eating) to see how it felt to run with the shorts fully loaded. As it turned out, I probably could have carried twice that amount, along with my car keys and someone else's car keys. Seven gel packs worked quite well -- better, I'd say, than a SPIBelt, which is what I used to carry my gels and camera at Big Sur. I won't be carrying a camera at Steamboat, so I think these shorts will work great. There was very little bouncing, everything stayed in place, and yet when you need a gel, they slide easily out of the pockets.

The plan today was to run an easy 2 miles, then 2 at race pace, and 2 cool-down miles. Race pace, at least for the first 20 miles, is 7:40 per mile, which is actually a pretty fast pace for me even when I'm running only 6 miles. But then again, I don't regularly run any routes in Davidson that have a net elevation loss of 1,300 feet!

Todd and Chad joined me for the run, and as is often the case in group runs, it's always a bit of a challenge running slowly enough during warm-ups and cool-downs. Everyone seems to tend towards their natural pace and not really do a true warm-up pace. So we ran the first two miles at an 8:30 pace, definitely faster than I wanted to go. As it turns out, Miles 3 and 4 of our regular loop are mostly downhill, so these worked great for the marathon preview pace. We ran Mile 3 in 7:32 -- a little fast. Mile 4 was proceeding at about the same pace, and then we reached the only uphill segment of the two miles. Since there are a few uphill segments at Steamboat, I wanted to maintain the pace even on the uphill, just to see how it felt. As it turned out, I ran it too fast, and we sped up for the second mile of preview running, completing it in 7:21. That's good, because I was quite tired after this section, and if we were truly running marathon pace, I shouldn't be breathing hard after just two miles!

Once again, we ran the cool-down miles a little too fast, 8:29 and 8:21. Then Todd and Chad started picking up the pace even more for the final third of a mile into town, and I decided to slow down instead, finishing up at an 8:51 pace. That's more like it. I felt good after the run, and although I didn't run at exactly the pace I wanted, it was good to run with friends one last time before the race. Tomorrow I'm getting on a plane for Colorado!

Details of today's workout are below: