Saturday, May 26, 2012

Race Recap: The Bare Bones 5K

The Bare Bones 5K is the ideal quirky small-town race. Although it is bursting with small-town charm, the race is well-organized and always goes off without a hitch. It was one of the first races I did as I was getting serious about running a few years back, and I finished it in 23:55, for a 7:41 pace -- pretty fast for me at the time.

Now my 5K PR is down to an 18:59, and with the weather forecast calling for temperatures in the mid-70s with 80% humidity, I didn't think it was going to be in any danger today, despite a relatively flat course. That didn't stop people from asking me before the race if I thought I'd PR this time around. My usual response was "I'll give it a shot," but I wasn't very confident about it, especially since I'd done a very hard track workout only about 38 hours before.

I drove up with Chad and his 7-year-old son James, who was decked out in his DART gear as he prepared to do the half-mile fun run:

Ready to race!

To beat my PR I would need to run faster than a 6:07 pace, and I decided to go ahead and start out faster than that pace, just in case I somehow pulled off a miracle in the heat. Despite the quirky feel of the race, there were quite a few fast runners, and it was obvious from the start that I wouldn't be in contention for an overall award. Here's a photo Chad got of the start of the race:

I'm easily spotted in my orange cap, and fellow DARTer Jim Crotts is on the right

After about a half mile at a 6:00 pace I was quite sure the pace was unsustainable, so I tried to slow down a bit. Surprisingly, when I hit the one-mile marker, my pace was still quite fast, about 6:03. We turned up the one major hill in the race, and I felt a burst of energy. I guess all the hill workouts I've been doing lately have started to pay dividends. I passed about four runners on the hill, then headed back down a steep hill. As I careened down the hill, I could feel the brace I use to stabilize my IT band begin to slide over my knee cap. Oh no! At the bottom of the descent, I thought for a moment about readjusting the brace, but I didn't feel any pain in the knee, and I could tell it wasn't going to slide down over my calf, so I decided to let it be. Fortunately, it didn't bother me for the rest of the race.

We continued on a flat road for about a quarter-mile to a turnaround. There were at least a dozen runners ahead of me, but I didn't see anyone who looked like they were my age. Jim pointed out to me after the race that I could have been more systematic in checking: The "V" on my bib corresponded to my age group!

After the turnaround I saw Jim headed the other way; I thought about high-fiving him, but it looked like he might have been holding something in his hand, so I just shouted "Go Jim!"

I knew my pace was slowing as the race continued. The heat of the day was starting to get to me, and each step just seemed like it took more effort. One of the guys who I had passed on the hill passed me back. I was determined not to let anyone else pass me, though. It was hot for everyone else, right?

Finally we arrived at Mile 2. My split for this mile was 6:21. Good, I thought, still at a sub-20-minute pace. To finish a 5K in under 20 minutes, you need to average 6:26 per mile. As long as I didn't slow down any more, I was a cinch to do just that. But we were heading into the hottest, most exposed part of the course. I could see some other runners ahead of me beginning to falter, and I focused on passing them. I reeled in a couple of runners, but at the same time I could hear footsteps behind me.

At 2.5 miles I was really laboring; my pace had slowed to 6:28 per mile. I pushed harder, trying to not to let myself flag during the final meters of the race. The end of the course is tough. There's an uphill, rubble-strewn concrete path to a track, and then you have to go the long way around the track to the finish. You don't hit the 3-mile marker until you're halfway around the track. I didn't have a chance to look at my watch; I was focused on not letting the runners behind me catch up. I picked up the pace for the final straightaway and crossed the line. Here's a photo Chad snapped of me during that final straightaway:

As usual, I look like I have to go to the bathroom

My final time was 19:43. As it turned out, the footsteps behind me belonged to a man in my age group, so by holding him off I finished first in the 45-49 age group, with a time of 19:43. Nowhere near a PR, but still respectably under 20 minutes.

As I gasped for breath, I joined Chad on the sidelines and cheered the other runners home. 

Jim Crotts

Todd Hartung and his daughter Isabella

Jim and Isabella (age 6!) each finished third in their age groups!

Then it was James's turn to run the fun run, two laps on the track, which may have been the farthest he's ever run. He did great, finishing in fourth place!

Well done, James

And here's the entire crew of DARTers who ran today. Congrats to all!

Jim Crotts, Todd Hartung, Dave Munger, Isabella Hartung, and James Randolph

My Garmin plot of the race is below.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Speed and weight

Jack Daniels suggests that training for a major event should follow four phases. In the first phase, you build mileage. I've pretty much already done that, so I can skip right along to phase two. In this phase, you work on skills. In the case of marathon running, the only skills involved are basically speed and running form. So I've been doing some speed workouts.

It's interesting training for a marathon because you're always shooting for a moving target. I may have a goal pace for my next big race, but of course I can't run that pace right now: That's what the training is supposed to do. But when you do speed work, you can start getting used to a faster pace even if there's no way you could sustain it at a longer distance.

Since I'm planning two shorter races in the next couple weeks, on Thursday I decided to do very short intervals -- the shortest I've run since college. If you're doing shorter intervals, you need to do more of them to get a decent workout, so I settled in on 10 * 400-meter intervals, followed by 4 * 200. I'd have just one minute of rest between the 400s, and 90 seconds for the 200s.

But what pace to run at? I've been thinking that I might be able to run a sub-5:30 mile next week in the Miles of Mooresville, so I felt like I should be running a pace at least equal to that. So on the 400s, I shot for a 5:30 mile pace, which works out to 82.5 seconds. I wanted to do the 200s faster than that, but I wasn't sure how fast, exactly, so I decided to wait and see how I was feeling.

As I started in on the 400s, I noticed that I'd get out of the blocks very quickly. My Garmin has a "workout" feature where you enter a target pace and then it tells you when to start and stop. Annoyingly, it also beeps at you to tell you to speed up and slow down during the run. Since I was starting each 400 at perhaps a 4:45 pace, it was beeping a lot. It was probably right; I should have better feel for my pace, but I'm not sure I needed the constant reminder.

The first 5 or 6 went pretty well and I was hitting my target pace almost exactly. Then the heat of the day and the difficulty of the workout started to catch up with me. By 7 or 8 I could tell this was going to be hard, but I still managed to hit my targets. On the final lap, instead of starting out fast, I saw that halfway through my pace was only 5:37. Somehow I picked things up and finished right on pace again.

Next it was time for the 200s. Did I mention there were four DARTers joining me for this? John had been running fairly close to my pace for the 400s, but on the 200s his youth had the advantage. It was a hard effort for me to run them in 35 seconds, and he was consistently 2 or 3 seconds ahead of me. But still, the 35-second time on a 200 works out to a mile pace of 4:50, which is as fast as I need to be.

I'm now really looking forward to the Miles of Mooresville in 8 days. But first, the Bare Bones 5K in Salisbury tomorrow. It will be a warm day, so I'm not sure I will PR, but I'll definitely give it a go.

Weight update: 183 pounds, on track to make my goal of being solidly under 185 by the end of May. My wife is out of town for the weekend, so I think I'm going to really try to eat healthy through the whole weekend (we usually take weekends off to indulge a little). Maybe I'll actually hit my June goal of 180 by May 31.

Details of yesterday's workout are below:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hills, hills, and hills

I'm starting to get a serious grasp at the difficulty of the races I have planned for this summer. I looked at the finishing times for last year's Kendall Mountain run, and the winning time was 1:53 last year! Only two runners finished in under 2 hours, for a half-marathon. Only about half of the runners finished under 3 hours, which isn't much faster than a walking pace. You could walk all the way up and run down at a 9-minute pace and still finish in 3 hours. Which makes me think that even walking at 13,000 feet is going to be a challenge!

So I'm doing the only thing I can think of to prepare: Run as many hills as possible. Three of my last five workouts have been hill workouts. On Tuesday for the DART run I ended up running with Adam, who typically runs at close to a 7:00 pace. We decided to head out Grey road and take on the hills.

The first couple of miles aren't too bad -- downhill or rolling hills, but then at Mile 3 we hit the first major uphill. Adam hadn't been this way before and when he saw what we were running up he said "are you kidding me?" And then proceeded up the hill at a 7:30 pace. We turned around, headed back down, and then back up the steepest hill on Grey road. We picked up the pace near the top, and ended up with a 7:17 pace for the mile.

The next two miles we managed a 7:20 pace, for an overall 7:31 on an extremely hilly route. Whew!

Today I showed up for the DART run and saw no one was there, so I decided to do the same route again, solo. I didn't hit quite the same pace, but I continued up the hill to the very top of Abersham, giving myself an extra 50 feet of climbing. Overall today I did 9 miles at an 8:30 pace, which is fine for what should be an "easy" pace run.

Details of the last two workouts are below.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Plans for the next month or so

In addition to my weight loss efforts, I'm planning a couple of races over the next month or so. On June 2, I want to give the Miles of Mooresville a shot.

This race started as a summer evening race series but has now morphed into a late spring single-morning event. Basically you run a 1-mile race, then a 2-mile race, and then a 3-mile race. I'm mostly interested in getting an official mile time, so I'll run the mile as hard as I can, then play the next two races by ear.

How fast can I run just one mile? I really have no idea. I have a vague recollection of having run a sub-5-minute mile in college, but that now seems impossibly fast. I've done 6-minute miles in races, so I should be faster than that, but how much faster? Maybe 5:30? I don't know, so this seems like a good way to find out.

I'm also probably going to run the Bare Bones 5K in Salisbury. I ran it two years ago in ... hmmm ... let's see -- 23:55. Well I think I've got a pretty good shot at a course PR. I've improved just a tad over the last couple years!

After that I'll be packing for my big trip to Colorado. So far I've only entered one event there, but it's a doozy. I'm planning on running as many hills as possible between now and then.

Training continues apace. On Sunday I did the longest run I've managed since the Blue Ridge Marathon -- 16 miles at a relatively fast pace for that distance, 8:26 per mile. Didn't feel too bad, but my recovery run the next day was not easy!

Details of Sunday's run are below:

Friday, May 11, 2012

Speed, more hills, weight update

It's been nearly three weeks since I ran the Blue Ridge Marathon. Most coaches and books recommend around 4 weeks rest after a marathon before getting back into full-training mode, but since I wasn't going all-out in the marathon, I figured I'd be okay doing some speed work last night.

Originally I wanted to do a set of three tempo runs, but I also wanted to run with someone, so I adjusted the workout to a 3-mile tempo that I hoped some of the group gathered at Summit would be interested in.

My target pace was 6:30 per mile, and Jordan, Adam, and Heather weren't sure they were up for it, but said they'd give it a shot. After a mile warm-up at a faster pace than I was hoping for (7:20), Jordan and I took off. We caught up to Adam and Heather, and Adam joined me while Jordan dropped back to stay with Heather. Mile 1 was mostly uphill, and after cresting it and heading down Pine Road, Adam had had enough too. I was on my own. Mile 1 split was 6:25.

Mile 2 was mostly downhill, but I knew Mile 3 was going to be uphill, so I tried to conserve energy. After hitting a 5:45 pace running down Robert Walker, I eased back and watched my average pace for the mile crawl up. By the end of the mile, my split was back up to 6:25.

I started Mile 3 on an uphill, and the uphill continued nearly all the way to the end. I felt like I was putting out the same effort I had been, but my pace slowed to 7:11. I pushed my way up the hill, crossing Concord in a break in traffic, and continuing uphill. I got to the crest and my pace was about 7:05. Now all I could hope for was to bring the average pace below 7:00 for the mile. Somehow I gutted it out and brought my pace down to 6:57 for that final mile. Given that there was 123 feet of climbing in the mile, it wasn't too bad, but I was still hoping for a little better.

Not ideal, but it meant that I averaged about 6:36 for the whole tempo run. It was all I could do to limp home at around an 8:30 pace.

Then this morning I decided I hadn't had enough pain last night, so I did a partial reprise of last week's hill training. The twist was I ran the Pick Your Poison 5K route in the middle. I averaged about an 8:45 pace for the whole run -- not great, but not unexpected given yesterday's hard workout, and it was nice to get in 9 miles on a Friday.

Finally, as promised, I did my weekly weigh-in today. I came in at 185. Given that 185 is my goal for the END of May, it's not bad. However, I know full well that my weight fluctuates from day to day. I could be 187 tomorrow. I'd really like to be solidly under 185 for May, which really means getting into the low 180s. Should be very doable, especially now that I'm increasing my mileage. Not that I'm not hungry most of the time or anything....

This week: 185
Last week: 187
May goal: 185
Goal by July 31: 175

Details of yesterday's workout are below.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hills, hills, and hills

Given that the only two events currently booked on my race calendar are incredibly hilly, it seemed like a good idea to start doing a little hill work.

So on Thursday night I asked Chad if he wanted to run some hills with me on Friday. "Sure," he replied, as long as we didn't get all lame and run them in the coolest part of the day. We settled in on 11 a.m.

My favorite hill workout is a 9-mile affair, to Abersham park and back, plus two loops of the park itself. Abersham is a failed subdivision that has been purchased by the county and is now a public park. It already has a paved infrastructure in the form of a road and greenway that make a two-mile loop.

On. The. Side. Of. A. Massive. Hill.

How massive? Each two-mile loop includes about 200 feet of climbing. It's not Blue Ridge Marathon hilly, but by virtually any other standard, it rates. It's where we've planned the Pick Your Poison 10K, coming up in a month. Here's the elevation profile of the two-mile loop:

As you can see, it's intimidating. It's even more unfriendly when you do it in 80-degree weather. At the start this didn't feel too bad, but after about 5 miles I really began to struggle. But somehow we kept running at a relatively decent pace, around 8:20 miles. We held out at this pace until the final mile, when we finally took a walk break. The last mile was an 9:21 pace. The heat (and lack of food and water for the entire run) finally got to me.

I can't imagine what this course will feel like when folks are running it under race conditions. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I won't get to run in the race -- I'll be timing it!

The timing gigs are now frequent enough that I'm going to have to start modifying my training schedule. We're timing a lot of races on Saturdays, so instead of taking a Monday rest day, I'm going to be running Mondays and taking most Saturdays off. This past Monday I decided I hadn't had enough of the hills of Grey Road, so I ran another 7 out there -- at a bit slower pace. Details of Friday's and Monday's workouts are below.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Losing weight

VO2 max isn't a dead-accurate predictor of running ability; there's a lot more to running than a single number. But it's also true that everything else being equal, if you improve your VO2 max, you will probably improve your running ability. Unfortunately, VO2 max is thought to be relatively inflexible.

In my case, I might have an out, as I mentioned in a post on Science-Based Running:
One “easy” way to improve your VO2 max is to lose weight. As long as you’re only losing fat and not muscle mass, if you maintain fitness, your VO2 max should improve. This is because it is a measurement of oxygen volume per kilogram of body weight per minute. If you decrease body weight and everything else stays the same, VO2 max will increase. 
For the last several months my weight has been hovering around 190, giving me a BMI of 25.1, which is considered borderline overweight. That same calculator suggests that to be in the middle of "normal" BMI range, 21.7, I would have to lose 25.5 pounds and get down to 165.5 pounds.

I'm pretty sure that's not a realistic weight for me. My body fat percentage is about 16.7, giving me about 32 pounds of fat. If I lost 25.5 pounds, assuming it was all fat, I'd have just 6.5 pounds of fat, or 3.9 percent, which is probably unhealthy. The 99th percentile of body fat for men my age is 6.7 percent. That's right, a "normal" BMI is unhealthy. This is a pretty dramatic demonstration of the limitations of BMI for assessing fitness. I recall reading that Michael Jordan in his prime was "overweight" according to BMI.

A more realistic weight loss goal would probably be around 15 pounds, which would put me at 175 pounds and 17 pounds of fat, or roughly 10 percent, which is between the 95th and 99th percentile for my age group.

At that weight, assuming everything else stays the same, my VO2 max should increase from 56.1 to 60.9. That represents potentially more than a minute off of a 5K time, and 10 minutes off of a marathon time -- no small potatoes!

Naturally I will want to improve my fitness at the same time, but it's startling to realize that without improving fitness I could be a sub-18-minute 5Ker.

Unfortunately, losing weight does not come easy for me. Many people assume that I lost weight "automatically" when I started training for a marathon. The truth is, even when I'm running 70 miles a week, I still have to watch what I eat. Yes, I can eat a little more during hard training weeks, but even then, if I eat as much as I want, I will gain weight.

For me, the key to losing weight is minimizing snacking and limiting my portions at mealtime. Easier said than done. I work at home, so I have infinite access to the kitchen. I have a set routine of 4 (yes, 4) healthy snacks a day: A granola bar, yogurt, an apple, and a banana. I try to distribute these over the course of the day. I have a salad for lunch. At dinner I try to prepare meals that don't give the option of infinite refills. Spaghetti is bad, a small hamburger is surprisingly good (especially when paired with veggies or a salad). I avoid the temptation to snack before bedtime; I've tried to make a virtue out of going to bed hungry.

In fact, there is a lot of time during the day when I am hungry. Sometimes I will actually be a little lightheaded. In these cases I try to drink water or other liquids instead of eating. Then slowly, the weight starts to come off. The plan is to try to lose 5 pounds a month over the summer: May, June, July. If I'm successful, on August 1 I should be under 175 pounds. I'll be updating you here.

Most recent weigh in -- 187. Goal for the end of May: 185.

Details of yesterday's workout are below.