Friday, November 30, 2012

Weather update, 8 days out!

We're now just 8 days away from the Rocket City Marathon, and interestingly, the forecast has changed. Yesterday the forecast overnight low on Friday, December 7 was 38, and now it's up to 43. Fortunately, the high temperature for the 8th has only gone up by 1 degree, to 54. Still a 60% chance of showers on race day. Here's your forecast in graphical format. 

Remember, this graph represents the predictions for December 8 put out on a given date, not the weather on that date.

I'm going to try to keep this up all the way to race day, so we can get a sense of how accurate the forecast was at each different amount of time before race day.

I'm in full taper mode for my workouts now. Yesterday due to a misreading of my workout plan I ran 4 X 9-minute tempos instead of the planned workout of 3 X 9-minute tempos. It seemed a little tough for a taper workout, which makes sense since, you know, that wasn't what I'd actually planned.

For most days leading up to the race from here on out I'm just going to put in some easy miles, with 1 or 2 of them at the planned marathon pace, to get used to running at that pace. I haven't done a lot of MP workouts over the past few months, so I still feel like I don't really have a running "groove" at that pace. But during today's 6-mile run I felt like I was starting to get it. Hopefully by race day, I'll be a fine-tuned machine, effortlessly cranking out runs at my desired 7:15 per mile pace.

Details of the last two workouts are below:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tracking the weather in Huntsville

You know a race really matters when you start checking the weather as soon as it comes into the 10-day window on the weather websites. In 9 days I'll be running the Rocket City Marathon, and I've finally got a forecast for race day. Here it is:

The low temperature is deceiving because on the low is forecast for the following night. The overnight low from the night before is currently forecast at 38 degrees, which should be close to the actual temperature when the race starts at 8 am. If everything goes as planned, I should be finishing a little after 11 am, and we shouldn't yet have reached the high for the day. I'd guess the temperature at the end of the race, assuming the forecast holds, would be in the high 40s.

Other than the rain and a light wind, the weather can't get much better than this. Assuming it's not a constant downpour, I'd take this weather for the race. But of course, we'll get a better sense of the weather for the race as race day gets closer.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Race Recap: Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon

Marathon #6 is in the books, but this one is bittersweet.

On the one hand, there's nothing like running a big race in your home town, especially if you're active in the local running community.

On the other hand, this year, my running buddy Dustin wanted to run his first marathon, and was considering giving it a shot at Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon. I told him if he'd commit to the race, I'd commit to pacing him, and he decided to go for it.

On the one hand, soon we learned that a half-dozen friends would also be running the race, and that many more friends would be watching from the streets of Charlotte. It would be a fun day!

On the other hand, for this race, I signed up to be a research participant in a study, so I had to take an unknown supplement for a few weeks before the race, then do a couple physiological tests before and after the race.

On the one hand, participating in the race meant my race entry was covered. The supplement (I wasn't sure I was in the placebo group or the test group taking Rhodiola) didn't seem to have any effects, but I duly took my two capsules every day.

On the other hand, the physiological tests weren't a breeze. First, the researchers took blood. Then I was weighed, and finally I had to perform two strength tests: a deadlift pulling against a chain (with a dynamometer to measure force), and a vertical leap test. I've always been rather vertically challenged, so I think I was able to "leap" about 16 inches. Michael Jordan I ain't. On the other other hand, I don't think Jordan has ever run a marathon!

On the one hand, on the morning of the race, I carpooled in to Charlotte with running buddies Robert, Mike, and Dustin, and we parked about a block from the finish line. I was wearing a singlet, cheap gloves, an old long-sleeved cotton T-shirt, shorts, and calf sleeves. The temperature at the start was predicted to be about 38, but it would be warming up to 52 by the finish, so I figured I'd be ditching the gloves and long-sleeved shirt somewhere along the way. No problem!

On the other hand, as soon as we walked outside, we were hit by a bitter wind. 38 degrees feels a lot colder with a stiff wind blowing in your face. Dustin hadn't brought a throw-away shirt, so he was feeling even chillier than I was.

On the one hand, we found a building where we could wait inside before the race, with short bathroom lines, and even encountered fellow DARTer Wayne Eckert. Here's a photo of me, Dustin, and Wayne getting ready for the race:

On the other hand, we soon had to head back out into the cold and get ready to run.

On the one hand, before we knew it the starting gun had sounded and we were off. Once we were running with 4,000 of our best buddies, all thoughts of a chilly morning were banished. I even saw DARTer Marc Hirschfield running the full marathon. I didn't even know he was running this race! The plan was to stick as close as possible to an 8:30 pace for the first 6 miles, then gradually build up pace if Dustin was up for it. The hard part during these early miles is always to keep from overextending yourself, and today was no exception, but it was still a nice problem to have.

On the other hand, by about Mile 4 I was getting warm, and decided to remove and toss out both my shirt and gloves. This is a decision that would come back to bite me later in the race.

On the one hand, soon after this, Robert, who had run ahead, turned around to take a photo of the crowd of runners heading down Providence Road, and managed to catch me in the background (I'd seen his bright yellow DART shirt and was trying to catch his attention):

Who's that wild and crazy runner in a white singlet?

On the other hand, Dustin's knee was beginning to bother him. He had noticed a problem a week ago during his last taper run, and had actually taken the whole week prior to the race off. He had hoped that just resting it would be enough to get him through today's race, but the pain was beginning to get significant. The pain he described sounded like it could be IT band, which also bothers me from time to time, so I told him he could wear my IT strap, since my knee was feeling pretty good. He put it on, but it wasn't helping much. Every mile or so he needed to stop and massage his knee or adjust the strap, but nothing seemed to offer any relief.

On the one hand, we were starting to spot some of our friends along the course. Ron and his brother-in-law Dave were running at nearly the same pace as us (Ron was pacing Dave on his first marathon), and Lori and Ashley popped up as spectators every few miles. Here's a photo Lori took of me and Dustin on the course:

Notice that pretty much everyone is wearing more clothing than me

On the other hand, by now Dustin had decided that he was going to drop out at the halfway point. He turned off at the half-marathon split and limped his way to the finish while I plodded on (not only did I need to complete this run as my final long run in my training for Rocket City, I also had to finish the marathon as a part of the research study I had signed up for).

On the one hand, there was certainly no pressure for me to maintain any sort of pace, but...

On the other hand, the wind was picking up, and I was starting to get cold. The slower I ran, the colder I got. This was exacerbated by the fact that one of my GU packets had sprung a leak, and I got it all over my hands while consuming it. The wind whistling over my GU-ey fingers caused them to cool even more. I finally decided to use the water at an aid station to wash off my fingers instead of to drink. This had the temporary effect of making them even colder, but...

On the one hand, once the water had evaporated, my hands did start to warm up a bit.

On the other hand, we were heading back through downtown Charlotte, and the wind funneled through the city skyscrapers at an obscene velocity, making for tough, cold running.

On the one hand, more friends were beginning to pop up along the course. Lori and Ashley must have been there at four or five different points on the course, and I also saw Stacy, Tara, Phyllis, Allen, and Peter out there.

On the other hand, at around Mile 20, we began a long, 2-mile climb, straight into the wind. It was finally starting to warm a bit, but I struggled during these miles despite running them at an "easy" pace. Even when you're taking it easy, a marathon is still a tough beast to conquer.

On the one hand, at Mile 25, I spotted Lori at a long-enough distance to mug for the camera. A couple weeks ago, my friend Chas had assumed the Mo Farah victory pose at Richmond, so I decided to try my hand at an imitation of Chas / Mo. Who did it best? You decide:

Having fun? Or just delirious?

On the other hand, there was still over a mile to go. Even worse, my GPS was recording the course as slightly long, so it would register 26.62 miles before I was done.

On the one hand, finally, I crossed the finish line. Robert, having finished about 8 minutes before,  managed to get a photo of this as well:

I'm looking a little less than enthusiastic here.

On the other hand, now we had to go to the Appalachian State research tent, get more blood drawn, and do the same physiological tests we had done the day before. As you might guess, doing a deadlift and a vertical-leap test was considerably more difficult right after running a marathon. I'd love to know what the exact difference was!

On the one hand, we were finished! Here's a photo of Robert and me outside the App State tent just after we completed the tests:

Ready for another 26.6?

On the other hand, I had learned some tough lessons: A marathon is a tough distance, no matter how "easy" you're running it. Don't throw away your throwaway clothes too early. And don't take anything for granted; you're only an injury away from not finishing at all. I'm thankful that I've been able to complete six marathons, and I'm looking forward to finishing many more!

My GPS plot of Thunder Road is below.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Updating my header

For nearly two years, the header image of this blog has been the same -- a photo of my running gear, in the shape of a runner, on my living room floor.

But over the course of those years, I've noticed that the picture was less and less accurate. So today I decided to update the photo.

Here's the old picture:

As you can see, it's not terribly different from the new one, but there are a few key differences.

Shoes: I've traded in my New Balance shoes for Saucony Ride 5s. I'm not 100 percent pleased with these but they definitely offer more room in the toebox and are better for my midfoot to forefoot stride.

Socks: I loved my Injinji toe socks back in the day but I now find that Drymax socks offer better protection from blisters. The bigger toebox in my current shoes also probably helps in that regard.

Legs: I don't wear running tights nearly as often as I used to now that I have calf sleeves. I find the compression sleeves not only keep me warm but also do a better job preventing muscle soreness. This means I'm wearing shorts up top, and for long runs I like these Race Ready shorts with pockets sufficient to hold 7+ gels. I do still wear tights on occasion, for when it gets really cold.

Hydration: I no longer wear a hydration belt because I've found it aggravates my IT band issues. Instead I carry a handheld, or for very long runs, I wear a hydration pack.

Jacket: I loved my old Saucony jacket but I lost some weight and the jacket was swimming on me, so I bought this similar model by Brooks, just in a different color.

Base layer: On cold days, I still wear the same base layer I did two years ago, a Zensah compression shirt. I actually have one of these shirts that is over 5 years old! One problem with Zensah products: Only two sizes. I wish there was a size between S/M and L/XL -- the L/XLs that I'm currently wearing are a little big, and I fear S/M will be too small.

Eyewear: I've added specialized running glasses since I took the original photo. They are pretty nice, staying on through all ranges of conditions but displaying a nagging propensity to fog up or get drenched in sweat, rendering them pretty much useless. If I replaced these I might consider bifocals -- I'm getting old and it's getting harder to read my GPS in the dark.

Hat: The REI hat in the original photo was great but I lost it. The new one is a Brooks Nightlife, which has a nice flashing LED on the back for dark runs.

Headlamp: The same Princeton Tec headlamp I had two years ago is still running strong, but I'd like to have a headlamp I could wear without a hat -- this one bounces around too much.

iPod: I decided not to put an iPod in the photo because I rarely run with them any more. Most days I'm running with a group, and on the few days I'm not, it's nice to just listen to the birds singing. I have upgraded from the nano in the picture to a Shuffle, on the rare occasions I use it. It can be a little annoying to navigate through podcasts with no screen, but it's not worth the $150 investment it'd take to get a screen, given how little I use it.

GPS: I've upgraded from the Garmin 305 to a 910XT, which is a model with way more features than a runner typically needs. However, it's the only Garmin for running that has a barometric altimeter, which gives much more accurate elevations than the GPS models, and provides you with real-time elevation feedback, which is great in the mountains. Probably not worth the $399 I spent on it if you're not a triathlete, but I justified the splurge because I had just completed a study for which I was paid $400!

There you have it -- the full rundown of my new set of running gear, and a new header image. Hope you like it!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Race Recap: The Spencer Mountain 10-Miler

Two years ago I ran the Spencer Mountain 10-Miler, my first-ever ten-mile race, and the second longest race I'd ever competed in (I did a couple of half-marathons about 5 years ago).

My goal back then was to complete the race averaging less than 8 minutes per mile, and I did it -- just barely. I finished in 1:17:17, for a 7:57 average. (If you do the math, that doesn't quite work out. The course was a quarter-mile short, so my "official" result works out to a 7:44 pace).

I know I've gotten a lot faster since then, but I haven't run a race like this one in the interim. It's not an insanely hilly course like the Kendall Mountain Run or the Blue Ridge Marathon, but it's not so flat that you can just stick to a steady pace the entire race. The final climb, in Miles 8 and 9, is no joke, climbing about 250 feet in a mile, with a very steep section in the middle. Here's the elevation profile for the course:

I decided I would try to stick to a 6:30 pace until I got to the bottom of the big climb, about 7.4 miles in, then see how well I could hang on.

At the starting line, I chatted with Richard Hefner, who told me "I remember when I used to be able to beat you." He still remembers the first time I passed him, at the Run for Green half marathon. It was good to be complimented by such an excellent and experienced runner. Before we knew it, we were off, and I could see that there were only 10 or so of us that were interested in a 6:30 or better pace.

It was a perfect morning for me, about 39 degrees, with no wind and a blue sky. I was wearing just a singlet and cheap gloves that I planned on throwing away as the temperature warmed.

Mile 1: 6:30, Mile 2: 6:31.

The first two miles were flat, with perhaps a touch of downhill. I decided to take water at every aid station, so I tried to grab a cup as I flew by the first one. It slipped right out of my cheap knit glove. Oh well, I wasn't really thirsty anyways.

Mile 3: 6:31, Mile 4: 6:33.

Mile 4 had the first real hills of the race, along with some downhills where you could really fly. By the end of the mile I had shed my gloves, just in time to get some water at an aid station (for real this time)! The cups were a little small, but it felt good to have a couple ounces of water.

Mile 5: 6:38, Mile 6: 6:47

Now we were starting to hit some serious hills. Mile 5 had 92 feet of climbing and Mile 6 had 121. I threw out all thoughts of maintaining a 6:30 pace on the uphills, and only barely managed to crack 6:30 on the downhills. I was carrying one GU, and consumed it slowly, between gasps for breath, as I climbed the massive hill in Mile 6. I figured there would probably be an aid station at the top, and I could wash it down with some water. Then when I reached the station, they were only handing out Gatorade. While you might think Gatorade and GU are fairly compatible, to me it was reminiscent of washing down cough drops with cough syrup. I ran with a Gatorade-GU aftertaste for the next two miles.

Mile 7: 7:06, Mile 8: 7:33

Mile 7 features yet another climb, and I slowed even more. Then at the start of Mile 8 there was one last downhill before we started the Big One, the climb up Spencer mountain. I tried to cruise down the hill and get one last boost of speed before heading up that last hill. There was one runner in sight ahead of me, but he looked to be pulling away. We reached the bottom of the hill. I had remembered from two years ago that it flattened out before we began the big climb. Actually, it was a gradual upslope. As I reached the end of this section I saw another runner, who had actually slowed to a walk, even before the big hill. He started running again before I could catch him, then we both turned the corner and started the serious climb.

I knew at this point that I had very little left in the tank. All thoughts of a 6:30 pace were out the window. I just wanted to hang on. Amazingly, taking it easy only slowed me to a 7:30 pace — two years ago I had had to take a walk-break on this section. I passed the other runner and built up a large gap. As Mile 8 ended, I had climbed 171 feet, and the hill began to level off.

Mile 9: 6:51

Somehow, I was able to pick up the pace as the hill leveled off. There was an aid station serving actual water, and I slurped it down. Now I was running downhill. Could I go faster? I still had a mile and a half to go, but I cautiously turned on the gas.

Mile 10: 6:25

The last mile was agonizingly long. It was a gradual downhill, but that just meant more pressure to run fast. Finally the finish line was in sight and I sprinted through. I stopped my watch, and an official wanted to know what time I had recorded for the race. I couldn't tell because my watch still had an annoying lap display up. Finally the display cleared up and I told him 1:07:37. I didn't notice that the watch was still moving until 1:09. Dammit, this was the second race in a row where I'd hit the "lap" button instead of the "stop" button at the finish. Argh!

Fortunately since I did hit "lap", I could go back and reconstruct my actual finishing time, 1:07:15. That was an average pace of 6:44 per mile—not bad for such a hilly course. It's still a little short of where I need to be if I want to qualify for guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon, where I'd have to run a half at a 6:29 pace, but I think if this course had been completely flat, I would have been very close to that pace. The 1:07:15 was good enough for first in age group, so I'm pleased with that.

Also running this race were fellow DARTers Chad and Gabrielle; here's a picture of the three of us at the finish:

Feelin' good!

A nice confidence-boosting race as I get things ramped up for my big race at Rocket City in less than a month.

Details of yesterday's race are below.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Made it...almost

Training for a marathon PR isn't supposed to be easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, right?

So I knew today's workout would be hard. It's topping off an extremely tough week, a 70-miler, the last of just three such weeks on my workout schedule. But in addition to being a high-mileage week, it's also got two of my toughest workouts. On Thursday I did a challenging tempo workout, and today I had an even tougher workout planned.

Today's run was partially what is known as a "marathon simulation," meaning that you run the last part of a long run at marathon pace. I'd be doing that. But it also had a tempo workout thrown in, just to make the simulation a little bit tougher. The idea behind a simulation is that running an entire long run workout at marathon pace is too difficult. There's a reason most people do marathons after a two- to three-week taper where they decrease their mileage, and why they typically take two to four weeks to recover from a marathon.

A simulation allows you to experience some of the pain and exhaustion of a real marathon without putting you out of commission for multiple weeks. Ideally you'd run a simulation on similar terrain to the actual target race. That's a problem here in Davidson, which, while not mountainous, is hilly enough to make it tougher than most marathons. Rocket City Marathon has about 300 feet of climbing in the entire race. That's less than one of my regular routes for a six-mile training run.

So today I planned out a 20-mile route on some of the flattest terrain we have in the area. The first 8 miles would be at an easy pace for me: about 8:30 per mile. Then I'd speed up to my planned marathon pace: 7:15 per mile, for 40 minutes. Then I'd speed up even more, to my tempo pace of 6:30-6:45 per mile, for 5 minutes. Then another 20 minutes at marathon pace, 5 minutes at tempo pace, and 5 minutes at marathon pace, before finally slowing down for a 2-mile cooldown.

For a run this though, I wanted to have company, but unfortunately, since many of my running buddies have already run their marathons this season, there weren't a lot of takers. I ended up dividing my time, running the first 3 miles alone, then 2 with Chad and Cliff, then 1.7 alone before meeting up with Ben and Kevin.

I told them we'd have 2 miles to warm up, and then we'd start the faster part of the workout. Unfortunately the only stopping point in the run would be about halfway through the first marathon-pace segment. Kevin suggested that we run a shorter MP segment first, followed by a T segment, and then take our first break. It sounded good at the time, and we completed this first section of the run with few problems.

What we didn't take into account is that our route was all downhill up till now, and we'd have to do an even longer, 40-minute MP run on a steady uphill. Our pace gradually slowed: 7:11, 7:26, 7:18, 7:23. We weren't quite making the planned splits, and I was running on fumes. Finally at about Mile 4.5 of what should have been a 5.5-mile segment, I told the guys I would need to shut it down at Mile 5, when we'd be approaching the bottom of yet another hill. I completed this mile in 7:25, then stopped, sucking wind. I wanted to get in a full 20 miles, so I limped along at a 10+ minute pace for another 2.5 miles, finishing at 19.79 miles for the day and just over 70 miles for the week.

In some senses, the run was a dud, but given the fact that we actually climbed over 800 feet in just 20 miles, compared to around 300 in my target race, I'd say I'm probably fairly close to being on track.

My longest training week from here on out is just 56 miles, so I should be feeling a lot fresher when I run the target race in December. Let's hope so, because that's the only way I'm going to be able to manage the pace I'm planning!

Details of today's workout are below.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hitting my training peak

This week is one of the toughest on my training schedule. In addition to a planned 70 total miles, I've got two of my hardest workouts on the calendar as well. For Thursday, the plan was to run the infamous gradually declining tempo runs, the full workout, at a 6:45 pace. Here's how I described this workout last year:

A set of tempo runs that gradually declined in length. I would start with a 22.5 minute tempo run, take a break, then do 18, 13.5, 9, and 4.5-minute runs. The breaks would also gradually decrease in length: 5, 4, 3, and 2 minutes. 
Tempo runs are done at a fast enough pace to get you to VO2 max fairly quickly -- 7-minute miles in my case. By taking breaks between each tempo, you can increase the amount of time you spend at VO2 max and therefore increase your fitness.
The difference this year: I've upped the pace to 6:45, and instead of the flat greenways of Fairfax, VA, I'd be running it in hilly Davidson. I've tried a shorter version of this workout a couple times this year and never quite made my goals. How did I do this time?

Here are the numbers:

Leg 1: 21:45 total time, 6:47 pace, 145 feet of climbing
Leg 2: 18:41, 6:45, 39
Leg 3: 13:44, 7:03, 174
Leg 4: 8:59, 6:31, 23
Leg 5: 4:32, 6:40, 16

Overall my pace for the intervals was 6:47, with 397 feet of climbing. That's more than the total climb for the Rocket City Marathon, but in a space of 10 miles. Suffice it to say that this course is much tougher than Rocket City will be. My slow leg, Leg 3, involved almost 200 feet of climbing in 2 miles.

Note that I still didn't get my timing perfect -- Leg 1 was a little short and Leg 2 was long. It's tough to figure out exactly how long to run using the Garmin because the timer resets after every mile. But overall I consider the workout to be a big success.

The next test will be on Sunday when I have to do a Marathon Pace workout: 8 miles warm-up, 40 minutes at Marathon Pace (M -- 7:15 miles), then 5 at Tempo Pace (T), then 20M, 5T, 5M, and a 2-mile cool down. That's a total of nearly 20 miles, with 10 of them at marathon pace or better. If I can pull that off, then I think I'm close to being ready for my big PR effort at Rocket City, which is now just over 5 weeks away.

In two weeks I'll be doing my last "long run" -- an easy effort at Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon, where I'll be pacing my friend Dustin in his first marathon.

So Sunday will be a huge test -- I'll try to make time to check in after that run, too.