Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 2014 Running Year in Review

My running year starts and ends with this: I didn't get to see my Dad this year. I didn't see my 14-year-old nephew Benjamin either. Didn't get to see them, won't ever see them again. But I know Dad would have loved to read about my year. His friends all told me that at his funeral: How much he used to talk about me and my running; that I had qualified for Boston; that I was going to run up Pikes Peak; that I had run a sub-18-minute 5k. So I'm writing this for my Dad.

The Bar-S-Stampede. 1987, I think. How about those cotton shirts?

Every time I run, especially if I'm running in a wild or remote place, I think about Dad. I'm not going to mention him again in this review, but it's not because I'm not thinking about him. I'm always thinking about him, most of all when I'm thinking about running.

My plan for the start of the year was to run my first ultramarathon, and I didn't want to run some wimpy 50k. I signed up for the Leatherwood 50-miler in March. Then I'd follow that up with the Pikes Peak Marathon in August. After that, I was either going to continue running ultras, or pick some new goal, depending on how much I liked (or didn't like) running ultras. I felt like I had thoroughly prepared myself for Leatherwood, running in all sorts of conditions: Snow, ice, slush, mud, you name it. What I hadn't prepared for was rain for 12 hours, deep mud on the uphills and the downhills, mud that forced me to slow to a tentative walk even on the descents. I dropped after 50k, which meant I DNFed. That was one tough race!

For Pikes Peak, even though it's technically not an ultramarathon, I continued training as if I was running an ultra. That's because the best-case scenario finish at Pikes would be barely under 6 hours. I ran hills, bleachers, and more hills. Then I ran the race, and I did actually finish it -- in 6:21. I had done great on the ascent, matching my most optimistic projections, but struggled on the technical downhill. Still, I had run a freaking marathon up a freaking 14,000-foot mountain. That was pretty incredible.

My experiences at Pikes Peak and (mostly) at Leatherwood had convinced me that I'm not really an ultrarunner. I decided to spend the next year working on speed in shorter races. I had gained about 10 pounds in ultra training, and started to work shedding those pounds. I wanted to run some of the bigger road races in the country in 2015: The Ukrops Monument Avenue 10k in Richmond in March, and the Bloomsday 12k in Spokane in May. To get a good seeding at Bloomsday, I needed to run a sub-18:40 5k, and I didn't have a time that fast this year. Since my PR is 17:49, I didn't think an 18:40 would be too hard, but as it turned out, it took me four tries to get it, including missing by just two seconds at the USA Masters 5k! Finally I got an 18:19 at the Balloonfest 5k, so I'm all set for a good Bloomsday race next year. I topped things off with PRs at the 8k and 10k splits of the 12k .US National Championship road race, where I ran side-by-side with Joan Benoit Samuelson for a half-mile near the finish before she dusted me with her 57-year-old Olympic-sized kick.

I haven't quite lost all the weight I want to; I'm down about 5 pounds and I think losing even another 10 pounds would directly translate to more speed. I've also had a nagging hamstring injury that's probably related to my four 5ks in a row trying to hit that qualifying time for Bloomsday. Still, I think my final running stats for the year are pretty impressive:

Total miles run: 2,713 (PR)
Total elevation gain: 167,000 feet
Total hours run: 399 (PR)
Average pace: 8:15/mile
PRs: 8k (30:54), 10k (38:49)

From a running perspective, not a bad year! Here's a little slideshow I made with photos from most of the events described above. Hope you enjoy it!

Dave's Running in 2014 from Dave Munger on Vimeo.

For next year I don't have a cumulative mileage goal because I'm going to be spending the last four months of the year in India and I'm not sure I'll always be able to run. But I do want to run a marathon in India; I'm going to make that happen. I'd also like to break my 10k PR at Ukrops. My stretch goal there would be to go sub-37:00. To make that happen I will need to spend January making sure my hamstring injury gets healed.

I guess that's about it for 2014. See you on the other side!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Never say never: My second beer mile

At the start of this year, on my 47th birthday, I ran my first-ever beer mile. I ran it in 9:54, and my conclusion was that "if there's room for improvement, it's in the beer-drinking portion of the event. I'm not currently planning on doing another beer mile, but if I did, I'd definitely need to work on my beer-chugging skills."

Less than a week ago, I got an email from some friends who were planning another one. I guess I forgot how hard that first one was, because before I knew it I had committed to the race, which happened last night on the same course as the first one.

Soon I was Googling "best beer for beer mile" and "beer mile strategy," and found this article by the former record-holder with some good tips. The main one was to pick a beer that I liked. After ruling out a couple favorites that were below the requisite 5% alcohol content, I settled on New Belgium's Fat Tire Amber Ale:

Boston Marathon Bottle Opener sold separately!

The bottle opener would prove to be a big key to my race! I also let the beer warm to about 55 degrees before running the race, again on Josh Harris's advice.

After a 2-mile warm-up, about 8 of us got our beer and walked in the darkness to the starting line on a greenway near town. My plan this time was to run a bit slower than last time, so I wouldn't be absolutely gasping for breath as I tried to chug my beers.

With little ceremony, the race started and I chugged beer #1, remembering to hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle and trying to let the beer just slide down my throat. While I hadn't actually practiced beer-chugging, I did read some online advice suggesting this was the optimal angle. I don't think I got it perfect (actually, I know I didn't because I didn't approach the sub-10-second chugs of the record-breakers), but I definitely did much better than last time: 19 seconds for my first beer versus 29 last year.

I was third out of the gate and stayed in third as I tried to moderate my pace. I completed the first lap (really just an out-and-back) in 1:41. Garmin consistently measured my laps as 0.27 miles (despite using the same Garmin to chart the course at exactly 0.25 miles earlier that day), so my pace was either 6:19 or 6:44 depending on which Garmin measurement you believe. Either way, it was a little slower than planned, but I hoped to make up for it by drinking my beers faster. I wasn't breathing especially hard, and managed to get Beer 2 down in just two gulps. Beer Split 2 was 33 seconds (compared to 54 seconds last year). I was definitely making up some serious time!

Each subsequent lap went about the same, with the beers getting progressively tougher to swallow. I moved from third to second place, but couldn't catch the lead runner, a young guy I had never met, with a deadly-fast chug and some excellent speed as well. He finished first in 8:03, while I crossed the line in 8:41, a massive PR by a minute and 14 seconds! The chart below compares my two beer-mile efforts:

As you can see, even though I ran 28 seconds faster in January, I drank each beer an average of 27 seconds faster this time around; that's why I was able to set a 1:14 PR this time around! By slowing down on the runs just a bit, I made a massive improvement on my overall time. The only time I went all-out was on the final lap. I think the reason my final quarter-mile was slower this year is that I hadn't had as long of a break between Run 3 and 4 as last year. Also, last year, I was close to another runner and so had the opportunity to pass him in the final lap. This time I was running alone and didn't have as much incentive to go fast.

I'm not sure there's as much room for improvement in the future without a lot of time spent chugging beers in practice. I'm not opposed to drinking, but I prefer to sip my beverages, so there may not be another Beer Mile PR in my future. On the other hand, I've learned never to say "never" when it comes to running, so who knows?

The Garmin plot of yesterday's beer mile is below:

Monday, December 8, 2014

"You had a bad day" -- My recap of the ACC Fan 5k

I used to watch American Idol every week (don't judge!), and whenever a contestant was eliminated during one memorable season, they had to watch a montage of their best moments on the show, played to the tune of Bad Day by Daniel Powter.

I had been steadily improving my race times this season, but finally, I had a Bad Day. It came at the ACC Fan 5k on Saturday. I had been hoping for a season's best time, something better than the 18:19 I ran at Balloonfest just over a month ago. That's a 5:53 pace, so a pretty tough time to beat. I planned to start out at a 5:45 pace, then slow to a 5:50 on hilly Mile 2, then try to maintain that pace for the flat finish.

One tricky section of a race for me has always been the start. I tend to jump out too fast at the beginning and pay for it at the finish. So, as in several other races, I lined up in the second row and tried to stay conservative and not look at my watch. Unfortunately, when I finally did look at my watch I saw that I was going too fast: A minute into the race, my pace was 5:20 per mile, 25 seconds faster than I wanted to be. I tried to ease back, but not too quickly -- I didn't want to find myself running a 6:00 pace either. By the end of the mile (by my watch) I had managed to get my pace down to 5:45, but I didn't pass the actual mile marker until 5:51. Now I needed to speed up.

Fortunately the first part of Mile 2 was downhill and I was able to get my pace down to about 5:40. In the back of my mind, however, I began to think this wasn't going to be fast enough. If each mile is 6 seconds longer than my Garmin reading, I should be banking more time than this. I should probably be hitting a 5:35 pace by my watch. But I could also tell that wasn't going to be sustainable, even on a downhill; I wasn't feeling strong enough to run any faster. What I didn't know is that this downhill wasn't going to last as long as I thought it would, because the elevation profile on the course website didn't quite match up to the real race:

Recorded (green) versus published (blue)

When I passed Mile Marker 1 I had already run about halfway down the hill. Then I was faced with a relatively steep 50-foot climb up to Mile Marker 2. About 10 seconds before I arrived there, my watch beeped with a 6:05 pace for the mile. I finally passed the marker as the timer showed 12:00, for an actual pace of 6:00 for the first two miles. I was 25 seconds slower than what I had been hoping for at this point. Worse, there was still a fair bit of climbing to do. While the elevation profile I'd seen showed the climb ending right at the mile marker, in fact there was at least another 30 feet of climbing left.

This defeated me, and I watched my pace decline to 6:50 for the mile. Really? 6:50? I was running this pace at the end of an 11-miler last weekend.  Somehow I willed myself to pick up the pace just a bit, in the name of respectability. In the end I salvaged a 6:21 for Mile 3 and limped across the finish line as the clock ticked 19:07. I walked to my car to change, then posted this race photo to Facebook:

Caption: "Dave is unhappy. Bad race today, 19:08"

Now, a 19:08 (or 19:07 officially) is a great time for a lot of people, but it's my slowest this season, and my slowest since the Bare Bones 5k in May of 2013, on a warm day when I still hadn't fully recovered from running the Boston Marathon. It's almost a minute slower than my best this season, only 6 weeks ago. So what went wrong?

I think the main thing that went wrong is that I forgot what it takes to run a really fast 5k. You have to be on the brink of exhaustion, the whole race long. I also think I probably need to do a little more work at a pace faster than race pace -- basically just throw some 200s and 400s into workouts here and there, to remind myself that I can run much faster than 5:45, so that 5:45 doesn't seem like a stretch. Finally I probably needed to do a little more research on the course if I really wanted to run it fast. I usually like to run the whole course before a race, but I got a bit of a late start and didn't have time to do that. Fortunately my next race will be on a very familiar home course: The Tightwad 5k, a free race put on by my running group on New Year's Day. Assuming I'm not out partying the night before (I'm not planning on it), I should be able to do considerably better there than I did this past weekend. I don't like having bad days, so I'm going to do everything I can to avoid another one.

Details of Saturday's race are below:

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Race Strategy: The ACC Fan 5k

On Saturday I'm taking on another 5k, this one a fairly big local race, the ACC Fan 5k, part of the festivities for the ACC Championship football game in Charlotte (the race used to be called the Championship Chase). My goal is to beat my season's best time of 18:19, set just over a month ago at the Balloonfest 5k. That would require a pace of better than 5:53, so the plan is to set myself up to run a 5:45 pace if I'm feeling good, or maybe a 5:50 if things aren't going quite so well.

The race doesn't set up quite ideally for me, but it's not too bad either. Here's the course map and elevation profile:

Ignore the little dips near the start and finish of the race; they are artifacts of the overpass where Tryon crosses the freeway (this is because the map measures the ground elevation, not the elevation of the bridge). The actual course proceeds smoothly over those dips. This means the first mile is flat, Mile 2 has a long downhill and a short 70-foot climb, and the finish is flat.

I'd prefer to have that climb before the downhill, but I have to run the race I'm given, so here's the strategy. I'll start out at a 5:45 pace for Mile 1, then try to ride the downhill and pick up the pace just a touch, maybe to 5:40. Then I'll give some of that time back on the climb; how much will depend on how I'm feeling. If I'm crushing it, my average pace for the mile will be right at 5:45. If not, hopefully I won't slow below 5:50. Then I'll try to hold whatever pace I had for Mile 2 all the way to the end. If I slow to 5:55, I'll still have a season's best, but if I keep it at 5:45 the whole way, I just might break 18:00. My 17:49 PR is probably not in play for this race; that would require a pace of 5:43, which I doubt I can hit right now.

This morning I tried to do about 1.4 miles of my run at 5k pace and didn't quite make it: I was closer to a 6:10 pace. But yesterday I ran a fairly hard 10-miler, and my route today was hillier than the race route, so I think with a couple days of easy running, I will have a better shot at that 5:45-5:50 pace. Wish me luck! The details on today's workout are below.