Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It's Good to be Humbled

The best part about running is that it's a lot like life: sometimes things don't go as planned and frankly don't work out. It's unfortunate, but it's also what makes things interesting. We don't get the job we think is ideal, a relationship that seemed perfect suddenly isn't, careers sometimes get off track. It's trite, but we learn about ourselves during those moments.

That's the really difficult thing to face up to. For whatever reason, we don't like to talk much of failure, even though that's where we learn the most. I see it in my job. Companies always want to talk to me about the great successes they've had, yet not so much about the stuff that didn't work.

I've been running now for nine years. In that time, I've accomplished a fair amount, but come up short too. I went to the Boston Marathon in 2003 thinking I'd run under three hours. By the end of the race, after running the second half 30 minutes slower than the first, my goals had gone down to "don't be put in the wheelchair." At the finish, they tried. I've been dragged off the course twice because of dehydration, including comically crumpling 200 yards from the finish in Delaware. The Indy Marathon was a fiasco. I missed running under three hours by 74 seconds because I mentally choked and eased up. I bring these up because I try to accept failure as part of the deal. I'm OK with it so long as I learn from it and do the best I can. I try to apply this as much as I can to the other parts of my life.

This all sprang to mind watching an interview Ryan Hall gave at the Great Wall after finishing a disappointing 10th in the Olympic Marathon. Yes, being the 10th fastest runner in the world isn't exactly a sob story, but he went to Beijing -- and trained his ass off -- to win a medal. What's more, he didn't have a great run. It happens. I was impressed at how honest and level-headed he was about it. At about three minutes in the video, he's asked what he took away from the race. He laughs, then says, "It was good to be humbled."

14 miles, 1:51:08

Monday, August 25, 2008

Turning the Page

As a replacement for taking summer Fridays, our corporate overlords grant us two Mondays off. Today, I took my second free day. That left me with some more options to run. I got up a little later to do my key workout of the week: a nine-mile run with four miles at half-marathon pace. I should do the tempo miles at 6:30 or ideally a bit below. Two weeks ago, I had a great workout in the park and hit 6:31. That's about where I want to be, because I figure I'll gain speed as I go with this training. (I better for all the extra work.) From the start today, though, I didn't feel great. Nothing was particularly sore, but my legs were still a bit achy. Maybe I did the long run too hard. It was also very humid out, which always bothers me. I ran a little loop around the bridle path to the East Side, about 2.5 miles. That's when the fun began. I started from the Engineer's Gate on E. 90th Street, along the Central Park road, heading north. My hope was after I warmed up, I'd feel better. It never happened. By time I got up Cat Hill and hit the flat stretch back to the Engineer's Gate, I knew it was great. I don't check my watch in the midst of the tempo runs, although it might be a good idea if I can plot out exact distances in the park. By my watch, the four miles took 26:47. 6:41 pace.

Bad workouts happen. Bad races happen. Stuff can go on at work, personally or just a bad night's sleep. There's no use obsessing about it because there are always more opportunities. The key is to not try to make it up in the next workout. Better to just move on. Even if the tempo pace wasn't great, today was a hard day. I have to do 14 tomorrow morning, nearly the entire length of Manhattan from my apartment.

9 miles, 1:03:46

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Week's Miles

Traveling is always a pain, particularly for running. I got really lucky with my trip to the Bay Area, mostly by it being a great a place to run. Running is a cool way to see new places, since it brings you where you'd never normally go. In San Mateo, I ran along the Bay Trail up to Foster City and a little beyond in a long run. In San Francisco, I ran in my bathing suit (no Speedo) through a rainy Golden Gate Park. In San Jose, I passed by tattoo parlors, brown-water canals and a squatter camp. I drove down to Campbell to run a tough 14-mile medium-long run on the Los Gatos Trail, passing lots of lakes, parks and mountain bike trails. This also marked my longest week yet of training -- and about the most miles I've done in a week. I always topped out at 60 miles in my previous training regimens. I ended the week feeling pretty healthy. My right hamstring started to ache at the end of my 18-miler, but it felt alright today. If there was one weak part it was Monday's lacatate workout, which included 10 100-meter strides. Not knowing the distances made it hard. All in all, I feel ready for a 65-mile week, then a step-back week to end the endurance mesocycle. That's when the training looks like it gets serious. Gulp.

Miles: 62.5

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Anatomy of a Long Run

I wrapped up my hardest week yet in training, week four of a six-week endurance mesocycle. My understanding of the purpose is to lay a foundation of stamina on which to build later in training with an emphasis on lactate threshold. But it's led to many runs I've found almost lazy. I'm staying in the zone of what I'm suppose to shoot for, but I feel like my skittishness with injuries led me to err on the side of slower. That's OK for long runs and recovery, but it makes me worry I'm training my body to run slowly. This week featured a couple medium-long runs (14 and 11 miles), which I did a little over 7:45. Yesterday's 18-miler should have been at a similar pace. I wanted to go just a little faster and get a good idea of pace. I ran 17 of the 18 miles in Central Park, a course basically of rolling hills. Here's the breakdown of the Central Park miles:

Loop 1 (5 miles): 38:18. Pace: 7:39. The first 5-6 miles of a run are hard when I'm into distance training. It takes time to warm up and feel OK. This included a stop at the water fountain of about 30 seconds.

Loop 2 (4 miles): 30:39. Pace: 7:39. This is where I start to feel good and get into a rhythm. I decided to take a gel and get water at about 9 miles. Took ~ 45 seconds.

Loop 3 (4 miles): 31:01. Pace: 7:45. I was pretty much locked into a pace here. This loop was faster because it took me 1 minute to buy and drink Gatorade.

Loop 4 (4 miles): 31:17. Pace: 7:49. The last loop was mostly OK, although I started to fatigue some. I stopped to drink and dispose of the rest of my Gatorade, then took another gel at 16 miles. This proved a time suck because of a line at the water fountain. Still, I wanted to take a gel late in the run to jumpstart the recovery process.

Overall: 18 miles, 2:19:31. Pace: 7:45. My guess is, when you factor in the stops for water, etc, I ran at about 7:30-7:35 pace, not bad for a hilly course on a warm morning. More important, it felt comfortable. Taking a gel late in the run -- along with a chocolate milk immediately after stopping -- did appear to speed recovery.

5 miles, 40:10

The Ectomorphs

Running is strange. There are so many different flavors of it, but the big divide is between sprinters and distance runners. They're almost like two different species. The Olympics are putting that on display. On the one hand is Usain Bolt, an absolutely transcendent talent in the 100m and 200m. I can't believe how fast the guy is. Like many, I cringed a bit when he started showboating at the end of the 100m. But I give these kind of athletes a break: he's 22, after all and from a small town in Jamaica. From what I can tell, the guy has a great personality and a real joy for what he does. At the same time, like Brad, I can't really relate. Bolt's a classic sprinter: all macho posturing and style points. There are staredowns and preening. You don't see that much in distance runners.

A lot of this probably goes back to the different needs for the sports. Running fast over a short distance is about short-muscle twitches. It's about power. Distance running is slow twitch muscles. It's about endurance. Noakes points to the Sheldon's classifications of people based on their body types as endomorphs (big and soft), mesomorphs (muscley) and ectomorphs (skinny). Sprinters are classic mesomorphs -- big, self-confident extroverts. Distance runners are ectomorphs: skinny, inward-looking. Sheldon thinks ectomorph's are looking to solve life's riddles. This makes sense to me. The reason I love distance running is it makes you comfortable being alone with your thoughts. Today, over two hours and some, I covered 18 miles in Central Park. It was hard work, but included moments of pure peacefulness as I ticked off the miles.

Usain Bolt and the sprinter crowd couldn't be more different from the guys who will toe the line tonight for the men's marathon. I don't want to take away from what sprinters do. They must put in incredible amounts of work -- although Bolt talked of eating McNuggets before his race -- but it's hard to relate to someone who ran hard for 60 meters then coasted to a world record. The marathon winner tonight will almost assuredly not do a dance afterwards. He'll be gutted, taken to scary places over two hours of the hardest work imaginable. He won't beat his chest, either. There are no style points in marathons.

The top American is Ryan Hall, an incredible 25-year-old runner from Mammoth Lakes, Calif., who has a good shot at a medal. Last night, I stumbled across Hall's Facebook fan page. From there, I noticed he had a link to his video page GodTube. Yes, Ryan Hall posts on GodTube. It's nothing new for athletes to publicly express their faith. I always chalked this up to their knowledge that they were born with an incredible gift. Think of the basketball player born into dire conditions but, by genetic quirk, given the ability to run and jump like a deer at 6' 8". But it often comes across as inauthentic for whatever reason, maybe because it's so cliche at this point. What's surprising is how self-aware Hall seems about his own gift, and how it requires him to work to perfect it and embrace failure. No matter your religious views or comfort level with Hall's very vocal connection of God to running, that's pretty admirable. Like a classic ectomorph, Hall is often racked with self-doubt and appears genuinely humble about all that he's been able to accomplish through a shitload of hard work. I can relate to that much more.

18 miles, 2:19

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Week's Miles

This is a late because I was traveling. Last week was pretty good. I started to get used to the training lode -- more on that later -- and I got in my quality runs. One choice: I skipped running one day instead of a 5-mile recovery run. After running 12.5 miles, then 11 miles, I felt spent. My flight to San Francisco was Friday afternoon, so an evening run was out of the question. My choice was to get up Friday morning for a recover run or rest. I chose rest, particularly after a tough 11 miles in the rain.

Miles: 53

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Year in Running

Last summer, I started using RunLogger, a Facebook app to track my runs. It's now been a year. In that time, I covered the distance it takes to get past Denver. It took my 235 some hours, or a little less than 10 full days or 29 work days. Looking back, it was a pretty good year. Any year I can run regularly, without injury, is a good year. Much of 2007 was forgettable race wise. I ran Delaware undertrained and paid a steep price with that catastrophe. I ran Indy and just plain had a bad race. It's the only marathon I walked in, ever, even in Delaware I never walked -- I just crumpled. Who knows why I blew up so much. It was warm, but I was just not really there mentally for a whole bunch of reasons. It taught me that it's best to run races without preoccupations. I rebounded in 2008 with a pretty good Flying Pig. It wasn't perfect, but I was happy with my training and how I ran a tough course. 3:11 isn't my best time, but it was a good time for that day. It gave me confidence I can get to where I want to go: sub 3.

Tonight, I continued the week of medium-long runs in the long slog to doing that in Philly in 15 weeks. I did 11 miles in a pretty hard rain. I wasn't sure if I'd get in the run because there was a scary thunderstorm at about 6pm. I'll run anytime, but I don't dig thunder and lightning. After I wondered on Twitter if runners ever get hit, I got several responses with horror stories. But then I thought about the Pigdog. It's easy to say that it's raining, there might be thunder, etc. I make plenty of compromises with running for work and personal obligations, but the challenge is to not give in to easy outs. I thought about that alot tonight while circling the park in the dark for an hour and a half, soaking wet. There was one woman I passed a few times. I see her out running often. She's in her 50s and moves with what's a cross between walking, running and lurching. Her face is always contorted. She goes no more than 10 minutes a mile. I thought it so cool that she's still out there in a driving rain, getting her run in when it would be much easier to stay inside and watch TV. I respect that.

11 miles, 1:26

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Getting Used to It

Despite my attempts to fully convert into a morning runner, I'm now a hybrid. Sometimes I run at night, sometimes in the morning. I base it on my schedule -- and whether I need some extra rest. As I noted before, variety is a good thing.

I returned to morning runs today after a week of evenings. I kept waking up to look at the alarm clock because 6am is early for me. When it finally rolled around, I got out the door in 25 minutes, about normal. This week, the schedule really gets into the endurance part. Monday I did a hard workout: 9 miles with four at 6:30 pace. I took yesterday off to rest for a couple of "medium-long runs." Pfitzinger has an interesting quirk in the schedule: running what I consider a good chunk of distance in the middle of the week. The schedule called for 13 today. Last week, I split up the 12 to 8 in the morning and 4 at night because I was doing a hash. This isn't ideal, of course. So today, I set out at a little before 6:30 to put in miles. The idea of running so much during the week is so foreign to me. During the long-training run, I asked one guy who did Pfitzinger last year to run a 2:58 how odd it was. He said he got up at 5am to get the runs in, since they go up to 15 miles. Sheesh. Isn't it hard, I asked. "You get used to it," he said. That's so true. No matter what with running, you get used to it. This is just something new, the same as the idea of running nearly everyday or for several hours straight was foreign to me at one point.

My run took me from my apartment on 100th Street down to Chambers Street. I ran a good part of the island, passing through the Upper West Side, Midtown, Chelsea, the Village, Soho and Tribeca. Today was a beautiful day to run along the Hudson, and I was going at a pace where I could appreciate how fortunate I am to live here. Sometimes, I take it for granted. It got tiring near the end, although I kept the pace at a comfortable 7:50. I can't say I'm used to it yet, but I'll get there. Tomorrow calls for another 11 miles.

12.5 miles, 1:38:17

Monday, August 11, 2008

Getting Faster

Running race is about speed, technically at least. But not long after I began to run, I gravitated to distances. Here speed is kinda relative, particularly in the marathon. During my best marathon, I averaged 6:55 per mile pace. This year, for the 2:59 project, I need to do 6:50 (probably 6:45 to be safe). Whenever I tell people I ran a 3:01 but desperately want to break three hours, they're a little puzzled. It's only a minute -- and a minute over 26 miles isn't much. This is pretty true. Still, I realize I needed to change my training to get faster since that 3:01 was in 2005.

A big change, for me at least, is introducing some speed work. Well, maybe speed isn't the right word. After all, the marathon is always going to be about endurance. The trick seems to getting my lactate threshold up. Fair enough. I'm just starting week three of the Pfitzinger plan. I'm positive if I follow this program, and avoid injury, I'll run a 2:59 or below. Tonight was a doozy: 9 miles with 4 miles at half marathon pace. I decided to run it in Central Park. I did a bit less than three miles warmup on the bridle path at 7:30 or so, then began the tempo portion. I wasn't sure how fast to go, but I knew I should be around 6:30, which is about a 1:24 half. I ran the tempo on the four-mile loop to know my time for sure. One of the challenges for me is figuring out if I'm at lactate threshold. The way I'm figuring it is uncomfortable but not I might die. This was a nice test for me because it's the last of six days running in a row and a hilly course in the park. By the third mile, on the east side of the park, I felt in a nice groove. The last mile wasn't great, in large part because it was predominantly uphills. When I hit my watch it said: 26:03, or 6:30. All in all, not bad. I did another 2.5 miles of recovery on the bridle path and back home.

Fifteen weeks out from the marathon, I couldn't be more pleased. When I do that workout again in October, I expect the 6:30 to be 6:15. My only concern is getting injured. My knee soreness is still around but not severe. I'm icing, taking the odd Advil, stretching, trying to run as many miles on dirt as possible, and banking on my body adjusting to the higher intensity.

Side note: I ran tonight slightly inspired by Jason Lezak, the swimmer who chased down the French world-record holder during the final leg of the 400-meter freestyle relay last night. My guess is it's hard for non-swimmers to understand how other-worldly that swim was, particularly the last 50 meters. It's all the more gratifying that he swam the race of his life at 32. Everything clicked at that moment.

9 miles, 1:05:47

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Week's Miles

Week 2 of Pfitzinger was tough. I'm either doing too much, too soon, or I'm getting used to the extra mileage and intensity. I did 55 miles, about what my peak was training for the Flying Pig. The miles have made me a little tired. I didn't sleep enough this week. The key is figuring out the intensity of runs. I'm trying to make my recovery runs real recovery, but it is hard to run as slowly as maybe I should. Today's five miler was a little under 40 minutes. That seems about right to me. My long run was at about 7:45 pace. The only speed work was some 100-meter strides during an 8 miler. It will be interesting to see what happens this week, when the schedule calls for an 11 miler and 12 miler during the week, followed by a 15-mile run on the weekend. Should be doubly interesting with travel to San Francisco added in.

Mileage: 55

Friday, August 8, 2008

Maintaining Variety

It seems like there's a truism that does hold up for most things in life: variety is best. Like most people, I find it hard sometimes. For a while, I was eating the same thing for breakfast (bagel with cream cheese), taking the same route to work, running the same workouts at the same pace. I've tried to change that. A couple years ago, I tried to do one thing new each week, whether it was a different commute or not watching TV.

Running, I realize, is no different. In a way, it's more challenging to mix things up because running requires consistency. To do it well, you need to keep at it. But there's then the tendancy to get stuck. My training was in a rut the last few years. It's not that I haven't worked hard or done well. I had a pretty good streak of training before the Flying Pig. It's more that there hasn't been sufficient variety of workouts. Pfitzinger is changing that. Already this week I've run at a bunch of different paces, on different routes and terrain. One thing reminding me of the need for variety is a sudden soreness I've developed in my right knee. I've been so lucky over the years to avoid injury. Only one time, four years ago, did I develop an injury that made me stop running for more than a week. (It was ITB syndrome.) My guess is the aches come from overuse. I've gone up in mileage the last couple of weeks. But I also think a lack of variety is playing a role. This week, I mixed things up. One day I was doing an 8-miler in Central Park with about a mile or so of 100-meter repeats on the Reservoir. Another I went 8 miles down the West Side to Chelsea, running on a long flat stretch. Later that day, I even ran a Hash through the East Village and Soho, dodging pedestrians and trying to keep on sidewalks, followed by a few miles along the river. Last night, I ran 8 miles on the soft dirt in Riverside Park. I hope to keep up the different types of runs and routes to make things remain interesting. The Hash in particular was a nice break. While it involved a few miles of running, and my second workout of the day, it's relaxed. The idea is you chase around a trail set in chalk on the sidewalks. Eventually, everyone winds up at a bar. That probably isn't ideal for every workout, but it is for maintaining some balance.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Week's Miles

The first week on the Pfitzinger plan went well overall. The tempo run went alright, and I had a great long run. My big worry is some knee soreness. I'm hoping it's just from all the downhills in Central Park during the 20-mile run. It doesn't hurt too much, but it does ache. I'm not sure. Maybe I upped my mileage too quickly. We'll see.

Mileage: 52.5

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Getting Dropped and Dropping

I used to joke about "dropping the hammer." It's a funny term. But truth is, I've long admired the ability of athletes to pour it on late in races, testing whether others can respond. I realized that this week watching a video of Lance demolishing the field on the Alpe d'Huez and Prefontaine dropping everyone at the end of races. The ability to up the pace when everyone is tired is pretty cool.

Don't get me wrong, I've many times been on the receiving end of this. And there's nothing more dispiriting than getting dropped. It sucks. On a few occasions, even Stroh left me behind. Of course, I'd argue that many more times he was the one who couldn't keep up. One of my fondest memories of being dropped was when Stroh took off during the last five-mile loop of the Steiner 50k. I like to make the excuse that he made his move while I was slurping chicken soup, but the truth is, I tried to get back to him but couldn't. It was impressive.

This morning's long-training run started off uneventfully. It was sticky out and the NYRR seemed pretty disorganized, with volunteers telling me completely opposite ends of the park to get my number. With the Pfitzinger program in mind, I lined up with the 8:00 pace group. Part of me saw the 7:30s leave and wanted to be with them. The 8s are such a large group, it has to be broken up. Frankly, I looked around and saw runners that are much slower. But I have a bigger goal, and it's their mistake to run the long runs so fast. This hit home during the run, when people were talking of "hoping" to do a 3:30 marathon. OK, why run a 20-mile run, quite early in training, at the same pace you'll race? Needless to say, many of them wouldn't stick around for all 20.

The first six-mile loop is always about getting comfortable. The pace kept yo-yoing, which is always annoying. I got kicked and elbowed a lot from sudden decelerations. It was clear we'd end up going a little faster than 8, fine by me. I stayed near the front without going past the pace leader. Several people didn't, and that pulls the group even faster. The second five-mile loop, I started to feel normal. I stayed back and felt fine in the pack. After 11 miles, I usually run my best. I don't know why. During the third five-mile loop, I started talking with a guy who I ran with during the same run last year. At that time, I was out of shape, about five pounds overweight and trying to get in shape for the Indy Marathon. That time, about four of us broke off the last four-mile loop and ran it at a pace that got down to 7. I was dropped. Chatting about training helped pass the time. He went on to run a 2:58 in Philly last fall. This spring, he ran the Pig, like I did, but blew up and finished 10 minutes off my pace. He cut off at 72nd, and I started running at the front again. I like to run hills somewhat aggressively, if only to get them out of the way. By the time I got a rhythm on Cat Hill, I decided to run the rest of the loop at the faster pace, probably around 7:30. That brought up the final four-mile loop. At this point, we were down to about 10 people, not including most of those that were trying to pull the group faster. A few people broke off and went off before us. After we made the turn on the west side of the park at the start of the final four-mile loop, I assessed how I felt. While I know I should save my energy for the tough mid-week workouts, I put a lot of faith in being able to run hard deep into runs. I'd held back all day. So I did my version of hammer dropping, doing the last four at around marathon pace, somewhere below 7 minutes. Nobody followed. I reeled in everyone who had gone ahead. It felt fine, and I'm glad I did it. My favorite part of distance running is knowing I'll feel strongest after running for a couple hours. I'm a little sore now, but that's to be expected after 20 miles on hard surface with lots of ups and downs.

20 miles, 2:34

Friday, August 1, 2008

July Running Stats

July and August are tough months. The weather is hot and humid, while it's time to get started training for a fall marathon. Since I'm doing Philly, I could put off serious training a bit. Still, it was a good month running, including my first runs at altitude in Boulder. Work wasn't crazy at all, either. All in all, I established a good base for much higher mileage months to come. For the month, I ran 26 of 31 days for a total of 176 miles.

Putting the Long Run in Perspective

No matter what training program a runner uses, the long run has a central role. Going long is absolutely necessary to build the kind of endurance needed to sustain 26.2 miles. At first, I remember it was intimidating. Now, many years and dozens of 20-mile runs later, I look forward to long runs. As Chad once pointed out, there's little glory in them. So far this summer, I've monkeyed around with long runs, never going all that far. Last weekend I did 17 miles, which were kinda awful because of the hot and humid weather. Tomorrow's the NYRR Long-Training Run. I'm doing the full 20, although my Pfitzinger plan calls for 17. I know from past experience that I'll want to get in the entire distance. Most of my long runs are done by myself, but tomorrow I'll have a group of runners to run four loops of the park. This makes the runs a lot easier, just psychologically. Following the advice of some here and stuff Pfitzinger has written, I'm running in the 8:00 pace group. This is a pretty relaxed pace for me, and seemingly just right for my race pace. What I've learned is that my previous training had it backward: I built up the long run too much. In fact, I need to concentrate on real quality workouts during the week with tempo runs. That's where I'll get fast. The endurance part isn't as important, it's just necessary.

Good luck to Laura, Daniel and other SF Marathon runners.

5 miles, 38 minutes