Concord Turkey Trot 5K

Nov 27 2012

Last Thursday I ran my first Turkey Trot. Thanksgiving in my family is a pretty low key affair with just the three of us, so it was not a big deal for Kris and me to shoot out to Concord to run a race first thing in the morning. Since the marathon, I’ve just been doing random runs 4-5 times a week. Concentrating more on trails these days and really enjoying it. Mostly running pretty easy, but the occasional tempo pace for a few miles now and then.

The last 5K I ran competitively was 16 months ago, where I PRed with a time of 23:10. Since then, I’d run a half marathon, two marathons and a 20 mile race. And 90% of the time in between those events was filled with training for those events. My last marathon training program had a fair amount of speed work in it, but I had gotten to the point maybe two-thirds through it where I felt the mileage was a big enough stress by itself and cut out any real speed. So really, I had absolutely NO idea what was going to happen in this 5K. I did know that I was in the absolute best shape of my entire 48 years on this planet, physically strong, no injuries, and feeling pretty tough mentally. So I was hoping to possibly create a new PR for myself.

Well, I can set up the story for a 5K pretty well, but it’s over far to fast to give a very interesting play-by-play account. I knew for a PR I’d have to be solidly around 7:20 per mile. So I went out and ran pretty solidly around 7:20 per mile. Mile 1 went fine – 7:20 on the nose – but mentally I wondered how long I could keep that up. Apparently I could keep it up all the way through mile 2, which came in at 7:18. I was getting tired, but saw that “22″ in my head and kept the pressure on. Towards the end of mile 3 I was feeling pretty beat but I asked myself if it was any worse than miles 22-25 of the marathon. Not even close, so I pushed harder, did that in 7:23. Got to the final straightaway and put the metal down, passing two people. Then, feet before the end, the first guy I passed took up the challenge and blew past, crossing the finish line a second before me. We laughed and high-fived each other.

Final time: 22:45. A new PR in the books. A sub-23 was one of my goals for the year. Nice to accomplish it on the only 5K I ran all year. :) Next year: sub-22.

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Cape Cod Marathon Recap

Nov 25 2012

Well, it’s about time I got around to writing this, seeing as the race was already almost a month ago. Running a marathon – at least your first couple – is a pretty major life event and takes a while to process. But I’d hate to let this go without writing anything at all, so here we go.

As the name implies, the race is on Cape Cod, as was my first marathon earlier this year. The first was the Hyannis Marathon. This last one is officially called The Cape Cod Marathon and is in Falmouth. If you’re not familiar with the geography, you can imagine Cape Cod as an arm bent at the elbow with the forearm facing east. Hyannis is almost half way down the forearm, while Falmouth is at the very tip of the elbow.

Miranda, Kris and I, drove down on the Friday before the race. In order to get a hotel room, I had to book two nights. So when Kris got home from school, we hopped in the car and headed down. It’s maybe an hour / hour and a half to get down there. Not a bad drive. We checked in and headed over to the local school to pick up my bag and number, but found that they were only doing that for the half marathon (which was on Saturday). So we wandered down town and found some food, walked around a bit, and relaxed in the hotel for the rest of the night.

Saturday, we went to the school again and successfully got my stuff. Kris and I went out for a short 2 mile run, and a bit later we took a drive down to Woods Hole. Walked around, took some photos and watched the ferry head out. Later got some food at Betsy’s Diner, which I fell in love with. Some more driving around site seeing and another early evening.

For the few days before the race, I started to feel like I was coming down with a cold. Nose on the edge of getting stuffy, throat on the edge of getting scratchy, etc. I have not actually had a full blown cold in over two years, since I had to drop out of the Bay State Half Marathon. Once in a while I’ll get symptoms like this that have me convinced something is starting and then vanish. As it turned out, the same thing happened again. By Saturday, I felt fine. Well, at least as far as cold symptoms. Friday night though, strange bed, strange pillows resulted in a stiff neck and headache for most of Saturday. I guess I slept a little better Saturday night. Woke up Sunday feeling pretty much ready to go.

Race Day!

Woke up early, walked down to the corner store to get some Powerade to put in my four 8-oz bottles. This is how I did all my long runs, so not changing anything. The starting line was minutes from the hotel. I was infinitely more relaxed than my first marathon. That time I was a virtual nut case I was so nervous. I was pretty chill about everything this time. So without too much drama, I got into the starting corral and waited for the cannon (yes, cannon) to go off to start the race. And we were off!

I’d trained for my first marathon with Hal Higdon’s Intermediate Marathon plan. It was decent enough for a first marathon, but I felt it could have used a bit of speed work and a few more long runs. For this marathon I did one of the Pfitzinger plans from the Advanced Marathoning book. These are tough plans. I took the easiest one and cut it down from there. Lots of speed work, lots of long, long runs, with three 20 milers (as opposed to two the first time). I really pushed myself to the limit on this training cycle. Amazed that I did not get injured, but I was utterly worn out by the end. It took my full 3 week taper to feel anywhere back to normal.

I think this hard training had a lot to do with my lack of nervousness. I knew that I had trained 99.99% as hard as I could have without breaking something. After the taper, I felt strong and as ready as I could possibly be. I didn’t feel like I’d skimped or left anything out. Just needed to do that final long run to wrap things up.

My first 26.2 came in at 4:26:57. I really didn’t have any doubt at all that I was going to kick the crap out of that time. But how much? Dream time was 3:59:59 but that was a lot to ask. Possible, I thought, but I wouldn’t want to put money on it. Anyway, the plan was to run at around a 9:00 pace, which would put me just under 4:00, and see how it went.

Let’s jump to mile 16 then. Up to then, everything was rolling along just fantastically. I was on pace, maybe very slightly faster. Had some conversations with fellow runners. Not struggling at all. There were some hills, one biggish one in the first few miles, but nothing too bad. But 16 was the first hill that kicked me in the face. It wasn’t much of a kick, but I felt it. When I was over it, I took stock of myself. I still felt good, strong, not struggling, not hurting. The hill was tough, but I recovered well. (In retrospect, looking at the elevation profile below, there may have been more hills than I really noticed up through mile 12 or so. But 16 was the one that first made itself very obvious to me.)

OK, now take that little story and repeat it for mile 17, 18, 19 and 20. Each hill hurt, but I felt I was recovering well on the other side of them. But let’s be honest, the recovery was to a bit lower level. Going into 21 I felt a bit rough. But looking back to my first marathon, I felt a lot fresher at 21 this time than I did at mile 18 last time.

But guess what was at mile 21. Another big ass hill. It was my calves that killed me. They were on fire. I made it to about 21.5 and couldn’t run another step. I walked the rest of the way up the hill. Then started running again. But guess what came after that. Another hill. And another. They were coming faster and steeper now. At least it felt like that. Several more walk breaks followed. And eventually l was scheduling out a walk/run ratio. Sigh.

I thought that if the hills let up, I might get back into a steady run pace. Instead, somewhere in 22 or 23 I ran out of glycogen (blood sugar). Started feeling light-headed and dizzy. Vision started going a bit gray. In my first marathon, I had been using GU energy gels. I’d always been able to tolerate them pretty well, but at around mile 17 of that race, I took a mouthful of one and almost gagged. I didn’t touch another one for the rest of that race and never again since then either. In the Eastern States 20 miler I did 4 weeks later, I used Power Bar Energy Gel Blasts and those worked much better. So I used them a bit during training and on this marathon. The thing about them is you need to take a lot more of them than you do gels. A whole package of 9 chews has about the same calories as a single gel. I hadn’t been eating enough and my blood sugar got low. So I downed 2-3 really quickly. That helped the dizziness and vision, but made me nauseas. So the next few miles I also had the challenge of balancing getting enough calories with not making myself puke.

At mile 21.5 I was right on target for sub 4:00. When I hit mile 24 I was at about 3:40. Just 20 minutes to do a bit over 2 miles. PIECE OF CAKE! Right?? Sadly though, I knew I’d lost any hope of sub 4:00. I knew I could not even keep a 10:00 pace for 2 miles.

OK, salvage time. How about a 20 minute PR? I thought I could make it in by 4:06. Continued the walk / run until about 25.8. At that point, I took it home with as fast a run as I could muster. Final time: 4:06:21. So, 20 minute PR done. I’ll take it, that’s pretty impressive if I do say so myself.

Through the finish line, got my medal and foil blanket, met up with the family and walked around a bit. Oddly, I felt pretty damned good. After marathon number one, my legs hurt so badly for the first 15-20 minutes or so, I thought I was going to go out of my head. I was tired, a bit sore and stiff, but I’d been in far worse shape after many a training run over the past few months. Another score for good training.

After that, we walked over to the school again, where I could take a (cold) shower and change. That was good since we’d already checked out of our room. Then got to enjoy some hot soup and pasta before leaving for the ride home.

Thoughts

If you haven’t done one yet, I think it’s tough to understand what an epic event running a marathon is. My understanding now, after just two of these, is that it is far more mental than you might imagine. I guess one of the things I’ve been pondering since race day is what the physical / mental ratio really is. I mean, sure, my calves were screaming in more pain than I could imagine there on mile 21 and I didn’t feel like it was physically possible to run another step. But as soon as it’s all over, you start looking back on it and wondering. Could I have pushed through that??? I don’t know the answer to that, honestly. The only way to begin to answer it is… to do it again.

I spent over four months preparing for this race, and it was in over in just a few hours. But so much physical and mental struggle went into that few hours, and the vast majority of that struggle was in the last hour. It’s taken me a while to process all that occurred in my personal universe in that hour. It’s horribly physically and mentally anguishing, but it is a level of feeling alive and pushing yourself harder, again both mentally and physically, than I think I ever have in any other situation in my life. And I think people who don’t run marathons, ultras, triathlons, or similar mega-physical events, rarely if ever go through that kind of experience. Offhand, I can only imagine childbirth and maybe being in combat are things that you might be able to compare it to. (I imagine both of those things are far more intense than running a marathon, but are the only things I can think of anywhere close to the same level of intensity.)

It’s also a very addicting experience. Mostly due to that unanswered question – could I have pushed through that? I want to test myself again.

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Rockin’ Out

Aug 12 2012

The history of my musical activity, or lack thereof: When I was in 1st or 2nd grade, I played the recorder in school. Some time during grade school I also took a few guitar lessons at the local YMCA, but gave up on it pretty quickly. A few years ago I made a brief attempt to learn Reason, even bought me an midi keyboard to hook up to my computer, but I really had no idea what I was doing and mostly just messed around with filters, making interesting noises.

It’s always bothered me that I’ve never been able to play any musical instrument. For some time I’ve been carrying around the though that if I were to do it all over again, that’s one thing I would change. But recently I suddenly found myself asking myself, “Why not just start now?” And this new thought has been brewing for a little while. So today I went out and bought me a guitar.

That there is a Yamaha FG700S Acoustic Guitar. It’s nothing to get all excited about. Run of the mill beginner model that cost just $200. And added about the same amount onto that for the case, stand, pics, tuner, strap, extra strings, how-to book, etc.

My goal: to be able to sit down and play a handful of songs – maybe some Beatles, Dylan, a bit of Johnny Cash perhaps. For myself, family, maybe if I’m somewhere and there’s a guitar I could pick it up and play something. I’ve always admired anyone who could play any instrument. It’d just be pretty cool to know I could make some nice noise come out of it if I needed to.

Started off a bit this afternoon – tuned it up and started picking a few notes and melodies. Not nearly as hard as I’d thought it’d be. My left hand fingers would disagree though. Some nice blisters going on already.

Well, that’s about it for that. Not sure there will be too many updates on this subject. I do hope I keep up with it, but doubt I’ll be doing anything majorly newsworthy with it. :)

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Onto Marathon #2

Aug 07 2012

Well, when we lost saw our brave hero, he was finishing the Eastern States 20. Time to get back up to date, eh?

I’m currently in training for the Cape Code Marathon in Falmouth in late October. More on that shortly.

After Eastern States, I rested a bit, then tried to keep up the mileage in the same range I was doing. I was still having some arch pain – probably plantar fasciitis – but overall not too bad. One day in April I was rushing across the street or something and suddenly there was a very sharp pain in my left heel. It continued to hurt for a few days. Even walking was painful. So I took a few weeks off running and got myself a Strassburg Sock. You wear this sock at night while you sleep and it stretches your toes up towards your knee, stretching the problematic fibers on the bottom of your foot.

My first impression of the sock was that it would be too annoying to possibly sleep in. But I read so many rave reviews about it, I figured it was worth a try. The first night proved out my first impression. After about two hours, I was ripping it off and throwing it across the room. The second night I made it through about half the night and a bit more the following. After that, I pretty much got used to it and was able to sleep through the night.

In addition to the sock, I got a new pair of shoes. I’d been wearing Lemings, which were pretty great – comfortable as hell, and like going barefoot. But I think they are a large part of what was causing the PF. Got myself a pair of very supportive everyday shoes from New Balance. Between the sock and the shoes, and some icing and stretching, I’ve made some dramatic improvement. A bit soreness after a long run, but barely noticeable most of the time.

So, for the marathon, I’ve decided to do a bit more aggressive training program this time. I’m going with the lowest level program in Advanced Marathoning – 2nd Edition. I’d previously used Hal Higdon’s on-line programs, which were good, but I felt I really needed a bit of speed work in with the distance, not to mention a bit more distance in general. As I started reading Advanced Marathoning, the programs really resonated with me. Tons of hard workouts of all different kinds. Higdon was mostly, run x miles, with the occasional run where you’d do some fraction at marathon pace. The program I’m on now has the following:

Recovery runs
General aerobic runs
Medium long runs
Long runs
Lactate threshold runs
General aerobic and recovery with speed
Marathon pace runs
V02 runs

The LT runs are anywhere from 8 to 11 miles, with 4 to 7 miles at 15k to half marathon pace. For me that’s about 8:00 to 8:10 per mile.

The runs with “speed” consist of general aerobic or recovery runs with 7 to 10 100 meter strides with 100 meters rest between.

Marathon pace runs are part of long runs, where you do a big chunk of the run at marathon pace.

And V02 runs are intervals of 400 to 1200 meters at 5k pace.

The schedule is broken down into a few “mesocycles”: endurance, lactate threshold + endurance, race preparation, and taper. I’m just through the first mesocycle, which was 6 weeks. I’ve already had to cut back on a few recovery runs – and by “cut back” I mean “skip”. But last week was a recovery week and I’m going into this week feeling strong. I did a 10 mile run with 5 miles LT. 4 miles tomorrow, then an 11 mile medium long run on Thursday. Saturday is 7 miles with 7 strides, and Sunday is 18 miles. Weeee! That will be my highest mileage week ever, considering I make it through. July was my second highest mileage ever. Would have been highest if not for those dropped runs. At any rate, August will undoubtedly break the record for me, and September will blow that away – assuming I don’t fall apart. So far so good.

Anyway, that’s where things stand. I just may try blogging a bit more often here, but no promises.

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Eastern States 20 Mile Race

Mar 25 2012

That was pretty awesome.

Four weeks after Hyannis, where I didn’t do nearly as well as I had hoped, I was scheduled to run the Eastern States 20. The first time I heard of this race, I was intrigued and wanted to do it. Traditionally, it starts in Kittery, Maine, just over the Maine/New Hampshire border, then runs down the entire NH coast, crossing into Massachusetts at Salisbury, where it ends. This year, unfortunately, there is construction happening on the bridge over to Kittery, so the race started in Portsmouth, NH, went up to just shy of the border, then back down the usual route. So no Maine, but otherwise the same.

I really had no idea how to train for this race, with just four weeks between it and the Hyannis Marathon. Generally you want to take a week or several of recovery after a marathon before doing any other major race training. You also want 2-3 weeks of a taper before such a long run. If I did all that though, there’d be no real training runs in between, and I was afraid I’d lose some significant fitness. On the other hand, doing to much could be risking going into Eastern States worn out or injured. In the end, I just kind of ran by feel. Took it easy the first week, did some half decent distance and several good strong runs in the next two weeks, and took it easy this past week. No idea if it was the best plan, but it was the best I could come up with.

I wasn’t really planing on running this one seriously. I figured I wouldn’t be in very good shape for it given the factors above. So I just planned to enjoy the scenery and see what came of it. In the back of my mind, I had a sub-3-hour finish, but I didn’t think that was very realistic.

Flash forward to the start. Went out way too fast, as is usual. Did the first couple of miles in 8:30 and 8:33. Slowed it down to 8:40′s for the next few miles. Still faster than I should be going, but it felt good. I figured I had no real expectations for this race, so if I crashed and burned a few miles in and had to slow to a crawl later, so be it.

So I kept it in the high 8:30′s to low 8:50′s, largely hill dependent, I believe. Five miles went by, still felt good. Ten miles, still cranking. Thirteen, still cruising along like I was out for an easy run. What the…?

Mile 14 and 15 I finally started to feel a difference. Not really losing it, per se, but the pace wasn’t coming all by itself. If I didn’t focus, I’d slip up above 9:00. Throughout the first half of the race, lots of people were passing me, and I was only passing a few. But 10-15, I started reeling people in on a regular basis. I’d see one up ahead, and slowly gain on him and pass him or her. From about mile 6 or 7 to 16 or 17 the miles were flying by. I couldn’t believe it every time my Garmin beeped another lap, or another aid station appeared. It was really some of the easiest running I recall.

In mile 16 I started reeling in another runner and made some comment about an upcoming hill. We got to talking. Turns out he used to live right around the corner from me in Wellesley. Small world. Had a nice talk for several minutes, but then looked down and saw we were doing 9:28. I felt I had plenty of juice left in me, so told him I was going to push it a little bit. That mile came in at 9:18, slowest one yet, but I got mile 17 back into the 8:50′s (ok, 8:59). By this point, I saw that the sub-3:00 was actually realistic. I was pumped.

Mile 18 is where it started to come undone. I think it was the beginning of the wall. I felt like I was running out of fuel, feeling a little light headed, and vision was going slightly gray. I was using PowerBar Energy Gel Blasts

which overall worked a lot better for me than regular gels. I downed 2-3 more as fast as I could get them down. That handled the vision pretty much, but I was still flagging. The last half of mile 18 seemed to take forever. We won’t talk about the extreme time dilation effect that happened in miles 19 and 20, but that last quarter mile felt more like a quarter of a light year.

With the slower speed (9:20′s to 9:40′s) in the last few miles, I had eaten way into my sub-3:00 margin. Finally, I saw some orange cones. Turned the corner and ran through the gate at 2:59:39. Wooohoooo!

The guy I abandoned at mile 16 finished just 41 seconds after me, meaning he must have picked up his pace as I was slowing down.

Other miscellania:

I ran every step of the entire 20 miles. I was wearing a Nathan hydration belt with 4 8-oz bottles of Gatorade, which was just about perfect for me. I didn’t take anything at any aid stations, just ran right through them. By mile 19 or 20, I was in a place that I’m sure I may have usually given in and taken a walk break. But after going that far at a full run, there was no way I was going to stop then. Good thing I didn’t, it would have cost me my sub-3:00.

Overall, I really liked the PowerBar Energy Gel Blasts. They are like giant gummy bears. A lot more palatable than gels, which I almost gagged on at Hyannis, and you can take one every so often, rather than a full gel all at once. They are 190 calories per package and I went through about a pack and a half – roughly equivalent to 3 gels, which is what I could manage to keep down at Hyannis. The only problem I had with them was how to eat them. The first couple I chewed up and tried to swallow like you would a large gummy bear. But with all the heavy breathing, a few chunks got sucked into the wrong tube, causing a bit of a choking, coughing fit. After a couple of those incidents, I tried some different tactics – gumming them until they melted – too long, and finally just chewing them up, holding my breath for a beat and swallowing the whole mass at once. That worked. Mostly. I think I’ll experiment with some other fuel this spring and summer. After the last mouthful of gel at Hyannis, I don’t think I can go back to them again. My stomach turns just thinking about it.

I tried some mental tricks to make the miles go by easier. Mainly, breaking the distance into smaller chunks and just focusing on those. At first I thought I’d go for 5, 5, 5, 5. Simple. But then I remembered the time dilation effect. That last 5 was going to be too long. I came up with 5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. That mostly worked really good. But that last mile I could have broken it into tenths of miles. Or even hundredths. That’s how often I was looking at my watch, hoping for it to change.

One last word on the race itself. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the race is disorganized. I would just say that it is not meant to be an overly organized event. The race started out as a training run for Boston. It’s a few weeks before Boston, just right for the last long 20 miler before taper. I’d say a large percentage of runners were running Boston, and there seems to be somewhat of an assumption that that is the case. One spectator yelled, “Last long one before the big dance!” Overall, it feels a lot more like a group training run than a serious race in and of itself. There is no finisher’s medal, no chip timing, no expo. Nothing at all happening the day before the race – bib and t-shirt pickup at the starting line that morning. Nobody knew where the starting line was and nobody was guiding anyone there when it was just 10-15 minutes before start. There was no gun or horn to start thing, suddenly people just started running, surprising everyone who was not in the first couple of rows. While there were a nice amount of aid stations, there were only porta-potties at miles 7 and 17. Not even sure if there were any at the finish. I saw lots of people sneaking out of bushes or out from behind stores that were closed for the winter. But again, it didn’t feel disorganized, just like, “This is the way we do things here. You’ll get all the fancy stuff in a few weeks in Boston.” I will say that the after party was very well stocked with soup, pizza, various goodies and snacks, and water and other beverages. Alas, no beer though. :) All in all, I’m glad I experienced it and very happy with how I did, but it wouldn’t be high on my repeat list.


(Again, official time 2:59:39. I forgot to turn off my Garmin after crossing the finish line.)

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Hyannis Marathon 2012

Feb 27 2012

Almost exactly 2 1/2 years after I started running, I finally am able to say I am a marathoner.

Within a few months of running, I knew that a marathon was in my future, but was in no real hurry. I figured I’d do some 5Ks and some halfs and enjoy the journey. I think too many people start running, dive straight into their first marathon, maybe make it to the finish line, but then never run another one, and maybe stop running altogether. I’m in this for the long term, so didn’t mind building up for a couple of years before doing 26.2. Last year I decided that if I broke two hours in my fall half marathon, I’d start doing marathons. I did 1:49, so it was on. I’d like to do at least two full marathons in 2012 so started looking for one early in the year. Hyannis is just an hour and a half from home and in late February, one of the earliest ones out there.

Running a marathon in February, on Cape Cod, past open water several times, is obviously an experience that can be quite affected by the weather. Last year I heard they had snow and freezing rain. So I was checking my weather app several times daily as soon as Feb. 26 showed up on the 10 day extended forecast. Luckily, this has been the mildest winter I have experienced in my life, so things bode well. My weather app showed sunny, high 30′s / low 40′s and that held right up to just before race day. A couple of days before it was very rainy, and Saturday it was extremely windy. But the wind was supposed to subside a bit on Sunday.

We got down to Hyannis on Saturday, hit up the race expo, had lunch, and went down to a couple of beaches – the same beaches I’d be running past. It was brutally cold and windy at the first one. Kris picked up some shells and we went back to the car after a short while. The next beach was so windy that we were painfully pelted by sand and had to run back to the safety of the car. I was afraid my car was going to be sandblasted down to bare metal. Checked into the hotel, which had an indoor pool. Kris spent a few hours swimming. Great time for her. Miranda and I relaxed poolside and read. Had dinner and got in for an early night’s sleep.

Woke up Sunday, had some breakfast, checked out and headed over to the race. Got there an hour early to be sure we could get parking, and hung out inside near the expo. Outside, it was still VERY cold and windy. Or at least felt that way. But by the time the race started, it was actually bearable. I was wearing compression tights and RaceReady shorts packed with gels and a pair of long and short sleeved tech shirts. I was hoping that would be enough, but had to add my Saucony running jacket and gloves and a hat. I carried a handheld 10 oz bottle of Gatorade to supplement water stops. And then we were off!

A bit about the course. It’s a 13.1 mile loop. There were around 3300 half marathoners, and 400 full marathoners. Everyone does the same course. The half marathoners turn off at the same point we started, and us stupid marathoners keep on going for another full loop. There were also a bunch of marathon relay teams. Not sure on the details of that, but there was a relay point around mile 7.

The first loop was pretty uneventful. I had at least 4 possible goals for the race. Overall, I just wanted to finish under my own power. Then, I felt if I could get in under 4:30, I could go home proud of myself. Under 4:20 I’d be happy. And if all the stars lined up just right, a sub-4:00 would be awesome. I figured out the math for the sub-4:00 as follows: I knew I could run at just under 9 minutes per mile for at least the first half, probably even 15 miles. If I could go all the way to 20 miles and be just under 9:00 per mile, that’d give me a full hour to do the last 6.2. I was pretty much able to stick to that plan for the first half. While a couple of miles popped over 9:00, the average was definitely well below. And I kept pretty good control of myself – if I found myself in the 8:40′s I’d slow down to try to get into mid 8:50′s. That’s where I wanted to be.

At the end of the first loop, I was feeling pretty warm. Miranda and Kris were waiting for me and I tore off my jacket. I’d already taken off my gloves and hat and stuffed them in my jacket pocket. Gave them the jacket, grabbed a new 10 oz Gatorade bottle and off I went. In mile 14 I struck up a conversation with a fellow runner. He was on his 49th marathon, done in 41 different states. He was from Atlanta. Just flew in for the marathon. We ran together through miles 14-15 and then I said goodbye as I spied an open porta-potty and decided to take advantage of it. I was still feeling pretty good at the end of 15, and most of the way through 16, but by the end of 16 I noticed that my pace was slowing, and the effort to keep it up was increasing. My legs had felt good up until 13, then started a bit of fatigue, but nothing horrible. What was hurting at mile 16 was mostly my abs. All my core muscles were painfully clenched. Although I wasn’t having any GI problems, the tension there was causing me to start feeling a bit nauseous. I was also getting a slight headache. I thought I might need to take in more electrolytes/Gatorade, but it was a bit of a catch 22 as I didn’t really feel I could put a lot in my stomach.

Miles 17 and 18 slowed even more. My the end of 18 I had to take my first walk break. Just a short one, up a hill, but once you give in and take that first one, I find it’s virtually impossible to not keep taking them. As I said, I’d packed myself with a bunch of energy gels. Took one at around 4 miles, another around 8 or 9, and another after the half way point. Around mile 19 I tried to take another one. I got one mouthful in and it very nearly came back up. That was the end of the gels for me. Another thing I’ve learned about walk breaks is that if you’re going to take them, you need to be in control of them. You need to set some kind of schedule for them and stick to it, otherwise you’re just walking every time you feel tired, which is all the time anyway, and you spin out of control. So in mile 18 I tried to say 1/10 of a mile walking, then 4/10 running. That was overenthusiastic. I wound up going with 1/10 walking 2/10 running. Even then, I was just hoping I could make it through without throwing up. As bad as I felt though, I knew at that point that I was going to finish the race. I just needed to stay in control.

After a couple of miles of 1/10 – 2/10 walk / run, I started feeling better. I was able to up it to 0.1 walk, 0.25 run by mile 20, and in another mile was able to push it to 0.1 and 0.3. I held that ratio pretty much for the rest of the race. It was just about that point that I struck up a conversation with another runner, who looked about as bad as I felt. He was also doing a walk / run at that point. He was maybe 19-20 years old, also his first marathon. He’d gone out at something like 7:40 in the start and burned out quickly. Felt he was about to pull hamstring. We ran for a couple of miles together at my ratio. At one point, we caught up to a friend of his and he kept running when I took my next break. But a bit later, he was back to walking and I ran past him. We leap-frogged each other a few more times in those last couple of miles, but at some point, I guess he found his wind and he took off and I never saw him again.

As for my goals, I had given up on the sub-4:00 by the end of mile 16. That was pretty much a pipe dream anyway, but I thought I could still come in below 4:20. I wasn’t so sure about that as I got into the 20′s but at mile 24 I was still below 4:00. Two sub-10:00 miles and I could do it. I summoned up everything I had and went for it. That lasted about 2/10 of a mile. It just wasn’t happening. Went back to my 0.1 / 0.3 walk run. At that point, I wasn’t even sure about 4:30. Just praying for this thing to be over.

A funny time stretching thing happens during a marathon. At least for me in this marathon. It’s kind of like the course has a half life. The first 13.1 took a certain amount of perceived time and physical effort. The next 6.5 miles or so up to the middle of mile 19 mentally seemed to take about the same amount of time and effort. And it seemed to take about the same time and physical exertion to make it to that 23 mile mark. Those last 3 miles all stretched out like some kind of crazy funhouse hallway, each mile becoming exponentially longer than the previous one. The spell didn’t break until I saw the mile 26 marker. Just 0.2 to go! And I was well below 4:30.

I’ve read so many times that when you think you’ve given it your all and have absolutely nothing left, you can still reach down deep and find something. That last 0.2 miles I did at a sub 8:00 pace. Really??? Yeah, I was almost sprinting. I don’t know where that came from. People were remarking on it as I went by. And then I was through the finish line. There was a brief instant of choked up emotion, but the tiredness and pain squelched it pretty quickly.

Got inside the expo center and got a cup of hot soup. Which I couldn’t eat because my legs were in more pain than I ever recall. It was the kind of pain that drives you insane. I’d sit, stretch, walk around, massage. And the pain was just louder than anything. After a half hour or so, though, it finally subsided a bit. Ate, got a massage, Miranda drove us home. Crashed by 7:30 or so. Had a good night sleep and back to work on Monday. I can go up and down stairs, albeit slowly, so not too bad. All toenails present and accounted for. And it only took about 2 hours to go from, “That was stupid. I’m never doing that again!” to “So next time…” :)

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Thoughts on Running Shoes and Form

Dec 23 2011

For the last half of this year, I’ve been on a quest to improve my running form. Yes, it was sparked by reading “Born to Run”. And yes, I went out and bought a pair of Vibrams. Actually ran in the things 3-4 times, but didn’t get too caught up in the hype.

I’ve never been totally able to buy into the barefoot running trend. I think there’s a lot of positive things about it, but a bit too much pseudoscience and blind devotion to the practice by a lot of its followers for my taste. I compare it to the human eye. I believe as much as we were born to run, we were born to see. Like the foot, the eye is an amazing organ, seemingly engineered to perfection for its given task. But that doesn’t mean that anyone who wears glasses should throw them away. Nor does it imply that years of eyeglass wearing is responsible for people having poor eyesight. Or that learning how to look at things “correctly” is going to magically restore everyone’s eyesight to 20/20. On the other hand, though, it doesn’t mean that because a lot of people do need to wear glasses, everyone should go around wearing high powered prescription bifocals 24/7 either.

Getting back to running, I think it’s obvious that barefoot, ultra-minimal running is not for everyone. But in the race to win and keep market share by releasing new and improved models every year, I do think that shoe makers have piled on the padding and cushioning and space age materials far beyond what most people really need, invoking every bit as much of pseudoscience in the opposite direction.

Somewhere in between the barefoot fanatics and the over-the-top marketing of shoe manufacturers, I believe there is a decent middle ground. Which brings us to …

Form

Read about barefoot/minimal running for more than a page and you’re guaranteed to hear about heel/midfoot/forefoot striking. The idea is that many people overextend our leading leg when running, crashing down on our heels. We can only get away with this because of our over-cushioned shoes absorbing the impact. Or at least absorbing enough to that it doesn’t instantly cause our heels to explode in pain. But that impact still jolts upward through the ankles, shins, knees, and hips, causing more long term problems.

This makes sense to me. And in my few runs in my Vibrams it was obvious that I was adjusting my stride to avoid slamming down directly on my heels. Having only run on my own, never having a coach or any kind of instruction on how to run, I had no doubt that my running form could most certainly use improvement. And this “natural” running form seemed like the direction in which to go.

This summer, I read two books:

Natural Running, by Danny Abshire

and

Chi Running, by Danny Dreyer

I recommend reading them both. In terms of the basic form guidelines, both boil down to very similar principles, including a forefoot/midfoot strike, slight forward lean, landing under your center of gravity, and increased cadence. Natural Running seems to use up a few too many chapters going over case studies and running biology, trying to convince you that the technique is solid. Chi Running comes across on the far end of new-age/spiritual, to the point where I had to force myself to read on a couple of times. But if that doesn’t bother you too much, or you can mentally gloss over it, you’ll find a ton of down to earth, practical advice on how to improve your running form, probably more so than in Natural Running.

I didn’t realize when I got the book, that Danny Abshire is one of the founders of Newton Running, makers of Newton running shoes. Thus the book is to some degree a sales pitch for the shoes, but not as bad as you might expect. At any rate, as a sales pitch, it worked for me. So this past July, I went out and bought a pair of Newtons. Newton shoes have a low heel and these four lugs across the mid foot. This makes it all but impossible for you to really heel strike.

Newtons

Throughout the summer, I wore the Newtons and put into practice what I’d been reading about natural running form. By the end of August, my heel striking ways were in my past. My arches were also pretty damn sore.

The thing about changing your form is you start using different muscles in different ways, and putting stress on different parts that aren’t used to such stress. The solution is to take it slow, but even so you run the risk of overdoing some specific part. For me it was the arches, particularly in the right foot.

And Not Newtons

At the end of August, I switched back to my Asics GT-2160′s. I was happy to see that even without the Newtons, I was no longer heel striking. After a few weeks, my form still seemed pretty good, and the arch pain had subsided. Around the same time, I bought a pair of New Balance Minimus. These are a very minimal shoe. Very light, little cushioning, only a 4 mm drop from heel to toe. I started running a couple of short runs a week with them. My plan was to slowly transition over to something more minimal like that.

In October, I ran my second half marathon, in 1:49, my dream time. The next day, my arches flared up again. Though I continued to run only in the Asics, the arch pain continued for several weeks, but is finally subsiding again.

Googling this led me to believe that it was either plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the tissue on the bottom of the foot that connects the heel to the toes) or just pain due to my flat feet. PF usually winds up in heel pain though, which I was not getting, so I’m thinking it is just overstressing my weak arches with the new form.

New Shoes

This week, my latest Asics built up towards the 350 mile mark. Time for a new pair. Since I’ve been running, almost all of my shoes have been in the Asics GT line – a few each of GT-2140, 2150, and 2160s. I was looking into the 2170s, but really felt I should be trying something else. In addition to flat feet, I have large, wide feet. Probably related conditions. I’ve been most comfortable in 12.5 in width 4E. Try to find that in stock in any store (you won’t). So I’d order the Asics on line, knowing that they worked pretty well for me. But I don’t want to just get Asics for the rest of my life. So somehow had to bite the bullet and try something new.

I went to the Brooks Running site and tried their shoe finder. There are two routes you can go with it. One, to put in what you are currently wearing, and they’ll suggest something similar. This route suggested the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12. OK. The other route asks for your height, weight, how much you run, how fast, various foot mechanics, etc. This wound up suggesting the same shoe. Brilliant! For all I know, it always suggests that same shoe for everyone no matter what they put in, but it all seemed to make sense to me. Went out the the store today and tried on a pair. Did something new and went up a half size to 13, and down a width to 2E. They felt great. I bought them. Got home and took them for a four mile run. They felt amazing. Fastest run I’ve done since my half marathon. I’m happy with them.

Future

I would still like to move into a more minimal shoe like the Minimus. I did take them on a 4 miler earlier this week and they felt good. I’m going to work them slowly back into my routine with a short run once a week. If I could get to the point in the next year or so where I was wearing something like that full time, I’d be happy. But we’ll take it one week at a time.

Results

Oh, and it’s always nice to see concrete proof of your efforts. When I’m running now, it definitely feels like I have a nice fore/mid foot strike going on. I don’t feel any heel impact. But maybe I’m just fooling myself, right? so today I picked up my outgoing Asics and looked at the bottoms. With all my past shoes, the heels were destroyed. Like someone had gone nuts on them with a sanding belt. This time, none of that. The most wear is right there in the mid foot, just where I thought it should be. The heels are almost like new. Bingo!

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Bay State Half Marathon

Oct 17 2011

Wow, what a day! For background, I ran my first half marathon back in May 2010 – Boston’s Run to Remember. I was shooting for sub-2:00, but with the heat and humidity that day, I struggled to get a 2:13. I signed up for the Baystate Half last year, but on race day I had such a bad cough that running was out of the question. My next half was to be the Half at the Hamptons in NH early this year. An internal infection benched me for that one. So this was my fourth sign up, fourth run through of all or most of a 12 week training program, but only the second half I actually started.

I trained well for this. No injuries, no illnesses. Lots of hard runs, hill work, various repeats, tempo runs and decent long runs, including two 13-milers. I felt ready. My goal was … well, there are always three goals, right? My bare minimum goal was sub-2:00. The goal I felt pretty good about making was sub-1:55. And the goal that I felt was maybe possible if all factors lined up just exactly right was sub-1:50.

First half of the half: Things went really well. My plan was to do the first 10 miles at around 8:30-8:23 and then if I had anything left, give it hell for the last 5k. (8:23 is what it would take to go sub-1:50.) But I found myself doing 8:20 or under for the first 3-4 miles. And I felt great. Didn’t feel like I was really pushing it at all. Actually, really had to hold myself back to keep it that slow. Started getting slightly winded in mile 6, but not bad. Made it through the first loop feeling really good.

Kept going pretty well through mile 7. In mile 8 though, I noticed that rather than running comfortably at 8:20ish, I was having to push it to stay under 8:30. But I pushed it and kept it under for the next couple of 2-3 miles. I wasn’t dying, but just starting to struggle a bit.

As I approached the 10 mile mark, I started psyching myself up for the push on the final 5k. But I started pushing a bit too early, probably closer to 9.5. I was up in the low 8:00′s. When I hit mile 10 I was at just over 1:25. This left me just under 25 minutes to meet 1:50. I could do this. Miles 11 and 12 I was doing mostly sub-7:50. But that took just about all I had. I hit mile 12 pretty wasted, and still had 1.1 to go. And about 9 minutes to do it in.

The last mile I just had nothing. I was hanging on at around 8:10 for most of it. Couldn’t get a surge going. I was counting down the minutes and it was so tight. I couldn’t slow down, I couldn’t speed up.

The last half mile takes a bunch of turns and goes down various side streets and back alleys. Thus it’s impossible to judge how close to the finish you are. Every time I’d turn a corner I’d see another corner a few more blocks up, and another minute was gone off the clock. I finally caught sight of the finish line, showing 1:49:30 something. And passed under at 1:49:54. That was gun time. Chip time was 1:49:12.

I was so blown away to have made this goal. I didn’t really think I had that in me. Still getting used to the reality. That’s about a 24 minute PR. Whew!

A couple of other things to note on the course. There was quite a bit of debris on the road – dead branches from recent storms, etc. In the first 2-3 miles I heard two people go down within 20 feet behind me. Then at around mile 4.5 I tripped over a branch myself. I managed to stop myself from falling, but pulled my left hamstring. I’ve had a couple of injuries there before, so it had me worried. But after a few minutes it felt ok, until those last three miles, where it started hurting a bit again. Hopefully it’s nothing serious. Oddly, I saw the exact same stick on the second loop, and only narrowly avoided it the second time!

A major highlight of the course for me was around mile 4, there were a bunch of kids in costumes with a giant sign that read “Runners are Wicked Pissah!” If you don’t know what that means, it’s because you didn’t grow up in New England in the 70′s. I did, so it made my day, twice! You can google it. :)

Again, an awesome day. I’m still exhausted, but very happy.

Stats:

Gun Time: 1:49:54
Chip Time: 1:49:12
Rank: 434/1586
Age Group: 82/387

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Half Marathon Week 1

Jul 31 2011

Made it through the first week of training. 27.7 miles overall. Pushing it in terms of the old 10% rule since my high a couple weeks before was just under 23, but two of those runs I did with my 8 year old daughter, Kristine, which made 6 of those miles far slower than I’d ever go by myself. That’s gotta count for something.

I’m doing the advanced program from Hal Higdon this time out. I’ve done the intermediate plan 3 times now and was looking for some more variety. This plan has it. For instance, in the past week, I did three 3-milers, a 6x hill repeat workout, a 40 minute tempo run, and a 90 minute long run. Next week I’ll be doing two 3-milers, 7×400 meter repeats, a 45 minute tempo run, a 3 mile race pace run, and another 90 minute long run. Keeps things interesting. I’ll probably do another one of those 3 milers with Kris again.

Today’s long run was what Hal calls a 3/1 run. This means you do 3 parts as a regular long slow run, and the final 1/4 of the time you do at race pace. So I did 7 miles that hovered around 9:30, give or take 20 seconds, and banged out the last 3 well under 9:00. The last one was 8:20, which I can’t complain about. The course I did is one of my favorite 10 mile course. I head west on Washington Street down to Wellesley Square (about 3 miles), then bear right, going north of the college, then cut south at Pond Road.  Pond Road is a one mile, hilly, narrow street, heavily wooded on both sides. No sidewalks, but it sees very little traffic. Today, in fact, the only traffic I saw on it was other runners and bikers. You pass by Lake Waban briefly, giving you a view of Wellesley College, and at the end there is a farm with cows on the right and horses on the left. Then I bang a left back to the square, and then straight back home. A good chunk of this runs along the Boston Marathon course, which is always inspiring.

In other news, I got me a new pair of shoes this weekend. I’ve been running with my Newton Sir Isaacs for the last few weeks, and really getting used to them. My form has really improved and I know that I’m running lighter, faster, and more efficiently than ever before. I’m not saying the Newtons get all the credit for this. They help you achieve good form, but I’ve been studying and practicing and putting a lot of attention and focus on running form over the last few weeks. But I feel like the Newtons are just a stepping stone for me on my path to something a bit simpler. I’ve been eyeing the New Balance Minimus line for a few weeks now. I finally made it over to the local New Balance store yesterday and picked me up a pair.

As much as I was itching to wear these today, I wasn’t going to dive into a new shoe on a ten miler. So I have these babies to look forward tomorrow morning on my easy 3 miler. Yes, I’ve become a running shoe geek.

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Walk, Run, or Crawl 5K

Jul 23 2011

My third 5K of the summer. Cranking these things out!

With this one came a couple of new PRs.

5K PR of 23:10. This is 26 seconds faster than I did at Schofield on June 5. Yay me! My secondary goal was to beat 23:00. Didn’t quite make that, but that’s actually goal for 2011, so I still have some time. Happy to come so close this early in the year.

My Garmin also says I did 7:03 in mile 2, which is an unofficial mile PR. I’ll take it. :)

Miranda and Kris also ran this race and both got PRs as well. Kris did 29:55, breaking 30 for the first time, and this was Miranda’s first time running a 5K race (she walked one a few weeks ago), so her time of 38:43 was also a PR.

The race was in Franklin, MA, which is quite a hike from our house, so we were up and out early. We’ve been in the middle of a heat wave with 99 degrees F for a couple of days. Originally the heat was supposed to break today and be in the low 80′s, but that changed back to yet another 99 F day.

When we got to the site, the sky looked pretty ominous.

Those clouds don't look good.

As we waited for things to get going, lightning started flashing and thunder booming. Before long, the drops started. Then, about 25 minutes before the starting time, the skies opened up. Everyone huddled under the various tents set up, and under the eaves of the school building. The storm passed right over us, with some of the lightning sounding pretty close. Having hundreds of people in an open field under tents in a lightning storm did not sound like a good idea.

But a few minutes before race time, things magically cleared up. People cheered and walked out from under the safety of the tents and headed to the starting line. The start was delayed a few minutes. Then, as the starter was giving directions, BAM, the skies opened up again! This was going to be a wet one! And it was. It completely downpoured the entire way. The street was filled with puddles. But hey, it was better than 99 degrees and muggy!

After the first minute or so, as I was running comfortably, I did a pace check and saw I was going something like 6:43. Danger! Too fast! Slow down! I wanted to do 7:20, which should put me under 23:00. I slowed down enough to put my lap pace back down to 7:20 by about the .5 mile mark. But then there was a hill for a good chunk of the rest of mile one. That slowed me down to about 7:23 for the first mile. Still enough to just barely squeak under 23:00 though.

Not sure what happened in mile two. I tried to keep it at 7:20 or a bit lower, but somehow would up doing 7:03 for that mile. There were some nice downhills there. I must have really sped up on them.

Mile three became, once again, the hold on mile. 7:20 wasn’t happening on this one, but I figured I’d bought some time in mile two. As we were nearing the end, I stopped looking at the watch all together. Just tried to give it all I had. I passed a woman, and then she passed me. Then I caught up to her again and we ran in step for a while. I knew there was a right turn coming up that would put us in sight of the finish line. We had a brief conversation about where that damn turn was. Street after street came into view and people kept going straight. Finally, people were turning. I reached deep and gave a final surge and pulled away from my brief acquaintance. As I ran toward the final clock, I saw that 22:59 was going to be just out of my reach. I heard the woman behind me, thinking she was going to make a final play to pass me. But when I quickly turned my head back, she was urging me forward, “Go! Go!” I sprinted across the finish line at 23:10. I owe 2-3 seconds to her.

Before the race and the rain

So, results were:

Official time: 23:10. 7:28 pace.
Place: #48 out of 353.
Age Group: #9 out of 28 males 40-49.

I’m pretty happy with all that.

Shortly after the three of us were finished, the rain stopped again and the sun came out and stayed out. The race is a cancer charity race and seemed like it had a small budget. No chip timing, etc. But after the race, they opened up the school and gave us a sit down catered lunch of sandwiches, macaroni salad, chips, and water in the cafeteria. That was a really nice touch.

Next up is not until the end of August, the Tavern to Tavern 5K in Cambridge. I’ll be running alongside Kris in that one, as I don’t think letting her run through the streets of Central, Harvard, and Porter Squares by herself is a great idea.

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