Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How does Danny Hart SIT DOWN with BALLS that big!

I saw this on the Science of Sport "Best Sports Videos of the Year" blog post. If we could get announcers like that for running events, broadcast race commentary might even  be popular!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

GNRCYO race report

I've been waiting for this race all week. Not entirely because of my excitement at another chance to set a fast time either. There was certainly that, but also a feeling that it was good time to reach a caesura--soon. My ankles felt a bit complainy, similar to the ignored signals I felt in late July prior to an enforced period of low activity due to Achilles pain. More importantly, psychologically, I felt like I was peaking out. Rationally (from external measurements such as races and track workouts) I know I'm in the best physical shape of the cycle, but mentally I start to flake a little--not wanting to get up for hard workouts, not really excited about planning what I'm going to do next week.

I deliberately decided not to dwell on this before today's race, however. Instead I just thought about last Tuesday's workout and how well it went. "5:22s", I thought to myself. "I'm physically ready; I can totally run that pace!"

My goals were simple: PR in under 17 minutes, kick home the last 0.1mi in under 30s, OK, winning a race is a tricksy goal--you never know who's going to show up. But winning at CFC wasn't without effect in the way I saw myself, i.e., as a front-runner, imparting that funny, sometimes delusional, usually (but not always) valuable mental state that tells you "yes, absolutely" it should be you out there with the whole field at your back and nothing but empty road in front.

So, when the race started, I did exactly that. After the first 200m or so I captured the lead, spinning down the long decline of Albemarle street to the first mile marker. For brief period the noise of the chasers faded and it was silence, but then I heard foot-strikes behind me. I ignored them and carried on.

Last year I had opened in 4:59, which was bad. This year I was hoping for 5:15, only slightly under-pace. I hit the mile marker and...5:15. On the money.

I held the lead through the half-way, but after turning the rotary, my invisible companion stepped up and took the lead. I tucked in and did my best not to lose contact, hoping to burn past him once back on Alebmarle street.

Mile two in 10:38. My brain informed me, quite incorrectly, that I had just run a 5:19.

Back onto Albemarle. The TriValley guy had opened up perhaps 20m. It wasn't looking too good. Then a CMS guy jetted by me--worse on worse. At this point I had already more or less made my play. Naturally I wonder (like I always do) if I could have toughed out a few more seconds, perhaps hung with the CMS guy for at least some way while he charged up the hill.

In this case, though, it was not to be. I did have one more goal though. After cresting the Albemarle hill, I started pulling for all I was worth back toward the finish. mile 3 in 16:04.

"16:33", I thought.

The last stretch. I saw the clock, 16:20-something, and kicked through in 16:29. 16:29! Unbelievable! Indeed, yes. I checked my watch: 16:49. OK, more believable. Still, that last 0.1 seems a bit long--I don't think I was running a 7:30 mile pace for the final kick!

So, final verdict? I'm happy. What a fantastic run it's been since August, when I had to go 10 whole days without running to let my Achilles rest. I'm feeling grateful that my body gave me the chance to deliver performances better than I could have guessed a year ago. It's so easy to take being healthy for granted--while you're healthy. I'm trying not to.

As a side-note, it's cool to see how this race's field has progressed since its first running in 2007. Then, our own Zac Laidley took it in 16:58, with the next runner almost a minute behind. The next year it was won in 18:03. Then in 2009 Andy took it in 17:32, with only one other runner under 18. Last year Kevin Gray won in 16:49, with 3 runners total under 18, including me. Then, this year: 5 runners total under 18, and 3 under 17. I will flatter myself into thinking that running strong from the front today maybe helped with that.

Final results: 3rd overall, in 16:49 (5:25 pace).

Here are some random photos for you. These are actually from the Norwood TT, two weeks ago:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Week Recovery

Thanksgiving week always takes a toll on my training plans. Overeating plus staying out too late every night will do that! This year I attempted to do my long run in McLean Game Refuge, which was silly because of the amount of damage the freak October snowstorm did. Blowdown every twenty yards! After attempts to run continuously began to look increasingly silly, the workout degenerated into an impromptu trail maintenance session. Then I ran back along the trail, looking at what I had done and measuring it against the amount of work still to do: I hadn't even made a dent.

Additionally I somehow managed to cleat my own calf pretty hard during the Black Friday Ultimate game. It was pretty sore the next few days. I'm not complaining though--that game was totally worth it!

So, here I am with one more week until the unofficial end of my Fall season this Saturday. Despite residual soreness, I limped over to the track for my final interval workout. 3 x mile with an 800m cherry on top, in 5:24, 5:22, 5:22, 2:40. This is about what I want to do in the 5K on Saturday. As I hoped, I felt looser, stronger, and generally better jogging back than I had jogging out; I'm feeling like I'm back in trim for my final effort.

Nothing else hard to do, just an easy 9 miler Thursday, then on to round out my string of PRs with a <17 minute 5K. Now is the time!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Norwood Turkey Trot race report

Sunday marked my third year running the Norwood Turkey Trot. This year's edition--the 25th--featured a brand new course that finally moved the race start from the car dealership on Rt. 1 to the nearby Norwood High School. Consequently I knew nothing about the course layout except for the general verbal description from the sign-up sheet ("yes it's still hilly"--more or less). It was an unseasonably warm day, with temps over 60--pleasant weather for singlet running. I ran through the cemetary and down through some small neighborhoods around the high school to warm up, and returned in plenty of time to take the line.

As usual for fields that fill from the front (with competitors approaching the pack from the direction of the starting line), seeding was tricky, with early arrivals getting swept back and needing to fight upstream. I followed a guy and girl in BAA singlets onto the sidewalk and then back into the pack in the 2nd or 3rd rank.

This seemed plenty high up, but when the siren sounded I realized there were a good 50 people ahead of me. My goals for this race were: (1) PR--hopefully by a lot; (2) Come in inside the HFC top-5 (they usually bring a wicked good team to this race, so that's no joke). So I was a bit chagrined when I realized I had seeded myself about 50 people back, and a big pack of people (dotted, far ahead, by HFC singlets) was sweeping out ahead of me.

Fortunately I found a good line on the left-hand side of the road and sprinted the first 100 yards or so to get position. Then the course swept into a long downhill and, primed as I was by that sprint and the nervous energy of the start, I bombed down it. The first mile mark appeared before I knew what was happening: a 4:58 split, which is pretty damn fast for me, hill or no hill.

I tried to get my legs under me and focused on the two HFC guys ahead of me. The course stayed flat for the moment, and I felt strong; breathing in control, effortful strength flowing from my core out into my limbs. The course shot out into a parking lot and then 180'd around an island--I did my best to hit the racing line, but ended up swinging too wide.

Then it was on to the Nichols St. Hill. I took the left turn and a blast of wind hit me, for a moment almost seeming to suspend me in place. I buckled down and set to pulling up that hill for all I was worth. This did not stop someone from sling-shotting around me--a good play, as with the wind in my ears I didn't hear him coming at all.

2nd mile split passed in 10:35. 3rd mile split passed in 15:56 (a substantial net drop from the course start).

The fourth mile featured a big climb back up to Norwood HS. Well, I shouldn't call it big. Big when you're trying to run a 5:30 mile. My position was pretty well established by this point and I didn't feel anyone near me, but that was no reason to slack off. Once again I set to the work, and it was pretty stiff going by this point. I fought my way up to the top of the hill, and then almost went the wrong way around the rotary because I mistook the police officer's hand-signal. I could see the finish on my left-hand side, and tried to pick it up (though in retrospect I think I could have done more here--it was a pretty soft finish).

I saw the race clock reading 21:?? and started my kick. I knew I was going to PR, but breaking 22 minutes would be extra awesome. A final effort, and I checked my watch: 21:56!

Once I got my wind back, I walked around for a bit with a goofy smile on my face. I think I may be past the point in my running career where a PRs are truly unexpected. I know my body a bit too well, and have a pretty good idea when it's in record shape and when it isn't. Today was a day when it definitely was, and I just had to deliver.

It's been a pretty great fall season for me so far. The only thing that would cap it all would be to decisively break 17 minutes in the 5K, something I've never done, on track or road. I am racing again in 2 weeks, at the GNRCYO 5K. That will be my opportunity!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

CFC 10K race report

A little backstory. In my last race, the Houghton's Pond 10K on October 2nd, I had been training seriously for about 4 weeks following my semi-traditional summer slump. I started strong up the first long hill that climbs away from the Pond, and soon found myself in the lead pack. #3 faded a bit, and then it was just me, chasing the leader about 50 yards ahead of me. This continued for about 3 miles, the leader pulling slightly further away, but never quite breaking contact. Then, around mid-point--it was like the bottom dropped out. I searched for power and there was none. Massive slump. More or less the whole front-pack soon streamed by me, and I faded to 9th.

In retrospect, it was pretty obvious the aerobic base just wasn't there, nor was the necessary muscular strength to negotiate such hills.

For the last month I've been working to fix those things. Mileage crept up to the mid 50s; "track Tuesdays"; on Wednesday the "15 minutes of power": hill sprints, core exercises, push-ups, pull-ups, lateral leg lifts, etc. How did this play out on the hilly CFC course?

First, pre-race went as well as I could ask. My process is always evolving here. I had a light dinner last night, and then 1/2 a tortilla for breakfast. Following the new performance advice ("drink to thirst"), I had very little water--only a few sips, really. I timed my 2 mile warmup well, and arrived at the starting line just starting to sweat (as my HS XC coach advised, back in the day).

I felt really strong from the gun, legs moving effortlessly in my lightweight racing shoes (Nike Free 3.0s with the insoles taken out). I went out with another 10K runner from HFC, knowing they usually bring a good team (although no John Sullivan or Bob Ruel this time, unfortunately). However, an unaffiliated runner soon shot to the lead.

I felt like I could stay on his shoulder, but I was a little unsure about his pace. (Remembering the words of wisdom: "In the 1st half of the race, don't be a dumbass; in the 2nd 1/2, don't be a wimp"). I decided to keep running my pace.

The leader had put a good 150 yards on me by mile 2, which is mostly downhill or flat. At this point my brain was saying: good, you're totally in the mix for a top-3 here, just hang on.

Something funny happened over the 3rd mile, though. The leader came back. A lot. He was only 5 seconds up on me at the mile-3 mark (16:55 to 17:00). On the next significant uphill I pulled in right to his shoulder.

At this point, my brain is still thinking: awesome, you can definitely hold on for a top-3 here! I know, right? neck-and-neck with the leader, who is clearly fading, and I'm thinking, maybe I can get 3rd place. For once my brain is not keeping up with my body.

Fortunately my body has more sense. It overrides the equivocating signals from my brain and passes decisively. Now I've got the target on my back. Time to run hard.

Mile 5, still no sound of pursuit. I start my watch. Time to run this flat hard--just like it's the last 2k interval in the track session. Now I'm thinking, obviously: win. Hold the pace and win.

At last, turn the corner onto Washington St. I accelerate and start reeling in the tail end of the 5k race. Kick, kick, kick! Cross the line in 36:06. Victory and an enormous PR all at once. Couldn't have gone better.

So happy that everything I did payed off. I changed a number of things, and they all contributed to help me raise the bar. The main ones were:
  • Superior pre-race. Did not overeat. Did not overdrink.
  • Consistent track sessions. Practiced running 5:50 pace in 4x2k workout and--surprise!--that's pretty much what I ran in the race.
  • Consistent strength work. Usually my core feels weak during a race. Today it was fine, even on the hills.
  • Most of all, switching to light shoes for the race! I like training in fairly light shoes, but my trainers must still be a couple oz heavier than my racers. So obvious, but still not something I've done since high school.
I'm under no illusions that I would have won this race if it had run on its usual day--heck, the field was 1/2 the size of normal. But I'm OK with that--you race the field you get, and sometimes you have a breakout day when none of the other uber-fast guys show up.

...and hey, I'm the defending champion now; might be I can still drop another minute or so, and be competitive for next year!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

CFC 10K tomorrow

Canton Fall Classic is tomorrow. It's only coincidence that I'm running it, since originally it was the same day as the (canceled) Bill's Pizzeria 5K. But, where BPIZ got canceled, CFC was only postponed, so I get to run it after all! This is a really beautiful, hilly 10K--the fact that it is the location of my 10K PR says more about how few 10Ks I run than anything else. I've had about two months of good training, and its been a full month since my last real test in a race. In other words, I'm looking to really drop the hammer and find out where my fitness lies.

Here's the top 10 from last year:

    1 Chris Mahoney     32 M  32:37  5:15 
    2 Kevin Gray        32 M  35:08  5:40 
    3 Edward Gardner    34 M  35:16  5:41 
    4 Adam Greenspan    28 M  36:05  5:49 
    5 John Sullivan     50 M  36:36  5:54 
    6 Bob Ruel          58 M  37:21  6:01 
    7 David Woodruff    29 M  37:38  6:04 
    8 Alan Berch        21 M  38:32  6:12 
    9 Norman Everett    22 M  39:04  6:18 
   10 Dave Foley        49 M  39:18  6:20 
I'm really looking to race without being overly distracted by my watch. In fact I'm thinking of starting it at the 5 mile mark, since the only thing I really care about pace-wise is that I run the last (largely flat) 1.2 miles at sub-6 minute pace. In general, based on the track workouts I've done, I think 5:50-pace isn't out of the question--but again, just looking to beat as many guys as possible here!

Here's hoping for a fast day. I'll update with post-race thoughts tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Track Session #4: cruise intervals

It's getting a bit nippy out, these mornings! The fun thing about track work this time of year (i.e., right before going off DST), is that it is DARK when you get up, even if you're getting up at 6:15. I was kind of worried the track would have snow on it, but with the amount of insolation it gets, I shouldn't have.

Speaking of snow; that 5K last weekend? Canceled. Newton Public Safety had enough to do Sunday morning besides make sure a race course was clear. You wouldn't think 3" of snow would do so much damage, but this snow was about as wet and heavy as it gets. A lot of trees and branches came down!

That means a different race and a different goal. Now I'm planning on doing the Canton Fall Classic 10k, which was postponed from last weekend to this weekend.

I never blogged about last week's intervals. They went poorly. It's funny how how you feel about a particular workout is entirely determined by how you measure against the goal you set yourself, even when the goal is completely arbitrary (and in this case, not particularly smart). Last week's goal was 3x mile intervals @ 5:20 pace, with 70s recovery. This was a little bit ambitious, because my best 5k pace is 5:34s. I ran 5:20, 5:35, and a demoralized 5:46. 

Not wanting to repeat that mistake, I planned on doing 4x2K intervals @ 5:50 pace (my 10k pr is 6:04 pace), with up to 150s rest. It turns out that was WAY too much rest; I only used 90s of my first rest period and limited the next two rest periods to the 90s as well. 70s might have been manageable.

Times: 7:12, 7:15, 7:08, 6:58 (7:15 = 5:50 mile pace).

I felt fresh and strong throughout, with enough vim to kick the last quarter home in 77s. So it went...well. But maybe the bar was just too low this time. The next race will help me figure out where I stand.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Back in training -- Track Intervals

It's been a while since I posted. I had some Achilles pain in August that took a while to clear up, but at last it relented and I have been earnestly back in training since the beginning of September. My goal for the autumn is to work on speed, and I have a bunch of short races lined up. In fact, I've already returned to racing as of the first weekend in October, when I did the Houghton's Pond Trail Race (10k). It was great trail running weather; cool, clear, but muddy from the previous day's rains. I finished in a pretty limp-wristed 9th place, having lagged badly in the 2nd half. I'm happy to be racing again, but it's hard to be really happy with a race like that when you know there's so much more that you could do.

That brings us to the present. I told myself I wanted to work on speed, and that means some quality time on the track. I am a perennial track-avoider, and I think it shows in my running weaknesses (i.e., I don't feel very efficient at a fast pace, and become aerobically maxed out disproportionately early relative to my muscular strength/fatigue resistance).

Nonetheless, I think the best way to teach your body to run fast is to run fast, and the easiest way to do that is intervals on the track. I've just got to actually do them. Today was session #2: 8x 600m intervals at 5k race pace, with slow (~70s) 200m jogback.

First two were intentionally a little restrained. (I'm an old man of 30 now--I have to ease into these things!)

goal: 120s
126s, 123s, 115s, 118s, 119s, 118s, 117s, 111s

Coming up with interval workouts is one of those situations where I kind of wish I was working with a coach. My immediate goal is to crack 17 minutes in the 5k (122.4s 600m intervals); I knew that was a little easy vs what I could do, even in comparatively weighty trainers. Does that mean my goal is too conservative? (a 20s jump in my 5k pr feels like a big step). On the other hand, it's not like I wasn't sucking wind by the end of each interval--and I better not be gasping 600m into the actual race! I'm shooting in the dark here.

I will have one more track session next Tuesday prior to "Bill's Pizzeria 5k" the following Sunday. Exact plan still unknown. Perhaps 12x 400m at 5k pace with short recoveries.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway Overnight

I just got back from an overnight on the Monadnock-Sunapee Trail, starting at Monadnock State Park HQ and sleeping at Crider shelter last night. To make day 1 a bit more interesting I did an out-and-back from Crider to the summit of Mt. Pitcher (about 4 miles north on the trail). The hike was meant to express a minimalist style, where I brought the least possible amount of gear in order to see what was truly necessary (or very, very useful). In that spirit I did without a sleeping bag, ground pad, tent, cook-stove (and associated cutlery/food), and any extra regular clothing beyond my long-sleeved tech shirt and spare socks. What I did have was:
  • Guidebook/map
  • rain-shell
  • fleece
  • zip-off nylon trousers (worn)
  • camera, sunhat, sunglasses.
  • compass, knife, iodine, gps, cell phone, headlamp, head-bugnet, ace bandage, ibuprofen, bandaids, emergency matches.
  • a 50oz hydration bladder, and a 1-qt gatorade bottle.
  • A little shy of 7700 calories worth of food.
All told I don't think my pack weighed much more than 18 lbs with all water reserves full. This was great, because I've found I can run OK with packs weighing around 10% of my body weight. Much heavier than that and it grows difficult.

These two days were amazing! I'm not going to try to sum them up. Follow along with the pictures below:


Here are a couple of other notes to go with the pictures:

  • About two miles out from Crider Shelter, I was starting to feel it. It was hot, it was muggy, and I had a cloud of midges and deerflies boiling around me that would do Pigpen proud. In short, I was begging for rain. A few drops fell, but nothing serious. Then, less than 1/2 a mile from Crider, it started to rain in earnest! Blessed relief...I was so happy I just sat in the rain for 20 minutes before meandering down to the shelter and settling in for nap.
  • I had the most amazing nap! The rain was coming hard outside and it was thundering, but I was snug as a bug in the shelter. I really considered calling the day right there, but eventually the rain stopped, and I reconsidered my plan to make it to Pitcher Mountain.
  • The minimalist overnight went OK. I took out everything from my backpack and used as a pad between me and the hard wood floor of the shelter. The mosquitoes were pretty horrible, but at least my bugnet kept me from being bitten all over my face (the whining of mosquitoes is still exquisitely annoying though, even when they can't reach you). Eventually the skeeters went away and I fell asleep (around 8:30, probably). Woke at 12:15am and then sort of cat-napped on-and-off until 5. It was a bit chilly. I ended up wearing my rainshell while using my fleece as a cushion for my bum. If it had been a little colder I would have worn the fleece and just sucked it up. Sleeping on wood planks never hurt anybody. The whole affair was a bit spartan, but I just reminded myself that I got to enjoy the pleasures of a light pack for two whole days, which seems to me to more than balance one uncomfortable night. Still, next time I'm thinking of bringing a ground-pad.

Here are some rough times and distances:

Day 1: 28.2 miles
7:10 leave Monadnock State Park HQ
8:02 summit Mt. Monadnock.
10:10 Eliza Adams gorge
noon Nelson Village
1:45 Crider Shelter (18.1 miles from the summit of Monadnock)
5:35 leave Crider
6:38 summitted Mt. Pitcher.
7:40 return to Crider Shelter

Day 2: 20.0 miles
5:45 leave Crider Shelter
8:45 swim at Silver Lake (20 minute stay)
9:45 Eliza Adams Gorge
11:00 Dublin Trailhead (11 minute break).
12:20 summit of Monadnock, again.
1:12 return to HQ and car.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Highland Sky 40M Race Report

Highland Sky Trail Run:
Distance: (nominal) 40 miles; (claimed by aid stations): 41 miles; (distance traveled): ??
Location: Davis, WV
Course Composition: Steep singletrack: 44%, road 32% (mostly dirt), upland meadow/rocks: 24%
Goal: Finish (Bonus: Break 10 hours).

Report: The day starts in the cool, gray light of early dawn; 5:45 in the morning, and runners milling around the starting area, settling into their gear, sorting through their dropbags and making a last visit to a portajohn, while Dan the RD calls out names on a megaphone to confirm all starters. My buddy Joel has driven us in--me and his friend John, who was awesome enough to put us up the previous night.

I'm struck by the seeming ordinariness of the field. It's by and large a pretty unassuming group of reasonably fit-looking people of varying ages and gender. It's not at all obvious--in the way it sometimes is in similarly-sized road races--who the ringer is who is going to run away with the show. It occurs to me that either stamina is the most invisible of all human superpowers, or--if you take the Born to Run line--that what we're doing is not all that remarkable, doing what we were designed to do, "justifying our own existence", as Jack London puts it:
He was realising his own meaning in the world; he was doing that for which he was made—killing meat and battling to kill it. He was justifying his existence, than which life can do no greater; for life achieves its summit when it does to the uttermost that which it was equipped to do.
At 6 am sharp the pack trots off into the misty morning; I am setting out to see for myself what my body can do.

We are running down a dirt access road, rugged hills looming up to either side of us, horses grazing peacefully in amongst the long green grass and wildflowers. The pace is easy; I feel light and full of strength. I think I can sustain this effort level forever. We make a left turn off the road and begin working our way up past the first aid station around mile 3, following the beaten path of other runners through the long grass.

I let myself drift into the trail trance, disappearing for the time in the larger queue of runners that forms up in the single-track. The trail is soft and slick with mud from last night's rains. I think I am probably somewhere around mid-pack. Trying to change positions seems pointless; we're so early in the game, not even 5 miles in.

We start switch-backing our way up the steep slope of one of the ridges that make up the Appalachian divide, stinging nettles batting against our shins. We reach a stream crossing, the water flowing swiftly down through a pool and into a gorge that stretches deep down on our left-hand side, the depths concealed by swaying green foliage. We gingerly cross the slippery rocks, soaking our feet to the ankles.

The trail continues on like this for a while, up to the top of one ridge, then bombing down the far side, then up the side of another. I am feeling excellent. Though I'm still focusing on keeping it easy, the initial large pack has broken up quite a bit, and I've moved up several places. There's always somebody to run with at this stage; I am not the most outgoing runner, but I appreciate the company. The flagging is excellent. Whenever I think I haven't seen one for a while (usually while head down, watching my footing) one literally baps me in the head.

I see Joel at AS #3 (~16 miles) and he asks me if I've been eating enough. I'm pleased to report I have been; the salty trail mix I packed and copious water have gone down pretty easily, and I've been eating much more steadily than the runners around me.

A final bit of climbing and then a turn onto the road bring us to AS #4, around mile 19.5. This is the start of the "Road Across the Sky", a rolling dirt road that runs lengthwise along one of the ridgelines. it's about 10am; I've been running for a little more than 4 hours. I am way, way ahead of my guessed time, but still feeling fine.I sit down and change my wet and muddy trail shoes and socks for fresh socks and my road shoes. I also think to slather on some sunblock and grab my hat. The day is still mostly overcast, but getting brighter and hotter by the minute, and the course has us up here on the high plateau for a while.

The "Road Across the Sky" is uneventful. I catch a runner I had let go by while I was changing my shoes, and exchange some pleasantries. I say he might be seeing me again; he says "At the finish!", encouragingly (he turned out to be wrong about that, in part due to events neither of us could foresee).

At AS #5, somewhere around mile 23, I accidentally drink some Mountain Dew, thinking it was lemon-lime gatorade. The road is straight as a ruler, and all rolling hills. You can see the top of the next hill from the current one, and the long swoop of descent and climb. I walk as appropriate. While on one ascent, I see a lean guy running shirtless with just a water bottle jogging up behind me. What a hero! He reaches me and falls into a walking step, and we exchange pleasantries. His name is Jason and it turns out he's a 2:57 marathoner. Wow. I think ruefully about my so-called pacing strategy.

Jason and I finish out the road together, making it to AS #6 around mile 27. We arrive just as the #4 woman is leaving; she had been camping out there for a good 20 minutes, trying to put it back together after booting. She says she might be looking at a long 14 mile hike back home. No talk of dropping though; tough.

We're turning off into Dolly Sods now, beautiful upland meadow, and a completely different biome from the lush verdure of the ridges. We can see the sods stretching away all around us, lacking only sheep and a shepherd piping out a lonely air to make the scene complete. Rather I should say "I", since Jason has gapped me by this point (for a while I see him toiling ahead in the distance). I am mostly running still, but it's been growing more intermittent, the excuses needed to walk growing slimmer.

A mile or so down the road I and a few other runners pile up against an unmarked intersection. Strange; the course has been beautifully marked the whole way. The larger, main trail continues straight ahead, but is demarcated by a "private property" sign. Another smaller trail leads off to the left and disappears into trees. Both show signs of recent foot traffic. Imagine you're there, standing at that intersection with a half-empty waterbottle and three other runners in the same boat as you. What do you do?

I ended up following one guy down the left fork for a ways. No nearby blazes. Then preceding down the main trail a ways; another intersection, still no blazes. Some people in my group continued on. I began backtracking again, with plan to either return to the last known blaze and take stock, or find another runner who had done the course before and get his advice. I didn't find such a person, but I did somebody who thought he remembered that Dan had worked out some problems with a private property owner so that the course could go over his land. So! That sounded promising! Back to the "private property" branch and onwards.

Still, I and a few others very nearly go down the wrong side of the ridge, but somebody "halloo's" us back onto the proper course. Oddly, I feel somewhat refreshed by getting lost. It's been an excuse to walk around a little bit, and relax that relentless mental focus on making forward progress. Now we have a clear goal, and I am jogging again.

We hit an interesting rocky patch, where it seems great rocks slabs are broken into fissures, and rise into odd formations like fairy towers in the desert. I am a little too fagged to appreciate it properly; AS #7 (mile ~33) has become a singular focus in my mind. I am starting to need it bad. Where is it already? Surely we didn't burn that much time wandering around lost (oh yes we did, of course we did) how many more turns...? Ah! There it is! This is supposed to be Dan's son Willie's aid station, but I don't get to see him (he must have been out fixing the trail flags when I went through). I have some fruit, some HEED, fill up my water bottle, and rather reluctantly kick out onto the trail again.

This stretch is awesome. Clear, easy downhill, perfect for light jogging. Or rather, it should be awesome. Somehow I just don't feel enthused about running. I decide to hike for a bit until I feel better.

Leading up to the race, I had a chance to talk to both Joel and Katie about their experiences running Highland Sky, and I'm pretty sure both of them used the word "suffering" to describe certain parts of it. My plan was to avoid suffering if it all possible; I just wanted to finish, not be a hero. During this stretch, I return to that thought. "Well, am I suffering?"

My first response is no. I think of many hikes I've done, even since I was a small boy, finishing exhausted but happy. Certainly not suffering. It's all just too beautiful up here to be miserable. But as the descent continues it's a little harder to keep up the pretense. At a certain point I have to admit "suffering" is probably a fair adjective.

I get to the point where the trail turns back upwards, marching straight up a ski hill. I remember that this is where Joel jogged the ascent to catch his opponent in 2008 and ultimately broke him to win. Shit, I think, I bet no one runs this today.

After the hike up the ski trail, a long and tortuous descent follows over a mud-slick trail that has been christened the "Lehman butt-slide". It's fun in its way; I am a little detached from it, just trying to keep making forward progress. Occasionally I am stopping to stretch now, even sitting to do sitting stretches. I know this is a big no-no (sitting down is dangerous; you need to keep making forward progress!), but the temptation is strong, and it seems to be helping, at least briefly.

I've been hiking down through these woods for a while now. Occasionally runners have hauled me in, but not as many as I would have guessed. How bonked is this field, anyway? And furthermore, where is AS #8?

I make it passed a few steel traffic-sign posts staked upwards to serve as bollards, and cross back onto road. OK, now I'm scenting the barn a little. But I'm still walking. Man this is hard. Oh, a tent! It's AS #8! (mile ~37).

I refill my water-bottle and eat some fruit and jelly-beans, but I pass on the salt and the vitamin-I. Everyone's so nice at the aid stations. The lady there assures me that I've got this in the bag and am definitely going to finish. That's nice to hear. No point in dilly-dallying; 4 miles to do and this isn't about to get any easier. I start trudging.

Sometimes I play the "let's see if we can run to that landmark!" game, but not too often. Mostly I'm too busy running over this stretch in my head, because Joel showed it to me yesterday evening. About so far, and then the left turn onto the trail paralleling the highway; then crossing the highway; then up the access road to the Canaan resort, then some trail stuff I didn't get to see, and then the finish. Four measly miles.

After about two miles, I am about sure that finishing this race is the hardest athletic thing I've ever done, not just in absolute terms, but even normalized to my fitness and abilities. I thought I was pretty tired jog-walking in the KBVCM; hah! This is qualitatively the same kind of fatigue, but it's just on a whole other level.

I think there really ought to be an aid station at mile 40. I don't need food, but somebody to give me a hug and tell me everything's going to be ok would be just ducky.

Around mile 40. Somewhere up the Canaan access road. No end in sight. I start thinking of it like walking laps on a track. OK, that was probably like 100m right there. That...ok, that was pretty close to another 100m. So we're about 1/2 way through 400m. Good! Progress. Let's count steps. Hmm....123456789....199, 200,201, two-hundred...something, ugh, this is stupid. Why don't we just think of something else..... OK, so that had to be a lap.

The next 1000m are pretty much all like that.

Then the crest of the hill; below me down a paved path is the Finish! I lumber into a trot. I cross the line! Finished!

Lying on the grass never felt so good. Joel is hanging out by the finish, and Katie is wandering around with their 2-year-old son Oscar. Later Joel helps me fetch my car (which contains, among other important things, my dinner ticket), and opens doors for me the whole way (perhaps a first for a man on crutches at Canaan Valley Resort, or most other buildings).

Reflections: Most of all I'm happy to have finished. This is the first course I've attempted where merely going the distance felt like a pretty good accomplishment. I also hit my 10 hour WAG in a time of 9:18 or so, and perhaps without getting lost would even have gone under 9. All that's pretty good!

Beyond that, though, I feel like this race has clarified and expanded on things I learned about myself from my first two marathon experiences. It's hard to be really satisfied with a race where you have to trudge it in so slowly. Together I take these experiences as a test of resolve and spiritual fortitude, what you might call "grit". Can you learn grit? Can you train it? Or it just a part of your character?

I don't know, but I'm happier taking the trial, accepting the rather unsatisfactory result, and then trying--however futilely--to train up this part of me that is the first to quit. How many people, either from lack of opportunity or lack of inclination, never get the chance to test themselves?

A Big, big thanks to all my wonderful hosts on this trip: John & Jodie, Luke & Catherine, and especially Joel and Katie for putting me up. (Matt & Kate, I just assume I can crash on your futon..., oh well thanks to you guys anyway :D ).

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Thank you I'd like to have my legs back, now

I know it's only been 6 days, but I'm ready for my legs to stop feeling so dead and flat. It's hard when it's so gorgeous, and just the perfect weather for a long run. I've been running every other day. Yesterday I did 5 and...yeah; still pretty dead.

Last post I implied I was going to run a fall marathon. Well, I thought about it, and now I think I AM going to wait a year before taking another shot. I found through the last cycle that I enjoyed the mileage I was putting in, but I did feel like it constricted my racing options quite a lot. I skipped JJR entirely because I couldn't figure out a way to make it work with my long run. And marathon training inevitably means less speed training. I've been spending a lot of time running no faster than 10K pace, and that's making me impatient. I'd like to get back to actually improving my 10k pace--which I think is a pretty soft PR (albeit, not as soft as my marathon pr).

So the tentative plan is: finish off my long running phase with Highland Sky, then get back to speed training, with hopes of running a fast 10k in the fall, hopefully followed by a reasonably fast 1/2 marathon at Applefest. I will post later with a more comprehensive race schedule, but right now I expect to reprise the Bridgton 4 on the 4th, and run the Marathon Sports 5M for the first time.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Vermont City Race Report

Night before the race I knocked off early, feeling as relaxed and ready as could be hoped. Ev and I had taken a leisurely hour's stroll around the neighborhoods that stood off behind the hotel, and the evening air had been fresh with the smell of rain (indeed, as we were hanging out before bed, there was yet more thunder, and more hard driving rain outside). I planned on waking up at 6:15, in time to take the 2nd shuttle to the start. When I get a particular wake-up time in my head, so long as I am not very tired, I can usually rely on some part of my brain to pull me awake before the sounding of my alarm. But this time something funny happened. I blinked awake and checked my watch: 3:05. 3:05! Coincidence perhaps, or perhaps not. The subconscious mind can play funny tricks.

The sky drizzled a light rain down on us as we waited in the parking lot for the shuttle to take us to the start. I blessed the heavy overcast as a propitious sign; my worries of a scorching hot day began to fade (prematurely, as it turns out).

Reaching Battery Park and feeling the cool wind sweeping off the lake put the final seal on my plans: I would start at 6:45 pace, and shoot to break 3 hours.

The rain quickened as we stood in the starting corral. This was to be my first race in contacts--a recent acquisition. I felt pleased to have my decision to go to that trouble vindicated; glasses are a nuisance in the wet.

We were counted off, and then the whole mass of us, several thousand strong, surged forward into our first loop through the downtown Burlington side-streets. I ruthlessly held my pace to no faster than 6:45; despite that, it crept lower anyway; I seemed to be holding steady on uphills, but gaining time on the declines. The first charge up Church St. felt marvelous; the energy of the crowd was electric; the shops and restaurant awnings that Ev and I had passed by in leisure now streamed past in a blur; the human energy concentrated in one great continuous cheer.

The rain continued as we started on our out-and-back on the highway. I took the opportunity to gain a little distance, hugging the very edge of the shoulder on the long curves that made up the road, staying well to the side of the running pack. I took my first shot blok at mile 5, as planned.

At the turnaround I get a wave from Ricardo, perhaps 30 seconds ahead of me. Damn! I thought. One of is way off-pace here, and I don't think it's me (Ricardo had been saying he wanted to break 3:30 the previous evening).

The cruise back along the highway felt effortless, the incline at mile 8 negligible. I dutifully ate shot bloks at odd-numbered miles and chased them with a little water at the ensuing water stops, though I didn't feel the need of them. I caught up with Ricardo somewhere before mile 9, his great coughing fits resounding over the sound of the crowd. It was amazing how well he was managing it, and I wondered what he would be doing without that chronic cough.

By mile 10 the rain had stopped. We were on the long stretch through South Burlington, and the pace no longer felt effortless, but neither did it feel difficult. Around mile 11 I snagged a gel to use for later. We wove our way through a small neighborhood and then began to work our way back northward to the 13.1 mile mark.

I was beginning to feel the mileage now. Nothing serious, but the realization of 13 more miles still to come was sinking in. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I once had a little bit of bonk around mile 13 in a long run, but talked myself back in the game, telling myself you will feel stronger at 17 than you do right now--and somehow that came to pass. I sucked my gel, took some water, and told myself the same thing.

We passed through a canyon-like stretch of bike trail and through the sewage treatment plant detour (which smelled like what it was). Soon we could hear the booming voice of the Taiko drums declaiming the incipience of the Battery Street Hill. Another great crowd here; the drummers and the cheers made mile 15 one of the easiest on the course--I topped the hill and took stock of myself as I passed under the "Start" banner.

Some fatigue in the legs; breath still coming easy; not thirsty, tired, but still strong. I had hit the half in 1:28:30 or so; still planning on holding the pace. You will feel stronger at mile 17 than you do now.

A runner should beware making promises he can't keep. At mile 17, two things happened. (1) sudden, immediate need for a portajohn. (2) the full emergence of the sun. I don't feel badly about stopping--there was really no question about that--but I am somewhat equivocal on the subsequent mile.

Ironically, the externalities of mile 18 were wonderful; on the course map it had looked like an afterthought; a lazy turn in a local neighborhood, necessary only for burning up distance. But that neighborhood was out in force, and filled with unofficial aid stations: oranges, watermelons, water, hoses: it was all there. Sadly, this was where I was forced to take full stock of my physical situation, and it was not good. My legs were getting heavier by the minute, and burning with a fire as though I had been running 400m repeats, instead of the ~8:00m pace I had been managing since my rest stop.

When I reached mile 18 I paused for a second and looked to my right. Two miles back in that direction were the start and finish areas. Food and water and rest. I looked to my left. That way lay 8 miles of pavement; steadily worsening outside conditions, and steadily degrading physical condition. I looked back to the right and I thought about it.

I really, really thought about it.

But there are degrees of quitting. I have only DNF'd a race when I had a legitimate and immediate fear of injury--and that only once. So I turned to my left and kept on plodding.

I was using the same kind of jog-walking that I used to limp home in Hyannis. I would run for a bit, while the fire in my legs built and built. Then, when I didn't think I could stand it anymore, I would walk for a stretch. It hurt to break my self-promise not to walk. Inevitable? I wish I knew. Maybe if I had held to a 9-10 minute jog the fatigue signals would have plateaued eventually, or maybe I just would have hurt myself. I didn't gut it out long enough to learn.

Around this point--mile 20, I think--I heard distinctive coughing echoing from behind me. Still clinging to a little pride, I did my best to hold to a run. All the same, Ricardo passed me not long later, asking me what had happened. "I'm done," I answered. "No no," he protested. "Drink some gatorade!" I appreciated the well-meaning advice. If only that would have fixed me. For that matter, if only I had a nice honest cramp--important muscle groups gone completely out of my control. That would have been preferable to the silent firefighting battle I was waging, pain pit squarely against determination.

Some interminable time later we picked up the bikepath for the last 5 miles home. Occasionally glimpses of Lake Champlain would emerge through the trees. The canopy above largely protected us from the sun, though not from the rising heat and humidity. The water stops had signs indicating the severity of atmospheric conditions: "Low" meant ideal running conditions, from there ranging through Moderate and High to Extreme, which meant very dangerous levels of heat and humidity. The water stop at the beginning of the bike path was advertising "High".

For my all own demoralized state, the bike path was a pleasant enough place to nurse along a little bonk. You know you are in sorry straits when you slow down to take water at the 25.6 mile station (I wondered why they even had one there--now I know!) Just as I was approaching the entrance to Waterfront Park and the finish, the 3:30 pacer man caught up to me. Sigh. I mustered a little bit of gas and passed him, sweeping through the crowds that lined the chute leading into the finish. A final, desultory kick brought me home.

Final result: 281st, in 3:29:42.

Grade: F (I walked!)

Allowing 4 minutes for my bathroom break, I had almost the exact same result as in Hyannis, in nearly the exact same time. Given the extra volume I ran, the extra quality workouts, the extra consistency--I never, never would have guessed this outcome. Needless to say I am disappointed. I have taken two good licks at the marathon now, and both times it's knocked me on my ass. This is a tough distance. My reward for three months training was not any pride of accomplishment, or glory to privately gloat on. Instead, I got another stern lesson in endurance racing, from the only real teacher there is.

But it is not a cheap reward. I will take it and value it commensurate with its cost. To sum it up in two parts:
  1. In shorter distances, the conditions of the race can usually be relied upon to make you faster. In the marathon, however, the race only makes me faster. It does not make me stronger or more enduring. In that sense, the race is the enemy.
  2. There is a formula for calculating your expected marathon time: take your 1/2 marathon best x2, and add 10 minutes. That would make me a 2:57 marathoner. I have been implicitly following this advice--acting like a 3 hour marathoner who once had a bad day and ran 3:25. But 3:25 is not my personal best because of some anomaly. It is my best for the very good reason that on race-day I can only run 18 good miles. It is time to start acting like a 3:25 marathoner who is honestly trying to better his PR, rather than setting out to run the 3 hour race I somehow conceived that I deserved.
Time to repeat what I said after Hyannis. The marathon and I aren't done. I will be back, I will try again, a little stronger and a little smarter. And this time, I don't mean to wait a whole year.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I am in the phase now where there is nothing I can do to help my upcoming race except eat and sleep sensibly and try not to hurt myself. There's not much left to do but blog. So, as promised yesterday, here are my goals for the Marathon:

If peak temperature is expected to be < 72 degrees:
A: 2:59
B: 3:04:30
C: sub 3:20, and no walking

if peak temperature is expected to be > 75 degrees:
A: 3:05
B: 3:15, and no walking.
C: no walking.

Right now it's not looking good for an attempt to break 3 hours. I know I'm not the strongest hot-weather runner, and there certainly hasn't been an opportunity to work on that with this cool, rainy spring. I am praying to the weather spirits for a cool, misty morning, but if it's sunny and warm, then I'm going to be very prepared to adjust my pace expectations (if temps are expected to peak over 85 degrees, I'm planning on ratcheting down my starting pace even more).

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Looking back.

I am not a believer in a full two-week taper before a big race. After one week of minimal running I am edgy, keyed up and impatient; after two, I feel dull and less-fit, like the edge has come off. Physiologically it may not be possible to lose significant fitness over two weeks, but psychologically it doesn't feel that way.

That was a long-winded explanation for why I was still doing "quality" as late as last Saturday. I've been alternating long runs designed to simulate marathon endurance requirements with 16 milers designed to simulate marathon speed. Two weeks ago I did my peak distance run; last Saturday, my peak "specific endurance" workout: 6 miles lead-in followed by 10 miles at marathon RP.

Rather than just talk about the Saturday run though, I thought I'd look back over key workouts this training cycle. These are the days I'm going to be leaning on this Sunday to remind myself what I'm capable of, and to remember all the work I put in to get to the starting line.

April 2nd, 17 mi @ 7:20 pace This might be an odd choice, given that this was supposed to be a 20. But I still remember how easy this pace felt, surging over the hills through the wildlife refuge in Natick. Snow had fallen the day before, and my only fueling was a few mouthfuls eaten at my turnaround. Despite the inglorious walk home, what I was left thinking was: all I need is to work out my nutrition, and I will kill this 3:10 marathon time. In fact it was around then that I decided I was selling myself short with a 3:10 and started targeting 3:04.

April 24th, 16 mi @ some horrible time: I had been sick this week, and missed two straight days of running. Given that, you can imagine how keen I was not to blow my long run. The first 12 miles weren't too bad. 13-14 were pretty rocky. 15-16 were pure suffering, running right into the teeth of the bonk wall, every fiber of every muscle screaming to throw in the towel. But...for once, I didn't throw in anything. I finished the damn run, and the last two miles ended up being 7:48 pace. If I can do that, then I can run this 26 (i.e., do better than run 20 and jog-walk the last 10k).

April 30th, 22 miles. The notes from my running log say: "22 w/ 2x 2mi @ 6:55, and last 6 @ 7:14. Beautiful day, strong throughout. Consumed 4xBloks & 1xgel. Had 2 water stops." The subtext there is: I got my nutrition right, and everything else followed easily. This workout gave me loads of confidence that my basic fitness would be in the right place to run a BQ time.

May 22nd, 16 miles. Last Saturday's run. 6 @ 7:12, followed by 10 @ 6:40. This was test to see how hard breaking 3 hours might be. Right when I finished I had mixed feelings about it. I had kind of wanted it to feel easier as I was wrapping up, and instead felt somewhat fatigued. But then I thought "hey, here we are, mid-stream in training, on the back of a 9 miler with 3x mile intervals 2 days ago, running 10 miles at faster than my fastest contemplated marathon pace over rolling hills, and pretty much hitting it on the nose. So what if I'm a little fatigued?" So I decided I was happy about it after all, and took it as testament that I certainly have the leg speed I need.

I will put up another blog post tomorrow about goal-setting for the marathon. See you then!

Monday, May 16, 2011

last long run before KBVCM

Saturday I did my last long run leading up to KBVCM. The goal was to run my projected finish time (and then some). That test, combined with my two 16 milers with 8 and 10 mile race pace sections (done weekend before last, and pending this Saturday), would hopefully leave me in good stead for the Marathon itself.

I'd felt a little flat the last couple of days and woke late, but gamely set out nonetheless, first setting my GPS watch to only show me time. Without any pace feedback, I settled at a pretty easy speed. My course consisted of one loop (7.5miles), one out-and-back (7.35 miles), a second out-and-back into Wellesley (6.57 miles), and a final out-and-back along my home road (2.83 miles). Grand total: 24.25 miles:


Avg Pace

03:10:06 24.25

00:59:38 7.50 07:57

00:57:47 7.35 07:51

00:51:09 6.57 07:47

00:21:30 2.83 07:36

I felt pretty happy about that, particularly the fact that I unconsciously negative split each lap. The mileage did take its toll, though, and I ended up pretty useless for the rest of the day. Aside from Saturday productivity, the only casualty was my wrist:

Apparently my GPS banging against my wristbone for 22 miles doesn't do anything, but for 24 it's a whole different story.

I've been fairly consistent with my training, and have three solid weeks of 60+ mileage under my belt (which is pretty high for me). On top of that, I've actually been doing some quality along with my volume, in particular "Tempo Run Tuesdays" and good amounts of marathon pace training during the long runs. All of which is to say, I'm feeling ready. So ready, in fact, that a niggling voice has started to intrude. It says: What about 2:59?

Stupid, scary voice.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

nearly ready

I just finished my 2nd-to-last long run leading up to KBVCM. My goal is 7 minute miles (a 3:03:24 marathon). From the splits below I feel like I'm almost there. Not only was this my fastest long run, but this was by far the best I've ever felt as I mopped up the last few miles.

Split Time Miles Pace

1 00:32:28 4.36 07:27
2 00:13:22 1.93 06:56
3 00:20:21 2.78 07:20
4 00:36:53 4.98 07:24
5 00:13:33 1.97 06:53
6 00:43:25 6.00 07:14
Summary 02:40:06 22.01 07:16

I have one more long run, and it's going to be a lot slower; maybe 7:50-55 pace. But it's an important one, because I'm actually going to be running my marathon time: 3 hours, 5 minutes. I am also looking forward to my two remaining "medium-long" (16 mile) runs. The goal is to run the 1st with 8 mi @ 7:00s, and the 2nd with 10 mi @ 7:00s. If I hit all those marks, then I'm going to feel like nothing can stop me!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Imprudent Speed

Another Saturday, another long run as I prepare myself for the Vermont City Marathon on the last weekend of May. Although my own personal challenge is still a ways off, Marathon fever is in the air here in Boston this weekend, and it is hard not to be a little swept up in it. Monday morning I'll be heading over to nearby Wellesley to spectate, dreaming marathon dreams as I watch the runners stream by on the same road I've often trained on, and thinking....someday!

But for now I still need to focus on the week-to-week. On my last long run two weeks ago, I set out to do 20 on a long out-and-back, completely devoid of provisions. Fresh snow had fallen the previous day and I helped myself to some at my turnaround, but other than that I was running savage. Predictably, I crashed out at mile 17.

Was it the lack of fuel, or was my pace (7:20s, with some 7:00 sections) just too ambitious for my fitness? One of those two variables is easy to eliminate, and, having acquired a good supply of gels, I meant to do so today.

The run broke down into three sections: a 9 mile loop that included the Cutler Park trail and a section in Newton, an 8 mile out-and-back in the direction of Wellesley, and then whatever was left (hopefully 4 miles, in whatever manner was convenient). I left water and grub outside my house, giving me two resupply points over the course of the run.

The first 9 mile loop passed effortlessly in around 7:17 pace; a crisp, slightly chilly spring morning, even allowing for my comparatively late start--the marathoners should be so lucky to have such a morning this Monday! I hit my first resupply feeling great; consumed a gel and some water, tightened my laces, and headed off on the next leg.

By my turnaround point in the 2nd leg (mile13), I had started to feel a bit peaky. Very deliberately (and with some difficulty) I forced myself to stop tracking my own pace (which, in this second leg, had been running around 7:10s). "You will feel better and stronger at mile 17 then you do right now," I kept reminding myself as I started to head the 4 miles back to my house. This was a somewhat bold claim, given how I had cratered at mile 17 the last time.

But it was true! What a great surprise. As I hit mile 15, I felt strength trickling back into my legs. By mile 17, when I stopped quickly for my 2nd gel and a swig of water, I surprised myself by feeling downright decent.

The overall feeling of well-being got me about halfway into my third leg. By mile 19, I was just thinking about how best to hold it together for another 15 minutes. Chainsaws buzzed. A boy with a fishing rod said "hello, SIR!" to me as I ran by, which seemed incongruous in the face of my sweat stained and no doubt haggard expression. Above the street, the endless river of rolling metal that is I-95 poured by in a continuous flood.

I finished the last leg in around7:24 pace.

So here's the thing. I'm really happy to have run around 7:17 pace for 21 miles at this stage in my training. I've thought for weeks that the ~7:20 pace just *feels* right for a long-run cruising speed. But. The conventional wisdom is not to try to practice for your race by actually running your race in training--that would be silly. And yet, if I extend my next run by a couple miles, that's basically what I will have done.

I'm thinking this is probably one of those times when your own pacing intuition can mislead you. If 7:20 was really a good long-run training pace for me, I could probably be running 6:40 pace in the marathon (and I'm pretty sure that's not right). The other way this is hurting me is time-on-feet; I'm not practicing holding a steady level of output for a full 3.10 hours.

The natural solution is to just run my long-runs slower. Save speed for mid-distance runs during the week. 20 miles @ 8s, followed by 2-3 miles @ 7s, for instance. There's nothing preventing me from this, except lack of discipline in responding to the information my GPS is telling me.

It is reassuring what a big difference the fueling made, though. I don't know why I need to keep learning and then re-learning this same lesson. Really makes me wonder how the old-school marathoners did it, back when they barely even bothered with water. (Maybe that's just it, though--the fields were so much smaller, perhaps in part because very few people actually *could* run the distance like that).


Boston Marathon Top Fives
This is kind of my own version of filling out a basketball tournament brackets--and as prognostications go, it's about equally lousy, I'm sure!. My methodology was to pick people with good, recent Boston performances, or good performances in the last New York Half. I tended to down-play the monster times some of the elite field have posted from Berlin, Rotterdam, etc., since I don't think those courses reveal much about Boston's particular requirements. I know--repeat winners in both races is a little bit of a cop-out. On the men's side, it's mainly because Cheruiyot was just that awesome last year. On the women's--well, it just seems like it would be *too* awesome if Kara came back to win it this year. I don't want to get my hopes up :-)

Without further ado, predictions for the outcome of this Monday's Boston Marathon:
1. Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot, Kenya 2:05:52 (Boston, 2010) CR
2. Gebregziabher Gebremariam, Ethiopia 2:08:14 (New York City 2010)
3. Tekeste Kebede, Ethiopia 2:07:23 (Boston, 2010)
4. Alistair Cragg, Ireland Debut
5. Peter Kamais, Kenya 2:14:58 (New York City, 2010)

1. Teyba Erkesso, Ethiopia 2:23:53 (Houston, 2010) CR
2. Kara Goucher, USA 2:25:52 (New York, 2008)
3. Dire Tune, Ethiopia 2:23:44 (Frankfurt, 2010)
4. Tatyana Pushkareva, Russia 2:26:14 (Boston, 2010)
5. Desiree Davila, USA 2:26:20 (Chicago, 2010)

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Today felt like the first true run of Spring. This happens every year, and it is something I eagerly anticipate: the day when the crusty shell of winter cracks and all things seem to be leaping into motion again. It is not only a matter of the weather but also the day when time and opportunity coincide to create the conditions for a perfect run. The air is cool, and piles of snow still lurk in the shadows, but the sun is warm, and the brisk wind carries no bite. The miles pass easily. I am doing 18--the first long run on my road to 26.2 in Burlington, VT. Hills and wind only seem to make me stronger. My plan is to run 16 then step up to 7:00 (race pace) for the last two--to get used to running that speed on tired legs. But it's one of those days when holding back is impossible. I am not looking at my watch. Only occasional glances over the middle 12 show my pace falling from 7:24, to 7:20, to 7:16. At last I hit mile 16 and accelerate, and now I do start to feel it. But it's a good feeling, the best possible kind of tired.

I didn't bring any water--something I won't be able to get away with much longer. When I get back home, I see the wind has baked on crusty streaks of salt across my forehead and all down my temples. It's 10am and already I know it's going to be a good day.

Monday, February 21, 2011

OFTM Race Report

Every race presents its own unique challenge. Sometimes the challenge is the weather, sometimes the terrain. Sometimes it's your own level of fitness, not being where you want it to be. When I reach the start line of a race, I try to let go of all my suppositions about what the day's challenge was supposed to have been. When the gun sounds, there is only the race, and me.

I don't always succeed in this. But the point, when it works, is that I don't beat myself up about, say, driving rain preventing a PR day. Or, more to the point for this weekend's race, a bitter snowy winter partially (but not entirely) excusing a string of bad training weeks, leaving me nowhere near where I hoped I'd be in terms of fitness.

I ran the Foxboro Old Fashioned 10 Miler on Sunday. When I reflect on the race in the light I described, I give it a performance of....adequate. I was breathing hard; I felt sluggish, I did not feel quick, or excited, or aggressive. I went to work on that race like a man digging a ditch, or filling in the ditch some other dumb fella had just dug. Little excitement in the last mile except at the prospect of finishing.

I was slower than last year. But at the same time I held up OK. From the perspective of the year's theme ("redeeming the long race", remember?) it was satisfactory, or at least not a disgrace.

I think most of this is just winter blues. Last Friday, on my walk home from work, a warm wind was blowing through the town of Needham MA. I stripped off my vest, and then my fleece, stuffing them in my pack, and ran in my shirt-sleeves, warm air against my skin. It felt beautiful, like running is always supposed to feel.

Spring can't come soon enough.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

2011 Prospective

If there's one goal I'd like to achieve in this year 2011 CE, it could be summed up as: redeeming the long race. 2010 was a tough year for me and long races. I was in fact 0/3 successful races over the 10 mile distance. Some of these failures might not be obvious externally but--you always know when you didn't do the job you set out to do, even when your time or your place doesn't look so bad.

With that in mind, I'm happy to have had a strong start on that goal with the Derry 16M last week. I already blogged about it a bit on the club website, so I won't repeat the details. I was pleased to hold up well mentally over the last few miles, winning a little redemption from the embarrassment at Applefest (no you didn't miss a post--it was so bad I just never blogged about it). On the other hand, I was daunted that I ended up needing that mental reserve; my legs were wasted by the end, and it was pretty clear to me that, mental toughness aside, I wouldn't have been able to keep running more than another mile or two, forget 10.

That's not entirely surprising, as this snowy winter has kept my mileage way down--I've only been in the mid 30s these last few weeks.

Derry Mile 6

Mile 13

With all that in mind, here's a rough calendar of long races for 2011:

Old Fashioned 10 Miler (certain) 2/20 : last year went well. Hopefully I can live up to it this time around.

Hyannis Half Marathon (certain) 2/27: I've raced twice in Hyannis, one half, one full, neither successful. I'm going to turn it around this time!

DRB 50K (tentative) 4/17 : did this on a lark last year after my running friends from W. Va visited. I wasn't very serious about it and dropped out after 25K. Would like to return and finish the darned thing. I just have to come to terms with the pace that goes with the terrain, and the fact that, for this particular style of race, walking != fail.

Vermont City Marathon (certain) 5/29: It took me a year to get excited about running another marathon! At last I am, and I'm going to rock the shit out of this one! Burlington VT, here I come!

Highland Sky 40M (strong tentative) 6/18: How awesome would it be to go do an epic trail run, and visit my W. Va friends, all in one trip! I'm not sure how it'll play out, but I'll have a ruddy go at it--unless after Vermont City, I think my body is just physically unready for it.

Applefest Half Marathon (tentative) 10/1: I couldn't stand it if 2010 were my last mark on this race, but I'm not quite prepared to sign up for it again. Hopefully after Hyannis I'll be filled with confidence and ready to tear it up.

Mount Desert Island Marathon 10/16 (pure speculation): A friend mentioned this to me, and I went "oh, THAT race!" I had heard about it before and been really intrigued. I mean--the race has a fjord! What more could you want! Unfortunately the field is so small that I'll probably have to sign up soon if I really want to do it--I don't know yet, so we'll have to see. (any of you readers run it before?)

To get ready for all this distance awesomeness, it's apparent to me that I need more base. Like, lots more. Through a highly non-scientific process, I have seized on 70 miles as a peak marathon training volume, which I want to do running 6 times a week, no doubling up. I think if I can do that, then that BQ marathon time will just come naturally.