A surprise PR

Pre-race hydration is important.

This Sunday was the Flower City Half Marathon, and the Friday before the weather finally broke out into spring. Everyone hear in Rochester got up, looked outside, started crying because they thought an asteroid was coming to wipe out all life, then remembered what the Sun looks like and calmed down. A little. The sun came out, birds started singing and hope returned to our hearts. Naturally, the idea occurred to me:”…maybe I should run the half.”

I have been training for a PR at the Ithaca Gorges Half Marathon but the speed training has been going well and I thought, “It would be a good test run.” I turned to a running buddy the week before the race and floated the idea. Surely good sense would prevail! I was just getting ahead of myself.

“You should do it!”, she said. And that was all I needed (wanted) to hear.

I told myself this a LOT.

The “oh shit…” settled in two days before the race. I was going to run a sub-1:45 half marathon about six weeks ahead of my training schedule. What could go wrong?  I did have reasons to be optimistic. I had run a 1:48 on the course a few years ago, when I wasn’t as well trained. I was familiar with the course, the weather would be perfect and my 5K times indicated I was capable. On the other hand, there was the soul-crushing thought of failing, getting hurt and embarrassing myself in front of thousands of people.

Didn’t happen.

The morning before I wrote my pace times on my hand. Like many runners I go out to fast, so I aimed to run just over my goal pace for the first three miles, on pace for the next 8-9 and then hammer the last mile.

I did not look at my hand again.

Getting closer.

At the start I lined up near the front and tried to look fast. Everyone else sure did. I bounced lightly in place and dry-washed my hands like a panicky praying mantis.

Ouch.

Let me start at the end. I made my PR. I strolled over the finish line at just under one hour and forty-five minutes. When I say strolled, I mean ambled. I had nothing left, no final kick, no last sprint. I was fucking finished.

As you can see from the above splits, I ran fairly evenly. The first three miles got away from me a bit but I was able to hold on late in the race. I am particularly proud of miles 8 through eleven because that section comes after the big hill, the steep hill, the cobblestone hill and the cemetery hill have beat runners up and kicked them to the edge of the Genessee River Path like rag dolls on Gatorade.

I was aching by mile five, hurting by mile seven and the last two were just awful. But I pushed through by lying to myself: “You’ve got this. You are in control.”

Two connections to Endure: (1) swishing your mouth with energy drinks really helps! I don’t like most energy drinks…well, I don’t like any energy drinks. But researchers have found that just swishing carb and sugar rich drinks around in your mouth for 10 seconds tricks the body into thinking energy is on the way. Results: energy boost with no cramping or vomiting. (2) I know I went to my absolute limit because I had no kick. And that’s pretty cool, actually. I didn’t know my own limits.

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Thoughts on Boston

The 2018 Boston Marathon was epic, and it has spawned more than a few breathless articles…and here’s mine.

Des Linden was the first America woman to win in over 30 years, and she did that in some of the worst weather the oldest marathon in the world has ever seen. But as has been widely discussed she wasn’t feeling great early in the race and decided to help other runners, specifically Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle, stay in the race by pacing them to keep up with the lead pack.

Like many runners I often get the blank stares and “you will ruin your knees” comments when I talk about my hobby/sport/obsession. But the story of Linden’s come-from-behind win illustrates the fact that running, and competition more generally, can be about more than winning or losing or getting that next PR. It can be beautiful and transcendent. It can give us a space to connect and encourage, and also push ourselves to our absolute limits…and those limits may be greater than we thought. Finally, it shows that getting out of our own heads and connecting to those around us can let us be our best selves. We should all aspire to race like Linden raced Boston.

Yuki Kawauchi is the first Japanese runner since 1987 to win at Boston, and he’s a fascinating dude: a modern day running monk who seems to do nothing but work, eat, sleep and train.

Kawauchi surprised everyone, maybe even more than Linden did, but reflecting on his style and the conditions of the day, maybe it shouldn’t have. He’s a consistently fast guy and he races A LOT (click the link above if you haven’t already). That may mean that he went in way overtrained, but he was also ready to race hard no matter what. He wasn’t just peaking for Boston: his whole race calendar is one continuous hard run. I would imagine conditioned him to suffer though a long, cold race way better than anyone else…and clearly it did. In a post race interview through an interpreter Kawauchi remarked he didn’t know he was in the lead right away and broke away telling himself to “run his own race”. At the finish, even he didn’t think he had won.

In a way that seems to opposite of what Linden, did but I think what they have in common is that they gave themselves over to the run and made it a beautiful race.

 

 

 

Another 50 Mile Week

Happy trails.

This was officially the second week of my half marathon training, but it was also spring break which means I could nap every day like an elite athlete. Therefore it seemed like a good idea to crank my training up a notch and aim for fifty miles for the week.

Ok, it seemed like a good idea to me.

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Having the week off also meant I could hit the trails. Therefore, “Rest” Monday became “Trail” Monday. I ran the Esker 10K loop the opposite direction (and a little faster) than I did last time.

More importantly, I did not fall over, or get killed by a bear or a snake.

Tuesday I did a coached speed workout. We ran around Mt. Hope Cemetery and I set a PR for the 400 meter. We did fartleks (ha!) of 1:30 at speed and 3:30 recovery. Somehow most of those surges were uphill.

By Wednesday I was starting to feel a little run down. Not even my aggressive napping and pizza diet could help me recover as fast as a Kenyan. So I went to the YMCA and ran three miles on the track as slow as I wanted.

Thursday morning I felt much better, but I decided to play it safe and break an 8 mile run into two parts. I did 5 miles through Highland Park near my house and then 2.7 on the trails at nearly tempo pace. Note the balmy spring weather!

Friday was an easy day of five miles, which led into Saturday’s long run. The plan called for 14 miles total, with a surge of 8:00 miles for the last three. I held back to an easy pace for the first 11 miles and was able to hit the last 2 miles at speed. The net downhill helped. That got me up to 45 miles.

Finally, on Sunday I did a tempo run with friends on a mostly flat loop. Tempo on trails seemed like a good choice after a long week and I didn’t want any knee pain to surge up at this point.  1 mile easy, three miles fast…well, at least one mile fast. There was also a kind of fast mile an a couple miles of “..whatever…”.

Sunday trail workout

I finished up with 50.9 miles and now, as I type this, the thought of a rest day seems…delightful.

What helped: varied terrain, speeds, even shoes (I ran in every pair I own this week!)

What didn’t: eating too much junk food and getting a little to hung up on pace.

Endure, and my first race of 2018

Johnny’s Running of the Green is the St. Patrick’s Day road race here in Rochester. There is on-course Guinness and lots of costumes. It’s a laid-back prelude to the standard carousing and shenanigans. It’s also the first big race of the year that attracts more than just the hardcore winter runners.

For the first time, I had serious goals. Well, a goal: to go fast. I wanted to road test my speed training efforts. A month ago, I used the McMillan Running website to calculate the analogous paces for a 5K and 5-mile race that I would need to run to be on pace for a 1:45 half marathon. For a 5 mile race that pace would be 7:31 miles.

As you can see above, I didn’t hit that until the 4th mile, and ended up with a 7:51 overall average. But I’m still taking this as a success because I ran hard and was in control the whole time. I actually said that to myself when my quads started to tighten in the second mile, when I started to hurt in the third mile and when the headwinds hit hard in the last stretch: “I’m in control”. I’ve got three more months of training to go.

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Along with the physical training I’ve been reading a bit more about the interaction between the mind and the body. I listened to a couple of interviews with Alex Hutchinson on the Running Rogue podcast and thought, “Well, I love a good homework assignment!”

The book details the efforts of quite a few exercise physiologists and psychologists to determine how the body and mind interact during endurance sports and other dangerous, stupid events. One point that played out for me at Johnny’s is Hutchinson’s discussion of the “final kick”: runners are often capable of a final spurt of speed to cross the finish line. Maybe this isn’t surprising in a 5K, but the same phenomenon plays out in ultramarathons as well, where observers would expect the athletes to be completely spent.

Does this mean runners consciously or unconsciously hold back, or does our mind push us harder at the end of a race, knowing it will be oner sooner. I haven’t finished the book, but I suspect the answer is “…not sure.” But looking at my paces for Johnny’s. the data is pretty stark: I sped up as I ran through the race. Could I have run the whole race at my fastest pace? I don’t know. But it’s interesting to play with our own expectations for ourselves.

50 Mile Week

Monday run: icy trails

With winter break this week, I had my own little “running camp” and decided to get to 50 miles. During a normal work week I lack the motivation and ability to nap daily that this feat would require, but with school out and my students someone else’s problem for 9 days, this seemed the ideal time.

Monday was icy trails in Mendon Park. I had to pick my feet up and penguin-scamper across a few particularly terrifying sections. However, I stayed upright and on track.

 

Tuesday was speed training on the University track. We ran fartleks and I was happy I could keep my pace under 8:00 per mile. Also track running feels like running on air. Who knew?

On Wednesday morning I ran slow and easy along the river, letting my legs loosen up. My hear rate did spike when a raccoon and I crossed paths. We were equally surprised, I think.

 

He gave me this look that clearly said, “What the hell, dude?”

Thursday and Friday were easy run days as well. I think all that kept me moving was the daily naps and a strict schedule of yoga, swimming and Netflix in the afternoons. Saturday was long run day as usual: 15 miles. My motivation was scant but luckily I had a good group to run with. Easygoing 10:16 pace, with a kick at the end, no less.

By Sunday morning I had 45 miles done. I wasn’t too sore…in fact I was eager to get to 50. So I headed up into Mt. Hope Cemetery, which is weird and creepy and a great place to run.

This looks like a place someone was walled in to die.
The cemetery is full of these little glens haphazardly planted with graves from all different time periods.

Happy to be done.

The Need for Speed

I’ve been listening to more running podcasts for motivation this winter. One of my favorites thus far is Running Rogue, a conversation between two Austin-based running coaches. I’m enjoying it for the motivation, the conversations about what is happening in the running world, and for the hardcore attitude of the hosts. These are guys who use phrases like “command performance” and “be a warrior”. I am not someone who aspires to “be a warrior” that doesn’t involve an xBox.

Or do I? I’ve posted before about my flirtation with with getting faster. The Running Rogue guys spent two podcasts talking about “racing with purpose”: the need for runners to have a goal statement that will sustain them in the later miles of a race. A mantra, essentially, for when the pain seeps in and we just want the run to be done. Usually around the point when a spectator yells “You’re almost there!” and I want to kick them because “almost” is the filthiest word in the English language at that moment.

I want to do a fast half marathon. I want to get into better shape, because I want to prove I am strong and in control. That last part is really where my purpose lives. I suppose that’s a whole other conversation for the therapist’s couch, but that’s my purpose.

So, how will I define a fast half marathon? My PR at that distance is 1:47 and some change, so…faster than that. I’ll set my sights on 1:45.

That said, see my tempo workout from this week above (from Strava). To run a 1:45 half, I’ll need to average 8:00 miles over the whole course. This is a lofty goal for me, but my goal race (Ithaca Gorges Half) isn’t until mid-June and the course is quite kind: mostly downhill and flat. So, that’s going for me.

This workout was encouraging for a number of reasons. I got my best 1 mile and 5K times ever (on Strava) but more importantly I held that tempo pace for 3 miles and didn’t feel exhausted after.

Also, it is still fucking frigid here in western NY. So just getting out there is an accomplishment, in my opinion.

Cold Trails

Okaaay…now it’s winter. It’s dark and cold all the time, and getting out to run is questionable. Winter running is all about maintaining some kind of consistency and not freezing to death. The treadmill isn’t an option, I’m not a monster.

One little step I’ve taken is downloading the WTForecast app. It is not suitable for all ages, but it does take the edge off that first morning weather check.

Another motivation-enhancer is the Running Rogue podcast, out of Austin. The hosts are tough, motivating runners who run down recent races, training and other things running-related. I’ve listened to a few episodes and the hosts are engaging and energetic. Most importantly, they. will make you feel quite guilty for ever contemplating staying on the couch.

My Running Year

There’s a few more weeks left in 2017 but I’ve no more races on the calendar, so I’m calling it. From here on in it’s just maintenance until winter training kicks in. So lets have some hot toddies and reflect.

What I’m Proud Of: 

I wanted to run different races this year, and I did. I kept a few favorites in the schedule, but the majority of my races this year were new to me. I ran new distances (a 25K and a 15K) and travelled with friends down into the Finger Lakes to run in places a little farther afield. Also, that’s, like, 10 course records for me!

Also, my running streak continues! 55 days and counting.

What I Want to Improve On…

Speed. I want to run a fast half marathon. Five years ago I ran one in 1:48 and I’d like to get a faster time than that. I remember that hurt, so I’ll have to make my peace with suffering. But I will be 40 this year. I’m either gonna get faster or slower, and I’d rather get faster. Going along with this, I need to be a little more selfish in my training. I can’t be hanging back with my buddies. Speed gets me to the beer faster.

 

Solo Saturday Run

Normally I do Saturday morning group runs with a bunch of folks at a local running store, but this week I had to take my significant other to work. So, I ran back along the canal path into Rochester.

The run did not start off well: my phone died and my ankle cramped. But I pushed through these little setbacks…and it was lovely. The canal path was mostly flat so I pushed the pace up…and I felt okay pretty much the whole way.

I’d like to do a fast half marathon next year and this was a good start.