Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Worse Than Tapering

I'm pretty sure there is something worse than tapering...recovering post-race!  See, during the taper, you at least have the focus of not screwing up all the hard earned fitness.  Post-race recovery is all about letting  race day stress soak in and removing all the fatigue from your body through consistent, but light training.  At first, it was easy - I was pretty darn sore 2 days after the race.  I had no interest in doing much training at all!  But after some casual walks around the neighborhood and some spins on the bike, my legs are very quickly starting to feel normal again.  Hooray!

But see that's where it is so easy to mess up the recovery process.  While my legs might feel normal, they likely aren't....yet.  And while it seems like ages since I ran the marathon, its only been 10 days.  Anytime you take extended recovery, thoughts of loss of fitness creep in and start to play games with the mind.  This is where being equally diligent about post-race recovery as you would your taper comes into play. 

The reality is that you need to lose some fitness in order to make greater gains in the next training buildup.  So long as you remain somewhat active (without too much stress), the de-training done during recovery is just enough to allow you to enter your next training bout with fresh legs, but still bring greater fitness to the table than the last time.  Non-impact activities like cycling and swimming still work your aerobic system and core work/yoga helps maintain strength and elasticity in your muscles during this time.  This repetitive cycle allows you to gradually increase your fitness year over year, establishing a new baseline after each recovery period.

Most reference books and experts recommend as many days as miles in your race to allow for this recovery to take effect.  In this case, that's about a month.  But to mentally get my head around it, I split my recovery into two components: 

1) Two weeks of very light active work;
2) Two weeks of slowly incorporating a few more "regular" activities. 

By the time the month is over, my mental state will be ready to sink my teeth into the next training plan and my physical state will allow me to hit the workouts with the same intensity as my mind wants you to do.  However, the same caution should be taken the intensity is brought back up - slowly incorporating it as the body gets used what was its regular routine.  And after those 4 weeks, I plan to take another week or so to just run - no goals or structure other than consistent running.  After that, I'll finally be back and once again, a happy runner training as normal.

Of course, it is much easier to outline the goals of post-race recovery than to actually execute the recovery itself.  Execution is always the hardest part.  I've been doing great at staying the course so far.  But you see, there is a small problem - I have a race smack in the middle of it...oops!  Here is where reality and theory clash a bit.  It is obviously not in my best interest to run a 10k race 2 weeks after the marathon.  Of course, I've done it before.  However, this is an annual race we always run, so run I will!  As for how fast...only the effectiveness of my recovery thus far will showcase that on Saturday.  Until then, recovery continues ;)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why I Won't Be Volunteering At The National Marathon This Year

For the past...oh...I don't know...4 years or so, Rebecca and I have been in some way involved in the National Marathon.  Either by running it or by volunteering, we both have enjoyed participating in this local race that has grown exponentially since its early days.  Well this year, that streak will end and let me tell you why.

Several months back, we had received an email sent out to previous volunteers notifying us that we could sign up.  After discussing with a few friends that we were going to add to our volunteer fun-dom, we went onto the site to sign up.  To our amazement, there were no spots to volunteer at aid stations.  Rebecca and I both thought, "Huh, that's strange, we've always volunteered at aid stations before", so we decided to investigate the glaring omission a bit further.

A quick email response through the POC listed on the site informed us that because we were not affiliated with a "group", we could not sign up for an aid station.  Say what????  This year, they were taking things in a very different direction, and one that leaves me frustrated and confused.  In order to establish better organization at each aid station, they have been assigned out to "groups" that signed up collectively to work them.  In principle, I understand the premise - To be more organized.  But here is where the National Marathon loses out big time from people like our "group".  We're not a large organization or a church group or enough people to staff a full aid station.  We are simply a group of people that enjoy playing an ACTIVE part in the race, but somehow we are now blocked from participating in the one area that makes people want to volunteer in.

To be truthful though, we were offered "alternative roles" (and I say this with air quotes).  We could:
A) Be a course marshal - the problem here is that they are only assigned as 2 people per station, so we wouldn't be together, thus negating the point of involving more friends
B) Work bag check - while it may not be an ideal role for me but something I'd do just to help out, my friends who wouldn't typically volunteer certainly would not find this kind of role something that would motivate them to get up at the a$$ crack of dawn to do
C) Work at the expo stuffing bag - this defeats the whole point of volunteering during the race
D) Work the SAG wagon - no offense, but this is also not a role most people who want to be actively involved in a race would be motivated to do    

So you may be asking, "How would I recommend a solution?"  Here's how and it's very simple.  Delegate these "groups" to be responsible for the leadership role of each aid station out on the course.  Open up a smaller number of spots for individuals like us to volunteer at the aid stations.  It is as simple as that.  And I have volunteered at other races that have employed this exact approach effectively.  Nobody gets left out and everybody has a fair chance to volunteer for a position they are interested in.

So in the end, we ultimately decided that because there was no possible way for us to be involved in the aid stations or in another active role together, we'd rather just do our own thing.  Hopefully in the future this gets corrected.

But don't worry, we'll still be out there.  I've got lots of runners who will be out there earning their racing stripes.  And I will be cheering them on and supporting them as best I can.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Calling Any DC Area Runners and Triathletes

What are you doing on Monday, March 28 after work between 5-6:45 pm?  If you can make it to the parking lot of Roosevelt Island anywhere during that time, YOU could be a movie star!  Ok not really....but you do have an opportunity to be part of a television show.

My wonderful wife is in need of some of the fittest, leanest, best looking (or really any) runners and cyclists for a show she is producing.  Simply show up at the parking lot with your running gear, your bike, or both and look for the camera crew - we'll all be there.

To summarize:
- Show up at the Roosevelt Island parking lot on Monday, March 28
- Anytime between 5:00 - 6:45 pm
- Bring running gear, cycling gear, or both

***If you are planning on showing up, please leave a comment and let me know when you think you'll get there.  It will help with organizing the shoot.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Race Report: Va Beach Shamrock Marathon

I had quite a few goals heading into Shamrock, most of which, I kept to myself throughout this training cycle.  Not because I didn't feel like sharing them, but more just because this had been a personal journey back into the realm of marathons, and it allowed me to stay focused.  The simple goal was to just better my marathon PR (3:49:14), which I knew was pretty much a done deal, given my training leading up to the race.  After that, there were some more specific goals, among them running a 3:10 to BQ.  I knew that my training, which included a 20 miler at faster than 3:10 pace, had put me in a place to achieve this goal.   As a result, I felt fully prepared  to achieve it.   

Now I know that any race that takes place along the beach is going to have some winds.  The forecast was calling for about 10 mph winds with gusts up to 18 mph - pretty typical of what you get at the beach.  What I didn’t expect (and wasn’t in any forecast), was the 20+ mph sustained winds and gusts beyond that.  As I stepped foot outside on the morning of the race to start my warmup, I knew that BQ goal was likely slipping away before I even had a chance to try.  I also knew that this would be my last chance before the standard goes to 3:05 and come hell or high water, I was going to go for it.  I made the executive decision to stick with the plan.  I knew all too much that this decision would put me in a pretty dark place later in the race if the stars didn’t align, but I did not want to accept the disappointment I would have in myself for not at least trying.  I knew I could run a smarter race based on the conditions by adjusting my pacing, but that would yield something slower than 3:10, still missing my goal and not providing me the opportunity to qualify at the 3:10 standard.  So rather than try for the best time in the conditions, I threw all my chips on the table and went all in.

Miles 1-5             
With about 20 minutes till the race start (it was actually delayed 15 minutes prior to me getting in my corral) I lined up about 5 rows back from the front.  I noticed the road had a slight camber, so I moved over to the middle where it was flat.  Before I knew it, we were off.  The 1st few miles were easy, as we were assisted with a slight downhill and tailwind.  And my effort remained pretty consistent with my plan of 7:30/mile pace.  Before I knew it, we were at Mile 5 and it was time to lock into my Goal Pace and hang on for as long as possible. 

Miles 1-5 Splits: 7:27/7:22/7:30/7:27/7:27 

Miles 6-20           
I began picking up the pace and holding right at goal pace as we entered Camp Pendleton.  I found myself noticeably speeding up when we entered the wall of service people cheering us on.  It was truly inspirational and all I wanted to do was thank each of them for what they did.  I took a peak down at my watch as I neared the next mile marker and noted that I needed to slow down.  The 2 miles through the Camp were slightly faster than goal pace and I knew I’d have to run this race smart if I had any chance at making it through.  After Mile 10, we landed on the boardwalk, which is actually just a giant concrete slab (hard on the legs) and faced the brunt of the winds head on.  I knew from the course that this was about 2 miles long, so we were in it for a while.  I did my best to find a shoulder and run off to the side and benefit from some slight protection.  However, I think I might have spent a bit too much effort here trying to stay on pace.  My HR was noticeably elevated during this section.  Once I observed that, I started to go into damage control, since I was on my way toward approaching ½ marathon type HR levels and fell back to plan B, which was to slow by about 2-3s/mile and still be on target for 3:10, just with a little less room for error later in the race.  Though it wasn’t a significant difference, I managed to bring my HR back into the high 160s.  Though the next bunch miles were away from the headwinds, the road began the false flat uphill trend through Mile 19.  While I was holding onto my pace, I could see my HR starting to tick up again.  I also started getting the urge to “water the foliage”.  I held off that feeling for about 3 miles before I came to the realization that it was beginning to impact my running.  So I ducked off to the side for 45s and continued running.  No less than ½ mile later, my body started to protest in the form of calf cramps.  At first, I slowed my pace to keep them in check.  But very quickly, I began the recurring cycle of stop/stretch/jog.  Miles 19 and 20 were filled with enough non-running that I was able to problem solve the situation and come to the conclusion that the added wind factor was likely dehydrating me more than I realized.  I had been taking extra Endurolytes due to the wind, but I quickly ran out of them around this point.  I knew the Gatorade Endurance the race was providing would have added electrolytes, so that would be my attempt to get back in balance.  The next aid station was at Mile 21, which I REALLY wanted to be closer at that point so I could get this show on the road.

Miles 6-20 Splits: 7:10/7:03/7:09/7:11/7:10/7:08/7:14/7:12/7:11/7:15/7:08/7:23/8:07/8:24/8:49

Miles 21-26.2     
It was during the time between Miles 20 and 21 that I had my darkest moments.  Though I had diagnosed my issue, I couldn’t do anything about it, because there were no aid stations nearby.  I did a lot more stretching and cramping than running during this time and just felt frustrated by my body.  I had also been passed by the 3:20 pace group, which was somewhat discouraging to see.  Everything else felt good still and I knew if I could somehow get some electrolytes back and get to a place where I was able to run again, I’d be ok.  Though I will say that I have never seen a race littered with bonking/cramping casualties as much as I did in this race.  It was pretty epic.  I felt bad for myself, but there were plenty of other people in way worse shape than me.  I think those winds did a number on a lot of other people!

I finally arrived at the aid station and downed 2 cups of Gatorade Endurance.  Sure enough, it gave some life back to my legs.  I was very hesitant at first though, because if I could jog slowly, it was better than having to stop every 10-15 steps to manage a cramp.  Over the course of the next 4+ miles, I continued to gradually pick up the pace.  At the next aid station, I took in as much Gatorade Endurance as I could.  My legs moved a bit faster and I got a bit more confident that the cramps were gone.  The last few miles felt like I was back from the dead and I was passing people again.  I latched onto 2 other runners and we each helped pull ourselves through to the finish.  

Miles 21-26.2 Splits: 10:01/9:23/8:53/8:36/8:25/1:49 (7:59 pace)
Final Time: 3:29:07 
Overall: 322/3160
Age Group: 43/266        

Post Race Thoughts
Though I came through nearly 20 minutes slower than my goal finish time, I couldn’t be more proud of my accomplishment.  I finished knowing that I pushed myself to its limit and though the conditions weren’t ideal for a BQ time, I gave it my all.  I am fully satisfied with running a slower time than I would have if I played it conservative, because I can say I went for it all on this one with no regret.  With the pressure of trying to BQ with a 3:10 off my back, I can look forward to my next marathon and run it conservatively to give me the best possible finish time.  

I knew this race would likely be a PR no matter how much I blew up, but I can’t discount the fact that despite the issues I experienced in this race, I still beat my previous time by 20:07 and ran a sub 3:30 marathon.  And I can’t be disappointed in that!

Now it's time for some R&R ;)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

All Quiet

Normally during a taper period, most people tend to go stir crazy not knowing what to do with their extra time.  While I certainly have extra time on my hands, I feel like I am in this sort of state of reflection that has me staying quiet.  Sure, I get the urge to want to head out the door and crank out a hard tempo run every now and then, but I'm mostly spending this time reflecting on this marathon's journey.

Compared to previous ones, this one has actually been relatively quiet.  By quiet, I mean not having to complain or deal with massive amounts of rehab just to get to the starting line.  I've sure had my nicks along the way, but who doesn't?  I've been able to manage them through regular, almost daily, stretching and strengthening routines that have become a staple of my training.

This reflection also has me looking back and what a wide ride of emotions training for a marathon can be.  Constantly checking the weather, noticing every little creak and crack my body makes to determine if it might be the onset of a new issue, comparing my long run of this week to the long run of last week, scoping out the race course, eating well to safely get down to racing many things going on and so much to look at.  Of course this isn't anything new, it's just an observation that I finally have a chance to sit back and make.

I guess at the end of the day, what really has me satisfied, and is probably the biggest reason why things are so quiet, is the fact that I know I have done everything I can do to be ready on race day.  From a training standpoint, there is really nothing left for me to prove.  I approached this training cycle differently than any other - I took it 1 day at a looking ahead.  My goal, each and every day, was to focus on completing the workout at hand, and I knew that all the other stuff would take care of itself.  So here I am sitting in the final few days before the race, extremely proud of my training.

However, on the racing front, I still have LOTS to prove...but I can only keep counting the days until I finally get a chance to do so....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Badge of Honor or Shame?

A few weeks ago after one of the warmer long runs we had, I noticed some salt that had dried on my face as drove home from the store.  It had been a while since I've seen anything like that, since in colder weather, serious sweating doesn't happen as much.  However, we still become dehydrated regardless of the warm or cold conditions.  Anyways, by the time I got home and started changing out of my running clothes, I noticed something that stood out on my shorts.  I had a HUGE white outline of all the salt that had dried from my sweat on my shorts!

Hammer Gel Hammer Endurolytes, 120 CapsulesUsually, this means 1 of 2 things: either I didn't take in enough salt/electrolytes or I took in too much.  Well since it was the winter and I hadn't been supplementing with salt, I knew it was not enough.  The good news is that ever since that day, I've gone back to including Endurolytes in my long run nutrition plan and haven't seen the white salt lines since.  They had been a staple in my nutrition plan for triathlons and long distance cycling, but I hadn't really used them much in running.

However, this has me wondering - when you see that your clothes are covered in dried salt by the end of a workout, do you consider it:

A) A badge of honor to show you worked hard; or
B) A badge of shame because it shows you did not effectively manage your nutrition

Which one is it?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Taper Time!

With less than 2 weeks until the big day, it is finally taper time.  Though, to be honest, it still doesn't feel like it yet.  My weekly training runs are still similar, with just a slight cutback in time, but at the similar intensities.  The true effect of a taper comes from the lack of a really long run.  On a week to week basis during the regular training cycle, you have a couple of tough weekly runs, but the major stress resulting from your training comes from the long run.

So this past weekend, a 16 miler was planned, with about 8 of those miles being faster than goal pace, which is not exactly a big cutback or easy by any stretch.  But compared to the 20 miles the week before, it is a step back.  For last night's tempo run, while the core workout was only about 4 minutes less than normal, it had me foaming at the mouth by the end of the run to keep going at the harder paces, because it was one of the better tempo runs I've had.  So I guess the step back is starting to take hold. After this upcoming weekend's long run of only 8 miles, I know I'll feel even better as my muscles repair themselves and my body adapts. 

And that's the point of all this - to toe the line knowing that you have put behind months of solid work and let it take hold in your body.

But if there is one important thing to remember, it is that you have to keep the same focus during taper as you do during the regular training cycle.  For me, that means sticking with my strengthening and stretching routines, not trying anything new, or changing anything drastic in my behavioral patterns (ie sleep or food).  If you lose focus of the point of the taper, you risk losing more than just fitness. 

It would be easy to try and go out there to "test my fitness".  But that's not the point.  I have confidence in my fitness already.  I've done the simulation runs enough to know where my fitness is, and not where I "hope it to be on race day".  I trust the plan.  And most importantly, I trust myself to execute my race based on my fitness.

I've begun developing a list of all the things I want to do, but am holding off until AFTER the race.  Call it a reward for being diligent.  Trust me - I want to do some of these things pretty badly.  But I've drawn the line in the sand...and it ends at Virginia Beach on March 20.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I've Got Wine In My Veins...Literally

 Like many people, I enjoy a good glass of wine every now and then.  And on a somewhat regular basis, Rebecca and I enjoy visiting any number of the many Virginia wineries.  But this post isn't about visiting those wineries, which I'll let you in on a little secret, are VERY underrated.  Again, that's not the topic of the day here.

The topic has to do with an event we recently volunteered at called the 1k Wine Walk.  It was a pretty cool idea - a wine tasting event based on the concept of a race.  Each "runner" had an official race bib and were given 20 tickets they could use to taste any of the 45 wines at the 8 or so "aid stations".  Our role was to pour wine for the wines at our tables.  So when someone came over and wanted to try one of the wines, they'd hand us a ticket and we'd pour them a tasting.

It was fun. Until the last 10 minutes of service.  If you've ever been at a bar at 2:45 am and they make last call, you know what it's like.  Insanity begins and the melee for people to use their remaining drink tickets creates a fair amount of chaos.  In the end, we got through it and earned some fun storiess and one remaining sign of my pouring wine.

Let me explain.  In the process of serving about a thousand people over 4 hours, you tend to spill a bit of wine on your hands.  Well in this case, it is 3 days later and I still have remnants of it in my pores! 
 Look closely right near the beginning of my pinky...oh and don't mind those guys in the background...they don't care about my battle scars

And bottle opening...I developed a nice little cut from one incident while tearing off the aluminum wrapping of one bottle during those last few minutes of pressure trying to pop nearly a new bottle every 2-3 minutes to keep up with the pace. 

So I'm sitting here wondering - how long is this wine going to stay in my pores?  I've scrubbed, tried all different soaps and still no progress.  Makes me wonder  if I still get the potential resveratrol benefits of drinking red wine, since it is technically in my system?


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