Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Motivational Fall Running

Took this photo a few weeks ago while running.  I stopped dead in my tracks, because this is exactly why Fall running is the best time of the year for running.

PS - Sorry for the poor quality - it doesn't quite do it justice

Monday, November 28, 2011

Misuse of Bonk Terminology - A Pet Peeve

As endurance athletes, we hear lots of terms all the time, whether through articles, blog posts, or conversation.  And I think sometimes, people take a word that the see often and turn it into something its not.  Specifically, I'm talking about the term "bonk".  Most people commonly use this term to describe the act of "hitting the wall" in training or in a race.  But this act can be accomplished through a variety of means, many of which have nothing to do with bonking.  Let me explain further.

Bonking happens when you deplete your glycogen stores in your liver and muscles, which ultimately leaves you weak and unable to continue on at the same effort as you were moving at.  This is why we fuel during endurance events - to prevent complete glycogen depletion.  And we do that by consuming carbohydrate rich foods, such as gels, sport drinks, etc.  On average, your body can store between 1500-2000 calories worth of glycogen that is spread throughout the muscles, so needless to say, you can bonk relatively easily in endurance events that last many hours (ie marathons, ultras, half ironmans, ironmans, etc), when you can burn 500+ cals/hr.

However, this is where we see the greatest misuse of the term.  Bonking is NOT slowing down toward the end of a 5k or a 10k.  That is what I like to call "improper pacing".  You simply went out too hard for your current fitness and your body could no longer sustain that effort.  Either your muscles are too fatigued, or your mind gave up wanting to deal with the pain associated with running too hard.  You did not however, bonk, as you clearly have not depleted your glycogen stores in such a short effort.

So with that said, let's just talk about some basics for preventing bonking:

  • Properly fuel during workouts and races - Don't go into key workouts or races on empty (unless that is the purpose of that particular workout), especially if it is a morning workout.  This means you've been fasting since dinner (or that midnight snack) from the day before.  Not a good way to ensure full effort from your body.
  • Properly re-fuel after workouts - Make sure you replenish your glycogen stores following hard workouts (preferably within 30 minutes).  30 minutes is a general number that people give for optimal recovery following hard bouts.  Typically, anything in the 90 minute range (or something shorter but very intense) is what I consider hard bouts.
  • Pace according to your fitness - In longer endurance events (read: not 5/10ks), pacing is just as important, because at higher intensities, your body is working harder and using more of your glycogen stores to maintain that level of effort.  Pacing according to your fitness ensures you are more efficient to handle the workload so that your body doesn't have to work harder than it already is to keep up with your effort.
  • Practice race pace - This goes in line with pacing, but your body needs to know what race pace feels like in order for your to race it efficiently.  Race pace will differ depending on the distance, so make sure you train according to that particular race.  Practicing 1/2 marathon pacing bouts when you are training for an ultramarathon might give you a good workout, but it isn't going to help you become more efficient at race pace.  You can practice this through tempo runs, specifically designed race pace runs, and in parts of your long run, especially toward the end.
So I think that about does it.  While I enjoy seeing someone misuse the term (sarcasm), I prefer that people use words they understand. 

Ok - I feel better now that I've got that off my chest....(sigh)...

Monday, November 21, 2011

Philly Recap

I don't have much more to say than she came, she saw, she conquered (her 1st half marathon!):

Running along South Street

After the race, we made sure to take part in the one thing that everyone must do - partake in cheese steak eating.  However, ours had a little spin to it, since 99.9% of cheese steaks aren't served on gluten free rolls.  However, we came across Paesano's through some research, and they made one heck of a sandwich!  It wasn't wit wiz in the traditional sense, but the beef brisket and the potatoes were amazing!
No, its not Pat's or Geno's, but it IS gluten free and DELICIOUS
So proud of Rebecca for not only chasing her dream of running a half marathon, but by doing it with such ease.  She seemed calm and cool when I saw her out on the course and managed to finish strong up the last hill when I saw her make her way toward the finish.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rockville 10k Photos

Its been a few weeks since the race, but I managed to find some photos online to document a few key parts of the race.

In those last couple of photos you can sort of see some of the chaos we had to deal with for weaving around people.  Sadly, I have no finishing shots, but I can assure you it was pretty darn close.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Three Years

My how time flies!  Its already been THREE years since the happiest day of my life.  And much like that day, I went for a run in honor of our three year anniversary.  With running playing such an important role in the activities surrounding our life, I couldn't think of a better way to represent it than with a run in honor of those three years.  Nothing epic needed here, but it was purposeful.  You see, I ran three miles, with each one representing a year since our wedding.  And in honor of time flying by this past year, I made it a fast one, clocking in at 6:55/mile just because time flies when you're having fun ;)

Happy Anniversary Rebecca

Age Group Categories and Awards

In my last post, I mentioned that although I placed 1st in my age group at my 10k race, I received no award for it.  Unfortunately, the reason is because this particular race decided to alter what I consider the standard for age group categories.  So let's review exactly what I mean for a second before going any further.

Aside from traditional overall awards (which can be anywhere from top 3 to top 10), age group categories in running and triathlon races seem to be primarily set to a specific standard of 5 year groupings, such as 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, 35-39, etc.  And in some cases with smaller races, the categories expand slightly to 10 year groupings, such as 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, etc.  Simple right?  And on top of these groupings, some races throw in an occasional Masters, Clydesdale, Athena, Physical Challenged, etc categories to further differentiate all the participants.  Still with me?

So when I came to find myself having placed 1st in my age group (based on the assumption of it being 30-34), I was shocked that the awards ceremony presented 5 year age group awards for 15-19, 35-39, 40-44 all the way up to 80-84, but nothing for that gap of 20-34 year olds.  So what happened?  Well, at the race I was told that 20-34 year olds fell into an "Open" category that went five awards deep and that my name was not on their list.  I thought that was strange, since all that really meant was they were giving away 1 less award (age group awards were 2 deep at this race) and after looking at the results once they were posted online, I saw that even in that age grouping, I placed 4th, which still should have meant getting an award.  So I followed up with an email to see if perhaps something was mistaken in the process and they just messed up the awards.  Well I came to be told that "Open" means open to everyone, not just 20-34 year olds, so those 5 deep awards went to the top 5 overall.  So it seems as though 20-34 year olds were certainly being left out, huh?  I responded with a question asking this exact concern and was told:

"The race had a lot of fast Masters runners, so they shifted the awards to reward them"  

 WTF is that!  Oh any by the way, they also had a Masters category on top of the age group category and mentioned that this awards arrangement is "common".  And people who placed in the "Open" category included runners that fell outside of the 20-34 age range, which means even more awards went to runners that already had their own age group categories.  Lastly, the race website lists no information regarding the age groups, but simply:

"Awards will be given to Open Placed finishers, Top Age Group finishers and Second Place finishers"

To me, I would read that to say overall placing runners and the top 2 finishers in each age group.  Well little did I know, this race decides to omit 15 years worth of people.  

So let me ask you - Is this common?  Are you familiar with this type of age discrimination in awards?  Does a race have the right to predetermine how they believe the results will be and customize the age group awards based on that assumption?  What would you do if this happened to you?

I'll tell you what - I'm not pissed because I didn't get an award.  I could care less, though everyone does like to have a physical item to show for their hard work.  But what I am pissed about is this blatant disregard for everyone else like me who was racing for an age group place.  I won my age group by 1 second by out sprinting someone in the last 100 meters of the race.  In my mind at the time, I was thinking that the guy looked about my age, so I went for it and was rewarded for that effort.   I paid the same amount as everyone else to enter into that race and I feel cheated that I don't have the same right to earn an award.  I also feel deceived by the race website, as it did not specify categories other than open, and top 1-2 age group finishers.  Cheated and deceived are the only words I can use the describe how I feel.

Curious on your thoughts?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Race Report: Rockville 10k - The Comeback Edition

LL Cool J said it best, "Don't call it a come back, I've been here for years...." Ok, so maybe the rest of the song isn't so applicable to me, but I couldn't help but run that part of the song through my head after yesterday's race.  The last race I ran was back in April, but it was only 2 weeks removed from running a marathon, which I would truly consider my last real race.  And then we all know about my injury, which brings me to Sunday.  So to say I was a bit excited to get back into racing would be an understatement.  Coming off a solid 2 month block of training, I knew my fitness was right were I left off before getting hurt, so I felt it was appropriate to get back out there and see what I've got.

After a process of scoping out every possible 10k race in the area, I finally settled on the Rockville 10k.  In most cases, the other races I was considering were either on dates I couldn't race due to other obligations or recently forced to change to 8ks (gotta love how DC can just pull the permits of established area 10k races and force them into 8ks in the name of "security").  But I digress.  After reading a brief description of the race on the site which says "Montgomery County’s oldest-continuing and fastest-growing race - the 2010 race featured a record number 1,206 finishers coming out and tackling the rolling hills of the King Farm community featuring lengthy straight-aways to make this a PR-friendly race.", I figured it was good enough.  I even charted the course out on MapMyRun to get a better sense of how to pace it.  It helped a lot, and I got took note of the mention of the dreaded "rolling hills" as well as the fact that there was three 180 degree turns and ten 90 degree turns(never PR friendly in shorter races).  Now typically, "rolling hills" and "PR-friendly" don't go hand in hand.  So the morning of the race, I drove the course to get a better sense of what I saw online and came to realize that the course was going to be a bit hillier than I planned.  Oh well I thought, this is MY COMEBACK, so it is what it is.

I got a solid 1.5 mi warm up and then did some 20s strides at race pace and everything just felt really good.  I lined up 1 row back from the font with about 10 minutes till the gun was to go off and took in the perfect weather - sunny, no wind, 40 degrees.  After my nice warm up, I was just fine wearing a racing singlet and shorts.  Never a moment where I felt cold and I couldn't have been more comfortable while running.  After some words from local political figures, we were off!

In my pre-race prep, I had developed a pacing plan based on my knowledge of the course/terrain that would handily bring me in under my PR (41:37), which I have always considered "soft", since I've run 5ks in the 19:05 range, but never raced a 10k while in that shape.  So needless to say, among my goals for the day, a PR was one of them!

Mile 1 started with a flat/downhill for the first 1/4 mile before making a right turn for the biggest uphill of the course to the first turnaround right about at Mile 1.  The grade is pretty steady for about a 1/4 mile, but then kicks up to about 8-10% for the last bit, before you crest the hill, run downhill for about 100 meters, hit the turnaround, go back up for 100 meters, and cross the Mile 1 marker.  I was a little bit fast through here at 6:22, mostly due to the fast start, but letting my legs and HR stay within myself for the entire climb.  My goal was to stay around 6:27, but my RPE was well within where I should have been.

Mile 2 was mostly downhill, going back down the big hill (which felt nearly as hard going down as it did up), a few rollers after a right turn, and then a left to head to more downhill.  Of course, in my head I was thinking about having to push back up this when my legs are tired later in the race on the return trip.  However, I hit the Mile 2 marker in 6:22, still feeling pretty fresh and just rolling with the course.  My goal was to be right around 6:25, but I had not anticipated the downhill to be as steep, which gave me the extra few seconds.

Mile 3 included another left turn while continuing the downhill and onto the start of the longest out and back stretch of the course.  While Mile 3 started downhill, it ended right at the base of  the start of a steady uphill till the eventual turnaround.  I came through Mile 3 in 6:24, with a goal of 6:25.

Mile 4 was where things started to unravel a bit.  In my research online, I hadn't noticed that this section contained such an uphill steady climb (it looked more like a false flat), so when I drove the course, I made a note that I'd have to make up the time I'd likely lose on this mile in those previous miles, which is partly why I took them a bit faster than goal pace.  The constant climbing, combined with the 180 degree turn at the top of the hill slowed me more than I would have liked.  I didn't want to blow my race up by pushing too hard, because I knew I'd have more up hill than down hill on the way back, so I ran strong and passed a few people, but decided to hold  back a bit.  My split was 6:36, with a goal of 6:25, however that goal was before I knew about the longer hill that this section entailed.

Mile 5 was where I could mentally start to force my body to push harder as I knew it was only 2 miles-ish to go.  It started mid-way down the hill, so I was trying to use that momentum to pick the pace back up.  Unfortunately, at the bottom of the hill, I had to make a sharp right turn into an uphill for about 100 meters, before doing another 180 degree turn to head back down that hill and make a right turn (dizzy yet?) to head uphill again and back onto the main road.  I managed to pull it together enough to eek out a 6:28, despite all those turns, but started to feel the race a bit out of my control at that point, due to the course.

Once I hit the Mile 5 marker, I really started to push now.  Only problem was it again, was largely uphill.  This was the same hill I ran down for part of Mile 2 and 3, but with an added bonus!  You see, they started the 5k runners 10-15 minutes after the 10k runners started.  I don't really get the logic here, but needless to say, that by the time we got to the 5k turnaround, the course was littered with walkers, runners, etc without any organization.  So while I was charging uphill at 6:25 pace, I was having to weave in, around, and through people that were in the 11-12 pace range.  Not smart and downright dangerous if you ask me.  To add to the complexity, after reaching the top of the hill and making a right, there was a water stop, which was further congested with people, some of which were running perpendicular to the course by cutting over, while those of us in the 10k are trying to blast on through.  Despite that, I kept on pushing, passing a few more of the 10k people I was running with as we crossed the Mile 6 marker with a 6:25 split.  I think as future recommendation for this course, the last half of the race (at the 5k turnaround) should be coned off to split the road between the 5k and 10k runners so as to avoid situations like this.

Looking down at my watch, I could tell, despite my best efforts to run the tangents on the course, that the last 1.5 miles forced me to run a good bit extra and that I wasn't going to quite hit my "A" goal for the race of running sub-40.  But with the competitive side of my still running, I pulled past 2 more people in that last .2, only to hear the crowd and the announcer join in cheering us on as we made it into an all out sprint to the finish after the final left turn with 100 meters to go.  As a former sprinter, I couldn't let anyone by (not to mention, I knew I was pretty far up in overall placing, so every spot counted) and I turned on the afterburners and held off both guys to the finish.  My pace picked up as I averaged in the last .2 miles a speedy 5:30 pace, but the 100m sprint at the finish clocking as fast as 4:27 pace!  That's adrenaline for ya!  Turns out we were so close that one guy got the same finish time as me and the other guy finished 1 second back! 

As I crossed the line, I looked at the clock to see 40:20 as my finish time, a PR of 1:17, on a pretty tough course, especially compared to the relatively flat courses my previous PRs were set on.  And with that, my official comeback is complete.  I was patient, trained hard, and the results speak for themselves.  I also know that if I ran a 10k on a flatter course that didn't have 5k runners to weave through, that sub-40 is well within reach.  I ended up covering 6.29 miles (give or take minus Garmin standard deviation) and my average pace was 6:24/mile, which in an exact 10k distance (which I know isn't possible), would have translated out to a 39:40 10k and my 6.2 mi split was 39:55, so the fitness is already there, especially on a faster course.  Even my pacing was rock solid.  If you use the 6.29 mile distance and split it, I came through the first half in 20:09 and the 2nd in 20:11.  Can't really do much better than that!

But that's why there's always another race to sign up for - to improve!

Overall, I finished 16/539 racers.  If I had an age group for 30-34 (which will be a topic for another post), I would have won it.  However, the details of exactly why there was none will be described, so stay tuned for a follow up on this and the larger topic of age group categories...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Race Mojo

There are few moments in life where you are just in awe of everything around you.  I think that being at the start of one of the largest marathons might just be one of those moments.  Tons of people, music is pumping, the buzz in the air of the helicopters circling around, and oh yes, the flyovers over impressive aircraft.  All of that going on at once is like crack for a runner.  Simply standing there to take that all in gives you enough motivation to do virtually anything.  As one of those people standing there to wish our runners off at the Marine Corps Marathon, I couldn't help but get caught up in the moment just before the race was about to start.

It was like an electric pulse throughout my body.  I. wanted. to. race.  Now unfortunately, I wasn't racing MCM.  Because I'm pretty sure that feeling right then and there would have propelled me 26.2 miles, despite not being adequately trained to run the race, given my comeback from injury.  But it did get me going inside.

Reliving that day in my head has me more excited than ever for this weekends 10k.  Sure it isn't going to be a big race, nor is it a marathon.  But when I need to reach deep down on race day, I'll think about those moments on MCM morning and use them to my benefit.

We all need some race mojo and I think I just found mine!

Can you see me?

I'm really looking forward to "falling back" once daylight savings hits, if for nothing other than the fact that I can't walk or run with Tucker in the morning like we typically do, because it is so dark.  He's got this high visibility vest now and even a blinky light, but I'd still prefer the sun, because I get worried cars might not be able to spot him as easily.  However, he certainly looks pretty visible here: 

Yes, day light savings means the evenings will be darker earlier (which means many of my workouts will be done in the dark), but I like my morning time and I think Tucker does too.  Does he look happy its so dark out this morning on our walk to you?

Poor guy just needs some sun!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Interesting NY Times Christopher McDougall Article on the Running Industry

Say what you want about Born to Run, whether you consider it gospel or great storytelling "based on a true story", it has put running and more specifically minimalist running right on the map.  Dead center.  A lot of that attention can be attributed to the success of the book, but much of the engine behind the movement lies in outreach, case study research, and general discussion of the topics.  So when I came across this article yesterday, I was interested to see what else McDougall had to say.

While I'm not necessarily the biggest fan of the title of the story, "The Once and Future Way to Run", I think he once again tells a great story and sheds some more interesting light on the industry.  The story is long, but I strongly recommend reading it, as it hits on multiple angles - both the industry and running form.  I'll address each one below.

On industry, we have no specific way to validate all the facts as they are laid out, but it is one heck of a story.  Whether it is the anecdotes of Dr. Mark Cucuzzella being scoffed at, at the Boston Marathon by big shoe industry leaders for praising the benefits of natural running style, or the idea that a single study done in the 80s by Benno Nigg contributed to the mass development of built up, motion control shoes as a means of "fixing" our natural gait (despite Nigg much later stating that he believed that thought process was a mistake), or of the lack of a honest shoe review in magazines such as Runner's World due to a grading system that essentially gives everyone an "A" - he covers a lot of territory in a single article.  And all them are valid arguments that merit further discussion and consideration when looking at where running is headed into the future.

On running form, we go back to the basics - recounting an exercise called 100-upping that was developed in the 1800s.  As basic as it sounds, it rings true as something all of us should probably be doing today as part of our regular routines.  Practicing form and balance is something we all need to do and this exercise is certainly one way to do it.

But this is where I think the article goes a little off, IMO.  If history is any indication, there is no SINGLE solution to anything.  And despite McDougall's claims that this might just be the "smoking gun" we are all looking for, it isn't.  It is one exercise that incorporates many elements of what properly learning to run should be.  But he is definitely spot on with this:

"Learn to run gently, and you can wear anything. Fail to do so, and no shoe — or lack of shoe — will make a difference."

So what say you?  Have a read through the article and let me know what you think.

PS - there is also a good video associated with the article explaining the 100-up drills so you see exactly what it entails.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Like Running With a Parachute and Pulley

The title probably doesn't quite make sense right off the bat here, so let me explain.  In high school track, we used to do some drills late in the season to both build power, focus on form, and increase our top end speed.  For some of these drills, we'd use parachutes attached to a belt around the waist and run 100m sprints down the track, while the parachutes would create extra resistance and allow us to focus on technique.  Obviously, these were the form and power component of the drills.

The other drill we'd do was one in which a bungee system was attached to one person at one end of the track and one person at the other end.  By having the person pull the other, it would create the effect of forcing the person being pulled to run faster than their natural legs would have them go.  The idea was to give the body a new stimulus of running faster than it is used to, stimulating your nervous system to adjust to the new speeds.  These were short (maybe 50m), but pretty effective.

Anyways, the reason I am describing these drills is because I experienced something similar to that effect while running with Tucker yesterday.  Most of the time, he generally runs within 1 ft of me, so there is minimal tension on his leash and we are both going about the same pace.  But occasionally, this ratio gets flipped upside down.  In some cases, he's like a rock I am dragging around (not that I am forcing him to do anything, its just that he needs a little encouragement to keep up!) and in others, he's like a bolt out in front of me and pulling me along.

So I've come to the conclusion that either of these scenarios isn't necessarily a bad thing for my running.  If he is behind me, I am building strength by having a bit of extra force pulling me in the other direction, so I can focus on form and driving my legs (especially on hills).  If he is out in front, he forces me to run a bit faster than normal, but with reduced effort since the force of him pulling me encourages faster running, which has a similar nervous system effect as the bungee drills.

Makes me wonder why I didn't have a dog to run with for all these's best friend, right?


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