Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Spring Racing Plans

I'm officially ready to declare my Spring 2013 racing plans.  Although I've been training pretty seriously for a few months now, I hadn't been committed to any race in particular yet.  I knew that I'd probably want to run a marathon in Spring 2013 and had been eying the race calendars for all my options.  With a little guy around, my list of requirements has increased significantly, such that I can't just willy-nilly pick any race that sounds good to ME.  I have to put family first, so that means a few things:
  • Speak to Rebecca about my thoughts to make sure she is on board.  
  • The race must be family friendly, so Rebecca and Z can take care of themselves while I am out on the course.
  • Relatively easy to travel to, to minimize the stress of getting to the race, and the number stops we might have to make in the event Z needs a car break.
  • Obviously, a course that gives the potential for a fast time.
  • Occurs in the month of March, so as to not get in the way of Rebecca's racing plans in April and doesn't disrupt coaching the =PR= DTPers.
  • Mid sized race, so it isn't too lonely out on the course.
  • Preferably a new course that I haven't run for the added excitement factor.
So as you can see, there are a few parameters to consider.  With that said, here are my list of finalists:
  • 3/10 - Lower Potomac River Marathon: Somewhat local and would give the family the option of staying home in the event that weather isn't ideal for outside spectating.  However, this could be a lonely race, as it is limited to only a few hundred participants.
  • 3/16 - B&A Trail Marathon: I ran this last year and liked it a lot, and is close enough to drive to the morning of the race.  However, it is very lonely in the 2nd half of the race for the marathoners and given the wind situation last year, I had to fight for those last 13.1 miles.
  • 3/16 - Rock n Roll USA: One of the closest options available, so the convenience factor is high.  However, I've run this race twice already, and it is now on the large side (25,000+), with a new, tougher course (IMO) with the climb up Rock Creek Park.  I'd be giving up a lot of my list for convenience.
  • 3/17 - Shamrock Marathon: A little bit further of a drive, and I've run it before.  However, I could reserve a hotel right in the middle of everything (start, finish, post race party), we'd be at the beach (weather permitting this would be nice), and I really enjoyed this race the last time, despite my late struggles with the wind.
  • 3/24 - Ocean Drive Marathon: Another option not too far away that provides a flat and fast course.  However, it is a point to point race that tends to have a headwind, and would not be family friendly.
  • 4/6 - Charlottesville Marathon - Close enough to drive down the morning of the race and it considered a scenic course.  However, is considered hilly (hence the word, scenic) is runs into April, which I am trying to avoid.
At the end of the day, I think this became a no brainer.  While I am tempted by local races (notice I didn't even consider Reston, as it looks to be both brutal and likely lonely for the 2nd lap), the appeal of well run races supersedes all.  And in this case, Shamrock is the best among the choices.  As an added bonus, a bunch of our DTP runners will be racing there too, so I'll have a chance to see lots of familiar faces out there.  So that's the plan!

I'm returning to VA Beach to avenge for my performance there 2 years ago with family in tow.  It'll be nice to get away too!

Anyone else planning on racing Shamrock?  If so, hope to see you there!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Back at the Track

With the kickoff of our Winter/Spring Distance Training Program (DTP) session, I've found myself back at the track the past 2 weeks.  In a lot of ways, the track feels like home to me.  It takes me back to the good old days in high school where all we did was run circles every day (save for the occasional "long run").  So when we get to go to the track to run now, its that one special day each week where I get to relive some glory and hopefully improve my fitness at the same time.  And in one respect, the nice thing about tracks is that they are pretty much all the same, regardless of where you go.  The best part about them - once you step on the surface, you just feel faster automatically.  Its like magic.  And, no hills or traffic to worry about.  Just you, the track, and your watch.  Life is just more simple on the track.

Of course, with the feeling of being faster comes the responsibility to exhibit some self control when running.  Simply put, it is just too easy to run WAY faster than you probably should be for the purpose of your workout.  In the case of all of our DTP runners, they are training for 10 milers, half marathons, and marathons.  So in all of these situations, nobody should be running all out like you might be if you were training for the mile or 800.  We're training for endurance events, not sprints.  And I'm guessing anyone reading this likely is as well.  So with that said, when you plan for a track workout, you should first consider the purpose of the workout relative to the race you are training for.  You see, not all workouts are created equal for different events, even if it is the same workout.  Let me explain.

Last night's workout was a fun one - but one that if done properly, shouldn't leave you trashed: 12 x 400m repeats.  A sprinter or middle distance runner on the other hand, may have a goal of running these as fast as possible.  But as distance runners, we'd never be using the speed of running that fast in a 10 miler all the way up to a marathon, so why focus a workout around it?  That's why we need to exercise caution.  We want to train to the demands of the event (ie specificity).

Now what most people will do, despite the cautionary explanation at the beginning of the workout given to all runners, is hammer the first half of the 400s and hang on for the last half or cut the number of reps short due to feeling sluggish or too tired by the end.  The purpose of a workout like this for distance runners is two fold:

1) Running fast helps encourage proper form, mechanics, and coordination.  By covering nearly 3 miles with adequate rest between each rep, you give your body a solid support boost of what proper running should feel like.  This helps strengthen all the muscles, tissues, and ligaments without overloading them like we do on  some of the other workouts throughout the week.

2) Running shorter, faster intervals introduces lactate into your system only a little bit at a time, allowing you to start teaching your body how to handle it, without introducing too much, since the interval only lasts a few minutes at most before the recovery period allows you to recover.  As the intervals progress in distance throughout the season, recovery periods shorten and speed slows just a bit, which will enable your body to be better accustomed to these workouts and processing lactate.

So in a workout like 12 x 400, the goal is not to run these as fast as possible.  The goal is to run them as fast as possible, while maintaining good form and control in each and every interval.  If you are feeling good, you can progress the pace of these by starting around 10k pace and bringing it down toward 3k pace.  I broke each set of 3 reps into buckets with goal paces, progressing down with the passing of each group.  While I started out a bit faster than planned, my effort remained controlled and I never felt like I forced my effort.  Below is how each set played out for me:

1-3: 1:28, 1:26, 1:27
4-6: 1:26, 1:26, 1:25
7-9: 1:24, 1:25, 1:23
10-12: 1:23, 1:22, 1:21

Pretty steady progression down, with an average of around 1:24-5.  I finished feeling like I had just run a workout, but not overly beat.  If I had more work to do in the workout, I could have kept going without feeling like I'd sacrifice recovery for my long run on Saturday.  And that's the key - don't sacrifice your other workouts because you ran too hard it one.  One workout does not a training plan make.  It is the collective sum of the work that matters, so you could have killer track sessions, but unless you are putting in quality elsewhere, its simply not going to pay off on race day.  Looking at the Jack Daniels Running Calculator, I was pretty much within range of where I should be:

Can't wait till next week when we get to do it all over again, of course in the form of a different workout (reps of 800s).

What about you - are you a big track lover or a track hater?  Or do you love to hate the track???

Monday, November 5, 2012

Running When The Sun Don't Shine

Ask any endurance athlete who is also a parent when they do their training and I bet you'll find a common answer - the early morning.  Its no doubt that the secret to making it all work in the early years of a parenthood is finding the time when there is none to give.  And for most, that tends to occur before the sun comes up.  For me, I enjoy getting my workout done for the day so I don't have to worry about the timing (or lack thereof) of nutrition, stressing about other conflicts that may come up, and most importantly, spending time away from my family.  When I get home from work, I like being able to relax, hang out with Rebecca and the Z-man, and be....normal.  Occasionally, I'll get a 2nd run or in the event that I missed my morning run, I may hop on the treadmill late at night, but I prefer to just get it done when I know I have the time - 1st thing in the morning.

I wasn't always a morning workout person though.  I've gone back and forth over the years between morning vs evening workouts.  And while I am a morning person, I always enjoyed having something to do after work.  Well now that we have a family, that something to do after work is being together.  But I just have to laugh when I look back to my transition into this way of life.  Shortly after Z was born, I took to the early morning workouts by ensuring I was running by no later than 6 am.  In those days, the most I'd be able to get in would be about 4 miles, due to having to get back home, eat, shower, help get Z ready, and commute a solid 1-1:30 hr each way.  And 4 miles is clearly not enough for someone training for endurance events.  So I started chipping away at that early time.  6 am became 5:45, which became 5:15, which became 4:45, and finally where I am today - 4:30 am.  Can I go earlier?  Probably, but I'm not sure I need to just yet.

What I found is that early is early no matter how you slice it, so if you are going to make the effort to get up early, you might as well make it so you have enough time that it is worth the investment.  So while this transition to earlier times has taken a few months, it is now part of my regular schedule.  I clearly didn't go from no morning workouts to 4:30 am in 1 week.  It simply wouldn't have been sustainable.  It took a gradual transition to incorporate little changes over time, but it also took my strong desire to get it done.  Without that, no plan will succeed.  But what I've learned in the process is that I can now find enough time to get in at least one weekday run of 10+ miles.  In fact this past week, I ran 11 all easy miles under the star light sky.  If I dial up some tempo miles in the near future, I know I can stretch that to 13-14 miles.  And really, during the week, there is no reason to go much further than that.  At least for me right now.

But what I do know is that with the confidence of being able to get 10+ miles done on any given day, I am ready to start looking at Spring marathons again.  Now if only I could pick one, then we'd have real progress.

Monday, October 22, 2012

So You Want To Run Faster? Prove It

I pains me time after time to see runners making the same common mistakes and be that as it may, I can't help everyone.  But I do try to as much as I can, because I want people to succeed and enjoy running as much as I do.  And I'm not just talking about newbies either.  One of the most commonly violated "rules" of training and racing is how one goes about determining your pace.  I am going to focus on the marathon, simply because this would be too long to cover other distances.  However, whether for the 5k or the marathon, I don't differentiate the process.

In order to be a consistent runner, and a consistent runner is typically the one who gets faster, it is important to stay on top of the choices you make - the key being not making training/racing errors.  And when I see runners frequently determine their goal racing paces based on training paces and/or training paces based on goal racing paces, it makes me want to jump in and say something.  You see, it simply doesn't work that way.  If you're lucky, you don't hurt yourself.  Conversely, you can dig yourself quite the hole.

Let's look at both ways people go about this process and why it doesn't work, and then talk about how you can determine your paces in both training and in racing.

Determining Goal Pace Based on Training Results
Simply put, training is exactly that - a means to an end to get your body prepared to race.  The vast majority (approx 80%) of your weekly training should consist of easy running.  So there should be no reason why you'd be able to tell from your training results that you are ready to run at a given pace.  Some people however utilize different training protocols (think quality over quantity), so your experience may seem to differ in terms of the amount of easy running you do.  Either way, running 80 miles/week  of quantity isn't going to tell you anything more than 30/miles of quality.  It just means that those 30 miles probably have a lot more "work" as a percentage of the total volume in the week.  But at the end of the day, they both produce a stimulus and your body responds by (hopefully) getting more fitness.

Aside from a handful of workouts one can do to simulate a race, no amount of results in training will typically help you determine your paces.  Now that said, that doesn't mean those simulation workouts don't have value.  Those are critical workouts one SHOULD do at KEY times to determine if your potential goal paces are in line with your fitness.  However, simulation workouts need only be executed 1-2 times in a whole training cycle, and not more frequently.  They don't give you the fitness gains you seek from training, so while they serve the point of helping you determine if you are race ready (physically and mentally), they don't necessarily make you more fit.  Specifically in the case of marathon training, running marathon pace is too slow to give you big fitness gains and too fast to serve the same purpose of your long runs of teaching your body to become more efficient at burning fat.  That is why you should save those marathon paced miles for as you approach race day in the last month or so of training and not many months out.  Simulation workouts need to be scheduled at strategic times, so they don't take away from the quality work you could be doing to give you big fitness gains early on.  Otherwise, you should be training at your training paces.

Determining Training Paces Based on Goal Racing Paces
Let's say you ran a 4:15 marathon last year and now you really want to run a sub-4, so you arbitrarily say you are going to train at 4 hr marathon paces.  You go onto the McMillan calculator and out spits your paces and off you go training.  This happens time after time and despite many attempts to inform others that it doesn't work like this, it seems the concept of arbitrarily determining one's paces is more popular than ever.  Even though one might surmise that someone who ran a 4:15 could improve to run a sub-4 with solid training, you simply can't just change your paces and hope things work.  Your body doesn't work like that, especially when we talk about the marathon.  The specificity of requiring your body to utilize fat as fuel is the key here.  Below are the 2 sets of paces for reference:

Now, the first thing I'll note is that the Long Run Pace provides a difference of about 30s/mile.  For most people, this difference will not prevent someone from hitting those paces.  But more specifically, you'll see that those pace ranges overlap quite a bit due to the very large pace range provided by the calculator (Quick aside - One of the problems I have with the McMillan calculator for use is that even at 3:45 marathoner still has a range that overlaps with the 4:15 marathoner.  I strongly recommend checking multiple calculators and taking an average, not just from a single source because they all use different algorithms.)  So while this person might be able to run 9:45/mile for their long runs, it doesn't mean they are ready to run a 4 hr (or a 3:45) marathon.  But most commonly, they will be lulled into the false sense that they can.  For many people, the long run is THE key run of the week.  So long as they get this run done on pace, it seems their marathon training is on track.  But the reality is there are so many other elements, more specifically total weekly work to include both volume AND intensity.  Simply running all your long runs at 9:45/mile isn't going to prepare you to run a marathon at the required 9:10/mile pace for a 4 hr marathon.  All that other stuff matters too.

Now let's take a look at another element of running calculators that many overlook in this process - predicted race times.  At the top of each example above, you'll see the equivalent performances at various distances.  So for the 4:15 marathoner, they likely can run a 54:21 10k, while the 4:00 marathoner can likely run a 51:09.  Here is where the math rarely adds up for those who select their training/goal paces.  Did the 4:15 marathoner drop 3+ minutes from their 10k (or any other equivalent distance) in order to justify the change in paces?  Probably not.  Now realize, that some people run faster at longer distances than shorter ones.  So while there may be a discrepancy between a runner's 10k time and their marathon time, most commonly, runners perform better at shorter distances in these prediction tools than they do at longer ones.  Even still, for that 15 minute bump down in goal time, I'd expect someone to be able to run a 10k closer than 3:00 of what the calculator might predict.

How to Properly Identify Your Goal Paces
So now that we agree that both methods simply don't give someone an accurate picture of what their goal paces are, what is one to do to make sense of this all?  Well, it comes down to the planning and laying out of the training period to make sure one incorporates races and/or time trials to "prove" their fitness.  Want to run faster than your current paces?  Prove it by running an equivalent time faster than you currently are slotted at and then you can adjust your training paces and race expectations.  For the marathon, you have several options that I'd recommend:

  • 5k time trial - 5ks serve as the perfect fitness indicator.  Short enough that they don't take away from your weekly marathon training, but long enough that you are less likely to be able to fake your fitness like you can in shorter time trials like 1 mile, Yasso 800s, or less.  While there is going to be a difference between what goal pace you should predict for the marathon simply due to the fact that most runners perform better at shorter distances, I use 5k time trials early in the training period to prove my fitness and adjust paces based on my performance.
  • 10k time trial - 10ks also serve as a useful measuring stick for marathoners, since they give a slightly better indication of ones fitness for the marathon than the 5k does.  The 10k may take an extra day or so of recovery from an all out effort, but it can be a useful tool in the same way the 5k is - to predict training paces and prove fitness improvements.  I like to schedule a 10k in the middle of the marathon build, after a few 5ks have been done.  This can help validate or give someone food for thought if any training adjustments might be necessary to meet a goal. 
  • Half marathon - The half marathon is going to give a marathoner the best indicator of a prediction time, as it is the longest distance race I'd recommend before a marathon.  Anything longer raced hard and you seriously risk compromising valuable training time.  A hard fought half marathon, may take up to a week to recover from, but I find I can get back into the groove after 3-4 days of easy running.  While still never a definite predictor of marathon performance, you are less likely to deviate too far from your marathon prediction.  I like to put a half marathon in there 4-6 weeks out from the race.  By this point, you are far enough out that any issues can still be resolved, but not so close to the race that you compromise carrying fatigue into the race.
So when you combine any combination of the above testing protocols and executing those paces in your training, while also scheduling a simulation workout or two as you get closer to your race, you are nearly guaranteed to know and trust in your paces.  No going into race week/day guessing, no race day "magic", no frustration after your race from not adequately preparing for your race.  It is nice to go into a race knowing what you are capable of and that you did everything you could do to  make race day a success.  Without that, you are simply one of those lost souls out there on race day trying to "figure it out".  Don't be that be that runner!

So those are the methods I recommend runners use to identify your goal paces.  Convinced you're faster than your predictions say?  Go out and prove it the right way!


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