Monday, February 27, 2012

Race Week Jitters

Well the time is finally here - race week!  The week I most look forward to (and dread).  While I love the preparation for a race, I don't enjoy the moments of anticipation and amount of unknowns associated with race week.  During regular training, its business as usual.  Diet remains strong (with an occasional cheat here and there) and you are allowed to run yourself ragged with tough workouts and fatigue.  But then everything shifts upside down on race week.  All that was once good is now evil.  Those hard workouts that make you tired, but fit - stay away from those!  That big bowl of ice cream you used to get for having run 13 miles of tempo work - you're gonna feel that on race day...every lb equals about 2s/mile you know...  So much focus into the minutia of every day - every decision has factor of whether or not it will be [insert choice of beneficial or negative] toward race day.  If yes, then proceed.  If not, then consider something else.

Its things like that, that I don't like so much about the whole race week vibe.  You try to avoid people like the plague so you don't risk getting sick, and you try to avoid excessive activity to prevent creating too much fatigue in your body, and you try to avoid eating too much so you don't gain extra weight for the lower activity levels.  But because you are doing less activity (while your body is still working like it is running 60 miles/week), these things are more difficult to manage.  I think race week is when taper madness truly sets in.  Its only Monday and I am already starting to feel very antsy.  By Friday, I will be in full blown bubble boy mode (ie Do Not Disturb, Race Prep in Progress).  You mean I only get to run 3-4 times this week?  Ugh!  That's how race week rolls.  Its different, but not so much in a good way, except for the act of racing, which only comes after you've survived the torment of everything leading up to it.

But then there is the glorious moment of Sunday afternoon when it will all be over and all this anticipation and effort will make it worth waiting for.  Crossing that finish line and once again confirming your ability to test yourself and your limits, makes the heart grow stronger and fire burn hotter than ever.  Where you return to what was formerly known as "normal" and you get go back to doing whatever you feel like doing and plotting the next big adventure.  Yea, I'm looking forward to that part - now if I could only just fast forward to that point right now.

Only 6 days to go....

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Now Its Really Time To Taper

When we last left off, I was in the midst of my Transition week and still had a 16 miler on tap for the weekend.  The good news is that I managed to eek out that last long run - albeit with a bit more effort than I was hoping for.  Not that I couldn't hit my paces, which were all on target, including the last 6 at marathon pace.  It was just getting over that last mental hurdle.  At this point in anyone's marathon training, the consistent requirement for the mind to stay active on tough workouts is probably the biggest drain on the body.  So knowing that this long run was the last hard workout kept me going. 

For me personally, I am trying my best to "reserve" those mental efforts for race day, where the term "digging deep" takes on a new meaning, making a big withdrawal from the Bank of Marathon.  Throughout my entire training cycle this go around, I have really devoted my mind to the task at hand.  The mantra that has stuck with me most is "No excuses".  Simply put - I want to be able to say that I have no excuses for my lack of effort leading up to this race.  I've executed every workout as planned, hit my paces, and done all the little things (ie stretching, strengthening, etc) to ensure a good race.  I have no excuses.  I just have to execute on race day based on my abilities and it will all fall into place.  At least, I wish it were as simple as that.  The reality is that race day always brings new surprises, so I can't be totally ready for everything.  But I can be as ready as possible, which brings me back to my mantra - "No excuses".

So here I sit, less than 2 weeks till race day.  Last night, I ran my last real tempo workout - 7 miles in 53 minutes, with about 20 minutes of actual tempo work and easy running on both sides.  Nothing special or all that fast compared to many of the other workouts I've gone through.  However, it felt tough.  I am in the midst of tapering, when seemingly easy runs like this that I had been doing in my sleep (not to mention 3x as long), can cause one to question your fitness.  I know my fitness is strong.  I don't need to "test" it and ruin the effect of the taper.  And despite probably a handful more of these kind of crappy workouts that will follow, I will continue to assure myself that all is ok.  It is just my body absorbing my training.  I had been running 6 days a week.  Last week, I ran 5 as part of my cutback in total volume from my max of 62 miles to about 45 miles (25% reduction).  This week, I may run 5 again - or 4 if I feel like I really need it with some light cross training and end up around 30 miles (50% reduction).  And then the last week is really just about moving the legs around with a few race paced miles thrown in to keep the mind happy.

So in these last 12 days, I can conclude with certainty that I've done the training - both mentally and physically more so than ever before.  I am stronger than I have ever been and more ready for a race like this than ever.  12 days to go.

I have no excuses - I am ready to race

Friday, February 17, 2012

Re-Defining The Marathon Taper

Ask anyone who's trained for a marathon before to tell you the thing they most looked forward to while training (aside from the race of course!).  I'm willing to be that their answer is the Taper.  You spend weeks and months building epic amounts of fitness through hundreds of thousands of footsteps - one after another after another with the sole purpose of being able to show up on race day to do your best.  So its no surprise that you look forward to the final drop off in training, where you can finally exclaim "The hay is in the barn!".  At that point, there really isn't much else you can do to get more fit.  You've done all the hard work to get to the point where you are - now you just have to let that work soak into your body and come out stronger and well rested for race day.  It all sounds so glorious.  But we all know its not. Taper madness anyone?

A traditional marathon taper last 3 weeks, so your last super long run is about 3 weeks prior to race day.  So you get through that final epic week of training, much of it motivated by finally getting to the taper, only to realize that Week 1 of the taper isn't really a taper at all.  I mean, it is less than you did during the peak week, but let's be real.  That first week is a fake taper, disguised as just another training week.  For me, it is a cutback of about 25% of my total volume from my peak week, but it is still pretty average relative to my weekly miles, not to mention the 16 miler I still have to run.  You can't just cruise that first week, because you still have quite a bit of quality workouts to go.

So what I'd like to propose is that we re-label this first week commonly associated with the taper, and call it the Transition week.  For me at least, associating taper with the first week makes me more mentally soft going into the workouts.  The feeling of focusing on recovery doesn't motivate me to work as hard and I often find myself struggling just to get out the door.  Nevermind the fact that I just completed two out of the last three weeks at higher volume than I've ever done in my life.  So adding the mental shift to recovery at this time seems to make it more difficult to get out any do the work I still need to do.  Calling it a Transition week at least starts putting the bug in your head that this is the time to start moving into the next phase, but you still have some solid work to accomplish.  At least that's the way I see it!

So from now on, I am referring to this first week as my Transition week.  The week between peak training and taper.  Next week will truly be the taper week we all come to love.  Of course, it is also during that time that those little aches and pains come out of nowhere and doubts start creeping into your mind of "did I train hard enough".  So maybe we'll have to scrap this whole taper thing alltogether.  We'll see.  I'm just going to take it one week at a time from here on out.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a 16 miler to complete tomorrow to close out of my Transition week...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How To Run Fast Without Overstressing Your Body - Advice From a Legendary Coach

I recently came across a quote from Jack Daniels (no, not that one) that went something like this:

"Your goal is create the least possible stress on your body that produces the maximum physiological benefits, not maximum stress to accomplish the same benefits"

In other words, don't run one second faster that necessary in your workouts.

Now I know what you are thinking: "But I love to just crush a killer track workout by exceeding my goal paces".  Sound familiar?  I see it a lot at the track or when talking to others about their workouts.  You can push yourself a lot harder in those track workouts than your goal pace, because they are short, which means you only need to focus for a little bit at a time.  And then there is that feeling of "beating" yourself by running faster.  In fact, I'd argue to most people SHOULD be able to crush their designated paces.  But I always go back to the old saying, "Just because you could, doesn't mean you should".  And in this case, that rings true more than anything.

When I train, I keep that quote always in the back of my head.  I say it over and over again, especially when I am feeling really good.  Least possible stress, maximum physiological benefits (say that 5 times fast!).  The point here is that your body needs to be stressed to make those changes happen, but assuming you are running at your designated paces, you'll get those benefits without feeling like you are going to throw up at the end.  

Oh, and lets not forget this advice doesn't just apply to the track.  It also applies to your tempo runs and your long runs, where one could argue it is even more important, as these are the workouts that most closely mimic race conditions.

Of course, it also depends on the purpose of your workout - whether you are training for the mile or for the marathon - the ratio and focus of what type of work you need to be doing differs.  So for simplicity sake, let's focus on 5k and up.  Because in most of these cases, people tend to run their paces too hard in training.  Let's look at a few examples, because I think people get some of this confused:

Vo2Max Work versus Threshold Work
For those of us training primarily for longer distance events (think 5k and up), getting in some good quality workouts at both of these efforts might be important.  However, the longer the distance, the less important one is over the other.  Regardless of that fact, most people tend to focus solely on Vo2Max.  Why?  Because they believe running hard should hurt, and believe that running comfortably hard but in control, isn't hard enough.  Or they just don't know the difference, so they run what their friend is running.  And that's the problem.

If you are running a 10k - you are pretty much running at what most would consider your threshold pace.  A 5k is a bit faster than that.  But a marathon is significantly slower.  So what do they all have in common?  They are being run something like 99%+ from your aerobic system.  So why then do people spend so much time doing Vo2Max work?  I think I just said it above - because they don't know the difference between that and Threshold pace or they still think they need to run those faster workouts as hard as possible to get through the entire workout. 

"Common running advice" in magazines would say that you should run your interval workouts at a pace you can sustain for each set without much variation in time across the workout.  In other words, your first and last sets should be about the same time.  If your last one is slower than your first one, you ran them too hard.  Well by that model, you'd be failing to follow the advice of Jack Daniels - Least possible stress, maximum physiological benefits.  This is because you'd most likely run it fast enough to handle to pace, but you'd create more stress than necessary, which may limit future workouts down the road.

This isn't to say that Vo2Max paced running is bad - there is a time and place for it in your workouts (to read about some benefits, click here), but in comparison to the other types of paces one typically trains at for these types of events, it is the least specific and the most likely to cause excessive fatigue or injury.  So while it is beneficial in that it helps recruit some more muscle fibers, it really should only constistute a tiny percentage of your work.  According to Jack Daniels, up to 8% of your total weekly volume.

So take an average person who is running 40 miles/week and you get no more than 3.2 miles of speedwork.  Yep - that's not much for those of you who regularly run.  Most marathoners do intervals/tempo sessions of much more miles - sometimes up to 6+ miles worth of work.  And to handle that kind of stress by this logic, you'd need to be holding 75 miles/week to stay within the 8% guidelines.  I frequently see people running nearly all of their intervals at those paces and I'm pretty confident they aren't running 75+ miles/week...just sayin'

Now let's talk for a second about Threshold pace, which is something right around your 10-15k pace - commonly referred to as "the pace you could run for an hour".  For more experienced runners, I say it is closer to 10k pace (assuming it takes you less than an hour), but for less experienced runners, let's stick with 15k (or close to 10 mile) pace or 1 hour, which ever is less.  With Threshold pace, you get many of the same physiological benefits as Vo2Max work, but without as much risk of injury or burnout.  You develop the ability to run at a fast pace for a longer period of time, which also boosts your psychological senses as well as providing you an endurance boost.  As a result, it gives you greater confidence in being able to hold a fast pace over a long time, without leaving you wiped in the fetal position when you are done.  But the challenge with running at Threshold pace is really being able to run hard, but not too hard.  And that is where a lot of people fail - which is exactly why I am writing this.

Remember - the purpose of these workouts is to stress lactate clearance, not to create an overwhelming amount of stress.  Otherwise, the purpose of the workout changes.

Find Your Pace
So how do you know what pace to run?  Well, there are tons of online calculators that are out there to help you figure that out.  Jack Daniels has the vDot system, which is what I follow. (I am not addressing race predictions based on these numbers, because that would be a whole other topic and this is getting long enough!)  But the key here is using your most recent RESULTS to determine your paces, not what your GOAL is or what your PR from 2 years ago was.  If it isn't recent, it isn't relevant to your current fitness state.  You can't teach yourself to run faster by running at paces that aren't within your level of fitness.  Otherwise, you risk overuse injuries and the inability to absorb the work from training at the appropriate paces and we get back to where we began this conversation - running workouts too hard.

So the moral of the story is - learn what paces you need to run based on your CURRENT level of fitness and train at those paces.  Not the ones you wish you could run and not the ones that your friend trains at.  And train at those paces and not a second faster, because all you are doing is making yourself work harder to get the same result as the guy (or gal) next to you, only they had the knowledge to run at the appropriate level without exceeding it.  

Wanna take a guess as to who will show up on race day with the more fresh feeling legs and better trained?

Hopefully, its you!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Motivational Monday

I don't tend to post too many motivational videos, but this one really caught my attention.  It is an interview with Billy Mills about this upset victory in the 10,000m at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.  Now what is most notable to me, is his description and recollection as he pages through his log book. 

Here was a guy, who was nearly 2 minutes slower than what was considered to be a winning quality time at his level, and he describes not only how he chunks up the little things to make sense of how to overcome that difference, but also the mental aspect.  Think about that for a second - can you in your mind make up the idea of improving your 10k time by 2 minutes?  Now consider that he was already at a world class level and he still had to improve that time by 2 minutes.  Yea, that is no joke.  Writing down in his log book and visualization of repeatedly telling himself - "I can do this" is what made the difference.  Instead of looking at this big picture of 2 minutes, he though of 1-2s per lap.  And it is a concept you can do to and apply it to anything.

As we each embark on our own journeys into whatever we seek out, its refreshing to see similarities in how we go about motivating ourselves.  You have to believe it if you want it to happen, no doubt.  Without the mind, your body will remain weak.  And Billy Mills was a perfect example of how to accomplish that concept of using his mind to make a vision become a reality.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

When Cyclists Attack

Here I was, out for a run with Tucker, when we came upon a situation.  At this section of the trail, to the right is a street with cars passing by and to the left is grass.  We were on the left, primarily to keep Tucker safe from the potential of cars, but also off the trail to make most use of available trail to those who might be passing from either direction.  Typically, standard trail protocol is to stay to the right, pass on the left.  Now mind you, this section only goes for about 100 yards, so after we clear that section, we go back to normal. 

So we're making our way, enjoying the nice day, when a cyclist approaches in front of us about 100 ft away.  He clearly sees us in our position and I kindly guesture to him to move over to the right (his left), where there was lots of trail space.  But he just continued spinning the pedals as if to prove a point that this is his trail and he ain't moving.  Well since he clearly wasn't going to move, I moved over with about 10 ft to go, but poor Tucker was scared by the oncoming cyclist, still pedaling toward us.  His sudden shock tripped me up and down I went to the ground all because this idiot cyclist refused to share the trail in a way that was safest for both of us.

Now let's pause for a second to think about what the conscientious person would do when witness to someone going down.  I would hope that you would dismount off your bike and make sure both myself and Tucker were ok or at least stop to act as if you didn't mean to make that happen.  I mean, you just ran 2 people off the trail because of your selfsihness to own the trail.  But that's not what happened....of course.

Small scrapes, but Tucker is ready to kill!
As I went down, I rolled to my side, only to see him look back at me while continuing to pedal and yell "Stay to the right".  Now needless to say, at this point, multiple four letter words were expressed at the cyclist.  I did a quick survey to make sure everyone was alright - Tucker was ready to get back to running and I just had a few scrapes, so on we went to continue our run and we were fine.  I was secretly hoping he was doing a lap, so I'd run into him again, but alas, we never did cross paths...

The moral of the story here is that some people are really inconsiderate of others on the trails.  Now I certainly ride my bike enough to know that not everyone follows proper etiquette of staying to the right, passing on the left.  But I also know that certain circumstances may constitute a slight tweak to those rules.  And in those cases, I'd  always try to communicate with those involved.  And in fact, others have done the same for me.  Mind you, I run on this section of trail multiple times a week with Tucker and have done the same exact thing without issue, whether it be other runners, walkers, cyclists, or roller bladers.  I stay to the left in that section so that Tucker can be off the trail to give others more space to move around us.  So I really don't think I was in the wrong.  This was also confirmed by his only response of "Stay to the right".  He clearly felt he owned the trail and everyone else should cater to him.

What would you have done - besides chase him down and have your dog bite him?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Other Notables From The Race

After I wrote up my race report, I forgot to call out a few other things I thought worth mentioning:

- I negative split the race as planned, running a 41:53 first half, followed by a 40:52 2nd half.  I think I might be most proud about accomplishing this.  Despite running slightly uphill and into a headwind on the way back, it shows that I was patient early on, but not slacking off.  You want a negative split, but if you have too much of one, you left too much out on the course.  I'd like to tighten the gap a bit, but I paced it based on my plan, so I can't fault myself there.  Next time, I'll plan for a closer negative split knowing better what I am capable of.

- I set a 10 mile PR in the race over the last 10 miles of the course.  My previous PR, also set during my last half marathon (must mean I need to actually race a 10 mile race, huh?) was 1:09:34.  And my standalone 10 mile race PR is a mere 1:11:17 - run nearly 2 years ago.  In this race, I covered the last 10 miles in 1:07:10.  So yea, a 2:24 PR in that distance...definitely need to step up my game on racing a 10 miler in the near future to better that!

- They released the official results and it appears that this race was pretty heavy with some solid runners.  Given the nice weather, I think a lot of people did exactly what I did and made sure the weather was going to cooperate.  And since there really aren't any other half marathons in the area this time of year, it seemed to bring out lots of people looking to get a solid race in.  57 people finished the race averaging 7:00/mile or faster, with the winner running a 5:27 avg pace...just a pedestrian jog if you ask me...

- I finished 42/469 and 15/68 in the 30-39 age group (or 7/37 if you consider the 30-34 age group).  In most local races, I tend to finish a lot higher in terms of overall percentage of racers (typically top 5-6%), but in this race I was right around top 9% overall .  Just shows how strong the depth of the field was. 

- When I wrote in my report that I was shocked at how many people went out hard, it now comes as no surprise, because a lot of them did run fast.  Even still, I'd estimate I passed about 40 people after the first 2 miles.  So you'd understand the shock I had in the race, when nearly 100 people were flying past me.  I was simply thinking no way there are that many people here running faster than me.  Sure enough, I was mostly right.  But still, lots of speedy racers out there!


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