Monday, September 30, 2013

Race Report: Perfect 10 Miler

Once the temperatures start dropping in the morning after a long, hot, humid summer, you start to realize the fitness gains throughout those hard fought sweaty miles.  Fall racing season is upon us and it was about time to kick things off by racing the Perfect 10 (which also offers a 10k), a relatively hilly race put on by =PR=

With 5 weeks to go until the NYC Marathon, now is the perfect time to check in on my fitness.  And the only way to truly test that fitness is by racing. The purpose of running a longer tune up race 4-6 weeks out from a marathon is primarily to make sure your goals are in check with the state of your fitness.  It also helps to try and simulate some of the same things you'll be doing on race day (nutrition, gear, etc).  By proving you can race at an equivalent performance (this can be validated against a running calculator) in a slightly shorter distance, you are proving your goal paces are right in line for an equivalent performance at the marathon distance.  And while a shorter race will never exactly correlate to a longer one, you should be in the ballpark.  If you race slower or faster than expected, it means you have a few weeks to reevaluate your goals and adjust accordingly. 

Running Buddies (me, Jeff, Jess, Natasha, Meghan) post-race
Race morning brought about perfect Fall conditions - 50 degrees, clear, and no wind.  With the hills on the course, we didn't need any added factors to slow us down.  About an hour or so before the race, I met up with a bunch of my running buddies for a warm up.  I quickly learned that Jess was planning to race at a similar pace and Jeff was going to cruise along at his marathon-ish pace too, so that meant I'd have some company.  The more the merrier!  We ended up doing about 2.5 mi of mostly easy warm up running.  I ran a couple of race paced pickups about 5-10 minutes before the start.  Other than that, it was just a chill start before the race.  I was nervous to prove to myself of the fitness I knew I had, mainly because I didn't know how my body was going to respond with a hard effort in the midst of peak marathon training.  I knew I should be able to PR, since my previous 2 PRs have been during 13.1 races.  However, my legs had felt pretty heavy all week, coming off 2 out of the last 3 weeks where I ran some rather speedy 22 milers.  I was hopeful for some race day magic in my legs and a chance to prove my fitness.

The Race
10k/10Milers are off!
After lining up and chatting for a few minutes, the gun suddenly went and we were off running.  A bit surprised by the sudden start, we inched toward the line and hit our watches right as we crossed.  Both races started at the same time, so it was difficult to determine the 10k runners vs the 10 mile runners.  However, it was nice to have company along the route.  It was only until Mile 5 or so when we learned who was running the 10k, as most of those runners sped up toward the finish, while we settled into our steady pace.

Miles 1-5 
Cruising downhill through Mile 5 with Jess
The entire course was rolling hills, but the 1st mile started on a bit of a downhill, so most runners went out a bit fast.  Reviewing my splits show the first .5 mi of the race run at about 6:15/mi, but at about that same point, we hit a steep uphill to bring us back to finish out Mile 1 in 6:28.  Once over that hill, my pace again shot down into the 5:45/mi range as we were thrust down a steep grade before entering the start of a longer uphill grind for the next 1.25 mi.  Once we settled into the even effort on the climb, we just kind of locked in.  It was nice having friends shooting for a similar pace range, as we all knew to stay in control and stick together.  Mile 2 came through in 6:31 and we slowly crested the last bit of the climb.  The next section of the course was the one I told myself would be the most challenging: a nice short, steep downhill, into a steep 1/4 mi uphill, followed by another short steep downhill, followed by a longer .5 mi steep climb.  I crested the first steep uphill and hit Mile 3 in 6:32.  I knew that if I could get through that tough stretch and recover on the next downhill, I'd have the legs to make it through the rest of the race.  Only 4 miles into the race, but a lot of tough hills already conquered.  Mile 4 was run in 6:36 and my legs felt like jello.  I used the next mile of rolling (more down than up) to shake out and try to re-gain my composure.  I crossed Mile 5 in 6:26 feeling really good still and ready for the 2nd half of the race.  Toward the end of Mile 5, we split off with the 10k runners, so a few people who had started surging made their exists while we all cursed them for being done.  Meanwhile, we started the longest climb of the course.

Miles 6-10
Mile 6 - Jeff leading the pack, me in the middle, Jess right behind
Moving steadily through the uphill section of the course, I spotted Rebecca and Z there cheering us on.  It was a great pick me up and got me through a tough mental spot in the race.  Mile 6 was hit in 6:32.  Our little pack was still together at this point and we were all working to encourage a steady effort up the 1.5 mi climb.  The climb started steep, but then became a consistently steady uphill with only a few short flatter sections.  We finally crested the major uphill section, but were starting to split apart.  The grind of the climb definitely was a tough one and with only a short downhill, followed by another steep climb, the course was unforgiving.  I knew we had a long downhill coming, but I struggled a bit with the last climb before it.  Mile 7 was 6:42 - I knew all the hard work was done, with less than 5k left and more downhills to push onward. 

Pushing up one of the final hills
While I would have liked to run some of these downhills a little harder, my hamstrings were fatigued from the hills and I didn't want to risk any cramps, so I held back a bit.  But don't worry, I was still moving.  The downhill was so steep that I hit my fastest stretch of running on the day, topping out at 5:14/mi, while still holding back.  Yep - that was a steep downhill!  Of course what goes up must come down (and vice versa).  That steep downhill rolled right into another .25 mi climb, which would be the last real climb of the day (thank goodness!).  I hit Mile 8 in 6:34 and started picking up the pace a bit as the course started heading more downhill.  While heading downhill, we took a sharp left taking us closer toward the finish and I could hear the announcer and music.  I crossed Mile 9 in 6:20 and picked up the pace some more.  I knew where we were now - heading right back to the school where we run all of our track workouts for the training program.  Unfortunately, we had to run a bit of an out and back before heading down to the track for the finish.  The out and back included a 180 degree turn on a slight downhill (meaning uphill on the return) about .25 mi from the finish, which threw a bit of a wrench into my pace.  I quickly rounded the cone and tried to surge to get back up to speed and weaved through a number of 10k runners who were also headed toward the finish with a quick dump out on the track for the last .1 mi.  I heard my name over the speakers get announced and I just ran steady through the finish.  Mile 10 (and change, since I ran a little extra due to not hitting exact tangents) was 6:10.  As I got closer, Rebecca snapped a photo of me as I narrowly missed sub-65.

Bringing it home!
Final Time: 1:05:05
Avg Pace: 6:30/mi
Overall Place: 23/520; 19/224 Men
AG Place: 3/33

Post Race Thoughts
  • This race answered my inner voice and confirmed I am right on track for where I hoped I'd be.  I actually ran a bit faster than expected, not even factoring the peak training load my body is under.  All this points to keep doing what I am doing for the next 5 weeks.  Mission accomplished!
  • The entire group earned some Age Group awards.  It was pretty cool to be able to celebrate a hard earned effort with awards all around.
  • Nothing beats running buddies when it comes to racing.  Whether its the pressure to not let them down or to keep up with them, racing with others you know is a good thing.  I'm pretty sure I would have run a bit slower if I didn't have them to stick with me.  I probably would have gone out a bit slower/more conservative.
  • I'm happy with the way I ended up executing my race.  I turned in a 15s negative split (32:40/32:25), which is pretty close to an ideal race, especially given the hills.   
  • This race result shows that my fitness has improved since running the Brooklyn Half.  My race correlates to about a 1:26 half marathon.  I could have run a 21:00 5k (6:45/mi) for the last 3 miles and still come in at 1:26:xx.  This was on a more challenging course in my opinion, so I am pretty confident that my fitness is quite a bit better than it was in May.  All of this bodes very well for New York.
Age Group winners!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Things I Don't Get

As someone who works with a variety of different athletes, I've got the bases covered on the different reasons people train.  While most people train to push their limits, what that actually means can equate to a wide range of motivations.  Everything from completing a new distance to setting a PR to not getting hurt; these are all valid reasons people train.

However, at the same time, there are a number of things that I simply don't get.  And while I support any method that gets one moving, I am constantly reminded of the premise of this article, which is probably why I don't get the things I am about to mention.  To me, it isn't about the slowing down of race times, which has nothing to do with the assumption that we are getting slower.  The slowing down in actuality might have more to do with a larger sample size of participants and the fact that many of these runners are people who might not have participated in running races previously due to it being a fringe sport.  We now find running as a sport that accepts people of all speeds and levels of experience, so we see a large participant base of runners just starting the sport spread across many more races that now exists, hence slower times. 

However, to me this article hits on the concept that many people aren't just into training for and running a given race.  And I agree with that.  Many see this as the anti-competitive runner mindset.  Their schedules are filled with races with little to no interest in finishing them in a given time.  Or in some cases, they aren't even "races".  To them, the goal is to complete them all.  This is nothing new though.  The Marathon Maniacs have been around for a while now.  This is just another spin off that same general mindset of quantity over quality.  Anyways, my point is that whether you like it or not, people get into the sport of running for a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with performance and others are on the exact opposite of the spectrum.

I get the idea and hear many runners say it all the time: "We'll I'm not competitive, so I do races for fun."  While I agree that there are many alternatives to competitive racing, I think many of these people fail to understand that everyone CAN be competitive.  To me, running isn't about what others are doing.  Your race results aren't defined by how everyone else did (unless you are racing to win, which most of us are not).  Your results show how you are able to be competitive with yourself against your own times.  Everyone can set a PR.  Being competitive with yourself means training to beat that time.  I just want to make sure people are clear - being a competitive runner has nothing to do with speed or place.  It has to do with a mindset and how you approach your training.

So while I understand many of these non-competitive reasons and motivations, I just don't get most of the actions these runners take or for that matter, actions some competitive minded runners make.  Here are just a few off the top of my head:

  1. Training Marathons - While there is a time and a place for putting races in the middle of a training cycle, some runners take training races to a whole new level.  For example, when training for a marathon, there is no reason to run a full marathon before your race.  This may sound foolish to those who know better, but so many people are under the false assumption that you need to run 26.2 miles before your actual marathon.  You simply are putting too much risk of injury into a single workout, while also compromising future training as a result of the recovery time needed after the race.  What results is a sub-par marathon performance in your training race, sub-par training because you need to factor in recovery, and likely a sub-par goal marathon because of a lack of optimal training.  At the end of the day, you end up with less than optimal results and potential injury.  In my eyes, if you are training to do well at a race, do it right.
  2. Streaking - I know many people who are oddly proud of their impressive run streaks dating back years or in some cases decades.  That's great, but I don't see how a streak serves any purpose other than forcing you to compromise your health at the expense of continuing with a streak.  I've known people who run through stress fractures to keep their streak alive and/or received them as a result of continual stress from run streaks.  Your body is always sending feedback about how it feels.  Refusing to listen to it will always result in one thing - injury.  Count me on the list of people who tries to avoid the "i" word as often as possible.  So while I'm all for non-performance goals, streaking is one of them that I believe encourages ignoring the signals your body gives you and can lead you down the wrong path.
  3. Multiple Race Events - Popularized by the Goofy Challenge, and now the even more ridiculous Dopey Challenge, the whole goal of these events is to complete the races.  Nobody can run them competitively (and I mean this in terms of your own relative best as mentioned above), so we are again faced with another situation of doing what you can to not get hurt.  After shelling out so much money to both participate in the events and stay reasonably close, it seems like such as waste to jog a 5k, 10k, and half marathon, only to hope your body is still capable of supporting you for another 26.2 miles.  Not only do you get 4 medals for each race, but you actually get 6 (!) because you get the Goofy and Dopey Challenge medals as well.  Talk about a medal obsessed culture!  If you are interested in running a long distance over an extended period of time, why not sign up for an ultra?  Seems to make more sense, since you'd pay a whole lot less.  Then again, you'd only get a buckle or something less blingy, so there's that.
  4. Running Faster Than Planned in Workouts - This doesn't have to do with non-competitive types, but more of a general observation of something I don't get.  Some people don't have an idea of what paces they should be running, so they just do what others do or they simply run faster than planned to show how they "killed it".  Wrong.  Running faster than planned, no matter if it is an easy run or speedwork means you won't get the desired training benefit of the workout.  What do you get?  More stress on your body than you bargained for and a bragging instagram photo as your #proof. If you have a plan, stick to it.  Goal paces aren't meant to be "beaten".  If you constantly beat them, you are either running your workouts too hard or you don't have realistic goals.  Either option isn't great.
I'm sure there are lots more that I could list, but you get the idea.  In my mind, this is why coaches exist: To encourage you to achieve your goals, while still keeping running fun.  I'm not saying all training has to be serious.  I simply mean that many runners would be better off listening to someone who knows what they are doing, rather than trying to do it themselves or copying what others do.  Each person is an individual requiring individual approaches.  Most of us lack the self awareness to train the right way without giving in to the temptation to do what everyone else is doing.  Train smart and be consistent is all I like to say.  The rest is just details.

Are there any other things about runners that you just don't get?

Friday, September 13, 2013

Digging Out of The Grind and Starting to Feel Race Ready

When you're training for a marathon or any endurance event that causes you to create a large amount of fatigue, it seems logical to think about the workout you're executing and trying to correlate THAT workout to your race.  Often times, we seek instant gratification that what we are doing today will pay off tomorrow.  Unfortunately, training with this mindset often results in a constant war between your mind and your body to keep improving in the form of faster paces for every workout.  And while you should see a general progression toward faster paces as you get closer to race day, you can't simply force it.  The whole point of a training cycle is to stress the system appropriately so that you can improve your fitness and peak when it comes time to race.  Training is a process and an art, so it is never as simple as "If I do this workout, it means I'll be able to run my race in this time".  We know better than to turn a piece of art into a simple formula, but many of us do.  Those running calculators and predictors help guide you, but they will not guarantee you anything.  You have to work for it, day in and day out, over the course of a training cycle (or multiple training cycles) to teach yourself how to race.  And for those with ambitious goals, it is ever so important to do this a few times throughout the training cycle so you know you are on the right path.  However, the emphasis is on a few times, not every workout.  I've written before about feeling race ready and creating a confident athlete, both of which will help you get to where you need to be to know you are on the right path, so I won't delve back into that area. 

When I last posted, I was in "the grind", churning away those workouts, but a bit lost, as I was too far away from my race to feel the urgency, but close enough to know that every workout mattered.  Well I'm happy to say that I believe I am on my way toward exiting that feeling.  Some days, it really does feel tough to get out there.  Others, I'm hitting the pavement without thinking.  So how did I get there?

First, I've had a few runs that went extremely well, giving me the confidence I needed to know I'm moving in the right direction.  Second, the weather appears to be finally cooling off a bit, renewing my sense of enjoyment in being out in nature.  Its no surprise that these two things go hand in hand.  This is now the time to start reaping the reward for plowing through sweaty, humid miles all summer.  Our bodies have become efficient at dealing with the heat and humidity, so cooler weather brings more efficiency at the same paces or faster paces at the same effort, both of which are huge benefits. 

With a quick shot of cooler weather last weekend (of course, immediately followed by extreme heat, but I digress), I set out with some running buddies for a 22 miler.  Now these weren't just any running buddies.  They were some runners I admire for many reasons, the least of which for the fact that they are fast by anyone's definition.  They are all real people with real lives, and can make any long run feel like a short jog around the block.  This was just what I needed with a tough 22 miler planned.

Meghan, Jeff, and Jess (they were too cool for me and took a photo of themselves later)
 I knew we'd be running faster than what I'd typically be running if doing this solo, but had a race simulation workout in mind, where the bulk of my miles would be at or close to my goal marathon pace, which happens to be Meghan and Jeff's easy pace (and probably slower than they'd be running if they were running solo).  This run helped me not only to break the cycle of grinding out long runs, but also truly restore my confidence in my fitness.  I never pushed the effort on this run and simply felt strong the whole way, even with a few miles that might have happened to sneak a 6:xx in there.
Probably one of my best long runs ever
So while I hope to race at a bit faster paces, this was all done in the midst of some high mileage training.  My legs were nowhere close to fresh and I had only taken two days completely off in the previous 3 weeks.  I've been putting in the work, staying consistent, and getting it done.  I KNOW I am moving in the right direction and now it seems like race day is inching closer.  With only 5 more weeks of training, I've got some killer workouts planned, but nothing I don't think I can execute.  Just have to take it one workout at a time, and not read too much into the result of each or any of them.  I know where my fitness is, and it is exactly where I want it.


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