Monday, April 28, 2014

Race Report: Rockstar 5k

With Shamrock now in the past and the distant memories of the marathon starting to fade, I wanted to get down to business of seeing where my fitness is.  I mentioned in my last post that I was looking to race some shorter distances, so what better than to race a 5k only a mile from my house?  Well, aside from knowing the hilly course all too well, there wasn't much to argue against, so I signed up a few days before the race to see what my legs had in them.

Pre-Race
After a quick packet pickup, I went for a 2 mi warm up about an hour before the race.  I ran into a running buddy who was also headed out for his warm up, so we ran together and caught up on things.  Just nice easy paced running and good conversation.  We split off after the 2 miles and I went to do a couple of strides to finish out the warm up.  I took the next 15 or so minutes to relax, chat with some friends, and stay loose.  With about 15 minutes to go, I threw on my racing shoes to do a few more race paced strides and then jogged back over to the start line where folks were lining up.  Since this was a =PR= Trophy Series race, I knew there would be some competition, so I placed myself about 3 rows back from the front.  In hindsight, I probably could have put myself on the line or at least 1 row back, given how I placed.  Oh well, live and learn.

That's me, 3 rows back.  And yes, Rory's got a kitten tank/tights combo going on!

Race
With the magic "Go" word spoken, we were off...except I got an elbow in the side of my chest trying to move around the 4 people in front of me within the first 50 feet.  So much for placing myself well!  After about 100 yards, we make a right for another 100 yards, and then its out of the town center and onto the main roads for the rest of the race.  That turn onto the road is followed by a 1/2 mile downhill, into a 3/4 mile uphill (I mentioned this was a hilly race!).  So I knew I could let my legs go on the down and just try to lock in the effort once we hit the up.  Flying downhill, I glanced down to see myself running around 5:15/mi, which is around where I figured I'd be.  Then we started the uphill grind and that pace slowly creeped back to reality.  By the time we hit the hill, I was essentially in no man's land.  All the super fast guys were way out front and I was running solo with a couple of people I could hear behind me.  While I was racing for time against myself, its always easier if there others to pace off and keep you in check.  I hit Mile 1 in 5:43 and came to the realization that I was likely out there to run the rest of the race solo.

Still grinding up that hill, I finally approached the turn, but being familiar with the course, knew I still had another tenth of a mile to continue up.  The rest of Mile 2 was essentially a rollercoaster, with a few smaller bumps, but a big downhill, followed by another big uphill.  I was hurting, but calmed myself by repeating, "If you feel like death halfway into a 5k, then you're racing it right".  While that sounds terrible, its the truth.  5ks are so short, but they seem like an eternity.  As I crested the last uphill of the mile and tried to open up my stride on the down and get a breather before the next hill, I got hit with a decent headwind on the down.  I noticed it while I was out on the warm up, but was hoping it would be gone during the race.  It wasn't terrible like Shamrock, but it was about 10 mph per the weather, which is enough to make you hurt that much more.  Shortly before starting the next roller, I crossed the Mile 2 marker in 5:47.  It was at this point where I noticed I probably wasn't running the tangents very well, since my watch went a few seconds before I got to the mile marker.

The last mile is by far the hardest on the course.  As a whole, Mile 3 is always the most difficult in a 5k, but on this course it is virtually all uphill.  The legs are already burning and you just want to be done.  I struggled on the hill here, but I gave it what I could.  In the middle of the hill, 2 guys came moving past me, which motivated me to keep pushing a bit harder, but I couldn't go with them.  I kept them in my view, but they came and went pretty quickly.  I didn't think they'd be in my age group either, so my thinking at the time was to let them go and try to not blow up in the middle of the hill.  It was at this point with about 1/4 mile to go in the uphill, that I had all those crazy thoughts, like pulling off the course and calling it a day.  I had to slap my head for thinking that one up.  2.5 miles into a 5k and I want to quit?  How stupid is that!?!?  Again, I used those crazy thoughts as validating that I was racing hard.  Gasping for air, I finally crested the hill and tried to burn out the legs toward the finish.  I had another .1 mile to go before turning back into the town center for the last bit of the race.  My Mile 3 split was 6:05 and I worked every second of it.

Last 100 yards or so - not the greatest pic, but they never are :)
When my watch beeped, I realized that I really didn't do a good job on the tangents in that last mile, because those few seconds were now more than a few!  Not that I had much time to think about it at that point, since I was so focused on just finishing, so I just put my head down and ran hard through to the finish line.  As I crept closer to the line I could see the clock inching closer to my current PR and I decided at that moment to give it just a little more to make sure I set a new PR on the day.  As I ran through the finish, I saw 18:35 on the clock and figured I had at least a 1-2s delay from crossing the mat, so I knew I had set a PR.  I just wasn't sure by how much.  I covered the last bit of the race at 5:38/mi pace, which I was glad to get my pace back down to.  Turns out, that was my official time, so I PR'd by 3s on a much tougher course than the previous PR.

Final Stats:
Time: 18:35
Pace: 5:59/mi
Overall: 10/386
Gender: 10/156
Age Group: 3/23

Speedy 30-34 Age Group
My only regret on the race is that I ran 3.17 miles on the race, which means I really did a poor job of nailing the tangents.  The course has a lot of turns and I wasn't always sure where the measurements would have been done to get the shortest distance.  There were a few sections of the course that had shoulders in the road on a curve, so maybe the measurement was done in the shoulder?  The guys I could see in front of me all stayed on the road, so I stuck to that course, as I didn't want to cut it short.  To give some perspective, I ran .15 extra at Shamrock, which means I ran half the extra distance I did in a marathon, at this 5k.  Not good, but its something to improve on and its free speed next time, so that's the good news.

I know I have a better 5k time in me and it'll come when I race on faster course soon.  I just wanted to set a baseline, since it had been 2 years.  So now that its set, I've got some more work to do.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lessons Learned and Post Shamrock Thoughts

Its now been nearly 3 weeks since I raced the Shamrock Marathon and achieved my long term goal of running a sub-3:10 marathon.  This was a goal time I've chased for a number of years even before the BQ times shifted another 5 minutes faster.  It just so happened that this time now qualified me for Boston since I'll be aging up for next year's race.  And while I believe I was trained to run close to a 3:05 on a perfect day (the BQ time for men under 35), my original goal was to run sub-3:10, which is exactly what I set out to do.  So with that goal checked off, its time to look back at the training behind the result, consider what worked well, what didn't, and lastly what is next on my schedule.

My Training
Looking back over the past 4 months of training leading up to the race, I was able to incorporate a wide variety of workouts, each with their own purpose.  And while I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do over the course of the training cycle, I only kept that framework static.  The actual workouts and specific progressions were determined within a week or so of the workout, depending on how my body felt.  I've found this approach works best for me on multiple fronts.  First, it forces me to stay focused on the week or day versus looking too far down the training cycle; and second, it forces me to listen to my body before I decide the workout.  Its very easy to get caught up in a plan and feel you have to do "x" workout on a particular day when you have everything laid out.  But I think this approach allows for you to stay in the moment, something we all should spend more time focusing on.

Mileage During the Training Cycle
As you can see by the graph on the side, I was able to train pretty consistently throughout the training cycle.  January was my highest monthly volume total ever, with December being only 5 miles shy of that previous total as well.  My peak volume for a given week was 83 miles, but I also hit 81 miles another time.  Both of these weeks came toward the end of my build phase, prior to the race specific phase.  That laid down two months of high volume work, with lots of quality workouts throughout the time, to build upon for the final race specific focus in the last 4-6 weeks of training.  For those wondering, I follow a funneled periodization model where the earlier training focus is on high volume and training at paces a fair bit faster (intervals, threshold runs, etc) and slower (long runs) than goal pace.  As the race gets closer, the pace ranges creep closer toward goal pace, with less work spent at paces far away from what my race will require.

What Worked
As a coach and an inquisitive runner, I am always looking for ways to better improve my training methods.  On the whole, I am blind to one specific approach being "the best way to train".  As a result, I like to tinker with my own training to see how it works, especially before recommending it to others.  Just to be clear though, I never drastically change anything.  I make small tweaks.  Changing too much throws off everything and you lose control of the ability to measure the effectiveness of any one approach.  So what was the change I implemented this training cycle?

Adding more quality to my long runs during the race specific phase by including marathon paced runs the day before my long runs.

Let me give an example: On Friday, I'd run 8 total miles, with 6 of them at aerobic threshold (slightly faster than marathon pace).  On Saturday, I'd do my long run, which might include a workout like 2 mi easy, 3 x 5 mi at marathon pace with 1 mi easy between each set, 1 mi cool down.

The theory behind this training approach is to establish a moderate level of fatigue (and glycogen depletion) leading into the long run, which will simulate the fatigue experienced during the marathon.  The long run workout is already challenging, but when you add in the work from the day before, it is tough but effective.  I found myself hurting pretty good during the end of the long runs when I incorporated this type of workout, often forcing me make the call of giving in and going easy, or toughing out the rest of the workout.  After one run early on where I gave in to the fatigue, I made sure to never let it happen again.  I had to remind myself that the point of these workouts is to get to THAT point, where you have to decide to quit or keep going.  And if you can keep going, it will make the race much easier.  So after that one run, I made sure to remind myself whenever things got tough, to keep pushing.  As a result of the difficulty of these workouts, I wouldn't recommend most runners jump right into this type of approach, as it is definitely more advanced and therefore, an injury risk.  However, for those that have been training consistently and run high mileage, this training concept may provide a breakthrough in your performance.

What Didn't Work
Because of the increased stress from the combined Friday/Saturday workouts, this meant I had to pull back one of the days I previously used for a quality workout, giving me only 2 quality workouts per week: a tempo run and the Friday/Saturday combo long run.  I found the weekly cycle of 2 weekday workouts in addition to the Friday/Saturday workout a bit too much for me to handle, so I backed off what would have been a Wednesday or Thursday quality day, and turned it into a moderate day.  This could be something like progression run, where the progression only goes down to aerobic threshold versus something more stressful like lactate threshold.  That way, I still got a moderate training stimulus, but not so much that it would impact my ability to execute the long run workout.

What's Next?
It's funny - almost everyone I talk to asks me what my next race is.  At first, I laughed because I just want to enjoy myself for a bit before moving on to the next goal.  Once the next goal is out there, the previous race experience goes out the window.  I'm not ready for that....yet.  Though now that the three weeks have passed since the race, I am starting to let those thoughts creep in.  In short, I'm going to focus on some faster races.  Since I've been on this marathon quest, I've had to hold off from all the shorter, faster stuff to focus on the training required to do well at the marathon.  And while I jumped into a few races along the way to keep my racing chops up, I rarely raced a 5k or a 10k, as they were too different from the marathon to be beneficial.  So now I want to spend some time focusing on them.

To be honest, I feel like my PRs from the 5k, 10k and half marathon are soft and ready to be taken down.  So my plan is to start back up and systematically reset those PRs.  It's been nearly 2 years since I've raced the 5k and 10k distances.  I KNOW I've got better times in me.  Now I just have to go out there and prove it.
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