Monday, March 31, 2008

Running in the Last Best Place

It's been awhile since I posted here thanks to me being off in Missoula last week for work-related training (Contracting Officer's Representative.....yawn). Rather than list all of my workouts from the past two weeks, I'll just talk about my few days spent in Missoula, which is my favorite place in the world.

William Kittredge, an author and former professor of creative writing at The University of Montana, referred to Montana as the "Last Best Place". I grew up in the northcentral Montana plains and spent 4 years in Missoula obtaining my bachelor's degree from UM. Ever since I left Missoula, I've wanted desperately to move back. But, alas, jobs in my field, while fairly plentiful, are difficult to get. You see, Forest Service employees tend to stay in Missoula until they either retire or die, so I have to sit idly by waiting for one or the other to happen, thereby creating a job opening for me. Another factor making it hard to move back to Missoula is that it has been "discovered", meaning that it's one of the fastest growing areas of the state, largely due to out of staters moving in (if you're from California and you ever travel to Missoula, you're better off not mentioning that fact). Consequently, Missoula and the nearby Bitterroot Valley are also one of the most expensive places to live in Montana. While an average home price of over $200,000 isn't much on the east coast or in California, it's much higher than most other areas of Montana (and much higher than my current location in South Dakota). So, the stars will have to align almost perfectly before I have the opportunity to move back there permanently.

In any case, I knew that I would have to attend a COR class this year and decided that if I was going to suffer through a couple of days of mind-numbing lectures I would at least do it someplace cool. When I found a class in Missoula, I jumped all over it. I drove over there last Monday, making it in about 9.5 hours (two hours faster than it would take me to get back, thanks to a spring snowstorm that hit much of Montana and Wyoming). As soon as I had checked into my hotel, I threw on my running clothes and headed out for an easy 4 miler along the River Trail, which is an old railroad line along the Clark Fork River that the city has converted to a walking/biking path. Within the first 2 miles of my run, I saw some hippies and a bum sleeping under a tree and knew that I was indeed back in Missoula.

On Tuesday, I had a speed workout planned, 12 miles with 6x1000m intervals, so I ran a circuitous path from my hotel to Dornblaser Field, home of the UM track team. On the way there, I ran past the house I lived in during my last two years of college. Let's just say that back then, it looked like 5 poor college students lived in it. It obviously has new owners now and is probably worth at least twice as much. When I reached the track, I started in on my intervals and after a few found myself kind of intruding on the Run Wild Missoula (the local running club) track night. They had a bunch of people there running at a bunch of different speeds, so I was alternately dodging and running with other people and felt kind of like a jackass for just doing my own thing. Regardless, the workout went really well and I made sure to apologize to the girl who was leading the RWM workout (who I would later learn was a Canadian Olympian) when I was finished. She was totally nice and cool about it and asked if I wanted to join the group. I told her I'd had my fill of speedwork for the day and headed off back to the hotel.

I had mapped out what looked like a cool route for Wednesday's 15 miler on Map My Run, but a lunchtime drive of the route (we had a two hour lunch that day....lame) revealed that one of the roads I had planned on running was a private road, which cut off one of my loops. So, I ended up running a 10 mile out and back up the Rattlesnake Valley, where I used to take my dog hiking when I lived in Missoula, and then a 5 mile loop past campus and through downtown, including across the Higgins St. bridge, which will serve as the finish line of this year's Missoula Marathon.

Thursday was a simple 6 mile out and back along my Rattlesnake route before loading my crap up and making the slow, long drive home through a spring blizzard. Have I mentioned on here how Mother Nature is a dirty, dirty hobag?

So, that was my Missoula trip. I'm already looking forward to my next visit, which will be for the Missoula Marathon in July.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A week of milestones

I honestly don't know where to start when describing this past week. To put it simply: it was a good one. I reached a total of three milestones: one I never would have believed I could reach a couple of years ago, one I knew I could reach but haven't been able to grasp for a few weeks and another that's less significant, but a milestone all the same. Here's what went down and when:

Monday - 8 recovery in the morning, 5 recovery in the afternoon. For some reason, my legs feel sluggish coming off the cutback week.

Tuesday - 8 recovery in the morning, 5 in the afternoon. For the first time since I can remember, I come away from a run with road rash. That's right, I managed to trip and fall not once, but twice during the morning 8 miler, which is ironic because it was great weather with clear and dry streets. Throughout this entire winter, while running on black ice and packed snow, I've only fallen twice and both of those times led to nothing but a bruised ego. The culperate was the long laces on my Mizuno Wave Riders. Both times I fell, my left foot got caught in the loop from one of my right shoelaces and down I went. The first time I broke my fall with my hands, bloodying my palms and left leg in the process. And, even worse, there were two vehicles right there when it happened. At least if I'm gonna fall, I could do it when no was is looking. Then, not two miles later, the same thing happened (minus the onlookers). The second time, I managed to roll into it more and spare additional road rash to my hands, although my hip was sore for a couple of days as a result. In any case, my legs still felt sluggish. Don't know why.

Wednesday - 15 easy. My legs still feel sluggish early on, but finally wake up a little towards the end. I've noticed that this is often the case: if my legs are feeling heavy for a couple of days, they often break out of it during a medium-long run.

Thursday - 7 recovery in the morning, 4 in the afternoon. Totally uneventful, which is good.

Friday - 12 including 7 at tempo pace in the morning, 4 recovery in the afternoon. I wasn't sure how the tempo workout was going to go based on how my legs had felt earlier in the week, but it ended up going great. My target pace was 6:45 per mile and I ended up averaging 6:39 with the last couple hovering around 6:30. I actually remember almost nothing about the last tempo mile; the pace had become comfortable enough that my mind was wandering and before I knew it I was at the end of the mile and I had held the pace and then some.

Saturday - 8 easy. This was supposed to be recovery pace, but I went running with another guy and we ended up pushing the pace a little more than I probably should have, but it felt pretty good. My running partner is a former college cross country runner and ran one marathon, way back in 1981 (when I was 3), but he ran the damn thing in 2:31, so he was a speedster in his day.

Sunday - 24 long. This is the furthest I've ever run outside of a marathon or ultra. My legs felt good early, kind of heavy in the middle and then great at the end and my last mile ended up being the fastest. Really, the only thing that went wrong during the run was that I had to stop three times to go #2 (too much information, I know). The first time I accepted without much concern, but the other two came after I had taken a hit of Hammer Gel, which has me concerned. I've been training with Hammer all year and never had this happen and definitely don't want it to happen during the marathon. I'd really hate to miss out on a BQ by a matter of seconds because I wasted a couple of minutes in a porta john. For now, I'll just hope that it had more to do with something I may have eaten on Saturday.

Total - 100 miles. For the first time ever, and maybe the last time for a long, long time, I hit the century mark!

So, that explains the milestone I never would have believed I'd reach (100 miles) and the less significant one (the 24 mile training run). Last, but certainly not least, is the milestone I've been so close to the past few weeks but just couldn't attain. As I've mentioned several times on this blog, I'm trying to drop some weight before Colorado and so far this year have gone from 211 at the New Year to 200 a couple of weeks ago and then, disappointingly, back up to 201 last week. Well, on Saturday morning when I stepped on the scale I finally saw the number I've been expecting to see for the last couple of weeks: 199.0. I finally managed to dip under the 200 mark for the first time in at least two years! I'm still built more like a football player than a marathoner, but at least I'm a slightly more trim football player-like marathoner.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ready for the summit attempt

This past week was a scheduled cutback week and it was a good one. I guess it's saying something when this cutback week featured 7 more miles than my peak training week last spring and it felt easy.

Monday - 6 miles recovery in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.

Tuesday - 9.2 miles including 6x600 intervals. I bumped this workout up one day because the weather forecast wasn't lookin good for Wednesday. The weather wasn't all that great for Tuesday either (windy and cold) but it was good to get the intervals over with early in the week.

Wednesday - 9 miles general aerobic. I ran out and back and the back portion was absolutely frigid thanks to the wind.

Thursday - 6 miles recovery in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.

Friday - 11 miles easy in the morning and 4.2 recovery in the afternoon.

Saturday - 8 miles at somewhere between easy pace and GA pace with 10x100 strides. This workout got screwed up because after I started I realized that I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be running at recovery pace or at GA pace, which is quite a difference (9:00 miles vs. 7:45-8:00 miles). I ended up with an 8:15 avg and it turned out it was supposed to be GA. Oops.

Sunday - 16 miles long. Absolutely, positively could not keep my pace slower than 8:15, especially during the second half. Oh well...

Total - 77.4 miles

This has nothing to do with running, but I spent a good two hours Saturday afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese for a friend's, daughter's birthday party. You haven't lived until you've been in CEC with approximately 1000 (okay, a little exagerration there, but it seemed like that many) kids running, screaming and crying all at once. If I could somehow harness that energy, I'd be training for the Olympics right now. As it was, it just left me exhausted and really not looking forward to the trip to the mall that followed.

On the weight front, I fully expected to see a 190-something on the scale on Saturday morning, but instead it said 201.2, a 0.8 lb. increase, which is a little baffling. I've actually been keeping track of calories consumed vs. calories burned the last couple of weeks and nothing was really different between last week and the previous week when I lost 2.4 lbs. I mean, really, how can you gain weight when you're burning between 11,000 and 15,000 calories per week (unless you really, really try)? My wife's philosophy is that I'm not eating enough, but I have plenty of energy, so I'm not so sure. I guess I'll wait and see what happens this week.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A sense of speed and relaxation (not at the same time)

Yesterday, the weather started to take a turn for the worse. The wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and snow started flying (briefly). According to the weather forecast, conditions weren't expected to improve today, so I made the command decision to swap my Tuesday and Wednesday workouts and do some speed work on Tuesday instead in the hopes of getting it done before it either got too cold or too snowy to do it on the high school track. I have yet to run a speed workout indoors (knock on wood) and I really never hope to. The thought of trying to tear around that tiny track at a high rate of speed while also avoiding walkers who seem to enjoy blatantly disregarding the fact that I'm about to run them down because they are taking up the entire damn track just isn't appealing to me.

The weather wasn't exactly ideal for a speed workout yesterday afternoon when I got off of work, but it could have been a lot worse. It was 38 degrees when I started, with the wind blowing 10-20, which means that I was toasty warm, a little too much so, when the wind was at my back and then pretty chilly when it was in my face. I started off with a 3 mile warmup, which ended at the Belle Fourche High School track. This would mark the first speed work I've done since....uh....well, hell I don't know for sure. Maybe sometime last June or July, in between the Fargo and Missoula marathons. Maybe. If not then, then it would be sometime last April, before Fargo, so almost a year ago. A long damn time, in any case. So, I jumped into the first of my six 600m intervals and as I come around the turn at the 300m point I not only get a strong gust of wind in my face (super!), but I see the high school track team filing onto the track. Crap, am I gonna get booted? Well, turns out it wasn't the runners, but the shotputters and they were just throwing their big balls around in the grassy area next to the track so no big deal. The first couple of intervals actually felt alright, the third less so, and the final three not so hot, but my times remained fairly consistent (ranging from 2:14-2:20 per interval, with the slower ones generally coming on the intervals where I ran into the wind twice). At one point, I swear I heard either a shotputter or a track coach say "Nice job, Chris" as I passed them, but I had my ipod on and, honestly, don't know that I am on a first name basis with any shotputters or track coaches. In any case, that's beside the point. I gutted out my sixth interval (with 200m to go I honestly wasn't sure if my legs were going to make it, but they did), walked off the track and ran another 3 miles for cooldown (8:20 pace feels sssssooooo easy after running intervals) for a total of 9.2 miles (well, something like 9.168 if you calculate the distance of the six intervals and five 300m recovery runs in between them, but I'm rounding up because my Excel log is going to round it up anyhow).

Now, I find myself feeling very relaxed with that workout over and done with. Looking at my schedule this morning for the rest of the week, which is a cutback week, I realized that that was by far the toughest workout for the week. Now I can just put it on cruise control and rack up some miles.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Finally, I've managed to string together a couple of good, illness free, weeks (knock on wood). Coincidentally (or maybe not?) we are starting so see some signs of spring around here. It was in the upper 40s and lower 50s for a few days last week and the high on Saturday was around 70. It wasn't nearly as nice on Sunday, but also not nearly as bad as a few weeks ago. The fact that I haven't had to run on the indoor track for a couple of weeks is a good indicator that things are improving.

Monday - 6 miles recovery in the morning and another 4 in the afternoon.

Tuesday - repeat of Monday

Wednesday - 15.1 easy miles in the morning and 4 recovery in the afternoon

Thursday - 13 miles easy

Friday - 7 miles recovery with 6x100m strides

Saturday - 16 miles with the last 12 at marathon pace. I wanted to run this workout on a downhill course to simulate the Colorado Marathon course, but the logistics didn't work out this time so I ran it on my regular rolling long run course instead. Ended up averaging 7:09/mile for the last 12, which is 4 seconds faster than my goal MP. It wasn't necessarily easy, but it got done. I ran this long run a day early to take advantage of the nice was 30-40 degrees cooler and the wind was blowing 20-30 mph by Sunday.

Sunday - 6 miles recovery in the morning and another 4 in the afternoon. I actually split the afternoon 4 into two runs so that I could take each of my dogs for a couple of miles (taking them both at once would just be a recipe for disaster or, if you were a bystander, comedy).

Total - 85.1 miles

I had hoped that the scale would read sub-200 this weekend but when I stepped on it on Saturday morning it was showing 200.4. Damn! But, you can't really complain too much about a 2.4 pound loss, so I guess I'll live with it in the knowledge that I'll hit one-ninety-something this week.