Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mother Nature can kiss my hairy *bleep*

Okay, here's my taper madness obsession checklist:

1. Tight left calf: done with. I beat it into submission with The Stick (greatest invention ever!), ice, heat, stretching and running. Two straight discomfort-free days and I'm calling it good to go.

2. Sick kid: diagnosed. I thought my daughter was coming down with a nasty cold on Monday, but it turns out that she actually has pink eye (along with my son). Not necessarily good news, but I can run with a crusted shut eye. Running with a fever and a head cold is another matter. Plus, both of them have been on eye drops for over 24 hours now, meaning they are no longer contagious and I still don't have it.

3. Mother Nature: still a dirty hobag. Okay, I will give her credit because the forecast for Sunday in Fort Collins looks great (so far). But, the forecast for western South Dakota and eastern Wyoming on Thursday and Friday is spectacularly horrible. There is a winter storm watch/warning in effect with snow accumulations Thursday night of up to 15 inches. What the hell!!?? It's freakin May for crying out loud! We were planning on leaving for Fort Collins on Friday evening and the storm should be mostly passed by then, but the roads will still be sufficiently craptacular to make the drive way more stressful than it needs to be. This is even more of a slap in the face considering that it was in the low 80s yesterday and is supposed to be in the upper 60s today before the storm rolls in. I know, the question is: would I rather have crappy weather for the drive down there or for the race itself? The answer is: I want my cake and I want to eat it too....I want perfect weather for the entire trip. It can snow all it wants to on Monday...

Monday, April 28, 2008

Meet my nemesis

Here's what I'm up against on Sunday morning:

It looks so cute and innocent now, but I'm sure I'll be cursing it at some point.
For me, this race starts in Colorado and ends in Boston...

The homestretch

One week to go and all that stands between me and a BQ is a tight calf and a sick kid. Oh, and a marathon on Sunday, but that's the least of my worries right now. The calf I think I can deal's more of an annoyance than a problem (so far, knock on wood). The sick kid however, may be a bigger problem. You see, it's Murphy's Law in our house that one of our kids will get sick sometime in the two weeks before a marathon. This is at least the fourth time that it's happened. Of the previous three, I also got sick twice; once the day AFTER the Fargo Marathon and once a couple of weeks before the Missoula Marathon (long enough to recover). Now, I'm in a precarious situation. If I get sick in the next 6 days, I'm pretty well screwed. If I can hold out until next Monday, then fine. Being sick and recovering from a marathon at the same time sucks ass (I know from my Fargo experience last year), but it's better than being sick and missing out on the marathon. In any case, I'll me making a trip to the store to stock up on Airborne and Emergen-C today. I don't know if that crap works, but I'll take a placebo effect as long as I don't get sick.

Oh yeah, I did some running last week:

Monday - 6 miles recovery. I notice that my left calf and right hip are really tight. This is an omen of things to come.

Tuesday - 8 miles general aerobic. The right hip tightness is gone, but the left calf is definitely telling me something. Not cool. As soon as I get home, I jump online and order "The Stick" massage tool from Running Warehouse.

Wednesday - Rest. That's right. Rest. Zero miles. First time since February. The schedule said 6 miles of recovery, but I'm freakin about the calf and decide to play it safe.

Thursday - 9 miles GA. Calf is still tight, but feels better than it did on Tuesday. The Stick arrives in the afternoon and I began assaulting the calf with deep tissue massage....there's definitely a knot in there.

Friday - 6 miles recovery. I can tell the calf is there, but it's not bad.

Saturday - 8 miles w/ 3 @ marathon pace. As soon as I got out of bed, it seemed like the calf felt better. It was almost unnoticeable during my run, which I did with the Spearfish Running Club. We did and out and back in Spearfish Canyon, which was uphill on the out and downhill on the back. Since Colorado is also downhill, I decided to do a few MP miles to see how the calf felt. No issues. Good sign.

Sunday - 13 miles. I had hoped the calf issues had died, but I was wrong. It felt alright for the first 8 miles or so and then suddenly tightened way up for about a mile before loosening again for the last few. I also picked up the pace during the last few (not really intentionally, it just happened) and the calf felt better (i.e. it was less noticeable) when I went faster. Interesting. I guess I'll just have to outrun the discomfort.

Total - 50 miles

So, I've been barraging my left calf with a combination of The Stick, ice, heat, stretching and ibuprofen all week. It's improved a little, but not as much as I'd like with less than a week to go before the big race. The good news is that it doesn't really hurt when I run, it just doesn't feel "normal", and it actually feels more normal when I run faster (i.e. elongate my stride and increase my turnover rate), which is good news for the marathon. Also, outside of a couple of marathon pace miles on Wednesday, I've got nothing but recovery runs this week and an extra day of rest won't affect my fitness at this point. So, I'm all systems go for Colorado on Sunday, sore calf, sick kid and all.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Two weeks and counting

The first week of taper went pretty well. I certainly can't complain about a 10K PR (see story in my last post). I can complain about the almost incessant thoughts of Colorado that go flashing through my head, but there's really not much that I can do about that (outside of some sort of illegal drugs). Here's how the week went:

Monday - 6 miles recovery in the morning and another 4 in the afternoon. This has been my bread and butter Monday workout for many weeks now and this was the last one.

Tuesday - 10 miles at general aerobic pace with 8x100m strides. The GA pace was a little harder than it should have been because I did this run at 4:30 AM, but it went alright considering.

Wednesday - 14 miles easy. My last mid-week medium-long run before Colorado. I'm not shedding any tears over that. It's not that these runs are hard, it's just hard to get motivated for a 14 mile run at 4:30 in the morning.

Thursday - 7 miles recovery with 6x100m strides.

Friday - 6 miles recovery. I feel like a slacker now, with two straight single digit days. But, my legs feel like they've had a week of rest.

Saturday - 10.2 miles total, including 2 miles of warmup, 2 miles of cooldown and a PR and 3rd place finish at the Kevin Whirlwind Horse 10K wedged in between. This was exactly what a tune up race should be; confirmation that you are in better shape than you were when you started this crazy endeavor.

Sunday - 17 miles. From the very first step, I knew that my legs were NOT into this. After the first mile, I was wondering how I was possibly going to convince them that another 16 was a good idea. But, even though my legs were really tight and sore, my easy pace came to me, well, pretty easily. Eventually, the legs loosened up and I was actually able to get in a pretty decent long run, the last one of this training cycle.

Total - 74.2 miles

So, only two weeks left until the big day and I only have one run of ten miles or more left before the race (a 13 miler this coming Sunday). Of course, I've already started checking the long, long range forecast on Why I do this is beyond me because it's about as accurate as a chimp throwing a dart, but I guess it gives me something else to obssess about. Anyhow, yesterday the forecast was saying 58 degrees and rainy on race day and today it's saying 79 and sunny. My point exactly. None of this even really matters because the race starts at 6:15 AM at about 6000 feet elevation, so either way it's going to be fairly cold when I start running and I'll (hopefully) be done running before it has a chance to get too warm. As long as there isn't a foot of fresh snow or a gale force wind blowing in my face, the weather really shouldn't be a huge factor (knock on wood, cross my fingers and toes, wish upon a falling star). Ah, the joys of taper madness.

Friday, April 18, 2008

All Tuned Up!! Kevin Whirlwind Horse 10K Race Report

I've lamented on here before (okay, maybe bitched and moaned) about how there are never any races around here when I need a tune-up race. Both of the scheduled tune-ups I had during this past training cycle ended up being time trials instead for that very reason. Well, this weekend there actually was a 10K, but no tune-up race on the schedule. Isn't the irony awesome? The scheduled workout for Saturday was 10 miles with 5 at lactate threshold my eyes not all that much different from racing a 10K. So, after some token debate (I knew that I would end up running the race, deep down inside), I decided to swap the LT workout for the race. After all, if I'm gonna suffer through several miles of misery, why not get a t-shirt and maybe some hardware out of the deal, right?

Kevin Whirlwind Horse was a Native American student at Black Hills State University who was killed in a car accident over 20 years ago. For the past 23 years, a scholarship has been awarded in his name to a Native American sophomore at BHSU and this race (which also includes a 5K, 1 mile walk, 1/2 mile kids run, and 1/4 mile little kids run) is one of the fundraisers. A worthy cause for sure made even more worthy for me personally since one of my friends was the recipient of the scholarship this year.

I ran this race last year as a final tune-up for the Fargo Marathon. I finished with a 41:15, which still stood as my 10K PR. I also finished 4th in my AG, just one spot out of the hardware. According to the McMillan Running Calculator, to be capable of achieving the bare minimum BQ time of 3:10:59, I should be able to clock a 10K in 40:42. However, I just ran a 10K time trial a couple of weeks ago where I laid down a 40:18. This was both a blessing and a curse. It was definitely good to see that my speed has improved over the past year, but 18 seconds is tantalizingly close to a sub-40 10K, something I didn't expect to come so close to achieving at this point. So now, a PR in itself wouldn't necessarily be acceptable in my mind; it would have to also be a sub-40 for me to truly be pleased with the race. Such are the trials and tribulations of being a helpless running addict....always looking for a bigger, better high. In any case, my goals for the race were: 1) Don't hurt myself. Colorado is just two weeks away, after all. 2) PR. 3) sub-40. 4) Win some hardware (this would probably go hand in hand with #3).

The race started at Salem Park in Spearfish and the course followed the Spearfish Creek bike path, which winds through Spearfish from north to south, eventually taking you out of town and depositing you onto Highway 14A, which in turn takes you into Spearfish Canyon to the south of town. It's an out and back course with the 5Kers turning around at the city park and the 10Kers proceeding to a turnaround point at the mouth of Spearfish Canyon. One advantage I had is that I've run a majority of the course many times during lunch time runs over the past few months. I like knowing where the landmarks are so I can judge my pace and know where to hammer and where to hold back. The course features about 200 feet of total uphill going out and then back down for the second half, so it's conducive to a negative split.

The course wasn't marked by miles, so I was basing my pace off of 2.5K splits, knowing that for a sub-40 I had to make it to the 5K turnaround in 10 minutes or less, the halfway point in under 20 and back to the 5K turnaround in under 30. I like easy math. Because of the aforementioned nature of the course, I knew the third and fourth splits would be most critical since I could very well be a little over pace during the uphill first half, but hopefully would be making that time up on the way back.

The race events started with the kids' races, in which my 4 year old son ran the 1/4 mile (with me tagging along). After that 1/4 mile warmup, we lined up for the start of the 10K, 5K (which my wife, sister in law and the scholarship-winning friend were running), and 1 mile walk (thankfully, they all lined up in the back). With a ready, set, go!, we were off.

Right from the get go, I was in the top 5, but I knew that at least one of the guys in front of me was a 5K runner, so I was actually top 4. After a couple of passes in the first 2.5K, I was the 2nd overall 10Ker. I hit the 5K turnaround in a surprisingly fast 9:17. wonder I feel like crap with a capital 'C'. As I tried to settle down and compose myself, I was passed by a guy in a blue shirt, dropping me to third. I would keep blue shirt guy firmly in my vision for the rest of the race, but could never muster enough push to get my position back. As I mentioned, the course is a general uphill for the first half and most of that uphill came in the second 2.5K, which was indicated by my split of 10:55, suddenly dropping me from 43 seconds ahead of sub-40 pace to 12 seconds behind. Son of a !@#$%!! But, after we turned around we were heading downhill, had the sun behind us and a slight breeze in our faces and my next two splits reflect that. I hit the 7.5K split in 9:57, dropping me to 9 seconds over sub-40 pace (and well under PR pace). I was able to get into somewhat of a comfort zone (or as comfortable as you can get in a 10K) during that second half. Blue shirt guy had built a decent lead on me, so I settled down and just focused on getting the sub-40 and PR. Finally, we reached the last straightaway back at Salem Park and with my kids, family and friends cheering me on, surged across the line with a final time of 39:17. Sub-40 and then some, baby!! I'm not screwin around with any 39:59! I ended up 3rd overall in the 10K and first in my AG.

So, in one year I've dropped 1:58 off my 10K PR on the exact same course under almost the exact same conditions. And, I accomplished all three of my aforementioned goals, including the all important legs definitely feel like they raced today, but nothing feels out of whack. My new 10K PR predicts a marathon time of 3:04:21 on McMillan's calculator. That's probably overly optimistic for me, but it certainly bodes well for my attempt to break 3:10:59 at Colorado in two weeks.

I fear the taper madness will only get worse now....

Oh, and I've gotta mention that my wife finished 2nd in her AG in the 5K, taking 30 seconds off her PR, my sister in law took first in her 5K AG and my son won the 8 and under boys 1/4 mile race! The family took home our share of the hardware today!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The hay is in the barn

Well, it's official. I am in taper mode. From here on out, the goal is not necessarily to become more fit, but to avoid injuring myself and ruining the fitness I've gained over the past 15 weeks. Physically, the next three weeks should give my body time to repair the damage I've done, leaving me stronger than ever to tackle the Colorado Marathon course on May 4th. Mentally, this will be the longest, most stressful, paranoia filled 21 days of my running life. Did I train enough, did I train too much, is that twinge in my knee something serious, am I tapering too much, am I tapering too little, am I getting sick, is it going to be too hot on race day, is it going to be too cold on race day?.....all of these, and countless others, are questions that will dominate my mind on a daily basis for the next three weeks. The training is done, now the taper madness begins...

Speaking of training, my last big week before taper went well:

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

Tuesday - 6 miles recovery in the morning and another 4.2 in the afternoon.

Wednesday - 12 miles including 6x1200m intervals. This is the first interval workout of this training cycle that I've done early in the morning and I felt like my speed was affected by it. I just can't run as fast at 5 AM as I can in the afternoon. Regardless, the workout itself still went pretty well, I just felt like I could have done it faster if my body had been more awake.

Thursday - 15 miles in the morning and another 4 in the afternoon. I ran the 15 in a cold rain that was about 2 degrees away from being snow, and actually did finally turn to snow during the last mile.

Friday - 8 miles w/ 8x100m strides. This was one of the best runs I've had recently. Right from the start, the pace, which was quicker than normal (7:30-7:45), felt effortless and I actually hit my marathon pace on one mile and went 15 seconds faster than MP on another without even thinking about it.

Saturday - 6 miles recovery in the morning and another 4 in the afternoon. Can you tell that this is the bread and butter recovery workout in Pfitz's high mileage plan?

Sunday - 22 miles. This was my last run of 20+ miles for this training cycle. A week of unseasonably cold weather finally broke and the highs were in the 60s....I actually got to do a long run in shorts and a t-shirt and ended up with a sunburn on my forehead because I neglected to wear a cap or sunblock. The run itself went well. I felt like I was holding back the entire time (except when I finally cut loose and picked up the pace the last two miles) but still averaged 8:06 miles, which is about 10-15 seconds faster per mile than I normally run my long runs.

Total - 91.2 miles

So, from here on out, the weekly mileage will decrease and it's mostly easy or recovery pace runs with a couple of days of speed thrown in to keep my legs sharp. I am making one change to the schedule this Saturday, when I'm planning on running in a local 10K instead of doing the scheduled 10 miles with 5 at tempo pace (I figure that it's virtually the same workout, so why not get a t-shirt, and maybe an AG award, out of the deal?). This will be my one and only chance to run a tune-up race before Colorado and I don't want to pass that opportunity up. Plus, I really want to make that 10K PR that I set in a time trial last week official by doing it in a real race. And who knows, maybe I'll even get myself a sub-40 in the process...

Monday, April 7, 2008

A race against myself

Well, it's getting down to crunch time now. I'm getting to the point where my fitness should be reaching the apex of what I'm going to achieve for this training cycle and, if it's not, there's not really a damn thing I can do about it now.

To judge the level of fitness, Pfitz recommends a couple of tune up races. Living in South Dakota, tune up races aren't all that easy to come by (auctions, on the other hand, are a weekly occurrence....anyone need a used tractor?), which means that I've had to resort to time trials during this training cycle. Time trials are essentially a race against yourself as you try to run as fast as you would in an actual race but without the stimulus of competition to spur you on. In other words, the human ego makes it "easier" to run faster when you have the fear of getting beaten by someone than it is to just go out and run fast. Two weeks ago I ran a 6 mile time trial and realized afterward that at the pace I had done it, I could have set a 10K PR (why I didn't run 6.2 miles that day is still beyond me). So, for this week's time trial, I decided to tack on the extra 0.2 mile and see what happened. But, more on that later; here's how the week went overall:

Monday - 6 mile recovery in the morning and 4.2 more in the afternoon. My quads are as sore as they've ever been after my 18 mile downhill marathon pace run the day before. I honestly feel like I just ran a marathon, especially as I hobble up and down stairs at senior citizen speed.

Tuesday - 9.2 miles including 5x600m intervals. The track workout went well even though my quads are still sore. I briefly wondered if I was going to puke or pass out (or both) after the last interval, which indicates that I must have run it hard enough (although I guess I could have run it harder since I didn't do either). This workout certainly didn't help the quads out any.

Wednesday - 6 miles recovery. The schedule called for an easy 14 miler but after one mile, where I felt like I was running about 8:30 pace but actually ran 9:30, I knew that 14 miles wasn't in the cards. My legs, quads especially, had had enough. So, I settled on a recovery run instead in the hopes that the 14 miles would be doable the next day.

Thursday - 14 miles easy. It's amazing what a difference a day makes. Again, I could tell after the first mile how the run would go. Running at the same perceived effort as the day before for the first mile, I clock an 8:03 and maintain that pace without much effort for the entire run.

Friday - 7 miles recovery with 6x100m strides. A day of "rest" before the time trial.

Saturday - 13.2 miles including 10K time trial. I jogged around town for 4 miles to get warmed up then head out on a 10K out and back course. Ended up averaging about 6:30 miles for a total time of 40:18, nearly a full minute less than my official 10K PR of 41:15. After stumbling around for awhile while trying to contemplate the numbers on my watch (I hadn't separated the warmup miles from the time trial miles, so I was trying to add and subtract minutes and seconds with my oxygen deprived mind), I determined that I had indeed set a PR and set out for a 3 mile cooldown. When I got home, I was finally able to figure out what exactly my 10K time had been and almost didn't believe it. It's good in the sense that it shows my fitnessed has improved. It's bad in the sense that it's so close to being under 40 minutes that I now have something new to obsess about.

Sunday - 20 miles. Pfitz always throws the tune up races/time trials into the schedule on the day before a long run so that you can teach your body to run through fatigue. Well, mission accomplished on that one, Pete. I definitely felt like I had run a hard 10K the day before. The 20 miler didn't actually go badly (except the part where my gel flask bounced out of my pocket unnoticed and then got run over before I realized it was gone and ran back for it, forcing me to return to the house to grab some gel packets instead). My legs were just more tired than they usually are during a long run. But, again, that was the whole point.

Total - 79.6 miles

So, 14 weeks down, 4 to go. More importantly, only one more big week left before I start to taper. I'm at the point now where I just want to get this training cycle over with before something bad can happen. I've been fortunate, knock on wood, to make it through with nothing more than a few nagging aches and pains that taper will hopefully take care of. My concern now is starting to shift from not being fit enough to run a 3:10 to being fit enough, but not being able to do it because of some injury. I can tell that the taper madness will be especially fun this time around....

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Colorado Marathon dress rehearsal

Last week's plan called for a long run of 18 miles with the last 15 at marathon pace. Since I know that the Colorado Marathon course is downhill, I really wanted to get the feel of running at my goal marathon pace (7:13) downhill. So, I devised a plan to run the 18 miler down Spearfish Canyon, the mouth of which is about 15 miles south of my house. The Canyon runs consistently downhill from south to north and I've run two half-marathons on it (both PRs because they are the only two halves I've ever run), so I knew it would be the closest I could come to simulating the Colorado course (although if you do the math, the Canyon is a little more of a downhill). Here's the route I ran, if anyone cares (and even if no one does):

The week before this run, I drove up the Canyon and marked each mile with hot pink flagging so that I'd be able to keep track of my pace. The day of the run, my wife and two kids shuttled me up the Canyon and then headed back to Spearfish to do our weekly grocery shopping (bonus for me: I get my long run in and I get to avoid a trip to Wal-Mart!!). I started off with three warm-up miles and then set about picking up the pace. My first "marathon pace" mile was actually too slow, in the 7:20s. The next was too fast, in the 6:40s. This continued for the first 4 marathon pace miles as I had a hell of a time zeroing in on 7:13 pace....I could comfortably go too fast or too slow, but for whatever reason couldn't find the middle ground. Finally, after a bathroom break, I was able to reel of three straight miles in the 7:00-7:03 range and decided that was close enough for government work. I then reeled off three straight miles at exactly 6:55 (how's that for pacing?...sure it was too fast, but rock solid none the less). I was comfortable, so I went with it for fear of trying to slow down and slowing too much. I ended up reaching the Spearfish city park (with my kids cheering me on enthusiastically) in just over 2:09, for an average of 7:10/mile for the entire 18 and 7:03/mile for the last 15. Oops.

So, there were two general results from this dress rehearsal. First, my quads took a beating like no other they've received in a long time. I honestly felt like I had run a marathon afterwards and actually think I was less sore after my last marathon than I was yesterday (thankfully, they feel much better today). Second, I think I might actually be able to run a 3:10:59 (or less) at Colorado. Although the Colorado course isn't as downhill as the Canyon, I think that might actually be to my advantage by inflicting less abuse on my quads. I also noticed that it seemed harder for me to hold the faster pace on the steeper downhills than it was on the more gradual ones. I think the more downhill it is, the more I tend to relax and try to let gravity do too much of the work, consequently running slower.

In any case, I've got two more weeks of "real" training before taper time, and taper madness, begins. I'll label myself as cautiously optimistic at this point...