Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Kind of Purgatory a.k.a. Taper

Here we are seven days away from the start of the Flying Pig Marathon. I've trained my mileage. I've finished my speed work. I've got my race day gear pretty much ready. I have a race day running plan and fueling plan in place. There is nothing to do but wait...and wait. Maybe I should get one more long run I can' t do that there's no point. I should do some more cross training this week. No, that's not going to help anything at this point besides wear me down. I guess I'll just sit here and wait.

This will be my third marathon in a year, starting with the Flying Pig last year, and taper is one of the hardest parts to deal with mentally and emotionally. This seems especially true for spring marathons. We've spent 4 months training in all sorts of good and bad weather and spent many days stuck on a treadmill due to snow or rain. Now it's beautiful outside the weather is warm I'm well trained and relatively healthy and ready to go and..I can't. I think the term Purgatory is appropriate. My body is in a process of mending and repairing itself in preparation for race day which may end up being heaven or hell depending on how things go.

To ease my mind a bit I've been going back and reading excerpts from The Principles of Running by Amby Burfoot. This book is a must have for beginner runners and a great reference piece for experienced runners. The chapters are very short and concise, and each chapter is followed by a list of principles. If you want to refresh your memory on something all you have to do is flip to the chapter and scan the principles. Let's take a look at the principles in the Taper chapter in the section "Marathon".
  1. The last week before a marathon...seems as if it should be a joy, but most runners find it an emotional roller coaster. (Put your hands up! Weeeeeeeeee! I remember saying a couple of weeks ago "I am so ready for taper". Note to past self: you're an idiot.)
  2. Don't be surprised if you notice aches and pains you haven't felt before...and you have trouble sleeping at night. These are all common during taper. (Here I am at 6 am on a Sunday morning writing this so, yeah, I get the sleeping thing. I've definitely noticed every little ache and pain over the last few days, and having plenty of time to think about it hasn't really helped.)
  3. Reduce your mileage to just two to four easy miles a day or every other day, depending on your schedule. On Wednesday or Thursday, do four two-minute repeats at your marathon pace goal. (It doesn't say I can't ride my bike...right?)
  4. Continue to eat lots of low-fat carbohydrates and to stay well-hydrated. Don't eat foods you're not accustomed to, which is one of the most common marathon mistakes. (ummm...Is ice cream okay? I swear I won't eat the whole pint. It's not like it's my birthday. I will be bringing my big jug of water to work all week.)
  5. Try to take your mind off the marathon with diversions like books, videos, movies, and so on. Do anything that your find and involving. Save your greatest mental focus for the race. (Check. Gina, you're running mix is ready, yo. )

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rat Race 5K Race Report

I've come to the conclusion that, for me, the 5K is one of the toughest mental races to PR in. There is very little room for error and very little room for doubts. You have 3.1 miles to run your fastest. I've been slowly eating away at my 5K times over the years. I started out at about 25 minutes a few years ago and have been knocking off minutes ever since then. I reached a point last year where I wanted to make a run at a sub 20 minute 5K. It became more than a goal. It became my Mount Everest. It seemed insurmountable. It would mean running 3 miles at under 6:30 per mile with enough left for a kick at the end.

The Closest I've come to reaching this goal was last summer when I ran the Big K 5K. I came so close but fell short by 8 seconds. It was a tough defeat made a little easier to swallow with the delicious award I got for finishing 3rd in my division. So, here I was a little less than a year later on a late April afternoon in perfect weather conditions with it cool and overcast, the perfect flat fast course with no bridges to slow me down. I had been feeling good about my speed work. There was only one minor thing that could go wrong: my legs. With 9 months of marathon training under my belt the wear and tear was in full effect on my shins and feet. I stretched and warmed up thoroughly taking a run through the course to get a feel for it and made a deal with myself. If nothing else I would run as fast as I could. I would leave nothing. I would do my best and let everything else take care of itself.

Before the race I had a couple of nice encounters that kept my spirits up and my mind off the pain that was sure to come. This was a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society event so Team in Training was out in full force as many of the Flying Pig runners were there to run the 5K or 10K. One the members from my Striders Running Group was lining up, and my biggest surprise was meeting one the Sparkpeople Running Team members at the starting line. I saw that she was going to be there but had no idea if I would be able to pick her out just based on the photos from the website. I recognized her right away and we met for the first time and had a nice little pre-race chat. Even if everything fell apart on the course it was shaping up to be a fun evening.

The Race

600 or so runners and walkers stood around the starting line in a sort of purgatory as there was a delay for the runners who were waiting in line for the bathroom. I just listened in on idle chatter around me as I tried to keep from psyching myself out. I didn't want to think about the race anymore I just wanted to go. Finally the national anthem was completed and we were ready. Set. The gun went off and we were away.

Mile 1

I positioned myself near the front of the pack and near the outside. I looked at the results from last year and felt comfortable being near the front. In a race this short there is not time to wait for the crowd to thin out. I needed to be on pace immediately. There was no pacing myself. I just bolted and set a pace what felt like just below an all out sprint. I was shooting for a pace that I hadn't been really training for during marathon training. I needed to push it way past comfortable the whole time. We headed out for a loop through a neighborhood that would come back near the starting line to turn on to the bike path. That first mile was a blur. I had a nice long 4 mile warm up so I didn't feel stiff. I didn't feel great though either. I wasn't breathing very smoothly and my stride felt off, but I kept pushing it. Mile 1: 6:00 flat.

Mile 2

I was heading into mile 2 feeling pretty good. The super fast runners were steadily pulling away, but I wasn't being passed either so I wasn't panicked. We were turning on to the trail and my stride was feeling a little more in sync, but my breathing sucked. I was getting a solid case of cotton mouth building up and it wasn't helping matters. At some point around 1.5 miles I nearly choked on my own spit as I inhaled it. That didn't help. It also didn't help that I was already feeling fatigued and like I was all alone as I was in the no man's land between the super fast runners and the pack behind me. The long flat trail seemed to stretch out forever and time seemed to slow to a crawl. The turn around was a little past the two mile marker. Where was it? Time seemed to be creeping away. I grabbed some water from the water stop to try and clear out the cotton mouth and passed the mile 2 marker. mile 2: 12:46.

Mile 3

I was starting to have my doubts. My pace had dropped off sharply. Where was the turn around? Time seemed to be slipping by at a snail's pace, but not as slowly as I felt I was running. My hamstrings were quivering and felt on the verge of cramping. "At least if I got cramps I would have reason for my failure". Oh no. The voice of doubt had been awoken. I hit the turn around and headed back. I could see the pack coming the toward me now and saw that I had a guy coming up behind me very quickly. I didn't speed up. I figured he would just buzz by me furthering fueling the voice of doubt. He didn't. He fell into pace behind me. I moved closer to the edge of the path to be sure he would he have room to pass if he wanted but he didn't. His breathing was as labored as mine and it sounded like he was sitting right on my shoulder. This actually made me feel a bit better knowing I wasn't the only one suffering. "Just slow down a bit and let him pass. You're 20 minute goal is out of reach anyway". No, I wasn't going to slow down. No, I wasn't going to just let him pass. How could I make the voice shut up? Count. Count! I began to count my breaths as time continued to stretch out. 1, 2, 3, 4, "Seriously just slow..."5, 6, "are you listening...."7, 8, "fine, whatever...".

Another thought occurred to me as I was struggling. What would Dave think if I just quit? Really? How much grief would I have to take if I just decided to give up? Maybe none. Maybe a lot. I didn't want to find out. I was going to see this out even if it meant puking on the finish line and collapsing which both seemed very good possibilities. Finally, the mile 3 marker came and went. mile 3: 19:11.

The Final Push

This was it. I found that I had a little gas left in the tank, so I punched it. I picked up my pace for the last tenth of a mile. Time didn't matter anymore. It was now a race between me and the heavy breather that had been on my shoulder for the last mile. He began his own sprint to the finish and creeped up next to me. We could both see the finish line and were totally zoned in on it. My head was pounding my breathing was ragged, but amazingly I had one more gear left and kicked it up again. All I had to do was make it into the finishing chute ahead of heavy breather. Nothing else mattered, and it was over. I walked to the other side of the finishing chute to get my tagged ripped. I hadn't even looked at my watch and just barely caught a glance of the finish line timer. I knew I was close. mile 3.1: 19:56.

My official time was 19:58 as I finished 2nd in my division and 11th overall. I was all smiles and happiness after I stopped aspirating my own spit and was able to breathe again. The rest of the evening was spent enjoying food, drinks, and the good company of the Team In Training group. I caught up with my Spark friend again after the race for a moment and she was happy with her race as well. After years of chasing the goal it was done. I was satisfied and buoyed by the knowledge that through the groups that I have been training with and the people that I've gotten to know I had a wonderful group of friends to share these races and experiences. No matter whether I met any of my goals the rest of my running life I was no longer running alone.

But speaking of goals how awesome would it be to qualify for Boston?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Speed Training: Check

I finished up my final session of speed training this morning at about 7:30 am. Write it down, check it off, I am done. Sweet. It's been 6 weeks of Yasso 800's once a week mostly on the hamster wheel at the gym. Each week I add one more 800 interval on to the workout. Each week the workout gets a little tougher and takes a little longer. Each week I go through moments of doubt, despair, and thoughts of quitting. It's not what you'd call fun, but I'm hoping it will pay off in the upcoming marathon.

It's been a bit of a learning experience. I hate the treadmill to begin with so it's been difficult to stay focused and motivated during the intervals. It's been difficult to find something to grasp on to on the low moments. Usually about halfway through I start to lose my focus and just want to stop so badly. In those moments I really question my sanity and why I'm doing this at all. I've been looking for a trick to pull me out of the downward spiral that happens in these moments. I look for something to pull me out of my own head. To find that little thing would also help on marathon day. Late in the race you have those same moments out on the course only intensified by the knowledge that you're not on a treadmill or track working out you're there at the event you've spent months preparing for and things seem to be falling apart. Mentally you are wrecking your race.

I found that little thing that may do the trick a couple of weeks ago. Actually I found two things that will do the trick, but it's good to have a back up. I found a good running partner that I can talk to while running. I cannot stress enough how much this has changed my training and race experiences this year. To have someone there in the same moment feeling the same pains to talk to immediately takes you out of that self-destructive head space. It stops the downward spiral. The other thing I found, in case of emergency, is to count breaths. It sounds silly, but it works. On the treadmill I breathe approximately 160 times over the course of 3 minutes and 30 seconds during an 800 meter interval. I tried counting steps, but it doesn't have the same effect.

Counting breaths calms me, centers me and pushes everything else to the background. It also has an added benefit. While I'm counting my breaths I become very aware of how I'm breathing and control it better. I don't gasp for air. I count and I blow out just like I was taught by Bob Roncker. Breathe like you're blowing out a candle. It's simple and effective. It's not race tested yet, but it will probably be after this weekend.

On Saturday I'm going to be chasing the elusive sub-20 minute 5K at the Rat Race 5K & 10K. It's going to be an all out 3.1 mile sprint. Let's see if those intervals and breathing techniques pay off.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

34+18x2/20 = Awesome

It's all in the equation. It was an awesome weekend thanks to many different people and several great events. I turned 34 on Friday, which honestly who cares because didn't birthdays stop really mattering after you turn 21? It's the last birthday that anything really cool happens. Everything after that is just hearing people freak out about getting older...blah, blah, blah. I don't mind getting older. I don't have to worry about trying to be "cool" or "hip". Have you seen my Facebook profile pic? I was kind of cool back then, hah! Besides as you get older you say the most inappropriate things and people just don't seem to mind as much. But I digress. Here are a few highlights from the weekend.

18x2 = two awesome 80's mixes that were born out of the epic 80's Mix Off that dropped Friday at lunch. It began as a conversation about music that lead to a trading of mixes, that lead to smack talk, that lead to a challenge, that ended Friday at noon, sort of. I think my frienemy Gina covers it pretty well, albeit with a slight, very subtle bias in her blog. Dave provided some delicious birthday cake and the hype. Joe Esposito said it best "You're the best around, nothing's ever gonna bring you down" Dave. Missy brought a preview to some sweet dance moves to said Joe Esposito song. I do expect to see the complete interpretive dance at some point, who wouldn't want to see that? Gina dropped the bomb and brought the sweet mix and the funniest cd cover eva. Thank you all for the best workplace, lunch time, cafeteria birthday in the history of workplace, lunch time, cafeteria birthdays. It rawked. Check out a preview of the mixes at under My Playlist.

/20 = 20 miler weekend. Saturday morning was our longest long run in preparation for the Flying Pig. Before the Saturday morning long run though Angie and I enjoyed the company of some of the Team In Training participants, mentors, coaches and heroes Friday evening for some major carbo loading at a pasta dinner. It was really nice to be able to talk to the runners that I've been seeing this spring while they are not running and sweating. It makes conversation a little easier. It was also very nice because Angie knows some of the heroes (Leukemia and Lymphoma survivors) and their parents from Children's Hospital. It is always special to see these kids healthy and happy after seeing them at various stages of sickness and treatment in the hospital. It puts it all in perspective.

Saturday morning Team in Training, our hospital running group and several other running groups and friends of runners met at Ault Park for the 20/12. There was somewhere between 500 and 600 runners out to run the course to downtown Cincinnati and back to Ault Park, which if you are not familiar with Cincinnati topography sits, literally on top of a hill. It was a tough run made a little bit tougher by dropping temperatures and gusting wind. Overall though, it was great. The atmosphere was that of a race day with the groups providing food, physical therapists stretching people after the run, and a DJ from Q102 providing some tunes.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Born To Be Wild

In my quests for running and riding faster and farther I sometimes forget the simple joy of riding or running without looking at the timer and worrying about stride, pedal stroke, cadence, posture, breathing and the laundry list of things to worry about while training or racing. This past weekend I got a reminder of the little bit of freedom we are afforded in the simple act of getting on a bike.

My daughter decided to make the leap from training wheels to a full on two wheeled bike rider. This is something that we've all known she could do for the last year, but she just lacked the confidence to try. She's been riding razors, and skateboards on her own, but when it came to the bike she just wasn't quite ready. Saturday she decided to make the transition, and it was a revelation to her much like it is a revelation to us all when we have a break through and reach that goal that seemed impossible before. Now she wants to ride every day.

Let us all remember that sometimes it's good to forget about all the stuff we worry about as adults and just get out there and run, pedal, swim, play and move.

It's worth noting that when we made the move to riding on the road and sidewalks that the helmet rule was and is enforced. I always wear my helmet when riding on the roads and did so with my daughter as we went for our first ride around the neighborhood.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Heart Mini '08 - 2 Beats

So often when I finish a race and have done well I temper my enthusiasm with little put downs that keep me from getting really excited about what I've accomplished. I did really well in that 5k, but if I would have just started out a little slower, or if I would have just not slowed down that second mile I could have run just that much faster. Following which begins the laundry list of items that I will do differently next time. It's a disease. Very rarely do I think that I did the very best that I could do during that race on that day. The Mini-Heart Marathon on Sunday was one of those rare exceptions. I know to my core that I did the very best that I could do on Sunday, and I am completely happy with the results without reservation. I have no laundry list of improvements to make for the next race or next year when I run this race again. I am totally happy.

This is the first time I've ever run the "2 Beats" category. The 2 Beats is actually 2 races. You run the 5k race at 9 am and the 15k race at 10 am. You get a time for each race and a combined time for both races. I wasn't really running both races full on. I wanted to use the 5k as a warm-up of sorts and concentrate on the 15k. I've got another 5k coming up in April and this hilly course is never going to be a PR course for the 5k. However, this is the only 15k that I run during the year, so it could very well be a PR day for that distance. Here is a quick recap of both races.

I met up with my work running group before the 5k and lined up with them. The plan for Dave and myself was to run a fairly easy 5k and keep the pace at about an 8 minute/mile. It wasn't going to be easy because we are both a bit competitive and tend to push each other on training runs. I've had far faster training run times this spring than I ever have. I'm hoping it will pay off come marathon time. It definitely paid off today. From the sound of the gun the 8 minute/mile plan was dust. The pace came easy and the cool, cloudy day was very helpful. I broke a sweat somewhere around mile 1 as we joked that I might need to grab some water to replace my bead of sweat that I lost in fluids.

Somewhere around mile 2 we came up on a pint sized runner that had been ahead of us the entire time. I asked him what grade he was in to which he replied "6th grade" and followed up by asking him if this was his first race to which he replied "nah, I run cross country". I think Dave felt threatened because he pushed the pace up a bit...or maybe that was me. We cruised through the third mile and into the home stretch feeling comfortable. Dave sprinted the last 25 yards to beat a tall, lanky 15 year old girl...and I thought I was competitive. I finished up the 5k at 23:27 which is a 7:32 pace, which is slightly faster than we had intended. All is well though I was feeling good.

Official Time: 23:27
Pace: 7:32
Overall: 132/1535
Sex Pl: 119/750
Div Pl: 13/87

I jogged to my car to change clothes. I ran the first race in running pants and a fairly thick running shirt to keep warm on the cool morning. I definitely worked up a sweat in the last couple of miles and felt the sweat cooling starting to chill my skin. I didn't need that. I wanted to be dry and comfortable, which is why I came prepared. I changed into my Race Ready shorts and a lighter long sleeve running shirt. It wasn't warming up quite as much as they had predicted as heavy clouds still hung around threatening rain at any moment. Fresh clothes and a banana and I was ready for the main event.

The size of the field had doubled for the 15k..almost literally. There were 1535 finishers for the 5k and 2926 finishers for the 15k. Luckily the road was wide and the race longer. We would have plenty of opportunity to get out wide around the crowd, or make up time if we couldn't. We lined up somewhere in the middle of pack on the edge. Far enough up to get in front of the runners that would be slower than us, but not so far up that we would get swept up in the mania of a sprint start. That would be bad.

The gun went off and once again Dave and I were striding away from the start line. This time we had a goal in mind: 7 minute/miles. That would mean we were looking to cover our 9.3 miles in 1:05:14. That is a full 5 minutes and 4 seconds than my finish last year. 5 minutes and 4 minutes may not seem like a lot in normal human time, but in runner's time that's pulling about 30 seconds off each mile that I run. I had my doubts especially with the specter of Torrence hill looming over mile 6. Now you may not know what I'm talking about, but the course starts in downtown Cincinnati and is an out and back on one of the routes out of the city. It's a very hilly course with a mean little trick at mile 6. After you turn around to take the seemingly straight shot back into the city you make a sudden right hand turn up a nice steep hill for about a 1/4 of a mile. I'm betting it is a very sad moment for a lot of first timers.

The first 5K was flawless with a time of 21:41. We were cruising along nicely now a little ahead of schedule. Of course that's the easy part. Somewhere between mile 4 and mile 5 Dave started to feel a little bad. He was getting some tightness in a calf. We slowed the pace a little bit. No big deal we had a good 20 second cushion. Miles 4 and 5 were at about a 7:20 pace and Dave wasn't feeling any better. He decided to slow down a bit and try to work out the calf. I pushed on ahead. I was feeling very, very good. I had a little tightness in my left calf, but it was completely manageable. Everything else was going exactly as planned. As I pulled away from Dave I got a little nervous. He's a talker when he runs, so it makes the miles go by very quickly and easily. Suddenly I was by myself.

I spent the first part of mile 5 collecting my thoughts. I concentrated on my breathing for a little while and checked my watch. If I could get up and down Torrence without losing too much time I could actually pull it off. The final mile or so was a downhill stretch into the city. I made the right turn and pushed up the hill. I shortened my strides, concentrated on breathing and tried to keep from blowing up. Some were pulling ahead of me, others were falling back and a few weren't even going to challenge the hill and walked. I kept saying to myself that I wasn't going to win the race on this hill, but I could lose it if I pushed too hard. I chanted to myself in the final push to the turn around "I'll make it up on the downhill, I'll make it up on the downhill" and I was around and the cone and striding back down the hill. The 6 mile mark was near the bottom of the hill where we would turn back toward the city. I looked at my split for mile 6 in a little bit of disbelief...6:58. In that moment I knew that this was a PR day.

Mile 7 flew by in a blur as I collected myself after the hill and began to make plans for my final break. The fact that I was even thinking about a final break got me excited. The only thing standing between me and my goal was one last hill in mile 8 then it was a straight downhill shot into the city and a final sprint to the finish. Did I have a sprint left in me? No doubt.

I picked up the pace to hit mile 8 with a 6:38. Fantastic. Mile 9 was steady with a 6:52. Perfect. This was the final push from the edge of the city on a flat, straight finish. I sprinted. This was .3 miles. This was slightly longer than my Yasso's that I've been doing for 6 weeks. I focused on the person up ahead of me and pushed harder. I only had a few minutes left and I can see the finish line. I passed the runner and picked up on the next person ahead and bared down. Every muscle in my body was screaming and I was breathing very hard now. It didn't matter the finish line is closer, and closer, and there. I raised my hands as I crossed the line in triumph. It was a moment of triumph. I had caught a glimpse of the clock as I was coming to the finish line. I knew I was just over 1:05. I was shaking from head to toe from the effort and felt like I was going to puke. That is the sign of a good race!

The miles went like this: 7:05, 7:06, 6:32, 7:20, 7:20, 6:58 (the hill), 7:02, 6:38, 6:52, 2:09 (.3 sprint to the finish)

Official Time: 1:05:05
5k Split: 21:41
10k Split: 43:43
Overall: 163/2926
Sex Pl: 146/1512
Div Pl: 23/211

Finally 2+ years of blogging these events pays off. I was able to go back and look at the last two years of running the Mini-Heart and see just how far I've come. Two years ago I was psyched to run an 8:30 pace. How sweet is that? Check it out.