Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another tough workout....

And this one on the dreaded 'run to nowhere' (i.e. treadmill).

Actually, that was by my choosing since my only option for the proper hill profile and work schedule would have been to brave the cold darkness this morning - and honestly, I really wanted to run in shorts. Also wore my racing flats just to give them a little more break-in.

So the workout was 8 miles overall on a hilly course, which I simulated by popping the incline up and down to run hills of 3% to 6% grade for distances that varied between 1/10 and 1/2 mile each. At the top of the hill I'd bop the incline down to 0% for the same distance to simulate (somewhat) downhill running (on a treadmill, 1-2% represents running on a flat outside due to wind resistance and the fact that on a treadmill, you aren't actually propelling yourself forward, you are just running over a moving belt). Pace-wise 1.5% 'felt' about right to running outside.

Now for the tough part. After about 3 miles of this, I ran the following set over a 3 mile continuous stretch:

800m @6:31 pace
2 miles @6:53 pace
800m @6:31 pace

The above was tough - especially on a treadmill (for me). The last 800m is actually not too bad, since I've said before, "I can do just about anything for 1/2 mile". It felt good to run fast and even better to be doing it without all the usual cold weather gear. Then it was another couple miles of hills and cool-down followed by my usual stretching routine.

On my way into the locker room a guy commented to me, "Wow, that was a tough treadmill workout you were doing" - Hmmm..... I didn't know I had an audience ;-)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Great pacing / LT workout!

Did this great workout from my coach yesterday. Here was the basic structure:

10 miles overall

After a couple miles warm-up - 5 sets of the following (done right in succession)

800m @progressively faster paces 6:45 / 6:40 / 6:35 / 6:30 / 6:25
60s easy running
60s hard (pretty much 90% focus on fluid / smooth - top end LT into VO2max)
2 min recovery

Number 5 took some mental fortitude.

Overall hit 6:45 / 6:36 / 6:32 / 6:29 / 6:23
My 60s (hard) hit average paces all sub-6 except for the first one, lowest was 5:42)

Just such an awesome workout - felt like I could have rallied and done one more set, but it would have taken some psyching up ;-)

My coach has definitely structured my training around making my slower runs slower and my faster runs faster. I feel faster in just the past 3 weeks - lots of it is mental (I have this mental barrier below 7:00s - but it's quickly going away).

Monday, January 24, 2011

Whew..... and the on-going balancing act

A long time ago, I read an article that described the differences between 'exercising' and 'training'. In short, the goals of 'exercising' are to stay in shape. To maintain or at the most, gradually improve fitness. 'Training' on the other hand, seeks to maximize the rate at which fitness improves. To that end, athletes that are training, pretty much always feel slightly fatigued. The trick is to not be too fatigued. It's a daily subjective call that we sometimes get wrong.

In short, you are often balancing that fine thread between the greatness of a plateau breakthrough and the disaster of over-training or worse; injury.

Taking into account that in running, one week's breakthrough can actually be at the price of an injury that surfaces days later and you see why most runners are so neurotic about all the twinges and tweaks we feel from week to week. Is that little wince in your right big toe joint just a tweak from a past workout that will be gone (and replaced with something else) tomorrow? Or is it the start of a gradually worsening chronic pain accompanies by weeks and sometimes months of trouble-shooting, rest (i.e. lost fitness) and frustration. Walk too far on the conservative side, and you'll be unlikely to win a race or consistently place. Step over the edge and you're couch fodder for the next 6 weeks.

This past week was such a source of elation and worry. The week before last I was running negative split intervals at speeds I hadn't confidently run before. I capped off the week with a long run that finished strong with 6x100m wind sprints up a steep hill. Simply put, I felt like I was hauling.

Monday of this week I felt great and put in another strong effort on Tuesday at the track, hitting solid splits lap after lap. But by the end of that workout, I noticed a little twinge in my outside left thigh. Uh-oh...

By the end of an easy 5 miler on Wed, it had landed in my left hip flexor (the thigh was most likely referred pain). And that's when I started worrying. Having been through the drill, I stretched and massaged and rested in between. On Thursday's pace run it was better, but after Friday's easy 6 miler it was back and achy for the rest of the day. And that's when the worries started creeping in.

You go through a bunch of stages - denial, rationalization of why you can't be injured, trying to figure out what you did wrong and realizing that you didn't do anything wrong, worry about what tomorrow will bring and an impatience to see what it actually does bring. On the way to the fridge you twist funny here or there to test the area. You might even run a little jog or go through the motions of a running stride to figure out what you can and can't do. And then when it does start to subside, it's mentally 'there' for a long time after the physical side has gone.

So for Saturday I decided to trade in my 6 mile easy run for my magical recovery solution - a bike ride.

For me, the bike is the ultimate physical therapy tool. My body responds to it like it's some sort of mystical elixir. Physiologically I think it's that when I ride, my body is totally relaxed in the saddle. It feels like such a natural position for me to be in after decades of riding. The joints in particular are all suspended from the usual pounding of hitting the road, but still get the advantage of aerobic blood flow, bathing the joint in the body's natural rejuvenation components of well oxygenated blood. By the end of the 23+ miles (including 1600 ft of climbing and a particularly gnarly 35+ mph head-wind for 4 miles of the return loop) I felt like a million dollars.

On Sunday I had a 12 miler on the plan with a couple miles at the end at 1/2 marathon pace. I ran around Chatfield reservoir. Starting out and throughout my run, it was 'there', but no real pain or twinges. I also recognized that if I just let my hip open up on my stride a bit, then it felt better. It was during that playing around with my form that I realized running on the snow and ice of the past few weeks (especially the 10K race I did on it), probably caused me to run a little 'in the bucket' or with my hips tense and closed up a bit.

At the end of the run I went through an extensive stretching process and even stopped in the last mile to do sets of push-ups and additional hip flexor stretching along the side of the road. My hip felt great by the end of the run and this morning - it's like it was never hurt. Just as strangely as it appeared, it's now gone again.

So - 'WHEW' goes me, until the next time I step a little too far off the balancing wire.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A few of my favorite things.......

Sung to the melodic tone by Julie Andrews, but nothing to do with whiskers on kittens.

Over the years though, I have developed an affection for a number of what I now feel to be indespensible running accessories - or at least well worth the dough I dropped out of my tight little fist for.

One such item is my Garmin GPS running watch. It's not the new fangled fancy one with the touch screen bezel. It's the old, klunky Forerunner 305. It's a behemoth by Today's standard, but it's still one of my favorite running accessories.

On the nice to have side of the equation, it allows me to run pacing workouts without being on the track or a measured course. When out for a run, I can explore a new trail and still have a good idea of what distance I've run for the day without mapping it all out on - which is a great site, but removes some of the spontaneity of last minute route changes, either because of trail conditions or an interest to explore a trail that didn't show up on the Google satellite view.

But the indispensable part comes from the number of times it has saved me from being late for a morning meeting when I'm running in a new city and realize that I've gotten turned around. I don't know how you folks without a nearby mountain range do it. In Colorado, we just look up and always know which way is west.

This morning was number 4 in such savings. I was out on some twisty trail system in Houston. I was doing a progressive pacing workout and what I had planned to be an 8 mile run. After mile 6 or so, I was winding down from my progression and headed in the direction I thought would take me back to the hotel. But then as I approached a key intersection, I realized that the cross street was not the name I was expecting.

Now this is bad because I had only allotted time for about 8 miles. Someone was scheduled to pick me up and we had a client meeting to make across town.

Not to fear. Because I have gotten into the habit of setting a 'way point' whenever I step out the hotel door. For those who aren't GPS savvy, a way point is like an electronic push pin in a map. You simply select 'find way point' on the watch, and it Immediately shows you an arrow pointing you back to that point and a distance to that point. In this instance, the arrow was pointing directly behind me, meaning I was running in the exact opposite direction of the hotel.

Luckily, I had only run a mile in the wrong direction, so I had added two miles total to my run. A quick calculation told me that I'd have about 16 minutes cut from my morning routine when I got back to the hotel. And most of those things are important. Like eating, showering, dressing, etc. So I sped up and ga e myself another couple minutes. I ran confidently, my GPS watch pointing mr the way home.

It's an awesome feature of the watch for someone that travels as much as me. Especially in China where the manic street directions, unfamiliarity with the street names and thick fog that obscures buildings even when you are only 100m away from them can make a place you've been a dozen times look totally different.

My Garmin watch is definitely better than whiskers on kittens. Unless of course you were a kitten... Since....uhhmmm....I think they need whiskers and can't really operate a GPS watch.

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Shoes - Again...

So I wrote a while back about the joy of running in new shoes, even when those new shoes are just a new pair of the same pair I've been running in for the past 2 1/2 years (about 10 or 11 pair to date of the Pearl Izumi SynchroPace III).
So imagine how exciting it is to have a new pair that is really a new 'model' as well!
I went in to pick up my usual model. But when I got home I realized that the inner liner was missing. Since I was headed back to the store, I started thinking that I really hadn't had my stride looked at by the store in the past couple of years or so. And I had spent the better part of the last year specifically improving my stride mechanics.
WARNING – Geek like technical but high level enough to spark wild debates by those that are really into this sort of thing. Read at your own risk – I won't respond to arguments on the forum since since nobody but geeks care about the following explanation being highly accurate
Now – shoe models are generally classified along a spectrum from Neutral, through Stability through Motion Control. It's all based on how much support the shoe offers to offset natural pronation through the foot-strike. Pronation is the act of landing on the outside of your heel and then rolling inward to where the foot-strike departs on about the big toe (inside). The degree to which you pronate is based on both your bio-mechanics and your stride mechanics. Neutral runners need the least amount of side to side support, while Motion Control folks need the most to support the foot from 'collapsing' to the inside on the foot strike. There is a lot of debate recently about whether suppressing pronation is a good thing or bad thing, but I go with the conventional wisdom that any movement that is not solely aft to forefoot (neutral) is wasted energy in the wrong direction (laterally) – unless of course you are having issues through suppressing pronation – and then all bets are off. It's between you and your shoe expert at the local running shop.
Previously I was a lower end 'Stability' runner – and I've often thought that this was mostly due to over-striding in the past analysis I've gone through since naturally my feet tend to supinate just standing around.
So I spoke to the manager at Boulder Running Company (my go-to running store), and tried out a few models on the treadmill there where they can video tape you running and focus in slow motion on your foot strikes.
Turns out I am now a completely neutral runner and could move to a couple models shifted in that direction (the Pearl Izumi Cruise model). Not wanting to make drastic changes, I went with the model right in between (the Float) with the notion to move to the Cruise on my next 'new shoe' purchase when these wear out in about 10 weeks or so. Needless to say, they felt great on my easy 6 miler on Saturday. Just a slight change, but I can definitely feel the difference.
So that got me to thinking to do something I've been wanting to do for a while – get a pair of racing flats just for races and some fast track workouts.
Now racing flats are a whole different class of shoe. They are intended to provide minimal support and be as light weight as possible. It's not a shoe you want to log high mileage weeks on, unless you are an elite runner (which I am not). But in a past post on barefoot running, I talked about how useful it is (at least to me) to have very little between you and the road as a way to build 'foot awareness' and that racing flats were a nice way to do this.
So I went back on Sunday and after trying a few different models, settled on the Brookes Racer ST4 – they offer a little more stability than the ST6 which a lot of the elites wear. These things are about 1/2 pound less than my previous training shoes. That's a lot of weight!
Needless to say – I'm totally psyched to have a couple new 'toys' in my running gear bag.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

10K Race in the Snow and Cold

It's been cold and snowy here in CO lately. Not extreme certainly by midwest standards as I still remember what 10 degrees feels like in MI and walking through 3 foot drifts to school... or was that my dad?

But by Denver standards, it's been downright wintry. And for someone that has lived her for almost two decades, I've long since lost my ability to physically comprehend classic MI temps that can dip well below the zero energy levels of deep space.

That hasn't stopped me from running, but the same mileage / intensity definitely is taking it's toll on me. As part of my 2011 plan, I raced a 10K with the Rocky Mountain Roadrunners this past Sunday. That was the morning when we woke up to 4 inches of snow on the ground, snow still falling and dropping temps. I dutifully got up early, and drove through the sludge to the race site north of town. Having a personal coach now pretty much guaranteed I couldn't bag the race since I'd have to endure my own sheepish admission of failure to someone other than my supportive wife that would have been happy for me to crawl back into bed and tell her I was staying home.

And as is the usual chain of events - I was so happy once I was running that I had pushed through the dark / cold / snowy demons of the morning and toed up to the line. (All other runners know EXACTLY what I'm talking about).

Now you might think that I was only racing with 5 or 10 other nut-balls, but this is Colorado. I swear that poor conditions generally increases the field out here. Certainly it pushes up the talent pool on those days in a synergistic chain of events - people that push through the morning demons to race in crappy weather are faster, precisely because they generally have the resolve to push through and run in crappy weather.

The total field size was about 70+ runners. The races are part of a 'trophy series' that use a handicapping system to stagger the start. I've looked at the math in the spreadsheet calculator and while much of it is beyond me, the general principle is to do two things. One is to put the emphasis on proportional, consistent improvement as a measure of who 'wins' the races and overall series. Two is to stagger the start so everyone is finishing as close to at the same time (rather than all starting at the same time). This had a nice effect on this day of not slipping and sliding in some chaotic melee mass start.

The race started at 9am. As this was my first race, I had to guess at my 'handicap' via finishing time. Knowing I can run a 10K in about 40 minutes I looked at the conditions, took into account that by the time I was on the course it would be packed down a bit, the fact that I had peppered the bottom of my old shoes with sheet metal screws (they work btw), 42 minutes - making my start time 9:27:53 - needless to say - I was overly optimistic.

I ran 45 mins and change. The moment I was on the course I realized I wasn't going to hit 42 minutes without upping the danger of biffing. The sheet metal screws provide better traction, but rounding corners and running on raw pavement under the bridges was a little harrowing for me. I've gone down on the bike onto cold, snowy pavement before. The ground is harder and you bounce less. You lay there hoping the snow will cover you up quickly and you can slip into the primal calming that comes with a wintry grave, but eventually you realize you have to get up. You then feel like someone beat you with hammers for the next few days. It's something to avoid.

Overall, my pace put me in absolute finish time in 9th place. Running against my handicap, I was further down the field obviously. I will point out that like 5 of the top 9 guys were all under 40 years old - but I've mentioned before that age grouping gives me little solace. I don't like not being able to run as fast a 20 year old college kid. I deny it with all my delusional might.

After the race I helped break down the registration tent, carried cones to the team van and just got to know some of the folks in the club. Very, very nice folks and a real pleasure to race with. I'm so glad I joined the club. I stopped off at Starbucks on the way home and got my morning coffee reward. Then home to a warm shower and a license to lay low the rest of the day.

The last few days of running have been fun, but tough in the cold. Today and for the next few days the temps are going to push up into the 40's and 50's and I'm happy to have that break from the Snow Miser. I can't wait to run warm again and am tougher for having endured the cold and snow.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Plan - 2011

I don't do New Year's resolutions. I don't have any issues with them, but I generally follow the rule that if you want to change something, then you should start today.

That being said, the downtime from work, family time and reflection / free-time during the holiday usually lends itself well for me to do some planning for the coming year.

One thing I'm going to do differently this year which I'm pretty excited about is to get a personal running coach. I already found someone that Paige had been impressed with who ran some track workouts for her. I corresponded over some eMails and liked her philosophy and approach.

The nice thing about deciding on a coach was that she immediately sent me her athlete questionnaire to fill out - and that forced me to do some goal setting and race planning for the year (which I might have put off for another month or so).

So my overall goals for next year are to run a sub 1:30 half marathon in the Spring, and then a sub 3 hour marathon in the fall (obviously at sea level and with the most advantageous course possible while still being a certified course and official qualifier). My previous PR's are 1:31 for the half and 3:18 for the marathon - both at altitude.

To get to those goals, I'm going to focus on going faster over shorter distances (10K to 1/2 marathon) for most of the winter early spring, with a lot more races thrown in at those distances - tentatively one a month. I belong to Rocky Mountain Road Runners and they have a great Trophy Series - so it's easy for me to get in at least one race per month in that series alone.

1/9/2011 – 10K (Trophy Series)
2/6/2011 – 7 mi (Trophy)
3/6/2011 – 3 mi (Trophy)
4/3/2011 – 4 mi (Trophy)
4/10/2011 – Platte River ½ Marathon
4/30/2011 – 5 mi (Trophy)
5/30/2011 – 10K Bolder Boulder
6/5/2011 – Steamboat ½ Marathon (?)

Then continuing with the Trophy Series through the Summer with a sea level / relatively flat marathon distance course in the October time frame. Candidates I’ve thought of could be St. George, Columbus, Steamtown and Detroit.

From a cross training perspective, I'm 'resolving' to be more consistent on my strength and core training. I've already got a good work ethic that I developed around stretching over the summer, and my latest checkup with Pete (my PT) says that everything is lined up the way it should be in my lower body.

Finally - I'm going to take my nutrition just up a little and drop 7-10lbs slowly, just by eating a little less in the evenings (I'm a horrible snacker) and doubling down on my fruits and veggies.

So there you go - that's my New Year's plan for running in 2011!

Happy New Year!!