Friday, July 10, 2009

Long Run, Trimmed

I'll have more to say about long runs, the theories behind 'em and their role in the marathon-training scheme. But right now I'll just post the workout and a few words, because I need to eat and I need to rest; I feel very wiped out.

So I jumped into this 16-week training plan more than a month in, at Week 11 counting down toward the Berlin Marathon on September 20. I was relying on my fitness base from Ironman to carry me, but this first week of training soon revealed that to be overly ambitious, or hopeful. I discovered that Ironman fitness and fast marathon fitness, even fitness-in-progress, are two very different things, and that my body was not fully recovered from the 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and 26 miles, 385 yards of running that I did on June 21 (not too mention all the work that got me ready for that effort).

When I woke up this morning I knew I couldn't do what the plan told me to do: 20 miles at 8 minutes per mile. Well, I could, but it would have been foolish. The track repeats on Monday, the tempo run on Wednesday—this was all high-intensity stuff, new to me, and it left me feeling mildly sore and majorly worn out. I made the decision to trim the run to 16 miles. (Yes, I need to do long runs, but did you know there are three more 20-milers scheduled in the next seven weeks?)

All that said, I think I would have been able to do a solid 20 fairly comfortably today if I had gotten my ass out the door earlier in the day. By midrun it was quite warm, well into the 80s, and on the humid side as well. Most days I do a 16-miler without stopping to drink or eat, but today I found myself desperately thirsty after two loops (four miles) on the dirt at Glendoveer. So most of the slower miles on the chart above—9, 13, 15—included 20- to 30-second pauses to drink some Gatorade. Otherwise, after starting a little too fast, I did a decent job sticking near the 8-minute/mile pace I was shooting for. In the end, it was 16.2 miles at 7:58/mile, and it was done.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Finding the Tempo

When I first got into triathlon—well before I got into marathon—I'd read blogs and find myself baffled at the frequent references to "tempo runs." It's a curious term; I half thought you ran to a beat. I did some research, of course, and gained a bit of an understanding of the term, but it became clear that like a lot of things in life it was something I needed to experience to really get. Amazingly, it took me until today to do that. Six marathons, several half-marathons, countless 10Ks, 5Ks and ultras ... and finally I did a tempo run.

Here's the low-down on tempo runs, beginning with the key fact: Tempo runs are all about improving endurance by raising your lactate threshold. Lactate threshold? Well, as explained by Pete Pfitzinger in Advanced Marathoning:
Lactacte is produced by your muscles and is used by your muscles, heart, liver, and kidneys. The lactate concentration in your blood represents a balance between lactate production and consumption.... As you increase your effort from resting to walking to easy running, your rates of lactate production and consumption increase, and your blood lactate concentration stays relatively constant. When you run harder than your lactate threshold, however, your lactate clearance can no longer keep up with lactate production.
From there Pfitz starts talking about ions and stuff, but the takeaway is that in this situation, pushed past lactate threshold, clearance no longer keeping up with production, your muscles tie up and you slow down.

So you can see the benefit of improving your lactate threshold. And the way to accomplish that is to “run at your current lactate-threshold pace or a few seconds per mile faster,” to quote Pfitzinger again (you’d think I’d use his training plan, all the quoting of him I do). At that pace, lactate is beginning to build up in your blood, so your body is stimulated to improve your ability to clear it—to make physiological adaptations. Pfitzinger says this pace is around your 15K pace, maybe up to half marathon. FIRST says it’s 15-45 seconds slower than 5K race pace, which is pretty much the same neighborhood where Pfitz has you playing.

My first ever real live tempo run was 5 miles @ 6:45 pace. I did an easy run over to Laurelhurst Park (just shy of a mile and a half from home). I headed there because the roads and sidewalks on the outer perimeter of the park—not in the park itself—are lightly trafficed and a loop is almost exactly a mile, which helps to maintain a sense of my pacing just by where I am. Still, of course, I wear my Garmin, and I get data. Such as:

You can see I was pretty good about my pacing. A little quick for the final two miles, which is shocking because I was in more than a little pain by then. Check that: I was hurtin’! I think there’s still some lingering fatigue from IMCDA, plus Monday’s track work really put me through the wringer. I was creaky Wednesday morning and when I got up to tempo speed could tell my legs weren’t as fresh as I would have liked. That's something I'll have to pay attention to, since a core principle of the FIRST method is that the relative paucity of running gives you time to recover and be ready to tackle the intensity of the workouts. I need to make sure I get fully recovered soon.

As I did after my track repeats, I didn’t bother doing a cool-down run; I walked home from Laurelhurst, regaining my equanimity and pondering this very new and exciting running adventure.

Monday, July 6, 2009

First FIRST Workout

[Distances in kilometers. Click on graphic for full-size version.]

I thought I liked to run hard. I thought I liked to hurt. I had no idea what that really meant.

Today was the first day of training for Berlin, kicking off with track repeats. I'd never really done anything like this. Yeah, once in a while on a run I'd find my way to a track and there I might unwind a few hard miles or 800s at an undefined pace with a flexible interval. It's a different story when the workout is firm—and a bit of a reach.

With FIRST, the training paces are supposed to be based on "current fitness and not goal race times." Not having done a 5K recently, I used my half-marathon time from Race for the Roses in April to peg a 5K equivalent of 19:20, which is 21 seconds faster than what I did at my most recent 5K, last fall at Blue Lake. So it's slightly aggressive pacing. It falls in line with a marathon goal of just under 3:10.

So here's what the boys from Furman instructed me to do:
  • 2x1200 in 4:22 with a 2-minute rest interval (walking mostly, a little jogging).
  • Then after another 2-minute rest, 4x800 in 2:51 with 2-minute intervals.
One thing that ratcheted up the difficulty factor: I tended to go out too fast. You're supposed to run at an even pace throughout each repeat, and you're also supposed to hit the pace time, not beat it. I got better at that as I went along. (The distances on the chart above are from my Garmin and are a little long because I was running on a 400m track but had to go in Lane 2 often due to kids on bikes, aimless walkers and high school football players being badass tough guys by standing on the track in front of the old runner dude.)

Using the track distances, not the Garmin, it was 5.6 kilometers of hard running—without the rest, that's 20:14 going like a fool, a 5:49/mile pace. That's 30 seconds/mile under my best 5k pace. Well, that's the idea behind intervals, isn't it? The rest periods allow you to do more hard running than you'd be able to do otherwise. The hard running improves VO2 max. It's making the engine bigger, boosting the horsepower. Rrrn, rrrn.

You can see my heart rate got into the 170s (my max is 180 or so) on the first of the 1200s, peaking at 176 on each of the final two 800s. What you can't see is that my guts tied into knots on the third lap of each 1200 and I didn't think I would make it, and that on the second of the 800s I actually feared I'd need to flee to the trackside toilet before finishing the thing. Actually, I did run over to the can, after the 800 was done, but by the time I got there things had calmed down, it was a false alarm, just my insides rebelling against running pretty much as hard as I can for several minutes. Again and again. On the second lap of the final 800 I felt as though I was barely moving but weirdly, the clock showed I maintained my pace. I walked the whole two miles home, not because I couldn't have jogged some of it but because I didn't want to. I didn't want to leave all that pure pain and effort behind so quickly for the vague sorta sucky pain of a post-track jog. So I walked and savored.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Marathon Project

What I decided to do after Ironman was run the best marathon of my life. Actually, that’s not it. The kick-ass marathon, that’s the goal to justify a process, which is what really matters, the process. (It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. Like that.) In a way it could have been any program—Fitzgerald, Daniels, Galloway, Pfitzinger, the list goes on—but there was something about FIRST that grabbed me. Though the program is sold with the words “Run Less Run Faster” it wasn’t the idea of running less that I found especially appealing. I rather like to run and I wasn't looking for a shortcut. No, what became clear as I read more about FIRST was that it was relentlessly specific and intense in its workouts. That’s what I wanted. Triathlon training is necessarily a little fuzzy. There are so many workouts in a week, they basically break down into pretty hard and pretty easy and if you get them all done you’re rightfully pleased. "Quality" fades away. Anyway, that’s how it seemed to me. With FIRST, they’re are just the three runs each week and each is, if not a killer, a workout that demands respect, concentration and big effort. That’s what this is about. That's what I want. Well, that and big fat chunk out of my 3:18:52 PR on the streets of Berlin come September 20. Yeah, the goal matters. After all, I know Geb's going to be running hard.