Wednesday, July 22, 2009

@ 7:45/mi

The aches I'm feeling now when I get up off the couch (a man's got to eat and use the facilities from time to time) tell me I did a long run this afternoon. They still take a toll, especially when run hard; that much hasn't changed. But along the way during today's 18-miler I noticed that the run was not nearly the mental challenge that such runs used to be for me. In the old days, way back before FIRST, even after I'd done a couple of 50-mile races, an 18-miler would include several points where I'd wonder when this damn run was going to end, or would drift off into thoughts about life, work or love, or would wonder if I was indeed going to finish the thing.

Today was done in a flash. I was absorbed the entire time in running my pace: 7:45. (I didn't nail every mile, as you can see below, but on a twisting and turning 2-mile dirt trail with a fair number of walkers and joggers and some short hills and drops here and there to negotiate, did come pretty close.) The thing I'm not sure about is this: Was I able to remain single-mindedly focused on my pace because my fitness is such that running 18 miles at 7:45 in the middle of a busy training week just isn't the nearly overwhelming challenge it once was? Or did my focus on pace help me ignore the challenge of the run? Eh, it's probably some combination of the two; isn't that usually the way it works? In any case, there was little drama on this run. I felt strong and intent. I wish I had worn my heart-rate monitor because I bet, but don't know for sure, that I never went over 150 bpm (82 percent of max). I never felt like I was breathing hard. Only once, briefly late on the 15th mile, when I grew a little tired of the patellofemoral pain that had kicked in around Mile 10, did I feel some muscle weariness, the quads yacking back at me as I pushed up a little incline. Didn't last long at all, though. The trail flattened and I motored along, vowing to nail Miles 16, 17 and 18 not only under the pace goal, but progressively faster. And I did.

1: 7:44
2: 7:30
3: 7:46
4: 7:43
5: 7:48
6: 7:32
7: 7:49
8: 7:33
9: 7:39
10: 7:40
11: 7:37
12: 7:33
13: 7:46
14: 7:40
15: 7:52
16: 7:39
17: 7:37
18: 7:25
Total: 2:18:01 (7:40/mile)

A few final notes: The long run usually comes on Friday but on Sunday I'm doing Wharf to Wharf, a 6-mile race in Santa Cruz, so I thought I'd knock off the LR today, and then do an easy, oh, 6 or 8 on Friday, and then go for it on Sunday. I had been thinking I'd treat the race as a tempo run but Pfitzinger wisely says that's unrealistic; if you're going to do a tempo run, just go out and do a tempo run. If you're going to race, race hard. And that's not a tempo run.... It was overcast and cool in the morning today but I didn't get out until almost noon, so by then the sun was shining. Thank goodness it wasn't too hot and much of the loop offers shade protection. Temps were in the low 70s, maybe 75 by the end. I had a tall cycling water bottle filled with Hammer gel mixed with water and ice that I sipped after running 6, 10 and 14 miles. I drank about a third of the water bottle. I don't even know how much those hold; 20 ounces? So I had about 8 ounces of water during the run and in that small amount was probably 100 calories worth of gel. Should have had more. Pounded the rest within 10 minutes of finishing, while also downing a Larabar.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Speed Thrills

Niko came with me to the track today, riding his bike. After taking some pictures for a while, he decided he wanted to do a lap alongside me as I worked my way through 2 x (6 x 400) in 1:24 w/ 1:30 rest intervals and a 2:30 rest between sets. I was in lane one, Niko in lane two, on his bike. Around the first curve, he said, “Hey, you’re going 11 miles an hour,” a note of surprise clearly detectable in his voice. Heading into the homestretch he passed me shouting, “Going against the wind is tougher on a bike than when you’re running.” That was his way of saying he was having to work pretty hard to finish ahead of me.

I still had a few more 400s to do and Niko went along for the ride on these as well. On the last one, I cranked up the pace. Halfway through, Niko shouted, “Over 12 miles per hour!” I finished that 400 in 1:15. The workout done, we hung out in the shade having a drink of Nuun and splitting a Larabar. “I can’t believe how fast you were going,” Niko said. “And that was running, not on a bike! I didn’t even know you could run that fast.”

Sure it’s cool, as a 46-year-old dad, to impress your 9-year-old son with your ability to run “fast.” But what made me feel even better was that I had inspired in Niko a wonder at what we humans are capable of doing, at our physical potential—and the interesting thing about that was that it took speed to do it. Triathlons, marathons, ultras—Niko has always been great about listening to me yammer on about that stuff, but I could always tell he wasn’t feeling much of a connection. Dad ran 50 miles up and down Mount Hood one afternoon? Oh, uh-huh, pretty neat. That Dad could run fast, however, time and time again around the track, wow, that was cool. I think it’s cool, too. There are layers and layers of mystery that a long run or triathlon peels away, but there’s nothing as exciting as the primal act of going fast. That’s what I love about FIRST, I think: how it’s all about how fast you’re going. Obviously this is true on the track and on tempo Wednesday, but even on the long runs, which so many of us automatically think must be slow—it’s so driven into runners’ minds—you have to make an effort to push the pace, sometimes a lot, sometimes just a bit, but always there’s the push.

It’s great to feel this excitement about FIRST now, because a week into the program I wasn’t so sure. I honestly thought it might be too hard on my body. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t make sense. FIRST is sold as a way to do the marathon without beating yourself up. It's not just "Run Faster," it's "Run Less Run Faster." Uh-huh; run less but also run so hard your eyes fall out. I feel for the newbie who, meandering the aisles of his local Barnes & Noble—that very effort his most strenuous exercise since he struggled through a 5K six weeks earlier—sees on the back cover of the book that FIRST is a program that "makes running more accessible and limits overtraining and burnout." That might be true if you’re extremely conservative in assessing your fitness before taking on the program. Maybe then, the paces you are required to maintain in your weekly track repeats and tempos and long runs won't be punishing. My guess, however, is that most people do what I did—err on the side of excessive ambition, seduced by the idea of a PR or at least a time that won't embarrass them when they post it on Facebook. The cruel irony is that it’s the less experienced runner who is especially vulnerable to the pain FIRST dishes out. Me? The first week was a shock, but my foundation of several years of tons of running (and other stuff) clearly helped me hold it together, physically and just as importantly psychologically. And now I’m totally digging it. My legs have felt fresh for the last four run workouts, and the rides—I’m on the bike three days a week for at least 75 minutes, spinning fast and occasionally also spinning hard—feel great, like I truly am filling in the gaps that a three-day-a-week run program leaves.

Today's 400 splits: