Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New York: Slow to Arrive

Typically, I’m on this stuff within a few days. Run it, think it, write it. But NYC … NYC was different. NYC wasn’t a race, I guess that’s the main thing. It was a foray, a Northwest-Northeast cross-country weekend bolt, a visit with friends, a tour of the metropolis. There’s no tale of running derring-do to tell. No bid for sub-three glory here. As a runner, I arrived in a shambles and was glad not to leave in whatever a degraded shambles is called. I ran four or five times in September, did a 15-miler, hmm, three weeks before the race? Then I ran once or twice more in the 10 days before Race Day, November 7. This was for the simple reason, as I explained earlier, that my body, this summer past, said: Enough, emphasizing the point with all manner of woes. So as far as a goal went, it was to survive the race without any of my issues blowing up, to return from New York not on crutches, not in need of immediate surgery, and then able to go about the business of not running for a long time while the injuries healed. And this has come to pass, or, at least, is unfolding.

Despite missing a PR by one hour and ten minutes, there’s very little more I could have asked of the 26.2 miles from Staten Island through Brooklyn, Queens, into Manhattan, over the East River to touch toe on Bronx soil before returning to Manhattan, and on into Central Park for the finish. I freaking adored the crowds. All of us were heroes, fasties and plodders alike. In Brooklyn especially I remember feeling the crowd in a way I hadn't in a race since Boston. And First Avenue was everything I hoped it might be, a big gambol up the broad boulevard. It was there that I finally hooked up with Steve. Forty-thousand runners and we found each other. I got a big kick out of being next to my old pal as he crossed the finish line in a time more than a half-hour better than what he’d done at Berlin, his previous marathon. And it was pure delight to be greeted by Mary Anne’s then-4.97-year-old daughter, Mara, afterward, who eying the finisher’s medal dangling from a ribbon around my neck squealed, “Pete, you won!”

Indeed I had. I had jetted from Portland to New York, had dinner with Mary Anne, then met a succession of her cool friends, spent time with the aforementioned cutie-pie Mara, as well as her father, the inimitable Miro…. And when it seemed like there would be scant Steve time, we ended up with several hours together the day before the race, and he got to meet Mary Anne and she him, and I was glad for that. It was just a swell weekend. Not that I don’t have a complaint! Call me a wimp but I’m never doing the New York City Marathon again. I do not want to sit my candy ass out in the early-morning cold at Fort Wadsworth for three hours before taking off on a marathon. Great race. Stupid pre-race.

A little album of pictures I took during the race is online.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Autumn Leaves: Among Real Runners

Nothing like a concurrent 50M/50K to make you feel like an absolute slacker for racing 10K. But given the circumstances, I was happy to be able to do anything at all yesterday. I'd barely run in the past two months as the bill for hammering four consecutive PR marathons in just over nine months, from September 2009 to July 2010, finally came due.

It was right after that 5K PR at Nike HQ when things began going to hell. My left hip stepped up first: There was a period there of about a week where simply walking caused stunning pain right in the joint. I'm not sure if whatever was causing that problem subsided or if it was just overwhelmed by the next injury: the left foot/heel/ankle/Achilles. (I've been plowing through DVDs of "The Wire" recently, and whenever I think about my left foot/heel/ankle/Achilles, I hear Bunk muttering, quietly but with great power and resonance, "Motherfucker.") I'm vague about pinpointing this ailment's location because its location, unlike me recently, moves around a lot. I won't bore you with excruciating detail as to its meanderings (and the ever-shifting amateur diagnoses I rendered) — there's enough about this post already that's excruciating — so I'll fast-forward to right now: I don't think it's primarily an Achilles problem, and instead could be a bone spur in the heel that's aggravating the Achilles as well as, intermittently, the heel, ankle and part of my left arch.

The good news is that it didn't actually hurt that much yesterday out at Champoeg State Park for Autumn Leaves, the final race in the Oregon Road Runners Club's 2010 10K Series. This place is about 45 minutes south of home, in farm country about halfway between Portland and Salem, right on the Willamette as it twists its way up the valley toward the Columbia. The 50 folks started at 6 or 7 a.m. but the shiftless 10K crowd didn't go until 10 a.m. The morning was mild, in the low 50s, and utterly still. The ground was wet and sitting in the car before the race, playing Scrabble on the Kindle with Niko while we waited for go time, an occasional wispy rain that took about 10 minutes to obscure our view through the windshield fell.

Onto the race: This course was a little different than the Champoeg 10K course we ran in March, trading a mile or so of paved bike path for single track mush. That made it more fun and maybe a tad less fast. In any case, I acted as though nothing had changed, including my fitness: I tore through the first kilometer as though I were still in good shape, turning in a 3:42 split. And then came a 3:50. One guy was way out front but I was in a good group that appeared gunning for sub-40. My March time was 39:49, so why not join them, right? I'll tell you why not: running between zero and 15 miles per week (and more often zero than anything else) won't cut it. As I labored, slowing gradually, off they went. From the third kilometer on I was pretty much alone, overtaking ultra runners and watching ultra runners on the out-and-back portion of the course approach and go by.

Mostly I agonized, my legs and lungs protesting the injustice, the sheer inhumanity of making them race on no training. But once or twice my mind flashed back to 2007 when, eight months removed from my fifth marathon and having done no run longer than 13.1 miles since, I took on the 50M at Autumn Leaves. I remembered that during that very long day of labor the 10K runners provided an odd sort of boost as I cast them as unworthy warriors among we the heroic ones willing to take on the long run. Do your cute little 10K and then go home and have beers and watch football and pretend like you're a runner in front of your friends, they might even believe you, I said to myself. Just stay out of my way as I take on a real challenge. I didn't actually believe any of this, but during a 50-mile run you take advantage of every little bit of empowering inspiration you can find.

So how about it, 50-mile and 50-kilomter people: Were you mocking me? Wouldn't have been inappropriate on the second half of the race, that's for sure. After splitting the first half of the 10K in 20:10, I crawled to the finish in 21:39, adding up to a 41:49. This was my slowest time of the six Series races I ran, but I'm happy enough. Doing the Series was cool, because the ORRC people are so nice and friendly and each race had a unique appeal. Also, being signed up for the eight races was a good motivator to get out there and do them (although, in truth, my biggest problem is probably racing too much). I made six out of the eight races, missing Hagg Lake in May because it was the day before the Eugene Marathon, and I am not that hardcore, and missing the Garlic Festival in August because it was the morning after the Friday night Catnip 5K, which I barely finished due to the aforementioned injuries. My Series six:

January 3: Y2K — 40:23
March 6: Champoeg Park — 39:49
May 31: Up The Lazy River — 41:44
June 5: Run For The Roses — 41:00
September 25: ORRC Best Dam Run — 39:41
October 30: Autumn Leaves — 41:49

Now it's onto New York for the marathon. I know, WTF am I doing running a marathon in this state of disrepair? Eh, I'm not racing; I'm just running for fun. Gonna visit an old friend and colleague and tour New York with my bud Steve as he tries to shave a big fat slab of minutes off his first-time marathon time. Then, upon my return, I might get on the horn and make an appointment to see a doctor about that foot/heel/ankle/Achilles.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Best Dam Run Elevation Profile

Saw several references, in the days leading up to the race, to the Best Dam Run 10K course as "downhill," but never saw graphic or numeric evidence. Not that I didn't buy the claim, I was just wondering how darn downhill it was. Having now run the race, Garmin strapped on, I present:

Garmin says the race started at 737 feet above sea level and finished at 465. It also reports we climbed 103 feet and dropped 353 feet. That all doesn't quite add up, nets of -272 vs. -250. But close enough. Say it's a 250-foot drop: that works out to an elevation loss of 7.6 meters per kilometer. As a point of comparison, marathon courses with a drop greater than 3.25 m/km don't count for U.S. Olympic Trials qualification purposes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Relatively Difficult

You don't want to get in the habit of contemplating the what-if/either-or questions and scenarios given life on the message boards at Letsrun.com. I mean, really. "If becoming gay would make you 10 percent faster, would you have an affair with a man, and if you did, should this be considered using performance enhancing drugs? And how would they test for it, LOL." But the other day the real live question was this: "For an average fit and healthy male in their 20's with no great deal of talent which would be a more impressive achievement, to go Sub 5 for a mile on the track or to go sub 3 hours for a marathon?" Ignore the sins against grammar, punctuation and syntax, and the age restriction—Who gives a shit about 20-somethings?—and this is pretty intriguing.

I've been busting my ass for almost a year now trying to stuff 26.2 miles into a 2:59:59 sack. So far, 3:04:05 is the best I can do, but I think I know what it will take to get the rest of the way. I think I will get there. But cracking cinco minutos in the mile? You don't need to be a running expert to understand we're talking about widely disparate achievements here, requiring dramatically different sorts of fitness, each of which could be arrived at only through a training regimen appropriate to the task.

I pondered this puzzler as I ran today. There was plenty of space in my mind for pondering as there was no plan or goal for the run. (There hadn't even been a plan to run. I was driven off the couch by the 49ers' wretchedness in Seattle and lured outside by the sunshine and mid-70s.) There I was, running. Got to think about something.

Five minute mile. What would it take to do a five minute mile? How far am I from a five minute mile? I don't even know. Maybe I should run a mile and see?

Two slow, joint-and-muscle loosening miles later I was at the track at Grant Park. Four times around plus 10 yards, that would be a mile. Off I went! On the first curve it occurred to me that this would be a painful little exploration. And that the roast beef sandwich I had eaten an hour earlier was perhaps insufficiently far along in the digestive process to stay down. So I ran a fairly hard 402 meters, which is a quarter mile. Then I jogged a quarter mile to gather my wits. Then came another hard one. Then an easy one…. I did four hard ones separated by easy ones. The hard ones clocked in at 1:18, 1:18, 1:18 and 1:15, adding up to 5:09.

I interpret that to mean I am further from cracking a five minute mile than I am from dipping under three hours in the marathon. That last hard quarter, the 1:15—that's what I'd need to run four times, with no rest interval. That might be impossible! So, obviously, I'm now reading up on training for the mile and will shortly be launching into a program. Told you it's a bad idea to contemplate questions posted on the Letsrun.com message boards.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Forty-eight on the backyard thermometer this morning, our first 40 in a couple of months. I see a near-90 in the forecast for next week, but the diminishing daylight and the falling angle of the sun mean there won’t be any more heat waves. Let's call summer over—for what is summer if it isn’t the possibility that it’ll be so damn hot for so long that you begin to fantasize about the rainy season? That never even happened this year. The closest we came was last week, when we endured four consecutive days around 95. Included in that stretch was the fun, well-organized and extravagantly appointed Friday evening Catnip 5K. Ninety-one at race time! I figure the heat cost me 10 or 15 seconds. Also, I forgot my street-racing shoes and had to run in the worn-out trail shoes I happened to be wearing, which probably cost me 10 additional seconds. Hmm. If I can think of a few more excuses I might actually arrive at a respectable time. But you know—and this I told myself and Niko afterward—they can't all be PRs. It wasn't that long ago when I was striving to bust through 20 minutes, so a 19:39 on a hot night in the wrong shoes, OK, fine. (Plus, that course is not very fast. A few tiny but severe climbs, lots of sharp turns in the late going...).

Meanwhile, I ran a 10:13 in the Mouse Miler that followed the 5K, out kicked at the line by one Niko Danko, who according to the Garmin data blasted the final tenth in 40 seconds on his way to a 10:11 finish. I'll get that rascal next time.

By the numbers:
20/292 overall
19/113 men
6/33 men 40-49

Monday, August 9, 2010


Damn you, Crackhead! Your recent exploits have rekindled my urge to go long. Not that trying to get faster at shorter distances—from 5K to marathon—has lost its charm. Still into that. But it's now pretty clear that I will need to get a 100-miler out of my system at some point. And since I've vowed to train to swim Gibraltar with my friend Steve, it seems like another Ironman (at least) could be part of the picture....

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On Top of Old Tabor

See that big white peak? That's not Mount Tabor.
Tabor is the bump in front.

Finally, about 10 minutes after the race was scheduled to start last night, the race director showed up at what the gathered crowd suspected but was not sure was the start line. A bearded slightly chunky guy he was looking frazzled, overheated. No surprise. He had several hundred runners doing three different distances virtually simultaneously at various spots on Portland’s favorite volcano, Mount Tabor. Then there were the dogs. It was the Mount Tabor Doggie Challenge, so there were dogs everywhere. And kids for the kids race. And bicyclists who typically own Tabor on Wednesday, when it’s closed to cars: they were weaving through and around us with more than a few gripes.

He tugged at his white, soggy-with-sweat T-shirt to give himself some air. He apologized for the delay, muttered vague regret about having switched the race to a Wednesday, gave us a few course notes and pointed out there would be beer, Burgerville and a band at the finish. “I think we can still have a lot of fun,” he said.

Huh, I thought. Can we? I actually hadn’t been too bent out of shape that the race organization was wobbly, mostly because it was apparent from the very start this race was more about good wacky fun than keen competition. Plus, I did not have high expectations for myself. I had arrived home three hours earlier after a five-hour drive from Ashland, then had one of those face-wrinkling afternoon naps that can happen, where you crash hard and awake groggy and with a pillow pattern indented on your cheek and part of your nose. It was 5:40 p.m. when I came to. The race was set for 6:30 p.m.

Still, despite not being in PR-seeking mode, and having arrived and locked up the Bontrager around 6:15, the disarray did put my inner uptight asshole on notice. I was poised to get ornery if things didn’t turn around quickly. Then came that suggestion that "we can still have fun.” Tabor, one of my favorite places to find myself in running shoes. A fine, sunny and warm summer evening. Beer. Burgers. A vast collection of shockingly well-behaved dogs of every size and shape. What the hell. He could be right.

He counted us down from 10 and then whistled into his megaphone to get the show on the road. I had warned the tiny speck of a girl, maybe 10 or 11 years old, next to me at the front of the pack that giant fast people might come plowing through so maybe she wanted to move back off the line? “No.” she said. “I don’t want people in my way. I'm very serious. I’ve run 22:35.” Well OK little plucky one! Nevertheless, as we took off a gangly high-school-age guy tried to leap between me and the wee tyke. There was not sufficient space. The gangly guy left me alone but shoved the little kid to the side. I was briefly horrified, but she took it in stride. Onward.

We had started about 50 meters shy of the Tabor peak, and headed up to the top. There’s a short circle there and after completing it we wound our way down to the northeast base of the park. A couple of guys were pulling well away and then came a small cluster that included me. Behind us the crowd of nearly 200 must have stretched way, way back; a check of the results afterward showed that two-thirds of the finishers did the race at slower than 10:00/mile.

It was a sweet downhill, but then we had to head back up and around the hill, not all the way to the top, but pretty close. That was horrible, pushing and pushing to the brink of hurling, but barely moving anyway. What was the point?

Oh, yeah: fun.

We got one more downhill after that, just long enough to give us stupid confidence that the final 100 yards up to the finish line wouldn’t kill us. I hit the line in 18:56 and lived to tell about it.

Some Widmer ale and a little Mediterranean-inspired burger from Burgerville’s Nomad hit the spot. Under the tall trees an outstanding mercifully fiddleless bluegrass group played. I watched people and their dogs, dogs and their people. An hour after it all began I was on my way, feeling two-beers-good headed back down the hill home on the bike. But just before I left I saw the RD guy. He was getting in a truck, about to move some race gear it appeared. He had changed out of his white T-shirt into a red one. He looked a little less crazed but still not out of the woods. I said, “Great evening. Tons of fun. It was beautiful.” He smiled and said, “Thanks.”


Monday, July 26, 2010

Running at Nike

Just looking around it was obvious this was not the usual bell curve-shaped 5K field. The bump at the Bowerman Athletic Club 5K last night was on the "fast” end of the graph—befitting the race location, none other than Nike Inc. world headquarters, a vast, Edenic suburban business park 15 miles west of my home. A world away.

I flew the helicopter over and snapped this shot of
Nike HQ before setting the bird down on Ronaldo Field.

I was especially impressed by how masterfully they had hidden the acres and acres of parking. Lots cover the campus but are mostly in concentric circles separated by high hedges and tall trees. So you never look out upon an endless sea of cars. It's just you and a few other drivers; thank goodness everyone else is taking public transportation and saving the world from choking itself to death!

I arrived early and had time to find wood-chip trails, water features, statues of Nike-sponsored greats, sloping lawns, covered walkways, playing fields and my favorite, a track with trees in the infield. The Tiger Woods Building was the epicenter of race festivities so we were allowed entry. I guess you either stand by your man or not, and Nike has, but in July 2010 this shrine to Tiger struck me as equal parts comical and tragic. On a wall in the airy lobby there’s an ode in melodramatic Nike marketing speak to Tiger's talent at whacking the little ball into the slightly larger hole, complete with some suggestion about how he's brought peoples together. I’ll say.

The day was warm, peaking around 90 in the Portland metro area and remaining well into the 80s as the 7 p.m. race time grew near. I heard more than a little fretting about the heat, and just now read a message-board contributor’s assertion that PRs were virtually unattainable in such conditions. A perfectly reasonable view, but my mindset was different. I was pleased not to have to run early in the morning on my slow-to-lubricate joints. I took heart that the temperature was falling, that the sun’s angle was growing less fierce, that a little breeze was coming up. Perfect conditions, I told myself.

As it turned out, it did feel pretty damn hot. We did a big loop nearly twice before peeling off to the finish in the plaza behind the Tiger building. There was a stretch directly into the sun and the second time around I suddenly noticed my mouth was Death Valley in July dry. This wasn’t my first instance of dismay. A half mile in I was suffering enough to wonder what ugliness the race’s later stages might bring me. I thought about a Joe Dudman lament from a few weeks ago, posted on the TRL message board, in which he suggested that running shorter/faster required a different and perhaps more profound commitment than running longer/slower: “I can't seem to push myself to that level of extreme physical crisis that's needed to run up to my standards as often anymore. It's like I don't have anything left to prove, so why go through the pain.” Crisis is the right word, getting at the desperate, mind-exploding nature of the pain, so different from the grinding, contemplative hurt of the marathon.

So I slowed down. I pushed, but I slowed down. A 5:53 opening mile became a 6:10 second mile. It felt like the wheels were coming off on Mile 3, but it wasn’t much worse, a 6:14, which I suppose means I was working, giving it my all. Then the final tenth, 33 seconds more, adding up to 18:50 on the certified course, a hefty improvement on my previous 5K best of 19:19.

That's me on the right, losing out on 77th place by breaking
stride to stop my watch while racer 201 hammers it home.
Yeah, well, my chip time was three seconds faster, dude.

It was such agony. It was so unpleasant. It was a half-minute PR? Wow. I was aided, I know, by the high quality of the field. Amazingly, in a race with only 498 finishers, there were always runners to chase or runners to sidle up to or tuck in behind or fight to stay ahead of. Great credit to the Bowerman AC and Nike for providing the lure, the venue, the experience.

Of course I’m not satisfied. Nature of the beast. Already setting new goals, beginning with running the distance at a sub-6:00/mile pace. That translates to 18:38. I think it’s doable. I think sub-18 might be doable. I’m fighting against aging, anyone beyond 40 is, but there’s upside potential in the fact that my training the last few years has been focused on marathons. More time on the track could make a big difference. And what fun, those swimming-in-lactate, lung-busting workouts. What fun, indeed.

By the Numbers:
78/498 overall
72/275 men
2/30 men 45-59

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Summer Season

The Flat at Sauvie Island—or Sauvie's Island, as a persistent minority of locals call it, among them most recently a little-girl "Nature Photography" campmate of Niko's up at Audubon, describing her shot of a green frog on a gray board, snapped on that island—that marathon on the Fourth of July was my fourth hard 26.2 in less than 10 months. Ask me to describe the physical toll and I throw my hands in the air and roll my eyes; no marathons, lots of marathons, there's always something, always been something, always will be something. Worse or better now after the four? I don't know. Achilles is A-OK, calves are fine but hips ache. A moving target, a woe of the moment. Seek it out, deal with it, train on.

Upstairs, however, it's a different story. Mentally, I'm a little checked out. My training style has always been more intuitive, more ad hoc than the next guy's: yes. But my spurs-of-the-moment and flights-of-fancy come in a context of careful study of what's necessary to advance in the sport. Building base, long runs, tempo runs, recovery runs, miles, speed—these things I have grasped and over the long haul they all get their due.

Now? Now it's just put on the shoes and the shorts and go. Summer has something to do with this. Literally it's shoes and shorts (OK, Badger sunscreen, a light cap and sunglasses, too) and out the door. And out the door I go, for a few miles easy to warm up, then maybe I find a pitch perfect for 110-meter sprints, and bounding, and dancing back and forth over and along the sideline. One day post-Sauvie I ran for 80 minutes I think it was, but mostly I'm in the neighborhood of 40-60. Just moving and grooving, watching, watching being watched, chatting passersby, jayrunning, skipping, tripping. Really, out there, it is a little like being high. It's an exploration that would be called aimless if it weren't so precisely aimed at being exactly fun.

With this, I go after the Bowerman AC 5K at Nike HQ Sunday night, and the Mount Tabor Doggie 8K on Wednesday night. These short ones are not necessarily painful. Rather, they are as painful as one wants them to be, and I have a feeling after all the fun and games of recent weeks I'm keen to kick (my own) ass.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Race Report: Foot Traffic Flat

To the cyclist I accosted at Mile 6 of the Foot Traffic Flat Full Marathon this past Sunday, I offer my apologies—and my gratitude. That Gu was most appreciated.

This was on the first out-and-back spur off the Flat Half loop, a long, wayward, north-south spur. Two-thousand ran the shorter race, 400 embraced the perverse charms of 26.2, and there we were in the lonely early-morning nether reaches of Sauvie Island. Through the odd shady grove, the many open spaces along Multnomah Channel, past farmlands and marshes where insects buzzed and birds sang.

I should have been blissfully alone in my mind at this point, avoiding pondering Terri Moulton Horman's recent visit to the island. There were a dozen or two runners in front of me, only a few in view, no footsteps heard. Cruising at three-hour pace, as planned. The check-engine light off: troublesome hips mellow, PF issue nonexistent, often-tight calves loose and beautiful (if I do say so myself).

Then came a little organizational snafu. Four miles or so in, Aid Station No. 2 would, according to the course map and website, offer the carbohydrate drink Heed and Hammer Gel as well:

Although I prefer to run unencumbered, many races don't provide what I want when I want it, so often I tote my own calories. At Berlin I set out with not one but two gels in hand, 65 grams of carryon. Sign me up for Himalayan sherpa duty. But if the good people of the Foot Traffic Flat Full Marathon would have a petit sac of sugar waiting for me, on cue at Mile 4—then again at Mile 17 on the out-and-back return—then I say let's lighten the load.

Aid Station No. 2. Card-table legs barely locked in place. A couple of people scurrying to set out and fill water cups for the trickle of marathoners, girding, no doubt, for the deluge soon to follow, the horde of halfies, fast deft ones who grab well, first-timers who don't, walkers, talkers, balkers.

“Gel? Heed?” I shout on approach. “Not yet,” the reply.

All right. Another aid station two miles onward. No gel promised there, but Heed, yes, a few healthy gulps a measure of the calories needed early in a marathon.

Aid Station 2B, around Mile 6: water, period.

“No Heed?” “Sorry.” An expletive. Regret. An over-the-shoulder apology.

There are no carbs on this course! The voice inside my head screeching—the one that barely puts up with marathons under the best of conditions.

BONK, BONK, BONK like an alarm sounding shouts the voice, footage of me dry-heaving at Wildflower ’05 splayed paralyzed in a cold stream in the Flint Hills of Kansas at Death Ride ’97 rolling now for this audience of one scared-shitless dude his race falling apart.

There are attempts to remain calm, good faith efforts, rational entreaties. A little traction comes with the reminder that, aha! I do much of my training “low,” as they say—without sustenance. Yes, my ridiculous familiarity with running on fumes could save me from complete disintegration here and that is a good thing, but of course the point of this exercise is not survive-it-end-of-story. Because if making my way from the beginning of the course to the end was the only goal I wouldn’t be running so damn hard. No, I'm about the three-hour barrier.

(Barrier? Really? The three-hour wall so high and intimidating Gov. Jan Brewer would look at it and say, “That'll keep 'em out”? Or just another number made powerful by its mere roundness? You may cite personal experience in formulating your answer.)

And who should appear in my moment of need, a cyclist, two cyclists, a young woman and a guy, their voices evident first behind me, the guy saying, "This part of the ride is so peaceful," the woman murmuring her assent. Together they roll on, the guy now even with me, he has a small pack on his back. Apparently thick with provisions, surely there must be, there, in the pack, a gel, a zipper pull and a reach of the hand and a little feeling about. All it would take.

Not slowing down, I explain my predicament to this guy on a bike and although he does not look pleased to do so—quite appropriately, I submit—he rides up ahead, pulls to the side, removes the pack and retrieves a gel, a Gu, specifically, fruity flavor I will discover, and hands it to me. "Thanks, I love you," as I run away.

I assumed he and the woman would pass me and I was ready to tell him if he ever needed someone to co-sign for a home mortgage or donate a major organ, track me down, I'm good for it. But I never saw them again.

Then everything was normal. It was just another marathon then.

I ran on. That check-engine light illuminated around the midway point. The hips: tightening. I slowed. Maybe I tried not to—a matter of some internal debate, you understand—but in any case I slowed. The three-hour pace—6:52 per mile—leaked away the way it always does, by drips. Mile 12: 7:00. Then 7:07, 7:04, 7:06, 7:07.… I hit seven-flat three or four more times but never got below that.

So what else is there to say? Just a few things, briefly. Around 18 miles there was a second spur for the Full runners. This was a surprise in many ways, not least because its very existence is not noted on the course map pictured above. Then again, it is on this map, which organizers also provided a link to. In any case, when pointed off the loop—"Full runners to the right, Half runners go straight"—I seethed. A somewhat hilly unannounced spur, another rhythm-destroying 180-degree turnaround, the cruelty.

Ten minutes later, about to rejoin the loop, I'm still sour. Looking to get out of my head, I say to a guy I had drawn even with, "How you doing?" He's younger and I don't know why but I assume he has more in the tank than me. I want a compatriot. I'll give extra. He'll give extra. We'll lift each other. Hope flickers! But in his training he had only run once a week, one weekly long run, because of the kids, you know? He's not looking for miracles, just plugging along, losing faith in a PR (old one 3:05). At the next aid station I go first to grab Heed and that's it, I'm a few feet in front, then 20, then I don't look back, I feel him falling away.

Between 21 and 24 brief electrical impulses attack my calves alternately every minute or so, nearly knocking me off my stride. Not cramps. Just powerful, quick rockets of pain. I ought to be worried but something needs to be at stake to worry, right? Nothing is at stake. I'm not scaling any three-hour barrier today. I'm just running, running, running, faster than I've ever run this distance before:

Napa, March 2007: 3:24:46
Boston, May 2008: 3:18:52
Berlin, Sept. 2009: 3:09:54
CIM, Dec. 2009: 3:06:16
Eugene, May 2010: 3:05:07
Flat, July 2010: 3:04:05

Is that the most ridiculous progression you've ever seen? I'm aghast, amused and proud.

Anyway, couldn’t have done it without the bicyclist and his Gu. Couldn't have done it without caring. Still with the caring.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Splits on the Fourth

Flat Half on Sauvie Island this morning...

1- 6:36
2- 6:42
3- 6:51
4- 6:51
5- 6:49
6- 6:50
7- 6:48
8- 6:53
9- 6:54
10- 6:57
11- 6:58
12- 7:00
13- 7:07
14- 7:04
15- 7:06
16- 7:07
17- 7:03
18- 7:11
19- 7:06
20- 7:00
21- 7:00
22- 7:12
23- 7:23
24- 7:32
25- 7:23
26- 7:03
0.2- 1:29

Monday, May 31, 2010

Data: Up (and Down) the Lazy River

A little 10K down near the Willamette, described well by Joe Dudman in the Oregonian the other day.

6:44/mile pace
15/249 overall
15/126 men
2/29 men 45-49

Full results.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

On Plans, Spontaneity and Joy

Just back from a walk to the Hollywood Farmers’ Market, with a detour to the bank, making it a three-mile round trip. I think my legs are ready to go again after two days restricted to biking due to excessively shredded quads. Maybe something easy this afternoon? Then long tomorrow, although Monday is looking like a better bet for decent weather. Definitely by Monday afternoon I want to have completed the first of three planned 18+ mile runs before the Flat on the Fourth.

By the way: I have no regrets about derailing my training by running 2,800 steps on Mount Tabor on Wednesday. I knew there would be a price to pay, but the price was fair for what I got. There are people who thrive on following a carefully laid out training plan but I’m not one of those people. My approach is to understand the kind of runs I need to do to get me to my goal; to make sure that over the course of the cycle my training has the right mix of those runs; to build smartly; to overvalue rest ... and to have fun. I never want to lose touch with the joy, and spontaneous running is a key pathway to the joy. That stupid stair run last Wednesday was one I had to do.

Mind you, I wasn't planning to run at all that day. After four straight days of road work, I planned to rest. But I was hit with the urge when I ducked out the front door to pluck the Oregonian off the porch. There was a breeze blowing from the east, weirdly warm, crackling with energy and premonition. A mostly blue sky was dotted with clouds that piled up, then disengaged, then danced away. I came back inside and checked the radar: the predicted wave of rain, hail and 40+ mph gusts looked to be about an hour away. I rushed to put my shorts and shoes on without any of my usual dallying and was pulled out the door, onto the road — the atmospheric maelstrom had me all hopped up and I practically glided down NE Hoyt Street and turned right toward Mount Tabor, in the heart of Portland’s east side.

The Storm

The thought that flashed in my mind was to run the mile to the hill, do my trusted 2.3-mile trail loop around the extinct 650-foot volcano three times, then run the mile back. That’d be about nine miles. Perfect: most of my run would be in the warm, pulsating pre-storm air, then the unfolding system seen on the radar would chase me home for cover.

But when I got to Mount Tabor I didn’t head up the dirt trail. I started up the stairs, as far as I can recall without having made a conscious decision to do so. I rarely run stairs— hilly trails are a better running workout, providing a broader range of benefits — yet something about the day compelled me to just go, so stairs it was.

When I got to the top — it’s about 150 feet vertical from the bottom of the staircase— I wondered how many steps it was and decided to run them again and count. I’d counted the steps on this staircase before, on walks with the Lad, but the total had a habit of floating away from us. A day later I’d say, “Niko, how many steps was it up those stairs on Mount Tabor?” He’d reply, “Huh?” because he’d be buried in a Terry Pratchett novel. I’d repeat the question and he’d scrunch his face, peer up at the ceiling, then look over at me and offer: “Two hundred or something like that?” And there we’d be. Unknowing.

On Wednesday the number bore into my mind. It became part of my cerebral architecture. I very well might be muttering it incoherently on my deathbed, Rosebud-like, leaving survivors to speculate as to the meaning. The freeway that goes down San Francisco Peninsula? His best bowling score? No, 280, that’s the number of steps on the staircase on Tabor, the staircase he ran up ten times one morning in May.

The Stairs

I counted on the second climb and the third one, too, to confirm the total. On the fourth climb I began to hit the lap button at the top and the bottom. The first timed climb came in at 2 minutes and 45 seconds, so that became the Minimum Required Time to Count. If I didn't hit 2:45, the climb didn't count toward my goal of 10 times. (Where did that goal come from? It popped into my head.)

I’ve been using the term “staircase” but I should note there are several very short portions along the way that aren’t steep enough for stairs, and a couple of road crossings. The irony is that these short portions are, psychologically, the most difficult. The stairs compel you to take another step; it's all you can do and you get into a groove and up you go, tiring constantly but pushing through it. When the stairs disappear, the powerful inclination is to take a breather. I soon realized that my fastest climbs — dipping toward 2:30 — came when I hammered the non-stair portions.

It was never difficult to gear up and take off on another climb, even for No. 10. The quarter-mile downhill (I mostly went downhill on grass and trail) was enough to induce runner’s amnesia. You know, where you forget how wretched you felt just a minute ago. But of course, each successive climb the muscle-strangling lactic acid would wrap its hands around my quads earlier and earlier. The final climb was done almost entirely in extremis.

It also was done in rain. Well, not rain. A few sprinkles. Tiny, scattered sprinkles on the way up, slightly larger ones on the way down. Then, just a block down the hill from the bottom of the stairs, beginning the mile home, the blue skies were entirely gone, the wind was swirling crazily and the sprinkles had morphed into fat raindrops. I passed a coffee cart and a woman waiting for her drink looked up and said, with panic, “I thought I had more time. It isn’t here already, is it?” It was. “‘Fraid so,” I said with an empathetic smile, motoring by, feeling her pain — she probably had designs on walking that cup of coffee up to the top of Tabor. But me, I was loving the rain. The morning sun had dried things and now that distinctive aroma of rain on warm blacktop was rising from the streets. Turning toward home, a powerful gust stopped me for a moment, then pea-sized hail began to pelt down. I arrived at my house and stood under cover on the front porch, wet, wrecked, watching, a big smile on my face.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Restarting the Engine

It's time to run.

This ranks as my best marathon recovery. Since the Eugene Marathon there's been no running whatsoever for one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight and today makes it nine straight days. I told myself I'd go two weeks without lacing them up, but that was just a ploy to ensure I lasted at least one week. Mission accomplished, then some. And not only did I not run, I didn't do anything remotely strenuous. Every day I walked a bit—anywhere from a mile to four miles—and on all except one of the days I burned 200 to 400 calories spinning at low-resistance on the bike. I decided upon this intense effort at avoiding intensity based on my Berlin and CIM recoveries. Or, better put, non-recoveries. Berlin left me relatively unscathed and there were cross-country races and 10Ks fast approaching so I figured what the hell, go, man, go. And go I did, with fair results, but a vague, background sense of fatigue developed and carried through to CIM in early December. After that race, I felt like I'd been mugged by a fierce gang of very small people. Shins, calves, Achilles, plantar fascia … pretty much everything below the knee was achy. Come to think of it, I had an achy knee, too. Again, however, races lured me back out there too soon. Six weeks after CIM I ran the Cascade Half. A week later I ran the Vancouver Lake Half. Yeah, two hard half marathons within two months after my second marathon in three months—no wonder the Eugene training block was equal parts piling up miles and soothing pains and strains. A deep taper is what saved me, I think, and I felt surprisingly fresh on race day. It went pretty well. Except for the stupid blister thing I talked about earlier, it was dang fun. I was reminded that I love marathons.

So 10 days later, tomorrow, Wednesday, May 12, 2010, I'll run. Something short, mostly slow but maybe a few little burst here or there, all on the grass, under the promised sun. It'll be a new beginning. I love these new beginnings. I'm setting out to run another marathon, to make a go at three hours again, on the 4th of July. You heard me right. Less than two months from now! Look, I’m not getting any younger. I'm running New York in the fall for fun—no way I'd get three there—so when am I supposed to crank it up for a fast one? Next year? Get out. It's now or never. Not only am I creeping toward the half-century mark, which is hardly PR territory, I just don't have it in me to do a full 16-, 20- or 24-week program to get ready for a marathon. And actually, I think those programs, at this point, end up beating me up a bit more than is good for me. So the quick turnaround might, by objective analysis, be the best strategy. I've given myself a nice rest. There's a great base of fitness that can be summoned and, one hopes, nudged forward even more. I like running in warmer weather and even Portland at 6:30 a.m. on July 4th is bound to be warm by marathon-running standards. Flat course? Flat except for two hills, each a climb of about 50 feet. Yeah, it's flat.

Last thing to say is that I learned something at Eugene, or in the aftermath of Eugene, I guess. As I thought about my race, I realized that I hadn't pushed through the fatigue and distress. Not that I crumbled. I stayed steady. But I didn't fight. I didn't fight for sub-three. I conceded and began to think that 3:02 wouldn't be bad, or even 3:04, or anything at all under my previous best of 3:06:16. And I think that was partly because I didn't believe I could run sub-three. Without the belief that the effort might be rewarded why would I endure the pain? I said I was going to go for it, but I really wasn't ready to. I think I am now.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Eugene Marathon and Beyond

Bib Number: 537
Age: 47
Gender: M
Location: Portland, OR
Overall Place: 131/2333
Division Place: 16/170
Gender Place: 113/1252
Time: 3:05:07
Pace: 7:04

1- 6:49.2
2- 6:42.6
3- 6:53.6
4- 6:41.0
5- 6:58.8
6- 6:49.7
7- 6:46.8
8- 7:01.4
9- 7:02.9
10- 6:55.6
11- 6:57.4
12- 7:00.8
13- 6:53.6
14- 7:02.3
15- 7:00.5
16- 6:55.3
17- 6:57.1
18- 7:06.8
19- 7.15.5
20- 7:05.6
21- 7:09.1
22- 7:16.9
23- 7:24.4
24- 7:32.0
25- 7:32.9
26- 7:23.2
0.2*- 1:53

First half: 1:30:15
Second half: 1:34:52

Aching hips, tight, painful knees, sore heel and those two god-damned blisters, one on each foot right behind the big toes—those are the things that make me want to throw in the towel on chasing Spiridon. I drew just a shade over a minute closer to the Greek at yesterday's Eugene Marathon. Not much progress. A 3:05:07 is a PR for me and hell-yeah I'm proud of it. And the race in many ways was, as races tend to be, a total gas: a great adventure, a grand opera, an epic novel in my own mind. Yet I'm pissed off, too, because if I'd been thoughtful in my sock selection I would have worn a pair I know don't give me blisters. I've run wet 50-milers and avoided blisters. I'm not a blistering guy. Today, however, blisters cost me because I didn't make sure to wear the right socks. How lame is that? These are quarter-sized, ballooning blisters. Big mothers. They began to bother me around mile 10, became downright painful around mile 15, and over the last three or four miles prevented me from running freely. It sucked, because while I didn't have enough to break three hours—let me repeat, I was not going to break three hours yesterday—I did have more to give. I would have been a minute or two faster, which isn't meaningful as far as the Eugene result goes: the race was there, on the course, from start to finish, no addenda, explanations or excuses. But that stupidly lost time matters as I ponder whether to make a go at three hours again. There's a part of me—the aching part—that wants to think I've reached my limit, pushed it as far as I can go. I see these folk who were born in Reagan's second term—when college was already in my rear-view mirror—scampering by and think: I'm too old for this, too old and beat up. But. But, but, but. I know I had 3:03 fitness yesterday. Again, that doesn't mean I get to pretend I ran a 3:03. It is enough, however, to tempt me into thinking I can get under three hours, which, by the way, I'm counting as catching Spiridon, even though it really isn't. Sorry, Spiro. We're all kicking the Greeks these days.

*They obviously added some distance onto that post-Mile-26 marker stretch to make the course certified. I ran that part hard, probably close to 6:00/mile pace, so 0.2 miles would have taken me 1:20-1:30.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

Eugene Marathon Weather

I read that "some kook" has a blog dedicated to tracking the weather forecasts for Eugene on May 2 (aka, Race Day). No way! But it's true. Check it out here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lassoing the Yassos

Ideally this final pre-Eugene bout of unmitigated masochism known as Yasso 800s would have happened earlier in the week, giving me a tad more recovery time. But I think I'll be OK. Ninety minutes later I feel fine.

Not that they didn't hurt like the dickens. You know how it is. Midway through the fourth in the planned set of 10 and you're coming up with rationalizations for trimming the workout to eight reps, or maybe six. Hell, five might do. You ponder, you mull, you flirt with the idea. That's OK. It's a nice distraction. Like imagining cheating on your spouse, it's the kind of very private contemplation you engage in to get you through some painful times, but you'd never actually do it. You're just not that kind of person. You do the whole workout.

Below are my Yasso times for August 2009, before Berlin, where I ran 3:09:52; for February this year; and for today, with the difference between the pre-Berlin splits and today's splits noted.

Aug 09 / Feb 10 / April 10
3:00 / 2:58 / 2:51 -9
2:50 / 2:59 / 2:47 -3
2:56 / 2:53 / 2:47 -9
2:57 / 2:53 / 2:48 -9
2:56 / 2:52 / 2:50 -6
2:57 / 2:54 / 2:49 -8
2:55 / 2:52 / 2:53 -2
2:55 / 2:54 / 2:53 -2
2:56 / 2:54 / 2:53 -3
2:57 / 2:53 / 2:51 -6

So my average split before Berlin was 2:56 and my average split today was 2:50. That's good, but ... well, I'm just going to leave it at that for now.

Bonus Content: Thoughtful Perspectives on Yassos:

Why they're meaningful vs. why they're not.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


You can't rest too much. That's my general theory on the taper, though it does come with a caveat. Or, at least, an assumption: that you've been training your ass off for months. And I more or less have, capped last week with my biggest seven-day mileage ever, a lovely 80. There were two 18-milers, a 12, two 10s, a seven and a five. Damn. That's almost real-runner territory. The last run of the week, one of those 18s, was the best. Basically it was broken into three parts, and I went progressively faster, from 8:10 to 7:40 to 7:10 per mile. This was on the mucky, spongy Glendoveer path, which is nice and soft and joint-saving but sucks at least 15 or 20 seconds out of every mile. So those were solid paces for a longish run and better yet, I felt good. This thing tweaked momentarily and that thing served brief notice. But there's always going to be this thing or that thing, at least for me. With increased mileage I've been walking the scary-thin injury line the last month, but I appear not to have fallen into utter disrepair (that close cousin of utter despair).

I'm going very lightly this week. That's in my taper theory, too: the third-to-last week before the marathon is the single best week to get deep rest. Don't wait until it's too late! Deep rest now, then ratchet things up a bit in the second-to-last week in order not to lose fitness, then some short, up-tempo stuff in the days before the race to keep rust from accumulating…. Hey, it's worked for me. I won't tell you I'm a great marathoner, but I will tell you I've always met or exceeded expectations.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cut Short

That was ugly. At 16 miles I started to feel cruddy and by 18 was certain I was just a few steps from going off the cliff down into Bonk Canyon. So I stopped running. I walked the two miles home from there. No 20. Instead, 18 miles, the first eight @ 7:45 and the last 10 at 7:30. The only other thing to say is I'm an idiot; once again I did not respect the necessity of fueling a long run. At eight miles I had most of a gel (call it 75 calories) and half a serving of Accelerade (50 calories). Yeah, that's going to do it on a (planned) 20-miler, 125 calories and 6 oz. of water! The thing is, my stomach tolerates eating and drinking well on a run. There's no reason not to feed the fire. It's just laziness and bad planning. It's just stupid.

All that said: the last two miles were no walk of shame. My legs appreciated the opportunity to unwind. My whole body relaxed. My mind, too, eventually. I went around and around about the failure that the run was; about the training I've done for Eugene and how it compared with other races; about the aches and pains; about the unlucky truth that three hours don't last just a little bit longer; and about the gray Oregon sky, that fucking gray Oregon sky. For a moment I had myself believing that if it were blue, everything would have been OK. The plan, the pain, the passage of time. The sky. TS Eliot said, "April is the cruelest month" (as Art Spander readers well know), no doubt as he was training for a May marathon. But in the end he wrote, "Shanti shanti shanti."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


That was no puny run: my first 20 in two months. Not that 20 is the ultimate bestower of marathon fitness, the great guarantor of success. Hard not to think that, though. It’s a round number, and we do love our round numbers. And it’s into the 20s, luring you to believe that, having run it, you have passed through the turnstile into that far off ballpark where 26.2 miles hangs out. A mere 10K shy of the full distance! Practically the same thing. Ha.

This was kind of an ugly 20. One month before Berlin I ran 20 in 2:28. Today’s 20 took 2:40. The last three or four miles my hips, ankles and feet were aching and worse, my legs were leaden. Things might have been better if I’d hydrated or eaten worth a damn; one 100-calorie gel with about 6 oz. of water at the eight-mile mark, then 75 calories worth of Accelerade around 16: stupid, stupid, stupid. In my defense, it was cool, in the high 40s, and in such perfect running weather it’s easy to forget the body is still burning through water and energy.

This run was out at Glendoveer, 10 loops of the two-mile, wood-chip trail around the golf course. After two or three inches of rain the past several days it was often squishy and occasionally a muddy mess. Given that, my 8:00/mile pace doesn’t seem so pathetic and in terms of effort might rank right with the 7:25/mile pace I ran in the pre-Berlin 20. Whatever. I’m not feeling greatly motivated to study this run. I did it. I reminded my body how to burn fat on a long run and maybe stimulated the production of capillaries and mitochondria and all that good stuff. Well, maybe not all in one day, but I’ve got another 20 (maybe 22) scheduled for 10 days from now, all on a pretty good base.

And about that base: I’ve been doing a better job of logging my runs this go-round, writing notes and observations in a notebook but also entering the data into an online running log. Since I started training in earnest around January 10, and not counting this week-in-progress, I’ve had six weeks of running 40-50 miles; one week of 50-60; two weeks of 60-70; one week of 70-80; and one week when I ran just once, a 10-miler, as I tried to figure out what was going on with my ankle. Take out that injury week and I’m averaging 51 miles per week, far and away my biggest total in a marathon build.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Falling Short

How do I expect to beat Spiridon with such puny runs? Good question.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Race Report: Shamrock 15K

Finishing time gives you a result, and I do worship at the altar of result. But as grandiose and overwrought as it might sound, for me the spiritual heart of running — the mysterious, timeless allure of the sport — is the challenge it offers to the idea of supreme effort.

Running asks the questions: Did I give it my all? What is my all?

This was top of mind for me while running today’s Shamrock 15K, especially during the nearly four-mile climb on the first half of the course. This is a brutal climb not because it is exceptionally steep, but because it’s not; at around 2 percent, you can't just concede and shuffle on up. No, on this gentle but steady grade you’re compelled to decide how fiercely you will go, how much pain you will trade for gain. It was here that I told myself, “Run this race harder than you’ve run any race before.”

I told myself this and tried to comply with the order. I have to confess, however, that I wasn’t entirely certain what it meant. An all-out uphill sprint two or three miles into a 9.3-mile race? That would be just stupid. I’d be fried, unable to finish strong, probably unable to finish at all. Some concession to good sense would be required. Yet being careful, making sure to leave something in the tank, well, the risk there is that the effort wouldn’t be the absolute one I was looking for.

So how do you know if you’re giving it your best effort? I suppose it comes down to starting the race with a realistic understanding of what you’re capable of doing. From varied and thoughtful training you can make rigorous, honest assessments about your fitness.

I’m usually pretty good at that, but with this race I almost got waylaid by a magical round number.

One hour.

Actually, 59:59, which is what one Red Lizard had taped on his back this morning. He had it as his race goal and so did another runner I know. In the week leading up to the race, I had begun to think maybe I could make a go at it.

Well, not really. But sort of. Kind of. Maybe. No, not really.

That’s the kind of mental gymnastics I was doing as I pondered my race strategy. When I finally did step to the line this morning, I wisely dismissed the idea of an hour being in play— but I held onto something. Something valuable. Contemplating the goal did, I think, shift my sense of what might be possible. I found myself expecting — not hoping — to be within a minute or so of that magic mark. True, that would be a substantial improvement over my PR at the distance, but that 1:04:48 was way back in 2007, and, yeah, I'm two and a half years older now, but I'm also fitter. Plus, I ran 31:53 last week at the Red Lizard 5-Miler, a 6:23/mile pace. Shouldn’t I be able to run near 6:30 miles for a 15K?

It was a chilly morning, with temps in the mid-30s at racetime. The air was calm. I noticed just a slight north wind occasionally rustling the line of blossom-filled cherry trees along the waterfront. I wore two layers of short-sleeved technical shirt, Nike Dri-Fit shorts, cotton gloves and no hat. My feet were entrusted to the battered Asics Hyper Speed 2s I’d been doing all my road racing in the past several months. I looked at them on the line and thought, “This is it, your last race; go out with a bang!” I'm sure they were inspired.

They call it Shamrock Run Portland but it’s actually several staggered runs, beginning with the 1K Leprechaun Lap, then the 5K Shamrock Race, the 15K Shamrock Challenge and finally the 8K Shamrock Run. Oh, and squeezed in there somewhere is the Shamrock Stride, a 3.5-mile “fitness walk.”

Race organizers serviced and herded some 21,000 participants in all, and did a good job at it. And they especially deserve credit for getting runners to self-seed according to their expected mile pace. I waited for the starting horn with the six- to seven-minute group, while a smaller bunch stood ahead of us, directly behind a placard reading 5-6 Minutes. It was all extraordinarily orderly for a big race.

The first mile of the course is flat, taking you north along the waterfront for a few blocks. It then dives east into the downtown area before turning south down Broadway. I felt fine with the pace but my heels and Achilles were a bit tight.

Once on Broadway the climbing begins. I looked at my Garmin from time to time, but somehow wasn’t really processing the data; I was running on feel. I kept thinking that I wanted the effort to be not just hard, but a bit beyond hard; I wanted to make sure it was as much as I could give without destroying myself.

Oh — mind if I go a little Euro on you here? I want to switch from using miles to using kilometers in talking about the race, because that’s the easiest way for me to understand my progress. After all, it was a 15K. Plus, even though I wasn’t shooting for it I was using an hour as a reference point, and that translates nicely to an even 4:00/kilometer pace. Think of it as three consecutive 20-minute 5Ks. Or a 40-minute 10K followed by a 20-minute 5K. Metric math, it’s a gas!

(And just a little bit more about the data I’m presenting: Garmin takes its own measurement of the course, of course, and by its accounting this 15 kilometer race was 15.24 kilometers. That “extra” quarter of a kilometer took me 51 seconds. So what I’ve done, to match my data with the certified course, is disperse those seconds equally among the Garmin’s 15 one-kilometer splits. Probably not a precise match with reality, but darn close.)

So the first two kilometers came in 4:04 and 4:03, just a little off the one-hour pace. Then gravity hopped on my back. Not knowing what numerical pace I should go, I again proceeded on feel. I’ve been running tons of hills lately — 30 miles of up-and-downness on Mount Tabor this past week, for instance — and felt comfortable and confident. From time to time my breathing would become labored and I’d notice tightness develop in the quads, but I’d just relax and remind myself how strong I was. It seemed to work out OK, and I climbed with splits of 4:22, 4:22, 4:12, 4:17 and 4:22 on kilometers 3-7.

At this point the course relented just a bit; there was additional elevation gain, but flats and declines were thrown into the mix. My eighth K was a 4:04 and ninth was a 4:10. This put us right around the turn from Terwilliger onto Barbur and it was about then that a guy pulled up alongside me and said, “Nothing but downhill now.” I figured that was the case, but wasn’t 100 percent certain. I wanted to know if this guy meant what he said literally — you don’t want to dispense with the possibility of more climbs and end up wrong. Major bummer. “Really?” I said, turning and looking right at the him. “Absolutely,” he said seriously. “You are done climbing.”

Usually, my approach to downhills — especially when preceded by a climb — is to take advantage of the opportunity to recover. Today, I told myself, that would not be good enough. Push. Push. Push. My body felt great; the tightness in the heel and the Achilles had dissipated, and my left hip — all my problems are on my left side — hadn’t uttered a peep all day. So downhill I went, going 3:57 for the next kilometer, putting me at 41:53 through 10K.

Even going downhill I knew I couldn’t run 18:06 on the final 5K and shock the world (you know, the Inside Pete’s Head world) by shattering the hour barrier. But I thought I could get under 20 minutes, landing me in the 1:01s for a finishing time. Push. Push. Push.

Things got a little crowded when the 8K runners joined our 15K route to the finish on Naito Parkway. I had to dance around some people and, to my surprise, found the experience more joyful than irksome. I think going downhill and nearing the finish were factors in that generous attitude. Kilometers 11-14 were 3:57, 3:52, 3:52 and 3:48.

We were on flat ground now, heading to the finish. I passed a girl and chased a guy. I went hard the whole way. As I crossed the timing mat I hit Stop on my Garmin and saw 1:01:03. And that was my official time, according to the not-quite-official results posted on the race site.

On the short MAX ride home I spent some time chatting triathlon with a fellow who wanted to but didn't do the race. An Ironman Canada veteran, he was on his way to the airport, heading to Brazil on business, and had seen my Ironman Coeur d'Alene bag. I tried not to babble too much about my race, but it was hard. They're always rewarding, these races. Always. Shamrock, though, it rated extra high and I was in the throes of a nice post-race buzz. The effort mysteries weren't solved for me on the streets of Portland today; I think it's in their nature never to be. But I feel like I got closer to some truth.

1K: 4:04
2K: 4:03
3K: 4:22
4K: 4:22
5K: 4:12 21:03
6K: 4:17
7K: 4:22
8K: 4:04
9K: 4:10
10K: 3:57 41:53 (2nd 5K: 20:50)
11K: 3:57
12K: 3:52
13K: 3:52
14K: 3:48
15K: 3:41 1:01:03 (3rd 5K: 19:10)

106/3,639 overall
95/1,733 men
8/203 m45-49

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Race Report: Red Lizard 5-Miler

Good to have the five-miler the day after a 10K, and not the other way around. This occurred to me around three and a half miles into the annual Team Red Lizard nickel run today in bucolic Lake Oswego, just after I'd put the race's signature feature—a block-long (a long block, mind you) wall-like climb away from the Willamette—in my rear-view mirror. There was some hurt going on then, but I comforted myself with this a clever mash-up of lies, logic and rationalization: If this were a 10K, you'd barely be past halfway done with the race. There'd be three more miles to go! As it is, just a little more than a mile and you're practically there. This is so short! I love five milers!

I guess it worked. I ran Mile 5 in 6:11, and with the (1) 6:07, (2) 6:38, (3) 6:26 and (4) 6:31 miles that came before it finished in 31:53. That's a solid 2:27 improvement on last year, which indicates that I really sucked last year and this year, less suckage. By the way, last year's race report delivers excruciating detail on the unique and very interesting course, which was unchanged this year. The difference this year was in the day: last year was cold and rain began to fall toward the finish; this year the running conditions were excellent, with race-time temps in the high 40s and the sun mostly winning its battle against an encroaching weather system.

Also excellent: The Lad, who ran the 1K, smartly staying under control on the big downhill then passing a bunch of kids on the subsequent climb and the closing straight.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Race Report: Champoeg 10K

It was a March 6 better than any of us deserved, chilly at first – there was a thin, watery layer of ice on the car windows at 7:30 a.m. – but under skies marked here and there by only the wispiest of clouds the day turned certifiably springish. Springlike. It blossomed with abundant springosity. Fairly boinged, it did. A shorts-and-shirt, no-gloves, no-hat sort of day for the run.

We – Lad and I – whipped up pumpkin muffins the night before so we could throw them down for breakfast and make a fast getaway, and that scheme went off without a hitch. We were at Champeog State Park, 30 miles south of Portland hard on the Willamette, by 8:25 for the 10K start at 9.

Should I have been running the concurrent 30K as a training run for Eugene? Yes, if I had the self-discipline not to blow it out for 18.6 miles on the mostly paved course, leaving me fried for a week. Trust me, I don't. I know me. I made the best choice for my Eugene program. (Plus, doing so left me 2-for-2 with the ORRC 10K Series, and I aim to run in as many of those races as I can.)

They counted us down and off we went, me too fast, and to back up that claim I present this evidence: Joe Dudman remained in sight for more than a mile. Moreover, afterward Joe said he went out too fast. Without the (forgotten) Garmin I relied on the mile markers for my splits. The first came in at 6:03 and I still wasn't feeling too bad. Mile 2 was a 6:28 with some headwinds and turns. Mile 3, on the meandering, undulating bike path, was a 6:36. The small fraction of the mile to the turnaround that followed featured an ugly little climb, slowing me to 6:50 for Mile 4. Around then, a slightly older fellow passed me and not in the usual chipping-away-at-it way you'd expect that late in the race. He burst past me. I remember thinking, "Whoa, that dude is on his way to a serious negative split." But when he'd stretched the gap to10 or 15 feet, well, the gap stopped stretching. I don't know what his state was, but I was feeling great. The slow miles in the middle had revived me.

I chased the older dude over Mile 5, a 6:27. Then early in Mile 6 – 6:15! – I passed him. He tucked in behind me and I suggested to him that we go after the two guys ahead of us. We did, or I did – he stayed close but I opened up some distance – and with a final 0.2 miles in 1:10 I was done. 39:49. Off my PR by a half-minute, but my second 10K under 40 minutes. I was pleased. (Race results are here.)

I got a blue ribbon for finishing first in my age group, but that was a little hollow: Dudman beat me by nearly four minutes, giving him claim to fastest Master. Since he got that award, I got mine. OK. I'll take it.

Afterward, we drove over the hill through Newberg and out to my sister's in Scholls where many pancakes were consumed.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Return of the Yassos

One month before the Berlin Marathon I did a full set of Yasso 800s. For Eugene, my plan was to do the Yassos on at least two occasions. Today, with just over nine weeks until the race, it was time to get one in the books.

There was some chintzy Portland-style rain most of the morning and into the early afternoon, while I worked. Around 3:30 I was ready to head out. It was raining, but I noticed on the radar that we were just a half-hour or so from lightening skies. So I waited a bit and then jogged the two miles over to the Grant Park track. I was surprised to find a gaggle of high schoolers doing repeats, and decided to jog around the outside lanes while they finished up. That gave me two more miles, adding up to an extravagant four-mile warm-up.

By then, there was a bit of sun, low on the horizon, sneaking around the clouds and through the trees onto the track. The air was perfect, a cool 50 and calm, just a soft breath of a breeze from the south.

So here's the data, comparing my pre-Berlin workout with today's:

Aug 09 / Feb 10
3:00 / 2:58 -2
2:50 / 2:59 +9
2:56 / 2:53 -3
2:57 / 2:53 -4
2:56 / 2:52 -4
2:57 / 2:54 -3
2:55 / 2:52 -3
2:55 / 2:54 -1
2:56 / 2:54 -2
2:57 / 2:53 -4

That workout last August was a killer, especially the sixth through tenth reps. Today's workout, while far from easy, felt considerably less challenging. Part of it was that I was a bit cautious; I'm sure I could have gone a couple of seconds faster all the way through without dying. Yet I was still consistently faster today than last summer. That's a confidence booster. The data—and this is just an educated guess—tells me my marathon fitness is around 3:03. That's cool. I've got five or six weeks of hard work to get faster.

INJURY REPORT: Earlier posts talked about a wonky ankle/heel/Achilles. This Tuesday I hit Glendoveer for 15, going eight easy, four hard (tempo) and three easy. Felt pretty darn strong and better yet, as the run went on—and particularly during the hard four miles—there was zero pain. Zero! Then yesterday I did 30 miles on the bike trainer and again felt good. Heading out for today's track workout, I was a bit worried about running on harder surfaces (particularly to and from the track). Mostly it turned out fine. The injury tightened up a bit around the ninth rep. I iced it afterward and am going to be sure to do some Trigger Point massage before hitting the sack in a few minutes. Interestingly, these last two workouts have helped me to better define the injury: it's definitely not the Achilles. It's more the heel. The tightness is centered in the heel. The worse it gets, the more it spreads toward the outside the ankle and up the Achilles, but the problem is in the heel. This is good to know—helps guide my massage a little more precisely.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Spiridon Didn't Do This

The bike trainer isn't so bad for an hour, hour and a half. It's especially not so bad outside in the sunshine instead of downstairs in the basement gloom.*

But I'd rather be running.

I've backed off on the running the past 10 days. Since Feb. 11, I've run just twice, the 10-miler in San Luis Obispo and then a 10-miler on the soft chip trail of Glendoveer this past Wednesday. I almost convinced myself, after the Glendoveer run, that I could barge through this injury, if you want to call it that, without reducing my mileage. I'm still almost convinced. Almost.

What ails me is a little mysterious. In many ways it's the same thing I experienced in the fall and early winter of 2008: pain on the outside of my left ankle, just in back of the knobby ankle bone and spreading down into the heel and up into the Achilles tendon. Back then, two different doctors offered vague non-diagnoses, agreeing only that my Achilles appeared healthy. Since then, I've learned about trigger points and it's abundantly clear to me I have some issues in my left calf. When I work the trigger point in there the ankle/heel/Achilles loosens up beautifully.

So I've been doing a lot of trigger-point work and the run at Glendoveer was, like, 80 percent trouble free. I ran it pretty hard at points, too, with several miles at or under 7:00/mile on a very soft, slow track. That's what had me almost convinced. But the evening after the run the tightness and slight aggravation when getting up after sitting down was still evident. It made me afraid, and I haven't run since.

With 10 weeks to go until Eugene, I figure now is the time to be cautious. I figure—well, I hope—that a few days of extra rest here will allow me to put in some serious training weeks in March, crunch-time for a May 2 marathon.

The bike trainer is my salvation when I can't, or won't, run. I can work up a sweat, work the legs. Sure it's an entirely different sort of exercise and not even close to being an adequate replacement for running. You don't become a better runner by riding a bike trainer. However, you might not become too much of a worse runner by riding a bike trainer.

Next week I'm getting back to running, to see where I stand. A stretch of hard/easy/hard/easy all on soft surfaces. (In fact, I may not do another Eugene training mile on concrete or asphalt. It was a 16-miler on that shit that caused this flare-up.)

*On a sunny, 58-degree afternoon, why not go for an actual bike ride? Welcome to the life of the single dad. Plus, in an hour on the bike I can give myself a much better workout than an hour on the streets. I did some killer short intervals and a period of hard steady spinning. It was great.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sunday Run

There's been a possibly profound development in this bid to dismantle Spiridon's legacy, but I'm not talking about it, apparently because I harbor the hope that it will blow away, like a cigarette-pack wrapper on the wind (got hit with one of those while walking the other day). So I'll just say that I ran about 10 miles Sunday in San Luis Obispo, which felt at once foreign and familiar. What was I doing there? It was a quick trip down to California for a family function. Flew to San Jose, then piloted Dad's Lexus, mis padres in tow, down U.S. 101, through the southern end of the Santa Clara Valley, then the Salinas Valley and onward past Paso over Cuesta Grade and into San Luis Obispo. A gazillion relatives of mine went to Poly, including three siblings. And my eldest brother, who damn well knows how to smoke a turkey, and his family live in nearby Templeton, but it'd been maybe a quarter century since I'd spent any time right there in SLO town proper.

So I took off on my run without much idea of where I was going. It was 8 a.m. on Sunday and the burg was still pretty quiet. The sun was bright and the wind was howling from the northwest, but it wasn't cold. It was gorgeous. The Development That Shall Not Be Named faded from my mind. I went up Monterey Street. I wound my way to the other side of 101 to a preserve. Two people—I was going to say "homeless people" but who knows?—slept right on the path entering the parking lot. The path became a trail and quickly turned up the hill. You can't miss this hill as you drive south through SLO; there's a big M on it, for Madonna. (No, not for the singer; for this.)

The trail was steep and like the trails I mountain-biked in Riverside wayback when, it was ravaged by the cycles of months and months of dry interrupted by big rain: cracks and crevices galore. The ground was hard, though wet and muddy in low spots. The grasses covering the hillsides were green but thin and low. It wouldn't take very many weeks of sunshine to turn them brown. The Brown State. Not as inspiring as Golden State. I powered my way up the grade, passing dogs and their walkers. There was a split in the trail, left heading up to the hill—perhaps another 1,000 feet in elevation gain?—and right skirting fairly level around the base. I so wanted to go higher and almost did but then gave due respect to what horror the downhill might inflict on my ankle/Achilles problem. Oh, shit, I gave it away.

Anyway, I hit nearby Lake Laguna for a mile or two and then headed back to the motel. When I said San Luis felt foreign and familiar I was talking about the sunshine, the light, the texture of the earth, the generosity of the breeze. When I said it felt foreign and familiar I meant that it wasn't Portland at all but was California.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The REAL Top 10 Boston Qualifiers (FWIW)

Cool Running, part of the Active.com network, tweeted several days ago to a list billed as the “10 Best Boston Qualifiers.” Many retweets followed.

Now, neither the tweet nor the page itself claimed that this was fresh data, but people have been reseasonably interpreting it as covering the recently completed 2009 marathoning year. This caught my attention because I remembered seeing a tweet to this same list several months ago. Hmm. Active.com does say their info came from Running USA, but after clicking around that site for a good long while, I couldn’t find the Boston qualifying statistics.

Then I visited Marathon Guide, a low-key site that I’ve always found to be a great resource. And it came through again. They present Boston qualifying data by year. And their data for the most recently completed year, 2009, differs from what Active.com has on their site. In fact, what’s on Active.com — and what people have been tweeting about the last few days — appears to be based on 2008 data. So courtesy Marathon Guide, below is the latest data on the 10 U.S. races with the highest percentage of Boston qualifying times. The list is similar to Active.com's, but four races fell out of the top 10 in 2009 — Grand Rapids, Snickers, Tucson and Newport. They were replaced on the list by Pocono Mountain Run for the Red, Jacksonville, Green Mountain and St. George.

Marathon Guide
Boston Marathon Qualifying Races — Most Likely To Qualify — 2009

  1. Boston — 43.2%
  2. Mohawk Hudson River (Albany, NY) — 34.9%
  3. Bay State (Lowell, MA) — 33.5%
  4. Pocono Mountain Run for the Red (PA) — 30%
  5. Steamtown (Scranton, PA) — 28.1%
  6. Wineglass (Corning, NY) — 27%
  7. California International (Sacramento, CA) — 26.7%
  8. Jacksonville (FL) — 24.9%
  9. Green Mountain (South Hero, VT)— 24.4%
  10. St. George (St. George, UT) — 23.3%
Of course, as Marathon Guide points out, it could be a mistake to interpret a higher percentage of qualifiers as evidence that a marathon is easier than one with a lower percentage of qualifiers. For one thing, the huge marathons — with the exception of Boston, for which one must qualify, natch — draw fields with a lot of newer and slower runners. This weighs down their qualifying percentage. Other than Boston, no marathon with more than 10,000 finishers was on the Top 10 list. Chicago is widely considered to be a pretty fast course, yet just 12.7% of the people who finished it in 2009 met their Boston qualifying standard.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gettin' Me Some

Oh, yeah, I’m talking today about that thing we all need, we all gotta have, we humans, we animals, we living creatures. That thing that whether we acknowledge it or not, motivates our every action. That thing that, when we do get it, completely overtakes us, makes everything else in the world fall away. It’s a desperate and primal act, that thing, full of panting and gasping and for the more vocal among us cries that blur the line between agony and ecstasy.

I’m talking of course about track work.

I think I mentioned a few weeks ago that the target paces for my Eugene-program track work are challenging. Farfetched, more like it. I’m using the FIRST program regimen, which is more aggressive than McMillan generally, and the paces are based on my marathon goal of breaking three hours. That said, because I’m doing many more weekly miles than FIRST recommends, I'm hitting the track every other week instead of every week. (Seriously, deadly VO2 sessions every week for 16 weeks leading up to a marathon? I guess if you’re actually doing the program and only running three times a week that could make sense.)

On the agenda today:
1200 @ 4:10
1000 @ 3:25
800 @ 2:43

600 @ 2:01
400 @ 1:19
All separated by a 200 meter rest interval.

Before leaving the house I figured out that the 400-meter pace for the reps descended from 1:23 to 1:22 to 1:21 to 1:20 and then finally that last 400 itself in 1:19. So while the distances got progressively shorter, the pace break was not very substantial. Bastards!

I warmed up by jogging the two and a quarter miles from home to the Grant Park track. Nice day to be out: mostly cloudy but dry, temp in the mid 40s.

1200: I started and noted how nice it felt to run fast on the smooth, slightly soft track surface in my Asics Speedstars. I’d run for seven straight days before today, totaling 70 miles, pretty heavy mileage for me, but felt surprisingly fresh. For a lap. You know how that goes? First lap in 1:24 and all was well. Then the lactic acid began to build and lap two became harder work, another 1:24. Lap three I don’t even remember. I was swirling in pain, vowing to keep going as hard as I could despite having nothing left to give. Amazingly, the last lap wasn't dramatically slower, a 1:26, giving me 4:14 for the rep, four seconds off the goal.

1000: This was the worst of the five reps. Just a minute after the 1200, it took a mere half-lap to get to the bad place. I didn’t split each lap. The final toll was 3:32, seven whopping seconds off the goal. Brutal.

800: While jogging—very, very slowly—the 200 meter rest interval, I tried to buoy my spirits. Hey, just two laps! So much shorter than that first 1200! This is going to be easy! Well, no. It wasn’t. That said, mindful by now that I wasn’t likely to hit the goal time I took this one out a little slower, hoping for a more even pace. And, indeed, I didn’t begin to feel like barfing until I’d run about 500 meters. Only 300 meters of head-to-toe misery, that’s not so bad. 2:51, eight seconds off the goal time.

600: Right, you’ve got the picture by now. Pain, agony, slower than goal time—but only by three seconds, at 2:04.

400: Something I’ve noticed about track work is that I don’t care how much the last rep hurts. In fact, getting to The Last One is not very different from being done entirely. The way this works, I think, is that the real dread isn’t a tough rep—it’s a tough rep with the knowledge that there is more to come. Once that “more to come” feature is dispensed with, once I’m on The Last One, what the hell, bring it on. For kicks I took a 200-meter split on this one and found I was at 38. I felt like I was barely moving during the final 200. My legs were cooked well done. And yet that second 200 was actually run in 39 seconds, for a 1:17, two seconds faster than the goal time. That’s right, I ran the rep too fast.

After a walk once around the track I jogged the two and a quarter miles back home, feeling spent, satisfied and relaxed. Curiously, however, I was not interested in smoking a cigaret.

Testing the Converters

What sort of time might you expect to run a marathon based on your performance at shorter distances? It's a common question, for first-timers especially. There are plenty of conversion calculators on the Web; my favorite is this one. But recently I've heard about some simple equations, one that you can crunch in your head and two that you can do easily with a pencil and paper. Let's try 'em out.

There's the one that says your marathon time will be twice your half-marathon time plus 10 minutes. For me, that's 1:28:51 x 2 = 2:57:42. Then add 10 and you get 3:07:42. That's less than 90 seconds more than my actual marathon PR. Not bad.

Hal Higdon's formula is your 10K time multiplied by 4.66. So we've got 39:13 x 4.66 = 3:02:45. A little quick there, about three and a half minutes too fast, but still not bad.

Last one says simply add 20 seconds per mile for each doubling of your distance. My best half-marathon pace is 6:47 (actually, 6:46.7). Add 20 to that to get 7:06.7 x 26.2 = 3:06:35. Wow—that's almost spot-on, a mere 19 seconds slower than my PR.

Of course, the old caveat that goes with any conversion to a marathon time still applies: If you haven't been doing the kind of long runs that are key to adapting your body to run 26.2 — as opposed to run 18, shuffle four, walk four more and then crawl the final 0.2 — these are all meaningless.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Blog Rundown

Less and less I'm interested in the running blogs that have become extensions of fitness-gear marketing departments. Not that the reviews aren't honest or helpful. I just find that the more time I spend reading about cool new stuff, the further removed I become from the true rewards running offers me.

I'm also losing my appetite for reading about someone's latest diet experiment in which this category or that other category of food is off limits because an author, armed with a study or two—likely to be contradicted in a few years, because that's what always happens with nutritional "science"—has with evangelical fervor made a compelling case to do so. Grains evil? Coffee toxic? Green tea the cure for all your ills? Yawn. Michael Pollan is right: If you're going to avoid anything, avoid the fads. Embrace what you know is good for you. You do know.

I'm trending in the same direction when it comes to reading about training regimens. Mostly I confine myself to Science of Sport-type discussions that try to tease what's real from what's myth.

Instead of gear, diet and how-to-train blogs, I now find myself reading the sites that exhibit and explore a deep connection to running. For example: Anton Krupicka's Riding the Wind. He writes infrequently but compellingly. As here:
Heading down Greenman (the upper section down to Saddle Rock is excellent for descending right now with an almost perfect amount of snowpack) I encountered no knee pain but was treated to a most excellent night-time view of the city as the clouds lifted virtually right before my eyes. This was the view I'd been waiting for all day and it sparked a stretch of that kind of running that only comes along every once in a while. Every footstep is perfectly placed without trying, the growing darkness adds a sense of increased effortlessness and speed, and the steep drops and rocks and roots all provide giddy moments of acrobatic proficiency instead of the more typical tired and awkward navigation. I'd forgotten how much fun it can be to run trails at dusk.