Saturday, January 16, 2010

Race Outlook

Do I race too much? This is something I've been researching and thinking about the past few days, but I've still not arrived at any firm conclusion. And tomorrow: a race. The forecast is ugly, with temps in the low-40s, rain and strong winds from the south (the second half of the race features a lot of southbound running). But I did this race two years ago and for reasons unknown, feel drawn back to it. It's a flat course, and I like flat courses, but given the predicted conditions I doubt it will be all that fast. Oh, well. A full report tomorrow, but be forewarned: could be grisly.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Better Late (Than Early)

Someday—Note: if I start a post with the word "someday" you are safe to assume I am talking about something that will never happen—I'm going to organize a late-spring marathon that starts around 5 p.m. Here in Portland on, say, June 1, sunset is around 9 and there's plenty of light lingering for 30-60 minutes after, so nobody would be left out in the dark.

I hatched this fantasy while running early this morning. Actually, it wasn't that early—I hit the trail around 7:30 a.m.—but I'd rolled out of bed a scant 45 earlier. Typically, I run midday or later. This provides a nice break or decompression from work (OK, "work") and gives my muscles and joints a chance to loosen up. But while working on my first cup of coffee this morning I could see on the National Weather Service radar that a big gob of rain was headed toward Portland. It was going to rain all afternoon. I'd already run twice in the rain this week and just wasn't up for the another squishy experience, especially since the forecast for Sunday's Cascade Half calls for rain. So I jumped into my running shoes and out the door, wiping the sleep from my eyes.

The prescribed workout called for 2 miles easy, 2 miles of tempo run @ 6:14 and 2 miles easy. I did the two miles of easy and thought I was warmed up, but I couldn’t hit those 6:14s, instead doing 6:35 and 6:39. (I followed this up with six miles of easy running, giving me 10 total miles for the day.)

Part of the problem might have been that I was running on a wood-chip trail with some ups and downs. Mostly, though, I just didn't feel like my engine was capable of revving up the way it usually does. And that, apparently, makes physiological sense. From the New York Times:
[A] small group of researchers has studied the question of exercise performance and time of day, even doing studies of heart rates. And not only are performances better in the late afternoon and early evening, but, contrary to what exercise physiologists would predict, heart rates are also higher for the same effort.
I knew it! And yet the latest any marathon I've ever run has started was 10:30 a.m., at Boston. Berlin, in September, started at 10, and because I was staying right in the city I was able to sleep until 6. That wasn't too bad. CIM, last month, started at the ridiculous hour of 7 a.m. I woke up at 4:10 that morning, giving me shy of three hours before the race began. That was brutal, especially since it was around 30 degrees out.

Wouldn't it make sense to start a race later in the afternoon? From that same Times article:
[I]t might make sense for endurance events, like marathons, to start in the afternoon instead of the morning, when they almost always are held. Maybe they could be held later in the year, to avoid afternoon heat. [Chronobiology expert] Dr. Michael A. Smolensky agreed. "Most marathons start early under the guise that it's cooler then," he said. "That needs to be looked at."
I'll say.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I came so close to going for a 10-mile run. I felt the itch to pile up miles. I'd only run 20 miles in three days. Was I going to start my training for Eugene with a lame total for the week of, I don't know, 40 miles? But I came to my senses. No need to ramp it up so fast. Better put: Stupid to ramp it up too fast. Plus, tomorrow there's a pretty tough workout in store: 4 miles easy, 2 miles of fast tempo (6:14/mile) and 4 miles easy. In the rain. Then Sunday, I've got the Cascade Half. In the rain, if the forecast is to be believed.

Yeah, it was a good day to rest.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

1600 Reps?

Damn. I knew 3x1600 @ 5:41 was going to be hard, but I didn't think it would be impossible.

I went 5:42, 5:52 and 5:58—notice a trend? Plus, I did a very slow 400-meter jog between the 1600s instead of the called-for one-minute rest interval.

This workout comes from the FIRST program and is based on a 5K PR of 18:30. No, I haven't run a 5K in 18:30, but I'm pretty sure that if I went out on a flat course this weekend and tried to, I could. I'm sure of that—so why did I fail so miserably at this strange VO2 workout?

Well, let me start by explaining why I call it strange.

FIRST is about the only program that calls for 1600-meter repeats. Matt Fitzgerald talks about "specific endurance intervals," which he defines as 200 meters to 1K. Daniels says that unless you can run 1600 meters in five minutes you should be doing 1200 meters for your long track reps. Pfitzinger's longest VO2 reps are 1200. And even at that, all of these guys are expecting you to use 5K race pace—around 5:57. McMillan is right there: Punching in an 18:30 5K on the calculator yields 5:55.2 to 6:08.3 for 1600 reps in speed workouts.

I guess FIRST, because it's based on doing just three runs a week (plus two cross-training workouts), pushes the intensity to the nth degree. But of course, I'm modifying FIRST to include leisurely and long recovery runs at least twice a week because I just don't have confidence that I can shave 6:17 off my marathon time running 30-35 miles per week. So maybe it's not vital that I nail these weirdly lengthy track reps that nobody else in the running world asks you to do? Hmm. Well, I'll do this workout again, 11 weeks from now—five weeks before the marathon—and when I do I'll have today's pitiful results to look back on for comparison.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Getting Better

Quite suddenly last night I noticed that my ailing throat was feeling much better. About a half-hour earlier I had eaten five cloves of raw garlic, crushed in olive oil, with some bread. Maybe that’s what did it. Who knows? The improving trend line held today. Still, I remained cautious on my run. A cold is like an economic downturn: you want to make sure the recovery has solidly taken hold before announcing good times have returned. Few things worse than a double-dip recession or a cold that comes back. So while I ran farther and harder today it was still just seven miles at an 8:00 pace, again over at Normandale on the grass.

This was a run I enjoyed—and it seems important to highlight that fact. I intend to post every day over the next 15 weeks and five days of training for Eugene and I’ll be talking often about workout strategies, injury avoidance, indicators of fitness and, more than anything, the challenge that breaking three hours in the marathon represents for me. The joy that running brings me will probably get short shrift but don’t ever think it’s not the driving force in my training. Today, after sitting in front of a computer screen for several hours trying to glue words together in a way that makes sense, to get out and run was like coming up for air. I felt like I could soar. It helped, I suppose, that my legs felt fresh—no calf issues, and that lingering shin pain from Sacramento was gone as well. And the conditions were pretty sweet, too. The temperature was probably about 45 and it was drizzling off and on, but the wind was calm and occasionally the sun semi-busted through the clouds, providing a break from the gray. In my life before Oregon I would have called it a crappy day but as Dorothy* famously said, “I've a feeling we're not in California anymore.”

OK, so yesterday I mentioned three key workouts for this week. Had I been healthy I would have done one of them by now, but with the cold fast receding I have a plan for how to fit them in: Tomorrow, I hit the track; Friday, it’s the tempo run; and the 13-miler will be on Sunday—probably in the form of the Cascade Half.

*Or maybe it was little Mary Decker. Some girl in pigtails.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Eugene Prep Begins (Sort Of)

My left nostril was clogged and there was a scratchiness where the nose and throat intersect. It was 4 a.m. and I needed a glass of water. Thus began Day 1 of my 16 weeks of focused training for the Eugene Marathon.

This is my first brush with ill health this winter. What timing! I went for a run anyway, but a short one. Here's why (as reported in Runner’s World a few years ago):
David Nieman, Ph.D., who heads the Human Performance Laboratory at Appalachian State University, and has run 58 marathons and ultras, uses the "neck rule." Symptoms below the neck (chest cold, bronchial infection, body ache) require time off, while symptoms above the neck (runny nose, stuffiness, sneezing) don't pose a risk to runners continuing workouts.

 This view is supported by research done at Ball State University by Tom Weidner, Ph.D., director of athletic training research. In one study, Weidner took two groups of 30 runners each and inoculated them with the common cold. One group ran 30 to 40 minutes every day for a week. The other group was sedentary. According to Weidner, "the two groups didn't differ in the length or severity of their colds." In another study, he found that running with a cold didn't compromise performance. He concluded that running with a head cold—as long as you don't push beyond accustomed workouts—is beneficial in maintaining fitness and psychological well-being.
It wasn’t a bad run, actually. I kept it as low-key as possible: five miles at a slow-as-can-go 9:15 pace on the grass at nearby Normandale Park. I read somewhere once that if you go out to run when feeling a little sick, after 10 minutes—if you haven't dropped dead already—you should take an accounting of your condition. If you feel better, keep running. If you feel worse, stop and go home. I felt better, so I kept going. I flirted with the idea of going for six, seven, maybe even eight miles, but quickly dismissed the foolish notion.

Now, a few hours later, the cold is progressing just as colds do: the nose/throat area that was scratchy this morning is red and irritated and I’ve got a little bit of pressure in the sinuses. No fever, no headache, pretty good energy, huge appetite (that never fails), but, man, that irritation in the nose/throat sucks.

Impossible to say right now what this means as far as my training plan goes. I’ve got three key Eugene Prep runs on the agenda this week: a 13-mile long run @ 7:22 pace; a 2-mile tempo run @ 6:14; and a track workout consisting of 3x1600 @ 5:41 w/ 1-minute rest intervals. That track workout is intense enough and the long run long and fast enough that I wouldn’t want to do either unless I’m confident the cold is beaten. I’m incredibly eager to get this program rolling, but at this point the risk/benefit analysis suggests being careful. And I shall be.