Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer Base Building

When did I become so slow?  I ran well in April at the Hoosier Half and kept right on training.  I know after a hard race effort I should run easy for a few days.  Three days later I did a hilly long run with some marathon pace miles but I never really ran that pace again in the weeks to come.

At the end of April I felt tired, but had a week of free time in Las Vegas visiting Katie’s parents that I wanted to capitalize on.  I ran 20 miles a day in the desert and mountains that week, culminating in a fun 25 miler in Zion National Park up and down the canyon and hitting all the best high points like Observation Point and Angel’s Landing.  It was easy to just keep knocking out 7:30 miles, but it felt much harder than it should have.

Zion Observation Point

Unsurprisingly, I came back dead tired.  I knocked out a 40 mile bike ride at the end of the week with my good friend Ryan and then that was it.  I kept training, but struggled to run under seven minute miles.  My old stone bruise on my left foot 4th metatarsal started to hurt again.  This was no good, I wanted to feel good again and put in steady training for fall races.  After a dismal performance at our team relay at Dances With Dirt Gnawbone (in May) I felt the fatigue was unbearable.

My usual coffee intake was even higher in the morning to get myself energized for lunchtime runs.  Coffee stopped working.  I decided that perhaps my regular and possibly excessive coffee consumption was masking a great fatigue.  So I quit drinking coffee.  I was now running slower than ever.  I struggled to run eight minute miles.

Overreaching, sympathetic overtraining, parasympathetic overtraining, dead legs, whatever you want to call it, I think I had it.   I have a continuous running streak of almost 200 days so I didn’t want to quit.  I resolved to run one mile a day, easy on the grass for two weeks.  I stayed away from caffeine.  I felt terrible for a while, but then I started to feel better.  An easy mile one day on the road turned into a 6:30 mile.  This was even in the morning.

I ended my mile-a-day two week break two weeks ago.  My energy is back.  I started a new training plan.  I am gradually increasing mileage (50 one week, 60 the next, 70 this week) and rebuilding a cardio base.  I have always scoffed at the idea of regularly wearing a heart rate monitor but decided that I have been ignoring a valuable training tool I already have.  Why not use it?

So here I am two weeks later, running every mile with a self imposed limit of 140bpm and keeping my average HR at around 136bpm.  The heart rate training fad I have loved to hate is now my training plan until I stop seeing improvement at these easy heart rates.  My theory at the moment (still not drinking any coffee) is that my caffeine induced ease of running higher heart rates did me in at the expense of fundamental cardiovascular base building.

My first run with a heart rate cap was miserably slow.  I ran a 10 mile out and back on the rail trail at near 9 minutes per mile culminating in a 10 minute last mile.  I battled back and forth with a girl alternating walking and running on the Rail Trail.  I cursed the heart rate monitor.  People I know saw me running slowly on Kirkwood.  Embarrassing!  I ran the same route the next day.  I ran it again the day after that.  The pace started to drop.  Last week I managed a run at 136bpm and two miles at 7:08 and 7:01.  Either I am recovering with all these easy runs or improving cardio fitness quickly.  I don’t think it matters which, I am thrilled to be feeling fresh every day and running a little faster each time out!

I have been convinced that easy flat runs would eventually bore me.  But instead the game of relaxing and trying to run faster and more efficiently at the exact same effort is becoming an enjoyable challenge.  I’m getting a heart rate monitor tan-line.

My friend Ben swears by this training philosophy.  If it works for Bartley maybe it will work for me as well!

So there it is, let the summer of base building commence.  

Hoosier Half Marathon - April 5th, 2014

2014 Hoosier Half

Here it is, a much overdue race report from April.  This was my first half marathon in 5 years.  It was time for me to run one again as last time was during triathlon training and I knew I should easily be able to best my old PR (1:26) on this same course.  It's a hilly course, but I'm used to the terrain as it runs all over my hometown streets and roads here in Bloomington.

I knew this would be a great race to run fast.  The early April temperatures in Bloomington are idea.  This race is also the NIRCA (collegiate club running) championships so lots of fast young guys are typically racing it.  In addition, numerous guys from our Quaff On team were running so I would have plenty of guys looking to run about the same pace as me to go with.

Looking back at my training, I pretty much ran a lot of hilly tempo-ish runs of around 10 miles so probably had been doing more specific half marathon training than I realized. 

Often in small town races I end up with a gap from the very front and off on my own having to push myself with sparse competition.  This wouldn't be the case here.

From the start I went out exactly on goal pace with the other Quaff On guys.  My friend Ted also ran with us so it was great to have a group to push with.  As we ran around the square and down Kirkwood everything felt great.  We all easily clicked through 6:10 miles and made our way through the campus up Fee Lane.  As our pace stayed even climbing up Fee Lane I started to redline a little.  I warned the other guys that the big climb of the Jordan Extension was coming and we all held back a little.  We still split 6:05 for the mile including the Jordan climb so perhaps pacing was a little aggressive here.

After we climbed the extension and hit the downhill mile 5 at around 5:55 pace I was suffering a little more than expected.  Finally, at the 6th mile I let the other guys go and backed off to a 6:20 pace with Ted.  We held on though and kept the group within ten seconds but ran our own pace up and down the rolling hills.

I gradually lost sight of the other Quaff On guys.  In the meantime, Ted and I kept picking off college runners from various school club teams so this was good fun.  At the big "Winslow Hill" I gave it all I had and sprinted up the hill to hopefully make up some time since I was feeling quite good.  I caught more college guys getting beat down by the hills.  I saw the Quaff On guys ahead and started to give chase.  Ted was suffering and I unfortunately lost him at this point.

As we cut through the suburban neighborhoods we reached Indiana Avenue / Henderson and I started to cut into the Quaff On guys lead some more.  I saw Katie at the corner yelling for me to catch the next guys.  I resolved to keep trying.  Over the next few miles I stayed steady at a pace of 6:13 and was ready to make the catch.  Alas at the end of Indiana, when we turned right they still had a few seconds on me and we all started kicking.  Danny and Joe had no idea I was there and I wanted to surprise them with a pass.  I kicked to a 5:30 pace through the finish but could never quite catch them.

Regardless, I don't think I would have broken 1:22 without them there to inspire my strong finish!  It was good to run with a team even when they didn't know it in this case.

1:21:55 / 55th Overall / 5th Age Group

This was a good time for me on a tough course.  My low overall placing is a definite indicator of the high quality and caliber of runners at this event.  In a smaller race this effort could have landed me on the podium, so even at 55th it was a solid finish for me.

That being said, just steady consistent training and running plenty of hills seems to be leaving me with good fitness this spring.  Maybe I will run another half marathon at some point, with some good speed work leading up to it and a faster (flatter) course.  I'm not sure if I can break the elusive 1:20 barrier but I would sure like to try!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

January Racing

January was a great month for racing and a particularly poor month of weather at the same time.  I raced three times, with wildly different conditions at each event.

Tecumseh Trail Marathon (January 11th)

First up was the Tecumseh Trail Marathon, a race rescheduled from December (due to snow and ice) to January 11th.  Leading up to the race the trails in the Yellowwood State Forest were covered in heavy snow and ice.  However, a warm snap and plenty of overnight rain caused the snow covered trails to turn to pools of water and mud.  The gravel roads were left covered from edge to edge in sheets of still thick ice.

With these conditions in mind, the race organizers opted to alter the normal point to point route into an out and back with a loop in the middle run three times (a lollipop I guess).  At first I thought this might be a faster course, but as it turned out the conditions made a mess of everything.

My strategy was simple: "Go out hard on the first gravel mile, get to the single track first before it is crowded and the muddy trails deteriorate.  Run the first loop as hard as possible as well because it will likely to be difficult to make up time on the second and third pass after all the runners have already been through once and wrecked the trails."

This was my kind of strategy anyway.  I hate going out easy.  I talked with my friend Ben Bartley about this and even he agreed that it was probably a wise choice.  With that thought in mind, I arrived at the race start and tried to stay warm in the still cool conditions while talking to friends and Quaff On teammates.

Race Start

So, as planned I went out fast.  Two other runners went out even faster.  I was willing to dash through the first mile of gravel to get to the trail but under 6 minutes per mile seemed a little excessive for a trail marathon start.  I ended up taking the first mile in 6:35 along with Ben.  We crossed our first stream of deep ice water and it was apparent that keeping feet dry was a lost cause.

We hit the trails and the mud next.  We passed the first of the two rabbits who was struggling to navigate the muddy trail in road shoes.  For the first time ever I realized the shoes I had just purchased were actually making a difference.  A few days prior I bought a pair of Salomon Fellraiser trail racing shoes with nice rubber half inch lugs.  These would be terrible for road running but today was the day for condition specific shoes if there ever was one.  I flew through the mud with relative ease with Ben running just behind.

Then we hit the ice pool.  It was an unavoidable lake of foot deep ice water, blanketed underneath by a sheet of solid ice.  There was no choice but to carefully wade through it.  There was no doubt in my mind that some would fall here and get a freezing soak along with it.

The Loop

Finally the trail circumnavigating Yellowwood lake ended and we ran a small patch of gravel road to the largest climb on the specially made loop course.  I fell back and lost Ben and two others here, leaving me fifth place.  As I methodically grinded my way up the several hundred foot climb and hit the upper gravel road I saw the others just ahead.  I made up a little distance and tried to comfortably run a little under 7 minutes per mile.  The road went by fast and then back down a winding and muddy trail I went.  Since few had trafficked it as of yet it wasn't so bad.  I was comfortable but pushing.

I repeated this pattern three times, going back to the gravel road for the start of the loop, and then up the climb and back to the road again.  I drank no water, only pausing to take two gels up the climb on my third pass.

All the while I chased the fourth runner, but never did seem to get any closer when I saw him on the gravel roads between the deteriorating muddy trails.  I also never saw anyone chasing me, not even once.  I did see Katie and her friend Amy spectating and cheering so that lifted my spirits each time.  I also saw Danny Webb and my friends Alex and Ted spectating as well.  I stayed motivated and tried to charge the miles of gravel road while just maintaining pace on the increasingly treacherous trails as the entire crowd of runners passed through each loop.

The Finish

I finally hit a low point after finishing the loops and getting back on the lake trail toward the finish.  I knew I was starting to lose my mental stability and focus so I ate another gel.  The gel worked, and I ran on toward the trail exit and back to the mile of gravel road we started on.

Finally, I saw Ben running having come back to run it in with me to the finish.  What a good friend!  He had finished in 1st (winner) and come back to see how I was doing.  Unfortunately the fourth runner was just a little too far ahead so I pushed hard to the finish but didn't have enough to catch anyone.  But top 5 is top 5!  I was happy about it!

Racing around the flags to Finish

5th Overall - 3:34:28 (hopefully a personal best as I will never have to run the modified version of this course ever again!)

Frosty Trails 5 Mile (January 18th) (Brown County State Park Mountain Bike Trails)

This was a nice small local race, and lots of the Quaff On team showed up to race.  This would be a fun opportunity to compete with some of the guys on my own team.

As a bonus, since it was a 5 miler Katie decided to run it as well so it was a good day for family fun on snowy trails with some nice hot soup afterward.

We went out reasonably hard at the start and gradually climbed our way to the top of the 5 mile mountain bike trail loop.  We had a pack of five Quaff On guys and also Ryan Wells and Andrew Walker in tow.  I ran close to the front, pushing my way up to the high point at 3 miles with the rest.

After about a mile or two, Ryan (the fastest of the group) took off.   The question was raised, but nobody was ready to chase him at this point.  He wisely got out of sight quickly and that was pretty much the end of the race for first place and a free pair of shoes from Indiana Running Company.

Running in the Pack

I pushed and pushed but when we began to hit the downhills the pack fractured.  I think according to my GPS Danny Webb and a few others were just too much faster downhill even at a 6 minute pace.  I threw up in my mouth a little and gagged loudly.  The others noticed and cheered but there wasn't much I could do but fight through it.  I lost them a hundred meters ahead but kept pushing.  It seemed that 6 minute trail miles were unreasonably hard in snow and I felt the pain of trying to sustain that pace flying around bends downhill.

There was a sprint finish through an open field and unfortunately I was a little less than a minute too late to contend with the numerous others in the chase pack.  Regardless, it was a fun day of racing and good workout.  I have some work to do on turning my legs loose downhill as the other guys blasted away from me at this race.

I cooled down with a large group of teammates on the Brown County cross country course nearby and then got some delicious soup with Katie.  She was happy to have run consistently and beat numerous women!  I also still got a free pair of smart wool socks for my 7th place finish so at least that was something!  I should admit that my performance was probably also okay for having poured out plenty of my energy at the Tecumseh Trail Marathon the weekend before.

7th Overall (5.22 Miles) - 34:46

Mountain Mist 5ok (Huntsville, Alabama - January 25th)

I knew coming into this race it would be tough.  Not just because of climbs triple the height of those here in Bloomington, but also because of the consistently extremely rocky and difficult terrain.  I also knew I didn't have the right trail shoes to deal with this sort of terrain, so I got a pair of Salomon Sense Mantra trail shoes.  These light but very rigid and "rock tough" shoes seemed to be according to reviews and testing the right fit for the terrain.

Scott and another friend of ours (Beau) had been lobbying for me to join them on this race road trip so I decided to give it a shot.  I felt good and training had been consistent as my daily running streak continued.

Monte Sano - The Course

From the start, I lined up next to Scott, pro David Riddle, and many fast local runners to get a start that would push my abilities.  I went out aggressively in the front of the pack and ran the road start at 6:30 to 6:40 miles with Scott and David until we hit the trail.  I stuck with them and gradually lost all the other runners chasing.  The three of us continued, with myself not even pausing to think as the trail became rockier and more treacherous on the way down to the bottom of the mountain at mile 10.  I was surprised to still be hanging on to these two.  There wasn't much to say as we all were focused on running the trails without falling.  Scott fell once after surging and David and I caught up.

There was some fantastic scenery here off the mountain side I would love to have photos of but there wasn't any time for that obviously (nor did I have a camera).

As we reached the first big climb I lost them both.  They climbed faster and I wished them both good luck as I lost them.  This was when the going got a little harder.  After the climb I hung on to my 7 to 8 minute miles and tried to focus on maintaining efficiency and not tripping on rocks.  Then there were more rocky descents.  Each got trickier than the last as I jumped over rocks, onto rocks, down from rocks, slipped through rock crevices and even ran through a cave.  This was cool.  This wasn't Brown County.  This wasn't like anything I had raced before.

I hung onto third place for a while but by mile 17 the seasoned local runners (some who had won previous years) caught me.  It wasn't ideal, but at least I could tell they were running strong and were great competitors.

At mile 23 things got out of hand.  I reached the gigantic 800 foot "waterline" climb up the mountain and had little to give.  I hadn't been running many hills and it showed.  I lost sight of all the runners who had passed me.  I was in 9th place and would stay in 9th place till the end.

Mountain Mist Elevation Profile

At the top of the waterline climb I reached 30% grades over an ice waterfall that had to be gripped and crawled up.  I was so zapped I thought I might tumble down backward and roll back to the bottom of the course.  I hadn't taken any gels, but grabbed Coca Cola or Mountain Dew from every aid station.  That helped.  Carbonated beverages are glorious for a runner with a stomach in poor condition.

Back down another icy and rocky climb I went, this time frustratingly close to the finish dropping another 800 feet in vertical.  I knew I would have to climb back up again to finish.  Nobody caught me, but I certainly wasn't gaining on anyone as I was reduced to an alternating jog and power hike up the steeps.  Finally when the trail flattened I just tried to put one leg in front of the other and at least run eight minute miles as I followed the several mile section to the finish.

Finally I got there!  I was beat.  My training and shoes had helped as I wasn't really sore but I was just excruciatingly tired.  The course was slightly longer than 50K and so difficult that I was very pleased to best my last over 5 hour 50K with a 4:49:10 finishing time.  I saw Scott (he won!) and Beau (unfortunate DNF, not his day) waiting for me and was glad to be back with the crew.

What a race.  Of anything I've run on trail I can't recommend this one strongly enough for someone looking for a reasonably close by technical and mountainous race.  The course sucked me in with a downhill start and then crushed me with the finish back up the mountain.  These Huntsville folks knew how to design a tough course.

9th Overall - 4:49:10

With January complete and still cold weather upon us, I'm done racing for the moment.  The next race for me will be in March at Dances With Dirt Green Swamp (Florida) with the Quaff On team.  Since this will be a relay it should be fast and flat trail repeats of 4-7 miles.  I just can't wait to run in warm weather.

However, I have finally embraced the cold.  My weekly mileage had been hovering around 50-60, so I decided to push for more miles and hills last week and got a 70 mile week of all hilly routes.  I ran the hills on the Lake Griffy roads almost every day. 

Hopefully some consistent training without racing should put me in good shape for races to come this year and also for the upcoming Hoosier Half Marathon in April here in Bloomington.  It feels good to be training consistently and getting stronger this early in the year!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

2013 Wrap Up

January is almost over and I have forgotten to create the yearly summary post I intended to publish.  What happened last year?  I guess I really mean to say, "what happened in running last year?"

I got back to racing.  Actually, I got back to a lot of racing:
  • Louisville Lovinthe Hills 50k (7th)
  • Land between the Lakes 60k (10th)
  • Kentucky Derby Marathon (3:04:29) (46th)
  • Run with the Foxes Half Marathon (6th)
  • Sunburst Marathon 
  • Sugar Creek Swim Club Triathlon (Relay Team) 5k Run (17:16) (1st)
  • Jeremy Wright (Flatrock) 5k (18:07) (8th)
  • Mill Race Marathon (3:03:31) (13th)
  • Columbia City Marathon  (11th)

A few of these races went pretty well.  I marked the road races of standard distances with noteworthy improvements in red.  Although the marathons were not perfectly executed both the Kentucky Derby and Mill Race marathons were good shots at running under 3 hours.

3 Time SCSC Triathlon Relay Champions!

I also was happy with my attempts at the SCSC 5k and Jeremy Wright 5k.  Our relay team (Katie swim, friend Arvin bike, myself run) won again at the SCSC Triathlon, and I found that while that course was short, the Jeremy Wright 5k was a little long so I think both efforts would have been around 17:4x on a certified course.  

Made it from Bloomington to Van Buren Elementary with Scott 

Running with Sand Flea, the dog who followed us for 23 miles from Yellowwood to BCSP

I also ran in training and racing distances of a marathon or greater 12 times last year.  This included three 30+ mile point to point runs on trails from Bloomington to Nashville, Van Buren, and Brown County State Park.  Scott Breeden and I finally found the elusive trail connectors in Yellowwood, the Tecumseh Trail and Brown County State Park (and only a little trespassing) to put these routes together nicely.  

Stopping for a snack in BCSP at Hesitation Point

Finally last year I also accomplished two other goals I have had long been considering.  On my 34th birthday I ran 34 (+1) miles from our house in Bloomington to Nashville with my good friend Ted, who was thankfully game to take the day off for this impromptu trail run he had not really prepared for at all.  Despite some predictions that we would get lost or injured, we made it safely and refueled with Big Woods Pizza in downtown Nashville.  That could have been my last run of the year and I would have been happy.

The second run on my goal list was running point to point from Bloomington to Martinsville, mostly by way of Old 37.  This was Scott's birthday run so we ran roughly the mileage of his age as well (less than mine).  

I also ran a point to point marathon route from my parent's house in Millersburg to my uncle Marvin's pig farm on New Year's eve at the start of 2013.  It was slow, but since I had just returned from injury I was happy just to make it and then gorge on party snacks.

While home for Christmas I even got a run in with my youngest sister (Jennifer), as she has cultivated a running habit while teaching in Honduras.

Running with Katie on the Art Loeb Trail in North Carolina

We did travel quite a bit, and I got to do some mountain running in North Carolina and Virgina, as well as Colorado.  I ran beautiful rocky and remote trails on the island of Utila off of the gulf coast of Honduras while visiting my youngest sister during spring break.

Running in Utila

Rocky Utila Beach

Mountain Biking a trail I ran earlier in the day

I finished up the year with some great runs in Colorado including bagging a few peaks near Golden and Boulder and finally experiencing the steepness of the Manitou Incline in Colorado Springs.  I think I am more interested in returning for a completion of the Barr Trail all the way up to Pike's Peak than I was before.

The longest stairway ever . . up the Manitou Incline

Otherwise in training I managed to run 2480 miles for the year.  I ran anywhere from twenty to over 100 miles per week.  Some days I ran to and home from work, during lunch, and after work as well.  I ran in temperatures less than 0 and over 100 degrees in ten different states and in a foreign country.  I ran on roads, trails, railroad tracks, cornfields, no trail at all, up stairs, in airports, in Assembly Hall, in parking garages, and even on Highway 37.  I can't say training was monotonous this year.  I was hoping to get to 2500 miles but this was pretty close considering I cross trained (biking and swimming) primarily for the first two months of the year.

Local GPS tracks of my most frequent routes for 2013

As far as injuries are concerned, I had a few but all were tolerable and I was able run them out.  The list was not too long but included:

  • Lingering abductor hallucis pain in my right foot that dissipated with cross training and occasional long runs in the early spring.
  • A right achilles strain
  • Bursitis lingering in both heels (Strassburg socks helped greatly with this while sleeping, as well as avoiding hard heel counters in shoes)
  • Severe blistering and swelling to my right heel that required two weeks of careful taping and low mileage
  • A shin contusion from falling on a log that left me unable to run for a week
  • A 4th metatarsal bruise that lingered for two months
  • Right hip bursitis and IT band pain that plagued me during October and November
  • A right knee injury to my patellar tendon that started in April and disappeared after two months of routinely stretching my quadriceps and hip flexors.
  • A splinter to my right foot that took me out of commission for a few days and hurt to run on for a week more after I had it surgically removed.

Actually, I guess the list was somewhat long.  I learned plenty about taking care of my body this year and mitigating many different types of minor injury without significant lay off.

What was missing?  I am itching to return the longer 50 mile, 100k, and 100 mile distances in racing.  I have not decided on a strict schedule for 2014 but I think I may target some longer races in the fall.  2014 will be a good year I hope!  I started a running streak of consecutive days in December that is now up to 52 consecutive days of running.  I am somewhat weary of subzero temperatures in Indiana but I have gone outside anyway and only once opted for a treadmill.

Warmer weather is just around the corner I hope!