Thursday, November 21, 2013

Richmond Half-Marathon -- 11/16/2013

Summary: 1:34:31, 7:13/mile. 16/284 AG, 250/7750 OA.

During this summer my thoughts began to turn toward 2014. New age group, new possibilities, so it was time to start setting some goals. At the top was trying to earn a return trip to Boston, so a spring marathon seemed logical. Walking back from that, a fall half-marathon seemed like a logical stepping stone and a good test of my run fitness.

That led to Richmond. The date looked good, and the course has a reputation for being flat and fast. I'd set my previous 1/2-marathon PR of 1:34:59 in Philadelphia in 2010 -- I figured I had a realistic shot to knock a bit off of that.

After the Wisdom Oaks International my training shifted over to a more run-centric focus. Mileage built up for around a month with a combination of more frequent weekly runs in the 40-60 minute range and longer weekend runs, including "split runs" -- two run workouts in a day to increase mileage without beating up the body too badly. The majority of these runs were in the ZR - Z1 range -- pretty easy pace.

About a month before the race, the weekend runs shifted to straight efforts, peaking at 2:20 (about 16 miles at Z1 pace), with weekly track workouts of 5-6 mile repeats at "race pace." This is when I started feeling pretty confident. I was running smooth and steady for the long runs, practicing nutrition and hydration, while the race pace mile repeats were encouraging -- I was holding 7:00 or better pace without stepping out of Z2 or low Z3.

The Race
Coach Debi and I consulted on race strategy and settled on taking the first mile around 7:20-7:25, then dropping down into the 7:05-7:10 range for the rest of the distance. I packed three gels along -- one for 15 minutes prior, then the others (Expresso Love) at :30 and 1:00. I'd drink water at the stops.

Race morning was wet, as a band of showers moved through Richmond. But as we parked the car the showers faded and I was able to warm up without getting soaked. A short jog, a longer wait at the porta-jons, and a hop over the barrier into Corral A -- I was ready to go with a couple of minutes to spare. I moved to the back of my wave's corral -- no need to get caught up in the scrum at the front.

With the gun I walked up to the line and started my watch. Richmond begins with a straight shot down Broad Street, the old downtown main street and then passes through the  campus of VCU before taking a right turn to the north. It looks flat, but there's a slight uphill grade, so I proceeded with caution, staying in the pack for the most part.

Mile 1 -- 7:31, then Mile 2 -- 7:24. A little off planned pace, but no need to panic. I'd set Mile 4 as my check point. If I was at 29 minutes there I'd be right at 7:15 pace. We turned north onto the Boulevard, passing under I-64 and past several BBQ joints (which smelled great!)

Mile 3 -- 7:11. That's better. We ducked into a residential neighborhood for an out-and-back segment and then Mile 4 -- 7:06. I was about 20 seconds or so below 7:15 pace, but if I could hold around 7:10 I'd be set. Mile 5 -- 7:10 -- perfect.

Around Mile 6 we headed into a large city park. The smooth pavement and flat we'd had so far was exchanged a rougher aggregate surface and some small rolling hills. Hard to play those -- I didn't want to push too hard up the short grades, but didn't want to give up too much time, either. Mile 6 -- 7:06, Mile 7 - 7:01, then Mile 8 - 7:18. That didn't bother me too much, since we'd gone through the longest climb on the course.

As we left the park the 1/2-marathon course began following the end of the marathon. I knew this from past runs, so I knew that there were some fast sections with only one uphill stretch worth talking about. Mile 9 was solid at 7:06, but the easy running of earlier was getting harder now. Time to repeat those mantras I'd practiced in training. "You're smooth." "You've got energy." "Your form is great." Sounds corny, but it helps when it starts getting tough.

Mile 10 - 7:10. Mile 11 - 7:11. Now I was counting my steps to 50, then checking the Garmin. If the pace was slower than 7:10 I dug in and pushed, checking again after 50 more steps. I turned onto the last long downtown stretch -- once I turned right it would only be a short downhill stretch to the finish. I kept looking ahead. Where was it?

Mile 12 - 7:11. I was passing people who'd shot their bolt, but being passed by stronger runners too. I kept counting, checking pace. Finally, I saw the turn. I gave it all I had, but the steep downhill caused some sharp cramps in my legs. By now I was in that end of the race fog. Was I on pace? I glanced at my watch and wasn't sure anymore.

Finally the clock. It was rolling up towards 1:35, but I'd started about 30 seconds after the gun. I had it -- 7:34:31, with Mile 13 in 6:57. It's always a great day when your training and race plan come together, and this was one of those days.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Race Report: Belmonte Endurance Races 25K - 4/20/2013

I like mountains. I like trails. I like to run. So why hadn't I done a trail race before? 

Good question, I told myself as I stood shivering in the gathering light of a Blue Ridge mountains sunrise. It was 35 degrees and breezy at Royal Oaks Resort, a small collection of cabins just off the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Wintergreen. I'd signed up for the Belmonte 25K last year but had to bail because of pneumonia. The organizers had graciously rolled over the entry to this year, but the race really wasn't on my radar. My running felt great, but I'd been concentrating on shorter distance foot races and cycling. Hard to see how this was going to turn out.

There were actually three races going on that day -- my 25K, plus a 50K and a 50 miler. All were following the same course, but with different turnaround points on the out-and-back course. I tried to blend in with the crowd -- a little different than the usual road race. A few more beards, a lot of Camelbacks, some runners with dogs, and a crapload of tattoos. A couple of burly guys in kilts rounded out the scene. 

After a moment of silence for Boston, we took off. I lopped along in the back, determined not to burn out early -- I'd seen the elevation profile, and I knew what it was to hike up in these mountains. Our first two miles followed the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) south and downwards, then we ducked off the trail into woods to the east. The single track was well graded here, with a gentle downward slope, and I settled into the train of runners, moving up past a few slower ones.

Then in the distance I heard a smattering of whoops and hollers, getting louder as we got closer. A stream crossing, made deep and fast by the previous night's rain was backing up traffic. Some scouted up or downstream for a crossing, but most plunged right in with water over their knees and forged ahead. With a shout of "once more into the breech" I followed suit. Now it was my turn to give a yell -- it was COLD!

Now the trail turned west and back up towards the BRP, with sunlight illuminating the sides of Whiteoak Canyon as we climbed. I ran and powerwalked and moved past several more runners, scraping against the underbrush each time. We recrossed the Parkway to the first water stop and I stopped to chat with Carmel who'd driven down from the start. I fired down a gel, refilled my water and  reentered the woods.

The trail wound upwards now, as I ran along Indian file with a group of about 10 other guys, chatting it up as we ascended. Gradually the trees grew shorter and the trail rockier -- a sure sign we were near the top of the ridge line. Our pack came apart as runners began to tire or started to surge and I settled in leading a "B" pace group. At the top we turned right onto a rutted jeep road -- a veritable super highway compared to the trail and began to descend. By now we were starting to see 25K runners coming back. They looked young -- and fast.

After a few minutes we hit the first real aid station. I topped off my bottle, and grabbed some peanut M and Ms (great idea) and some saltines with peanut butter (not so great). As I choked down the saltines, the trail started down. It was full on prevent disaster mode for a while as I slid down some steep scree, and hopped from rock to rock. After a few the trail began a set of well-graded switchbacks and I could hear the sound of a stream at the bottom of the ravine.

We hit bottom, only to encounter the 25K turn around sign. I'd checked the map, so I knew it was coming, but it didn't make me look forward to turning around and going right back up. I set off up the mountain in my best power hiking mode, and started to catch a few of the runners in front of me. After a blazing fast 19 minute mile I was back at the aid station -- this time I skipped the saltines (more Peanut M and Ms, please!)

After reascending the jeep trail I turned back onto the single track. This was one of the toughest sections. I head to pick carefully through the rocks as I went down, and my quads felt like they were being attacked by dwarves armed with ball-peen hammers. Younger, nimbler runners I'd passed on the uphill started overtaking me. I hated them.

Finally the trail smoothed out and I could start to stretch out and run again. As I picked up speed the Virginia Trail Rock, a native of the area. launched itself from its camouflaged burrow and attacked my left foot. With a loud OOOOFFFF I hit the ground and slid. Then my calves cramped up. As I rolled around on the trail I understood the appeal of trail racing. In a big city race spectators and other runners would have rushed to my aid. EMTs might have been called. Pictures and video would have been taken.  But here I was on my own. No one in front, no one behind. Suck it up buttercup.

I finally got up and worked out the cramp. No lasting damage -- a scraped knee and thigh and a couple of scrapes on my forearm and hand. Fortunately the arm warmers I was wearing protected my skin from anything worse. After a few I started to jog along and got back up to speed.

Soon I hit the BRP again, where Carmel was waiting. I showed off my battle scars, got some water and a gel and dug in. Just three more miles of trails, then back on the blacktop. I descended back to the stream crossing, which felt pretty darned good this time and started ascending back to the road.

As  I climbed the trail I saw a sight to warm my heart. Other runners. Walking. I started picking off single runners and pairs until we hit the Parkway again. The blacktop warmed my heart and loosened up my stride. More runners came into view as I ascended -- I'd paced it well and had plenty in the tank as I came across the line.

I found out later I won my AG, though I didn't stick around for awards. A plate of hot macaroni and cheese and a lot of potato chips was plenty of award. Trail running -- I might grow to like this...


Monday, March 11, 2013

MJH 8K Race Report -- 3/2/2013

The Martha Jefferson Hospital 8K road race has a well-deserved reputation for having one of the toughest, hilliest courses in Charlottesville running. And given our varied topography, that's saying something. The route winds through downtown Charlottesville neighborhoods, and each mile presents some sort of vertical challenge.

While I'd been happy with my first two races of the year -- 20:50 and 20:20 at two local 5Ks, I'd gone out too fast in each of those races and faded at the end. A similar performance here would doom me.

Race day was cold -- lower 30s -- but dry. I got a good warmup in and seeded myself about 3 rows back, determined to keep the lid on it during the first two miles.

At the start the field strung out nicely and I got some open space to run in. There were several short downhills, and I busted down them full-bore, tempering my self a bit on the following ups. Mile 1 came in at 6:40. That was good.

Miles 2 and 3 present a series of climbs with a couple of short respites. I held back a bit on the ups and tried to crest each hill with a good head of steam to take advantage of the flats and downhills. This set up some back and forth racing action with some of my competitors, as they'd pull ahead and I'd close the gap. Mile 2 came in at 6:59, and 3 at 6:52.

Now it was time to dig in. Ahead was the famed "Belmont Hill," a stupid steep climb that closed off the 4th mile with an exclamation point. I rounded the corner to the climb, lifted my arms, tighten my core and started counting -- I just needed to put in 100 strong right feet and I'd be at the top.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5...not too bad...20, 21, 22...breath getting short...55, 56, 57...concentrate...98, 99, 100...crap, not at the top yet...121, 122, 123...leveling out and over the top, with just a bit less than a mile to go. Mile 4 in 7:00 flat.

Now, push hard for the end -- I vaguely remember trying to close the gap with a group right in front of me, but could only hold on to the back of the back. Finally the final turn and the finish was in sight. I saw 33:30 something on the clock -- sub 34 would be a good time for me -- final push to the line and I was in at 33:52. 6:19 for the last .94 mile, 6:42 pace. The overall pace for the run was 6:50 -- a good effort on that course.

I was gassed, but satisfied. It was my best run at MJH since 2009, when I did a 33:27, and my second-fastest ever. I stuck around for awards, only to find out I'd missed 3rd AG by two seconds. But I was happy -- I think I'm making some strides in the right direction.


Friday, February 01, 2013

Keeping it low

My coach, Debi Bernardes, is very committed to the principle of low heart-rate zone training. To summarize, you do the majority of your training at low heart rates, saving higher-intensity work until you've built a solid base. It can feel counter  intuitive  -- I've got to run fast all the time to get faster right?? But the advantages are that you build a more efficient machine and can train at higher volumes without injury. And truthfully, most people get in trouble with "too fast, too far, too soon."

She asked some of her clients to share some of their successes with training this way. Here's what I wrote:

"It is hard sometimes to be disciplined about staying in your zones. Not so much when you're training alone, but groups can be challenging -- seems like any time you get two or more cyclists together they want to contest every hill on the road like it's worth KOM points!

But long-term attention to HR training has been extremely effective for me. First of all it's the best way to build endurance -- they key underlying element of speed. Anybody can start fast, but it's the ability to maintain pace that's hard. Through a summer of rigorous attention to my HR zones, I was able to pull off a solid first IM at Wisconsin, negative splitting the bike course and turning in a pretty decent marathon at the end.

After that, and with another few months of low-end training, I'm finally being let off the leash a little bit, and the results are very encouraging. Just yesterday I was running multiple 1000 yard repeats at sub-7 pace, while keeping my average HR below 155 per interval. It was surprisingly easy, and a workout that once would have left me trashed was an enjoyable afternoon at the track.

There's no doubt in my mind that I'm a stronger, more efficient athlete now than I've ever been -- a nice thing to say when you turn 54 in a couple of weeks. So stick to it and build the base that comes from consistent, steady training at the correct rate -- it'll pay off. "

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

New Year's 5K race report (and some other thoughts)

"A textbook example of how not to run a 5K" -- Ken Nail

My winter training has been going pretty smoothly, all-in-all. After taking some time off after IMWI and my last sprint tri of the year, I buckled down to work on three aspects of my training:

  1. Build my strength. I've never been consistent with core and strength training, and when I started to really examine the guys who were beating me in my AG, one thing stood out -- they looked stronger. Not ripped, but tighter, tauter, more defined. So it's been two strength/core workouts a week for me since October. It's been gradual, but I'm seeing an improvement in my physique and swim times.
  2.  Lose weight. At a stocky 5'9" and 165-170 pounds, the weight has to come off. Again, some gradual improvements have been taking hold, and I think I'm making good progress in improving my overall diet.
  3. Stick to the program. Once upon a time, in the dim recesses of my memory, I remember when a 12- to 13-hour training week was monumental. Now Coach Debi seems to regard that as pretty normal base training. Well, I'm the one who said I wanted to get faster -- I guess you've got to work to actually make that happen... 
 So on to the race...

I felt good coming in. I've been running/biking in my endurance zones, but my run's been feeling more efficient and my pace has picked up with less effort. No speed or threshold work though. Plenty of time for that later in the season. Amazingly, it had been 2-1/2 years since my last stand-alone 5K, so I was pretty curious to see how the race would go. After a good warmup I shed my extra layers and got to the start line. The weather was overcast and cool -- low 40s, but the projected rain had held off.

We took off like a shot down the slightly gradually descending dirt road at the start and turned onto the pavement of the route's country road as the pack spread out. The field was small, around 300, and I tucked in behind a group of men and tried to find my rhythm.

And that rhythm was fast. Too fast. 2:54 for the first 1/2 mile, and 5:59 for the first mile. I know people enjoy debating race strategy, but any way you slice it that was too fast. Way too fast for a guy who's only broken 20 minutes one time.

I hit the turn for the out-and-back course at 9:44. I counted returning racers and found myself in 17th position. Not bad -- if I could hold close to that pace for the return I'd break 20.

Not going to happen. Mile 2 was 6:48, and I was hurting. I kept the focus on quick turnover and posture, but the speed didn't hold. I picked off a few puppies who were hurting more than me, but was cannon fodder for several more than I passed.

I hit the line in 20:52, good for 23rd overall and 1st AG. I wasn't happy about losing over a minute on the return leg, and I felt I could have done better with better race execution. But my overall fitness felt good throughout though, and I'll get another chance to do it right in February at another local 5K. And for that race I'll have some speed work under my belt -- I'm looking forward to seeing how it pans out.