Friday, November 25, 2011

RNUTS 2012

     I love shifting gears. Especially at 30 mph on a bicycle heading down a mountain. One movement of the thumb puts a whole new range of speeds firmly in my control. Now that the 2011 Drumstick Dash is history, I can lay my 2011 road race season to rest and shift my training over to a new gear. That new gear is going to be the 2012 RNUTS series of trail races.

     My 2010 and 2011 race schedules had a lot in common so I made some significant changes for 2012 in order to avoid the monotony of just doing the same thing every year, year after year. One change I don't anticipate ever making is eliminating the RNUTS races from my agenda. The transition from road races to trail races is perfectly timed since many of the area trails are not going to be seeing as much recreational use over the next few months and that leaves them wide open for us outdoor enthusiasts to train on.

     Not only does this trail series do an excellent job of showcasing a large number of the fantastic trails in the Roanoke and surrounding areas, it gives the local running community something to focus on during a time of year when many areas have little to offer in the way of road races.  I will have to direct you to the Mountain Junkie website to learn more about the individual races and the series in general, but here is the 6 race schedule:

       Shifting gears from training for road events to trail events is not difficult, but it does require some preparation. One thing I have found is that the relationship between speed and terrain is much more of a factor at trail events. This area in particular has very technical trails and if the sharply contrasting elevation changes don't slow you down then the rocks and roots should. So I'm prepared to give up some speed.

     Another thing I'm preparing for is the development of athletic skills to replace the speed. These races are no place for a smooth even stride. We run, yes, but we jump, leap, maneuver, and use strategy too. So I'm prepared to put a lot of focus into increasing my coordination,  flexibility and dexterity.

     I run trails as part of my weekly routine year round, but I will be kicking up my trail running intensity and since I usually run solo I'll need to be prepared for a lot of things that can happen. I need to be sure to let people know where I am going to be. I'll need to watch out for wildlife too. I've never had any problems with deer, squirrels, snakes, bears or possums, but I have seen each of them more than once and I am prepared to see them in the future. Fortunately much wildlife is dormant during the peak training months for these events, so wildlife will be much less of an issue.

     If any readers of my blog are looking for something fun and active to focus on for the months ahead, consider giving the Mountain Junkie events a try. The events can be done individually or as part of the RNUT series and many actively encourage walkers/hikers to participate. The race directors, Josh and Gina, put a lot of effort into making the events a positive experience for the trail running community by doing trail maintenance, adequately marking the courses, providing good quality and ample amounts of post race food and appropriate door prizes...including my Garmin 305 that I won at the 2010 RNUTS banquet.

     For more information, please visit the Mountain Junkie website for all the details.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

2011 Drumstick Dash

     The stakes were always. The consequences of failure would be harsh and severe. Over 14000 people would embark on a 5k course through the streets of Downtown Roanoke this morning and for many it would be an opportunity to socialize or to have a nice "fun run" or perhaps to share in the sense of community that is such a deeply interwoven aspect of the annual Drumstick Dash 5k. For most, it seemed, it would be enough just to be a part of something a little bit bigger than themselves.
All 4 of us tackled the course this morning. Denise and Faith walked it while Chris and I ran.

     Off to the side, however, a solitary figure was preparing for what could quite possibly be the run of his life. Loosening up his muscles, checking his shoes for that ever so perfect fit, the lean yet muscular fitness enthusiast was scanning the scene for the ones he considered the local elites. Some of them would disappear almost as soon as the race started, but others might be holding back just enough to catch a ride in their draft. It might only gain him a second or two, but every second counts when the goal is to go sub 19 in a 5k.

     The enthusiast had done four separate asphalt 5k events over the years with each one faster than the last. Drumstick Dash '09 *BOOM* 23:11, APCO 5k '10 *BOOM* 20:54, Vinton Fall Festival  '10 *BOOM* 19:43 and finally one year ago to the day at last years Drumstick Dash '10 *BOOM* 19:21. That last one still etched in his memory, not so much for the accomplishment, but for the sheer brutality of the energetic expenditure. Always looking to out perform his past, the fitness enthusiast knew this morning could very well bring him face to face with a pace so violent that Death would cringe. Others had done it and survived. Survival is not, however, a given when sub 6 minute miles are involved.

     12 days earlier the fitness enthusiast had just completed his 2nd marathon. The results of which still puzzled him a bit. He wanted to say he had over trained and paid the price by finishing with a less than anticipated performance on race day, but there was more to it than that. The whole experience had left him empty. Lacking the motivation to keep his fast twitch muscles tuned up and firing, he simply retreated to his weight room and focused on power lifting. The 2011 Drumstick Dash 5k was coming, however, and NOT doing it was NOT an option. So the fitness enthusiast solemnly accepted the inevitable paradox. How to keep the streak of faster 5k's alive while simultaneously making only insignificant efforts to maintain any sort of cardiovascular intensity?
Locomotive passing through just prior to race start.

     The answer, of course, was Magic! Running a sub 19 5k usually requires intensive training, but not if you catch a magic leprechaun and he grants you a wish in exchange for his freedom! So the fitness enthusiast had stayed up late the night before the race with the hope that a magic leprechaun would present itself so he could just reach out and catch it. That didn't happen..., so with the power of improvisation the enthusiast settled for wishful thinking and now here he was at the start line looking at  3...2...1...GO!

     Violence was the answer. Every step had to hurt and every hurt had to be embraced. Mile 1: knocked out in 6:10, not a sub 6, but on par for a PR, Mile 2 knocked out in 6:31: unacceptable, only a strong push on mile 3 can save the day, Mile 3: 6:33 = failure. Final Time of 19:47

     Content to know that failure is only a temporary situation, the fitness enthusiast dusted himself off and vowed to never forget that wishful thinking is no substitute for good, hard, safe training. It was also of measurable consolation to know that even as the streak of progressively faster 5k's was being laid to rest another streak was rising up to replace it...he now had 3 5k's in a row going sub 20. "Perhaps" he thought "The next time I try to go for a 5k PR, I'll have something more than residual fitness to offer, perhaps I'll implement a 5k training plan and follow it and see what that yields."

     When he started running several years ago, improvement was rapid and constantly faster times was practically a given. Now, it seemed, the days of "low hanging fruit" were behind him. No more taking PR's for granted. From this race forward a different type of runner would emerge, what form that would take is still a matter of speculation...

    The Drumstick Dash 5k: Garmin stats
2011-time: 19:47 (chip) 19:49 (gun), pace: 6:22/M, Place 97/3763 overall, 4/187 in my age group, 92/1877among men.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

2011 Suntrust Richmond Marathon

     I admit it. I've been holding back. I wasn't trying to be deceptive, I just didn't want to jinx myself. Now that the race is over I can finally throw it out there. The truth is...I haven't enjoyed running very much in over a month. I stayed optimistic about my training and this race itself right up to the end, but I've known for weeks that things weren't going exactly as I had envisioned when I devised my training schedule all those many months ago. It started around week 8 with the fatigue issues that resulted in me ditching almost all of my cycling. Then weeks 11, 12, and 13 (my high mileage weeks of 47, 50 and 47 miles) had exhausted me again and had me entering the 3 week taper with almost no enthusiasm and maybe even a little sense of dread for each run. Fortunately, marathoning as a whole, is so much more about the journey than it is the destination so I'll be able to chalk it up to lessons learned and make better decisions for future attempts.

     And what a great journey it was. Over the past 16 weeks I've completed a trail race and a road race in the top 5, I ran the 10k run leg of a triathlon with a great results, I've set new PR's on my 6, 8, and 10 mile dedicated training routes, and most importantly I've stayed active, healthy and uninjured. This 16 week journey does end on a something less than stellar note since I didn't achieve the result that I had set out training for, but even on that downward note there is still the glimmer of the one statistical achievement that I did take home from the Richmond Marathon...a nice new PR for this course and distance.

     Now if you had asked me on race morning about goals and strategy I would have said "I've got to win this thing. Just get in front and stay there." That would have been a programmed response. I knew at the starting line that my taper had been lethargic and never resulted in that enthusiasm for the big event that usually accompanies the taper period. I also knew I would be fortunate to find the energy or will to achieve any of my goals which included a BQ time of 3:15 or better, the pre-rule change BQ time of 3:20, and then just a 3:25 which seemed statistically likely based on my better training runs. The idea of beating last years time of 3:35 seemed like such a given that not doing it never really entered my mind at all.

     So with the race starting at 8am I begin my pre-race traditions around 6:30. The Holiday Inn we were staying at offered a typical breakfast assortment of foods including my pre race standards of oatmeal and coffee. Denise and I then walked 6-8 blocks to the race start where I consumed a muscle milk at 7 am followed by 1/3rd of 2.2 ounce Raw Revolution food bar at 7:30. We watched the 8k'ers and 1/2 marathoners take off, I did some warm up exercises and that left just enough time for a good luck kiss before taking my spot in the starting corral.

     Even though I was skeptical of reaching my goals, I was intent to stick to the strategy of holding a pace in the low 7's. As the race got underway, I quickly established a 7:11 pace and held it for a good long while. I hit the 10k split at 44:58, just a few seconds slower than last years 44:46. I wasn't racing last years splits, but rather took this as a sign that I was doing a good job holding back and pacing myself. I hit the 13.1 mile mark at 1:36:02, again just a bit slower than last year when I reached it in 1:35:45. At this point I couldn't have asked for a better race and I was starting to feel some optimism for my chances at a 3:15 finish.

     However, the similarities with last year did not stop there. Actually, the similarities with last year are somewhat remarkable. Both years mile 17 sees my per mile pace drop into the 8's and sometime before mile 20 the 3:20 pace team has to breeze on by and leave me scratching my head. I hit the 20 mile split at 2:33:25 compared to last years 2:33:17  Knowing at this point that a BQ was off the table, I just didn't see any reason to push for anything more than a PR. My feet felt ready for some relief so I decided to take long walk breaks through the aid stations. I figured at a minimum if I can walk 2/10th of a mile and then run the other 8/10ths fast enough to take my pace for that mile into the 9's, then a PR would be a sure thing.

     My new, less ambitions, race goal seemed to be working for the first two miles, then, just like last year, I started getting some involuntary muscular responses.I had thought the NUUN tablets would have prevented this, and maybe they did help some because it never did get as bad as it did last year, but every 1/2 mile or so my calves would spasm for 15 seconds or so. It was enough to make me want to stop, but I pushed through it although it was slowing me down. My last two miles dropped into the low 10's and I was in danger of not even getting a PR.

     As I turned the corner for the final downhill to the finish I looked at the clock and saw a 3:32 and change and knew I was a roughly 2/10th's away. If I had seen a 3:35 I probably would have walked it for no better than I was feeling, but knowing that a deep push would give me a PR I went ahead and pushed it for a 3:34:12 finish. I don't know exactly what the nurse at the finish line saw in me that made me seem needy, but she identified herself as a nurse and propped me up enough to get me through collecting my finishers medal and getting through the food lines until my family could get to me.
                                                                    Finishers Medal  

     I was literally thrilled to walk away from this race with a PR. PR's are gold in this business. I know that my long term goals as a runner include something a bit faster than what I did at this race, but I wasn't going to let that diminish my accomplishment. Learning a lesson is a step in the right direction and getting a PR, even if it was only by 1 min 18 sec is confirmation that I am still learning and improving.

     Garmin statistics comparing Richmond '10 to Richmond '11

Last years race recap

The Suntrust Richmond Marathon
2011-time: 3:34:12 (chip), pace: 8:07/M, Place 527/3787 overall, 68/327 in my age group, 446/2140 among men

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Training For Richmond: Week 16: Race Week

     Recovery: 6 miles (Mon): Just gettin in a few comfortable miles before the big 26.2 on Saturday. Today's 11 laps around my block has almost the same elevation profile as the entire Richmond marathon. Statistically that's encouraging.

     Recovery: 4 miles (Wed): Well, that's it. Training's over. Jostled the bones around just a bit this morning to keep the rust at bay and now the only thing left is race day!

     Race day: Race Report

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Training For Richmond: Week 15: Just Maintenance

     Tempo: 8 miles (Mon): Faster than what I really should have been doing, but I just wanted to push it a little and do something in the low 7's. After not really pushing at all last week it was kinda taxing pushing it on the treadmill for this one, and for being in the taper period it was probably of questionable wisdom to be running faster than marathon pace. Still, I got off the treadmill feeling better than when I got on it, so that's worth something. It is such a nice day out, I only used the treadmill because I don't know if I'll be able to swim tomorrow, I wanted to be able to swim some laps right off the treddy today.

     Intervals: 6.5 miles (Wed): Results was typical, which is about all I could hope for. Targets were 6's and 8's, lap 8 has always been the lap that first misses the target, and today was no exception. I didn't try to get back to speed, it's taper week so I just kept it in the 7's and 9's from lap 8 on.

     Recovery: 3.5 miles (Thurs): Jostling the bones around on my favorite out and back trail. No push at all. Garmin data is blemished because it mysteriously started recording again for part of the ride to the gym. I fixed it as best I was a trifling exercise anyways. It's a worthy note to mention that this is my "go to" 4 mile trail run location and that I have decided to alter the standard route by just a touch. Previously, I start at the trail head and run 1.5 miles to the parkway, then 1/2 mile on the parkway, then turn around at a large sign just past the rt 24 ramps and then return from whence I came for a full 4 miles. Upon deep reflection I have decided that adding 1/2 mile before the trail and another 1/2 mile after the trail at the overlook parking area is a much better location to pick up the extra mile since it will keep me off the main road. This will make past data less than 100% comparable with future data, but I think it's a good trade off. I look forward to garminizing the new route next week.

     Long: 10 miles (Sat): Just kickin' it around in the 7's again today. Pushed a little on the uphills and took it easy on downhills. Ended up with a pace just shy of my target marathon pace. Great run, but probably a little faster than what I should have been doing 1 week before the marathon.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fitness Defined

    Everyone should develop their own ideas about what constitutes being healthy and/or fit. I'm using this post to present my idea of where I think I need to be for me to consider myself a healthy and fit individual. Right at the moment, I am quite a ways off from where I think I need to be. As a matter of fact, I'm so far from healthy that I probably have one foot in the grave already. Thats why I'm taking the time to write that I can identify and work towards specific goals as they apply to my 3 main fitness goals of strength, speed and endurance.

     1) Strength Standards- I believe a man needs to be able to move heavy objects. In preparation for such an endeavor, I try to keep a minimum amount of strength available by lifting weights and eating foods that promote healthy muscle. For now, I just want to look at the weight lifting aspect. 2+ years ago, when I started lifting, I had no defined goals except to establish a routine and stick to it. That has worked out well for me for the most part, and while I have tweaked the routine from time to time (to add weight or increase reps), I'm not really doing anything different since I started lifting.

     Well, I'm at a point now where I need to define what is acceptable strength and what I need to do to get there. After a quick google search for "Strength Standards", I found this web site and decided that the strength standards for an intermediate to advanced level weight lifter for the 5 different power lifts would be a good place to start. Fortunately, I have been diligent with bench presses since I started lifting, so I'm already at intermediate strength for that one. That means I can mostly just focus on the other 4.

     2) Speed-Q) How fast is too fast? A) It depends on the distance. I have a general goal of doing 12 foot races per year, 2 on each surface (asphalt and trail) of the 6 most popular distances (5k, 4M, 10k, 10M, 1/2 marathon and marathon). I believe fast enough is going to be finishing most events in the top 10% in a given year. Of course the marathon has that golden ring that I have to keep reaching for, the Boston Qualifier. Boston Qualifying would certainly be a nice annual goal to work towards, but with the differences in elevation profiles from one course to another I believe for fitness definition purposes that top 10% is the better parameter.

     3) Endurance. Although running, in and of itself, is a great endurance activity, I prefer the triathlon as a barometer measurement for endurance. I like the way it challenges the whole body in different areas and at different times. I think for my own purposes that an activity that challenges my endurance needs to be more about the challenge of overcoming the distance and less about speed. For me that distance is 70.3, the Half Ironman. I'm no where near ready to try one so this will be like my ultimate life time challenge. In the meantime, a 50 mile ultra marathon would probably make a good substitute.

     So there you have it. My idea of what constitutes "healthy" for me. If I should ever reach each all 3 targets for strength, speed, and endurance in a given year, then I will feel like I've done something. In the meantime...gotta keep on gettin' it.

     [Update: 5-14-12]: A 100 mile century ride is just as good of a  substitute for an endurance activity as the  ultra marathon. The Half Iron is still my lifetime goal, but as an interim activity a century ride works out as well as and possibly better in some ways than an ultra.