Sunday, March 30, 2008

A tough run in the hills of Saratoga Gap

This was a strange run for me today. I went on a 15.71 mile run today in the mountains, starting at Saratoga Gap and going to Horeshoe Lake and back. It seemed like I was running extremely slow and unable to maintain a good pace worth anything, eventually finishing in about 3:30. I don't think it was overly hilly, no more than I have done before, coming in at around 1,500 ft. of elevation gain. In fact I did a trail half marathon last year in 2:15 and that one had 1,600 ft. elevation gain.

I am at a loss for words why I was struggling this time. The usual suspect is that I didn't eat enough before and after, and that probably added a ton to why I had to slow and or walk a good portion of the hills. Another explanation could be that I hadn't ran that much since the Napa Valley Marathon earlier in the month, and perhaps this has hampered me a bit. If this is the case than I am glad I caught it now rather than next week when I run a trail marathon. Of course a week isn't much time to prepare, but I will do what I must.

One huge plus is that it did get me out there for a good amount of time to help acclimate my legs to the distance and time. This is a huge plus. And, incidentally, this was the longest training run I have ever done, so perhaps I am moving up in life and will be able to work towards bettering my Napa time!

There is always a positive in everything. Sometimes you just have to look deeper than you would want.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Experimenting on Myself...

Coming into today I had two goals: to experiment on myself and to break the post marathon funk. The second one was the easiest. I mean, all I had to do was go out and run anything longer than 6 miles and I feel it will be a start to breaking out of the funk and begin training and running again for my next marathon on April 5th.

The first goal is the hardest because I would be doing something that isn't recommended for the mainstream. It would be performing an experiment, something that I have wanted to try for a while. And I have done this on a smaller scale without a hitch. The experiment: to wake up and run without eating anything. Why? To try and begin teaching my body to know when it is on empty and to train it to begin using my fat reserves as energy. I've done this before on smaller runs, like 4 or 6 miles and I didn't have a problem at all. Today, however, would be a 10 mile run with no food or energy in reserve.

The run started great, with my first four miles very consistent and on pace to my normal training runs, around an 8:15 pace. But from then on I could definitely feel the effects of not having eaten anything and drinking very little. Many short walk breaks later I was able to finally finish the 10 miles at an 9:19 pace.

The Good - This experiment had some ups and downs that you only ever experience at the end of a marathon, the last 6-8 miles. You begin to feel the wall loom ahead of you and you begin to drag your feet. You can't run as fast and you can feel your energy so low that it is hard to continue running. That is why doing this was great because it is so very important to simulate the last 10k or so of the marathon and be familiar with how that feels.

The Bad - I never really felt like I was able to get a nice, consistent run in. My miles were up and down, with the exception of the first few miles, and the run itself didn't feel as great as it usually does, which was expected under the circumstances.

The Ugly - I haven't had training miles as slow as a few in this run in a long, long time. Sometimes I go into the low to mid 9 minute pace when I am starting to run slower, but today my last three miles came in at 10:38, 10:38 and 10:26. So in that sense I was definitely hurting from not having anything to eat or stored for energy.

Overall I think this experiment was successful. It is extremely important to feel how it feels during that last 6-8 miles of the marathon, and this was the first training run I've done that has been able to simulate this (minus the aching legs and sore joints). So a huge plus. Eventually I will begin to adapt and feel the miles better as I run on empty.

Interestingly enough it was strange to feel the ebb and flow of energy. My body knew what was going on and was trying to convert my fat reserves to energy, but I needed the energy faster than it could give it to me. This is why I should train more like this because the more refined my body becomes the better it will adapt. How? As I was running I noticed the lack of energy, so I would stop at each mile and walk a little. The energy would build a little and immediately after I started running again I could feel the flow of energy. Amazing. And this would happen with every mile.

As a side note, I weighed myself and after, and came in at 3 pounds less, even after all the water I drank during and after the run. Obviously most of that was water loss, but maybe some was fat loss from the need for energy?

Here's to experimenting and finding new ways to better our running. If all goes to plan then a 16 miler in the hills of Saratoga Gap should happen tomorrow. Alas, it is Easter and I do like to sleep in, so maybe this one won't happen. But here is to trying...

Post Marathon Laziness/Funk?

I wonder if this happens to many people after running a marathon. I know it happened to me after my first marathon in 2006, but I hadn't trained for that one and it was understandable that I would not want to run for a while after. But I've trained for Napa and was prepared for it. In fact going in to Napa I had ran 7 marathons or longer and only the first was the one that prevented me from running for anything longer than a week.

So after Napa I was sore for a while. My hamstrings were sore for a long time and held off running for almost a week. But what about the almost 2 weeks after that? Laziness, it is all I can come up with. Is this common after a marathon? Do many runners feel like not running for a while after running a great marathon? I would find excuses for not doing the scheduled run.

A strange feeling, being this inactive. Perhaps this is my body's self conscious need to recover from Napa and thus led me to not run too much. Who knows what the body is capable of, and I am sure it is capable of much more than we give it credit for.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Useless Stats from the Napa Valley Marathon

This was an absolutely fantastic race to enter to set a PR. A net downhill with a nice tailwind - what better conditions could you ask for? I was able to set two PRs: a 1:47 half marathon (3 minutes faster) and a 3:52 marathon (43 minutes faster!). I averaged an 8 minute mile for the first half, coming in a few seconds over or under 8 on every mile, the most even halfer I've ever ran. My fastest mile was #3 at 7:41, and my slowest mile was #23 at 10:40 (took a walk break and a break to eat and drink). Out of all 26 miles I only had 4 of them that broke the ten minute mark (17 @ 10:14, 23 @ 10:40, 25 @ 10:10, 26 @ 10:30). The last half mile I came in at an 8:28 pace as the excitement of coming in under 4 hours began to set in. Average pace: 8:53 min/mile. Average speed: 6.76 mph. Maximum speed: 9.5 mph.

Back to the beginning. When I started the marathon I was in the restroom. By the time I started the start line was deserted, with a few stragglers such as myself. So for all intents and purposes I started in last and I loved the forced opportunity to see how many runners I could pass up. I was a little startled to see that a half mile into the marathon there were people who were jogging and then, huh?, they started walking! A half mile in! I hope they finished, but they may have took on too much of a challenge. Anyway, I ended up finishing 605 out of 1,757. Supposing there were an extremely conservative 100 people in the same situation I was in at the start, that would mean I passed 1,052 runners, or 59.87%!

I consumed before and during the marathon 1,586 calories. Of course this wasn't enough and I was starving and, as usually happens after a long endurance event, I ate a lot that day. I usually average around 4,000 calories on a marathon or 50k day, but on this day I consumed 5,249 calories! And the kicker to this was that I was still hungry at the end of the day! The human body amazes me every day.

This was the farthest I had travelled to date for an event, so it was only fitting that it would be my fastest. From home base to Calistoga: 115.36 miles. Napa was my 8th marathon or longer distance since I ran my first marathon on 7/30/06 (my 2nd this year), 4 of which were road marathons. In continuing the trend, I have set a PR at every single road marathon thus far, bettering my PR by 1:55 since SF 06.

I'm sure I could dredge up some more useless stats, but why bother? These suffice and I had fun discovering them.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

2 PRs at the Napa Valley Marathon

Yup, you read correctly. Two PRs: half marathon and the marathon. Should I count the first half as a PR even though it was not a race in and of itself? Why not, the distance is the same whether it is stand alone or part of another. So 2 PRs, and I couldn't have been any happier. In fact my marathon PR was a whopping 43 minutes faster! I am still in disbelief.

Napa Valley Marathon - 3:52:32 (8:54 pace; 605/1,757)

My mother, father and myself came up to Napa to spend the weekend on Friday, which was a great way for us to not only see Napa again but for me to also case out the course by driving it. It turned out to be on the Silverado Trail, the road the runs north and south on the east side of the valley, a road I've driven several times before. Right away we noticed some mini hills in the first 6 miles, with the rest a relatively flat to a little bit of descent, with another few inclines (such as at mile 19). Run next to the mountains with winery after winery as a backdrop and the colorful mustard flowers peppering the valley a vibrant yellow, what more could I ask for? Well, the weather was much better than expected. Notoriously wrong, the weathermen had this one way off. With a prediction of high 30s to low 40s at the start, I was a little worried. The temp actually turned out to be in the low 50s at the start, but there was a huge wind chill that dropped the temp to about the mid 40s.

Lets back up a day to Saturday the 1st. One of the main reasons I decided to do this marathon was to give myself a birthday present, the 1st being my birthday. So when we went to pick up my bib and goodie bag (yes, an actual duffel back with goodies in it), and the wonderful long sleeve tech shirt I then had to find my parents. To my surprise they had set up for me to have running shoes fitted, which I had never had done before. So now I was going to be able to run the marathon in shoes that actually fit me the way they were surpassed to! And get this, my old shoes were size 11, but they fitted me with a size 12. I guess I should have been fitted a while ago. The 11s felt comfortable, but the 12s were even more comfortable.

Anyway, long winded preamble to the actual day. Eventually I am dropped off about 3/4 of a mile from the start line, since this is a point to point race, and had to rush to get to the start line. Why? Well this "biggest small city marathon" apparently doesn't use chip timing, so the race literally started when the gun went off. With a few minutes to spare I got in line at the port-o-potties when the gun went off. By the time I got back out the start line was deserted, with a few stragglers also going to the bathroom. I was already 3 minutes into the race when I crossed the start line. This was going to be fun because now I was able to take up the rear and see how many runners I would be able to pick off by the time I finished. Something I've always wanted to try, but never had occasion to, and now I was forced to. As much as I was disliking the non-chip timing and my late start, I think this will make everything all better.

I wanted to take an aggressive approach to this race and so maintained an 8 minute pace for the first half, despite the rolling hills in the first 6 miles. We had a huge tailwind and that helped a good bit as well. I knew that I might be starting out too fast but I had recently ran a good amount at that pace and was completely comfortable. Plus I had a plan set up to eat and drink, and through the first half I had stuck by it religiously, and it worked. I came in to the half in 1:47, three minutes faster than my previous half marathon. I had set a PR, but did I set out to aggressively? I don't think it is too good of an idea to set a half marathon pace while trying to complete a much longer run. I guess I will find out.

Miles 14-17 slowed a little, but I was still maintaining an 8:30 or so pace during those miles, so I wasn't worried, but after that I was continually hitting the 9:30-10:30 pace, and was feeling the effects on my calves. I pushed on, knowing that a sub 4 hour marathon was in my grasp. I looked to the left at about mile 24 and lo and behold, Dean Karnazes had just passed me! I had seen him jogging in to the start when I was jogging in, so we started at the same time, so I queried why he was back here at my pace. Take a guess! Yup, he was conserving energy because he was running another 60 miles after the marathon! Ha!

Anyway, I finally came in to the home stretch and tried to speed up and finish strong. With 300 or so yards left the crowd was lined to either side and cheering when my right hamstring seized up on me. How could I cramp up right at the finish line? Luckily I was able to slow it down a little and not let anyone on that I was cramping, but I so wanted to sprint across the finish line! Oh well, you win some, you lose some. And I most certainly won. I crossed the finish line in 3:52:32, 43 minutes faster than my previous best! Okay, I started 3 minutes late and since it wasn't chip timed my "official" time is actually 3:55:34, but I am sticking to my actual time!

Bravo to the Napa Valley Marathon. They did a wonderful job. 12 aid stations with a ton of volunteers. You cross the finish line and there are a line of people there to walk you through the line to ensure our times were recorded accurately. Then you are promptly handed a medal and a water. Shortly after that are a few people literally checking on every runner to make sure that they were okay and didn't need medical attention. They were really looking out for all of the runner's safety, which was absolutely wonderful. The only thing they didn't get right was the location, at a high school. There was no way to gather everyone, so there were booths and various area scattered throughout the school in individual classrooms so you were literally wandering around aimlessly trying to find something, anything. I gave up and walked back to the finish line to await my parents, which were hard to find because the parking couldn't handle to the massive amount of people all coming in to that location.

What a great race, great weather, great organization and a great run for me with 2 new PRs. I couldn't have asked for a better weekend.