Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events

June - I had set to run quite a bit this month. In fact, I originally had planned a marathon and a 50k, and then of course all the training that comes along with it. The month started out great with a great marathon at Nisene Marks, Muddy Buddy which I had ran a 10 mile training run in the hills before that. So first week went great. Close to 40 miles.

Then I had to cancel the Pacifica 50k. I had wanted to run it for redemption, since I only ran the first 30k of this race earlier in the year. Oh well. The a string of three events happened that ruined running for the rest of the month. First we had a week of horrible heat ranging from 100-105. Not fun. Then had a huge fire in Santa Cruz that congested the air and made it unhealthy to run in. Just as you thought everything would look great for running. So the air cleared up, only to be congested again by over 1,000 fires, many sparked by lightning. Still today the air is extremely unhealthy.

I suppose I could have ran more on the treadmill, and I did do some running. But I can't stand running on the treadmill anymore. Outside I can run for 1-2 hours no problem. On a treadmill? About 20-25 minutes before I can't stand it anymore and have to stop. I used to be able to run for an hour, but not anymore.

Then, during an agility test for a job, I pulled a muscle! My right quad. I've ran how many miles in the last 2 years, ran how many marathons, and a 90 yard obstacle course pulls a muscle? I couldn't believe it. I still can't as my leg hurts still. Luckily, I guess, I pulled it yesterday and the air is still unhealthy to run in. So at least there is a good side, right? While I can't run because of my leg, I wouldn't run in the healthy conditions. But the muscle will take at least a week to heal, probably 2. Oh well.

Anyway, strange month, only was able to run 60 miles, 40 less than the at least 100 I had originally planned to run.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Round and Round, Round and Round

Round and round the bases I go, bases I go, Bases I go, round and round...

So a few hours of softball did what running for a few hours couldn't do. I am sore. Not in a bad way, but in a tired, my legs feel sore good way. I joined my friends for a nice softball game to celebrate a birthday. We actually had two full teams and then some, which is a lot more than we usually get (usually it is around 10-12 people, this time we had 20+). How does this change things? That means we have less at bats than usual, which means less sprinting and running fast, which I thought would make the day a lot easier.

That still didn't stop me. Crack, I whacked that one good. I knew it as soon as it hit the bat. I was off, sprinting faster than I had in a long time because I knew I had a double, very likely a triple, and if I went fast enough than I could get a home run, the first of the day for both teams. By the time I reached third I was getting out of breath, but I was still moving extremely fast. When I finally crossed home and scored the first home run of the day I was winded. I mean, this really surprised me because I run a lot.

The next day compounded my confusion, as I was sore! My glutes, my quads, hamstrings. Practically my whole lower body was sore. Strange. The only time I feel this is after a 4-5 hour run in the mountains, or my sub 4 hr marathon (which had my hamstrings sore only). So not only was I winded, but I was also sore. Strange.

Which only showed me more than anything else that cross training is very important, not only for running but for all sports. Add to this that I haven't worked any speed training yet and I now understood what I need to do. I mean really need to do in order to speed up. I understood this before, logic being something I, uh (hopefully), was born with, but I am a creature of habit and usually need a real life experience to teach me. So this it did.

Speed training here I come.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gettin' Dirty at the Muddy Buddy in San Jose

This would certainly be a test of my endurance. I had ran a marathon the day previous and wasn't too sure how my legs would hold up. The 13.1 miles downhill left my left quad in a knot at mile 24 and the only thing that I could think of when that happened was, "How will this affect me tomorrow? Will I even be able to run it?" I couldn't help but feel as though I would let my brother down if I wasn't able to run. As it turned out, it was only a scare as the race went off with nary a hitch.

Muddy Buddy - 1:12:25 (12:04 pace; 589/965)

I woke up and was exhausted. I had stayed up late the night before celebrating my friend's 30th birthday at the Oakland Athletics game. First thing I noticed was that I wasn't sore! What the?!?! I ran a marathon in the hills. I ran my second fastest marathon ever. Um, and I'm not sore? I would have never guessed this.

I drove over to my brother's house and picked him up without eating anything. I figured it would only be an hour race so no need to eat anything, right? Well this was only partly true. When we took the exit 20 minutes later with another 15-20 to go through the winding hills I suddenly blurted out, "You bring your helmet?" Rules of the race state that both team members must have helmets or you are disqualified. Uh-oh. We had to turn around. We suddenly went from showing up with plenty of time to pick up packets and prepare early, to rushing to get back not even sure if we would be able to start on time.

Last year we showed up with an hour to go before the race and waited around, eventually finding ourselves in the middle of our wave. This slowed us a lot because we were stuck behind a ton of people in a very congested beginning up a steep hill. We had hoped to avoid this this year, but how could we now? We showed up 20 minutes before the race and were in the back of the front parking lot. We had to check in, walk back to the car, put on our three bib numbers, then turn around and get back to the race.

Would you believe it if I told you that after all that we ended up starting at the front of our wave and were in a better position than last year? Yep, that's what happened. Everything went wrong in the beginning, and yet we were in a better position to start the race.

We decided to switch legs this year. Last year we had my brother start the first leg of the race on the bike and take on the very steep but short hill in the beginning because we figured there was more running for me that way. There were four obstacle courses and at each one we were to switch, having the runner now bike and the biker now run.

Since I am the stronger biker we figured I would be able to bike the steep hill that starts in less than a tenth of a mile from the start. On a normal day I wouldn't have hesitated, but I had ran a gruelling marathon the day before with long ups and downs that burned my quads.

So the race started and I took it slow but steady. I wasn't gonna try and break speed records, which I would have tried to do on fresh legs, but not this day. I noticed immediately that my legs were slower and couldn't bike as well. None the less, I almost made it the whole .6 miles to the top, having only stopped once for a brief walk at the top. It was hot and I was already dripping sweat down my face and in my eyes, and we weren't even a minute into the race. Wow, this would be tough.

Eventually the run started after I free climbed up a wall and then climbed down a cargo net on the other side. My legs were heavy but still felt good. I trudged on and just as I was coming in to the second obstacle course my brother passed me, which was good timing for me to start the next leg of biking after I did an over, under, over climb of bars. The problem, though, was that now I was going to pass Mike up right at the aid station, which meant I would be standing and waiting at a future aid station. Believe me, that I wouldn't mind.

At this point I took it easy because I knew I was ahead of my brother. I knew that it really didn't matter what speed I was going because I knew that I would wait at the next aid station anyway, so I took it easy. The third obstacle course was a big climb up a cargo net and then a slide down the other side. At this point I didn't have to wait though, because I finished the bike leg and was leaving the bike for Mike, so I took off running.

Well not really. Maybe a meander, or a shuffle, or a jog. My legs were slow and heavy, and I was feeling the lack of sleep and the tired muscles from the marathon. This was also where I wished I would have eaten that banana for breakfast, or a piece of toast. Anything, really, becauwse I was running out of energy after depleting so much of it the day before. The fourth obstacle was a blessing. It was a catwalk across a bar. The blessing? I could now stand and rest. My legs were tired. Endurance wise, I was fine. My breathing was great, I felt good, but my legs were tired. So I took advantage of the five minute wait.

I took the bike and took my time, knowing that this was the last leg and I was on bike and even if my brother was sprinting the last mile I knew I would beat him there. So took it easy I did, young padawan.

The crowning moment of the race is a dive into and military crawl through a long mud pit to the finish line. Disgusting, yes, especially that first moment that you lift the net up and see thick mud dripping down, then your hand sinks in. You race across just to get it over with. All in all, it was a very fun race. I love doing this race with my brother. We ended up doing it slower by about 3 1/2 minutes.

After an unsure beginning, a tough uphill start (not only for myself but my brother had to run up that hill, then there was another hill after that that he biked and I ran), being baked in hot temperatures on open fire roads, to being drenched in thick, oozing mud, to finally showering off with garden hoses with cold water and a hundred other people in the open air, this was another race to remember.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Flying Down the Hills of the Nisene Marks Marathon

I looked forward to this marathon since last year, and I most certainly was not let down. After a week preceding the run with soreness in my calves and thighs until the day before the race, I wasn't sure if I was ready to run it. But run it I did.

Forest of Nisene Marks Marathon - 4:07:57 (9:28 pace; 24/69)

I knew coming into this one that it could be difficult. The first 13.1 miles were uphill, and then you are rewarded with the last 13.1 downhill. But I wasn't sure if my legs would hold up for the downhill after running for so long uphill. After all, I am not a very good uphill runner, and this was a half marathon uphill!

So race morning dawned and nothing different than usual. Peanut butter and bread, two bananas and a Gatorade all together with an hour drive. Leaving two hours in advance left me with plenty of time to digest the food and be ready for the race.

It was cold. Aptos is over by the Pacific Coast and in the wee hours of the morning in a park covered with trees race morning was no exception. The race started right on time and I took it slow at first. The first half mile was slow going, and I soon realized that the hills would be easier than expected. Why, you might ask? Because I was comparing the first half marathon with other trail half marathons I've ran before that had less elevation gain and yet were tough. The difference was that a half marathon of, say, 1,600 ft. elevation gain is not spread out over the whole half marathon, but is instead spread out over 6.5 miles. So the ups and downs were a lot steeper. With the gain spread out over 13.1 miles it was a lot more even and gradual.

After realizing this I picked up my speed and came in averaging about 8:20 for the first 5-6 miles. A good pace, but this was where the first steep incline came and things slowed drastically. After this there was one other steep incline that had me walking a bit more. Suddenly the 13.1 uphill was now becoming difficult. To this point I've eaten and drank adequately, so no problems there. That would come later.

Eventually I reached the turnaround in 2:09 and was shocked. My Garmin was on the fritz because we were in the hills and under cover of trees and lost reception, so I was amazed and joyed to be to the top so fast. The downhill was gonna be fun.

So I realized that I still had a chance of coming in under 4 hours. I took off. My miles were averaging about 8 minutes and was coming into each aid station faster than expected. It took me 24 minutes to run the 3 miles from the 17 mile aid to the 20 mile aid. At that pace I would definitely break 4 hours. Problem, though, was that I was focusing so much on speed that I stopped eating. My legs started slowing. I wasn't winded, it was just my legs didn't want to work as well anymore. By the time I realized that I hadn't eaten enough 4 hours had already slipped out of my grasp. To make matters worse I have never ran that far downhill all at once, and my legs were screaming at me. Actually, it was only my left quad. When I stopped to walk a little at mile 24 a huge knot formed in the left quad and I almost had to stop running. Low electrolytes, low food, whatever it was I didn't have enough.

Luckily I was able to finish fairly strong at that point and came in at 4:07:57. My first negative split. 2:09 for the first, 1:58 for the second. Additionally, this was my second fastest marathon, which amazes me because of the elevation gain. After all, you lose more speed going uphill than you can make going downhill. So very surprising, especially seeing as how close this one was to my PR for a road marathon of 3:53.

If you are ever here during this race make sure and run it. It is one of the most beautiful races I have ever ran. Lush canopy of trees, tall redwoods. Amazing weather. Great marathon, one I would love to do again.

But this was only the first half of my weekend, as I had the Muddy Buddy race the next day. This would be my first ever double event weekend with a marathon and is a test of my endurance on how I do.

Part 2 to come later.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Pre-thoughts for the Weekend's Races

Yep, you read correctly, there will be two races this weekend. The first is one I have looked forward to for almost a year. I couldn't run it last year, so I made sure and made room for it this year. It is the Forest of Nisene Marks Marathon in Aptos, California. I love Aptos and just knew that I wanted to run a marathon up there. So beautiful with huge, lush trees. In fact it is over towards the Pacific Coast, so the weather should be great too.

What is unique about this race is that you run 13.1 miles uphill for about a 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Once you reach the top you turn around and run all the way back downhill! I've never ran a race with so much a continuous stretch of uphill, and then of course downhill. I also like this format because my legs are the most fresh, obviously, at the beginning of the race, so I should be able to get up the first half at a decent pace. Add to that my most recent improvement at running hills at Quicksilver then I know that I am in for a treat. I am under no delusions. I know very well that 13.1 uphill will be tough and gruelling. But my reward will be 13.1 downhill. Even at my worst conditions on other trail marathons and 50ks I was able to still maintain at least a 9 minute pace, sometimes getting into the 8 (and a few times 7 minutes) minutes pace when late in a race. So it should be fun.

My hopeful predictions are that I definitely run faster than a 4:30, which would be the 2nd fastest marathon I will have ever ran. This is certainly doable even with the 2,500 feet of elevation gain simply because of the downhill last half.

After all this I have to rush home and shower in order to leave immediately in order to get to my friend's house so that we can get to the Oakland Athletics game. So no loading up on calories or nap after this marathon.

Hopefully after a decent night's rest then I will wake up early to run the Muddy Buddy with my brother on Sunday. Love this one. You team up and one of you bikes and the other runs until you get to an obstacle course. After you complete it then you switch and keep going to the next one. All in all, about 3 miles of running, 3 miles of biking, and about 6 obstacle courses. Your reward? You get to dive into a mud pit and crawl to the finish line on your hands and knees. Ha. I think we will definitely beat our time of last year, which was a 1:09, so that is the main goal. But I want to see if we can break an hour. So that is the secondary and yet more important goal.

This will be the first time that I will have ever ran a marathon of 50k on one day and ran a race the next day, so it should be interesting. Granted, it is a bike and ride of only 6 miles, but it will be on tired legs. This is another test I wanted to do to myself to see how I can handle tired muscles. Another indicator of endurance.

Here's to a fun weekend!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cave Man Say: "Eat Meat!"

Okay, not really so direct, but in many ways this is true. The concept, of course, is to consume protein. However you find your protein (meat, nuts, soy) it is most certainly a necessary component to any runner's diet, especially after runs. I found this out the hard way.

I was doing my last training run last Tuesday before the Nisene Marks Marathon this weekend. I've come to favor doing a training run in the hills on the Tuesday before the event because, for some reason, it seems to help me run better. Something to do with the conditioning of the muscle that also coincides with muscle memory just in time for the race. Maybe I made that up, but it seems to work.

Anyway, I had ran pretty consistently the two weeks prior:

Sun: 8
Tue: 10.33
Thur: 6
Sat: 7.15
Tue: 7
Wed: 6.1
Thur: 2.92

And then a short break for a couple of days, that turned into 4 days off from Thursday's run to Tuesday's run of this week. So nothing out of the ordinary. Yet when I woke up Wednesday morning my legs felt as though they had been put through the ringer. I mean, it felt like I was at mile 23, or that I had just ran a marathon. My right calf and both quads were extremely sore. This was strange because I had never gotten sore after a training run. I've even ran this same trails and distance before and was never sore before. So I started to look for what was different, for surely it would tell me why I was sore.

After a little bit of diggin' around I realized I hadn't eaten much protein in the days before the training run, and I didn't eat hardly any after the run! Whoa, this was a wake up call. I've read that it is best if you eat protein within an hour after a hard workout or race in order to stave off any soreness and to help your muscles knit themselves back together. Until now I didn't really think anything of it. Yet my diet had hardly any protein and here I am feeling as though I had ran a 6 hour race in the hills instead of an easy 1:40 training run.

Of course there could be other factors, and it may have nothing to do with the protein, but it is certainly something I will keep an eye on in the future. If I become sore again I will have to look at the amount of protein I ate and compare it with last Tuesday's protein and see if there is some sort of trend that can support this analysis.

Until then, Cave Man Say: "Eat Meat (okay you vegetarians, "Protein")". It does a body good.