Monday, March 30, 2009

Things are finally coming together on the trails

There are very few runs where I feel really good as soon as I finish - mentally and physically. I don't get the endorphin rush of 'runners high' that I've heard so much about, nor am I out to find it with any run I may do. If it happens, it happens, but I'm not going to be all "OMG!!" about it.

I've had some ups and downs so far this year with my weekend long runs. There have been a handful of organized VHTRC runs - MMT training runs and 50ks - that I've cut out early on. I won't say I've DNFed them, only that I chose to *ahem* run "the shorter version that was not advertised". I still got in some miles.

And I think that's what's helping me - doing less.

The route was from Moreland Gap (mile 67.7 of MMT) to Signal Knob parking lot (~ mile 96 into the race). We're talking roughly 28 miles. I've had Achilles issues since the National Marathon and only ran twice last week - tabata intervals on Tuesday and another 30 second on/off descending workout Friday night. A total of 20 minutes of running for the week. I spent a lot of time icing, massaging, and foam rolling my calf as well as resting. As I said before - doing less.

I started Saturday's run in the back of the pack. I took the dog with me on this first section and always start slower as to get us situated as well as give everyone ahead of us. Within the first mile, he was ready to run, and I couldn't really argue with a dog attached to my waist. I moved quickly over the rocks through the fog. Visibility was about 20 yards, but it was a nice, cool day out. Upon reaching the top of Short Mountain, within a half mile, we came upon a group of 3 runners. I tagged along behind them, reeling in the dog a bit since he was nipping at their heels. Sensing his passion to run, I asked to pass, and we moved on. Soon after, we came upon another group of 2 runners that we tagged along with for a few hundred meters before I asked to pass, and we were on our way.

It has been awhile since I've been on Short Mountain, and it's a mentally tough section of the course. It is a nemesis of mine, as is the next section from Edinburg to Woodstock. I had an idea of how long it took me to cover this section on other training runs in the past, but I didn't want to treat this as any ordinary training run. The section runs a bit like a scene out of "Groundhog Day" where you pass the same sequence of rocks and turns and short climbs multiple times. It can be grinding and lead you to ask (or shout) "WTF DOES THIS END!?!?". As I said, I had a time goal from previous runs, but I also had some trail cues that I use to let me know when I'm starting to come off the mountain. When I hit that downhill section, I looked at my watch to see '1:30' staring back at me. After missing out on Short Mountain on an earlier training run, I was at Edinburg when the leaders came in at 1:30. I wasn't sure how far I was from Edinburg, but I made it a race, and wanted to get there as quickly as possible now that I knew I had about 2 miles to go. My previous 'best' time was 1:55 which I did at this training run last year. I tried to hang with a group of 4 or so runners and majorly bonked, shuffling the next 8.2 miles into Woodstock and ending my day there. To the surprise of the volunteers, I rolled in at 1:49 into the run. I was moving well and fueled up on cookies and some Gatorade before taking off after a 5 minute pit stop.

The climb out of Edinburg up to Wanoze Peak is grinding. I was without the dog now and tried to move as quickly as possible, but it was hard to get into a rhythm. Thinking about how I suck at uphills didn't help, either, and I was a bit down mentally when I reached the top. I could finally run at a good clip now and used the three trail markers along the way to gauge my pace and how long it might take me to get to Woodstock. Near the last marker, I hit the dirt. My fall wasn't as bad as the one the week before where I landed on some nasty rocks, but it's still a bit of a wake up call. It took me awhile to get going again and I finally reached the last marker at 3:36 - 2 miles to Woodstock. I was on a mission to get there as close to my Short Mountain time, but didn't have my usual 'cues' to feed off of. Because of the fog, I couldn't see the Bends in the distance, and can usually tell when I'm close. I relied on some downed trees that looked familiar and picked up my pace until I reached a section of rocks that I knew signaled the downhill to the road where aid was set up at. I came in just under 2 hours for that section.

I was moving well and feeling good, but wasn't taking in as much water as I should've. At 16.4 miles into the run, I had only drank about 1L of water, if that. I sucked a bunch down and chowed on some more cookies before taking off after an 8:30 layover. I didn't think I could catch the runner ahead of me, but I figured I would try. I needed something to push me to run fast, or to just run at all. That was the biggest difference in this training run - I was running. I've been on the course numerous times and as early as the previous weekend. I have my cues, I have an idea of how long it takes me to cover X section, and I was still feeling good.

I reached Powell's Fort in about 1:15, and started the endless road section. It's easy to walk this, and even easier to walk the entire stretch of road. I was thinking of the runner ahead of me and figured that I would have to run this part if I wanted to make any ground. As I got closer to the reservoir I started walking more and more and couldn't get into a good rhythm. Once around, it wasn't far before reaching the Tuscarora Trail and heading up towards Meneka Peak.

I ran from Woodstock to Shawl Gap the week before, so I knew the number of switchbacks and didn't spend the time wondering "am I there YETTT??". Once at the top, I thought of running with my friend last week and letting him take the lead on this downhill section of 3+ miles. He's a great downhill runner and I'm so-so; always a bit too tentative on the slippery rocks and leaves. This time I tried to be a bit more aggressive and thought of chasing him and of being chased. I hadn't seen any other runners from my group since the pit stop for aid at Edinburg, about 4.5 hours ago, and I didn't want to be caught in the last 30 minutes. I passed a few cue spots - side trails - and knew I had about a half mile left after the last one. It wasn't until then that I finally checked my watch and realized I was close to breaking 7 hours. Did that really mean anything? No, but it got my competitive juices flowing and I continued to run. I might've run harder if I looked at my watch earlier, but I pulled in to Signal Knob parking lot having covered the 28 miles in 7:04.

This was a huge boost for me. I had a few down times, but got through them. My biggest worries were my Achilles, and I had no problems during or after the run. My legs were a tad sore, but only from my Thursday night workout when I did a few mountain climbers as part of a 15/15 (on/off) workout, but no muscle soreness. I've spent a lot of time doing quality workouts aimed at strengthening my lower body, and the results are showing on the trails.

How so?

I'm running. I didn't treat this training run as just that, a chance to get time on my feet to cover the distance while shuffling as much as possible. I've covered this many miles before, I've been on this course, and it's nothing new to me. Being able to run it - to run short climbs, to power up the steeper stuff, to run the flat sections, and to be more aggressive on the downhills is what I needed to do. I had some times per section in my mind that I wanted to meet, and I did that. Most times I'm one of the last people to get to the aid stations. Maybe everyone else was having an 'off' day, but it's the best run I've had since the Reverse Ring on February 21-22.

It's finally clicking, and just in time as I moved up to #5 on the MMT wait list. I expect to move up a few more places after a couple big ultras were held over the weekend and people tend to drop after these 'tests' when they realize they aren't as ready as they had hoped to be at this point.

Training is going well and I'll continue to make adjustments to my running and functional strength training. My nutrition and hydration is horrible, and if I do anything wrong race day, it will be not eating or drinking enough. I will work on it with other weekend runs, as I have a couple more as I lead up to another big weekend. I'm feeling good and just a tad shy of having things running smoothly.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Marathon weekend in review

On Saturday I ran the National Marathon here in Washington, D.C. I figured I would finish somewhere between 4:00 - 4:30, but secretly hoped to run a sub-4 marathon. I knew the course was very runable, but wasn't sure how doable a sub 4 would be since I wasn't training exclusively for this race, I usually include walk breaks (re: 1-2 mile hill climbs), and I'm not great at pacing. Unspoken goals, aside from the sub-4, also included running the entire race (no 9:00 run/1:00 walk; no walking through the aid stations), running a negative or very close to an even split half marathon, and successful pacing. This last goal was tied in with the second goal of a negative/even split race.

I didn't have the greatest sleep the night before, the best breakfast the morning of, or good karma getting to the race site with a decent amount of time. I like fat ass ultras in that you drive up 5-10 minutes before the start, get out of your car, and walk 20 yards to join everyone else right before or just as the organizer says "get the hell out of here! The sun has been up for 30 minutes."

I finally joined corral #6 about 12 minutes before the start and positioned myself nicely next to the speaker. Fantastic. I huddled with myself and shivered just enough to stay warm and keep from turning blue until we took off at 7am. I had a decent idea of the course and the course profile as well as the location of most of the aid stations. I carried a gel flask full of about 600 calories of Carbo Pro 'GU' (my own concoction), some Succeed salt tabs, and a 20 oz bottle of water just in case. To make a long marathon short, I didn't rely on any of these as often as I should have. Could've been a recipe for disaster, but I survived on fumes.

Read on if you care.

I ignored race 'rules' and donned an iPod with an earbud in one ear. I'm not much for conversation during a race and like to zone out. I was so zoned out and focused and missed a fellow VHTRC member numerous times as he took pictures of runners all over the course. I kept record of my mile splits and ran casually. My heart rate stayed under 140 BPM most of the early part of the race and I breathed easily.

I should've thought more about my nutrition and hydration plan. I carried a single water bottle and a 6 oz gel flask with my own GU-like concoction made from CarboPro and a little powdered Gatorade. I also had some salt tabs in my shorts pocket, but didn't take as many as I thought I would need. I knew water was every 2 miles and didn't want to deal with the chaos that can happen with everyone rushing to the FIRST table for water. I was fine with a few ounces and had my bottle for the in between miles just in case. I knew things would spread out more once the half marathoners finished. But I knew not taking enough early would hurt me later in the day.

I felt fine at the half way mark and kept plugging away. I made sure to grab a couple cups of water at each aid station but wasn't getting in any calories. It was hard and awkward to reach the gel flask from behind me, and then tough to put it back in its holder while still trying to run. A few times I slowed a few steps to make sure it was in properly. I did grab a GU (and one that I like!) around.. I don't know what mile, and that seemed to help. I knew miles 17-23 would be tough, but heading through my 'hood and seeing my sister around mile 18.5 was a good boost. I started to fall apart on the 'out' section of Anacostia Park seeing just how far we had to go, but felt better after making that turn.

My mile splits were starting to drop from 9:10-9:30 to 9:45. I was barely hanging on along Minnesota Ave and had to walk at the crest of one of the small rollers; it wasn't big enough to be considered a hill. I felt bad for stopping but my legs were dead and walking a few steps and rubbing them woke them up a bit. Hitting the ramp on to East Capitol meant I was heading home. RFK stadium was right in front of me.. yet never seemed to get any closer. I plugged away knowing the finish line was close and finally crossed the line in a chip time of 4:09.

I was done. Tired. Pooped.

My GF was right at the fence in the finish area and I just hung over the fence for a bit and tried to chat. I couldn't wait to sit down and when I did, I didn't want to get back up. I was hoping to find the ART tent, but heard the line was long and nixed it. I was shivering and wanted to go after drinking some water, eating a pretzel, banana, and orange.

I met most of my goals; I did not exceed them. I am happy with my time because I wasn't training for this race, yet still came away with my 2nd fastest marathon time.

10K, half marathon, and 20 mile splits are as follow with pace in parens:

58:48 (9:28)
2:03:08 (9:24)
3:08:20 (9:25)

Gun time was 4:13:55 and chip time was 4:07:19 with an overall pace of 9:26.

Early on

mid way. Not a happy camper

Finishing! Notice the figure 4; decent form til the end!

By no means is it a blazing fast time, but it's one I am proud of. There are so many changes I could've made to my race "plan" (*snicker), but I survived. I was fairly dehydrated and probably took in only a couple hundred calories (1 GU and a few ounces of my own gel), if that much. Lesson learned? Hardly. I'm sure I'll do the same thing during my next road marathon.. whenever that may be.

I won't say 'never again' since I'm close to breaking 4 hours and know I can. My only caveat is "proper training", which I don't really do; I tend to do enough to "get by", and it works to a point. Of course, now I'm paying for not enough road time pre-race, poor biomechanics, and new shoes with super tight calves and a sore Achilles.

Hitting the Massanutten trail for 17.7 miles on Sunday probably wasn't a good idea due to the state of my Achilles, but I still moved well and any pain subsided after the first 5 miles. I was off on Monday and iced while at home and keep an ice pack and roller in the office for a little TLC. So far it seems to be working, but I'm being cautious and careful and not pushing anything.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ready or not! Marathon time!

I have been less prepared for other races; this is, by no means, a first for me.

On Saturday, I'll line myself in corral #6 for the start of the National Marathon. My goal is to finish somewhere between the Boston Qualifiers and 6 hours, when the course closes. Perfect! The only way I can be called a 'bagger now is if I happen to finish with a BQ time of 3:45.. and THAT ain't gonna happen!

I'm taking Friday as a vacation day, but it will be anything but a day of R&R. The plan in the morning is to get out on the Potomac Heritage Trail for a few repeats out to Windy Run and back to the trail head near Teddy Roosevelt Island parking lot. Run hard out, rest for half the time, run hard back, rest for half the time x 6 or 8. That should put me somewhere in the 10-15 mile range.

I know it's not your typical day (week) before a race taper plan, but this weekend is anything but typical for me. It's designed to be a heavy weekend of training and I've spread out the work over the course of three days - Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

I have a full Friday of errands after the run - picking up packing boxes, getting my hair purty, going to the DMV, going to the post office, packet pickup - that I hope to finish up by 4pm so I can get off my feet. I also hope to stop by the Active Release Technique (ART) booth at the race expo and get my nagging hip checked out. It shouldn't bother me during the race, but I haven't run a road marathon in awhile, so the miles on the road might aggravate it, but it's hard to predict.

And considering I don't update this as often as I should, go ahead and check out the results for runner #2432 to see how I did.

Here we GOOOO!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Recent Changes

The past few weeks have been very busy for me and I haven't been keeping up with my Wednesday night workouts as I had hoped to. I did get in a few short workouts last week including a Tabata workout on the erg, consisting of 20 seconds of sprinting and 10 seconds of rest, repeated a total of 8 times. It's a killer 4 minute workout. I also did a kettlebell version of the Dumbbell Bear - Every minute, on the minute for 20 minutes do 5 reps of deadlifts, 5 cleans, 5 thrusters, then rest for however much time you have left- that I did during a spare 10 minutes one morning. Good stuff.

Recently, my time has been spent apartment hunting and viewing. It's as exhausting as a job interview and the wait is just as stressful. My GF and I made a list of 'wants' and 'needs' that we were looking for in a new place and trying to find something that met most of our needs. We've been fortunate to have most of our utilities paid (except phone/internet and cable), have laundry facilities in the unit, as well as an underground parking spot. We new there would be a little give and take and that we'd have to make a few sacrifices - paying utilities, losing a secured parking spot, etc. A few weeks ago we looked at an English Basement around Eastern Market. There were a few other people looking at it at the same time, but we wanted to beat them to the punch and submitted an application on the spot. We spent the rest of the morning wandering around Eastern Market and bought some tapestry from Zimbabwe for good luck, hoping to hang it in the new place. A few hours later we got a call they the owners decided on someone else for the English Basement, so a trip to REI to spend my 20% off and dividend check on a rain jacket made me feel a little better.

The sulking stopped the next morning when we went to look at another English Basement in the same area. The place was unbelievable and 100 times better than the one from Saturday. We brought the dog and he proceeded to claim the small bushes in the backyard as 'mine' with each marking. The door to the EB was open and he pranced in and out while we looked around. We stayed there close to an hour while on this 'interview' and kept our fingers crossed as we emailed them our application and waited for the credit check to go through. If it could have, my email would've shouted "ENOUGH ALREADY!" as I refreshed it as often as I take a breath, if not more often, in anticipation of the confirmation email. It finally came at the end of last week when I finally put down my phone and declared that I wouldn't check my email until I got into the office. Commute over, I had a couple missed calls and text messages from my GF asking if I had checked my email yet. That damn pot was waiting to boil once I finally turned away from it.

So now is the fun part of packing and cleaning and purging. I don't want to move stuff that I'm going to end up getting rid of, so now is the time to recycle, Freecycle, or sell things I don't use or haven't been using and probably won't use no matter how many times I say "But I NEED THAT!!"

Other recent changes include the purchase of a new Honda CR-V. My girlfriend traded in her Honda Civic and we spent a glorious 4.5 hours in the dealership on her birthday while our salesman repeatedly said "let me go see if we can do that" and got up and walked over to another desk. He was probably checking on college basketball scores. We should've made a drinking game out of it. We didn't get as much for her car as she had wanted (thanks, Carmax, for not telling her it was in an accident and/or had work done!), but payments are lower than what she's currently paying, and I'll be able to help with maintenance and repairs. Thankfully the new place doesn't have underground parking with a pole on the driver side that will REPEATEDLY attack the driver side mirror; cracking and/or ripping it from the car. That darn Civic was a MAGNET for that pole! I'm sure bricks in the windshield will now be the norm.

Can't wait!!

At least it's an automatic and I won't have a problem driving it as terrified as I was of her manual car. I just wish, instead of a big bow, we could've driven it off the lot wrapped in bubble wrap - don't you DARE get too close to my car!!

No - I'm not a Redskins fan. Yes - I know that's a horrible parking job. I just pulled in near my GF's old car so we could transfer a few things

Life is good

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Tuesday Night Trail Time

I was finally able to join a small group last night (re: 3 people including myself) for a nice (ahem.. illegal) run through the trails of Rock Creek Park. The trails were still snow covered (ya!) after a "snow storm", but also had a nice layer of ice on them (boo!) from other runners and walkers using the trail.

If I could remember the route we took, I'd tell you, but then I wouldn't want anyone sending the cops out after us for 'trespassing' ;) We did run bits of Valley Trail and ended up around the Carter Barron Amphitheathre before finding the trail again and making our way down to Boulder Bridge and back to Pierce Mill Barn. We paid a visit to the Klingle Mansion, which (I learned that night) was one of the last things Chandra Levy looked up before her ill-fated trip to Rock Creek Park almost 8 years ago. How fitting that we were visiting it on the day the warrent was issued for the man suspected of killing her. What an educational run!

We finished it with a grinding run up Porter St to Connecticut.

Here's a picture of me attempting to sled on a container lid that we found on during a detour (aka we were a little lost).

I ended up bruising my thighs and ripping my tights. Not a smart idea to go head first. Still! I got in some good headlamp time during the week and enjoyed every minute of it. I'm hoping to get there more frequently in the coming weeks.