Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Know When To Say When

Heading into my Boston training I have been tinkering and toying with my training strategy and in doing so have tested my legs quite a bit. The training plan I set out for myself has me doing between 40 and 50+ miles weekly, something that I have not consciously gone out and tried, but know that I am capable of doing. One thing I haven't been sure of is how my body would react to the high frequency and mileage this early in my training and how that might translate down the road, which brings me back to the question I started out with this season:

Is it better to do higher miles with greater consistency, or, do shorter, more intense and focus specific workouts during the week with high mileage weekends?

For the last month, I went with the former selection, gradually increasing my base mileage runs while maintaining my planned weekend long run schedule. I knew going into it that it would take a little bit for my body to adjust to the increase and get back into a consistent running rhythm, but it may have been a little too early for this.

Last fall, training with the Race With Purpose Fall Marathon group I was building back up from injury and was not doing a lot of heavy mileage, but felt great. My speed kept increasing every couple of weeks, my stamina was good and my body felt no adverse effects to anything that I was doing. Sounds pretty good, right? As the season closed, I was really feeling fatigued over the last 6 weeks and with the little rest I allowed myself preparing all of my runners for their particular race I really needed to take some time off.

With the Holidays came my hiatus from running, which left me bored a bit, but planning ahead for my push towards Boston. Developing this little testing plan I implemented the high-volume regiment that I mentioned earlier and took to it as best I could, but since the very start I have felt fatigued, stiff, sore and otherwise unhappy with it. At first I thought it was just the cold that was making this all so unbearable, but it wasn't. I fought and pushed my way through workouts that have kicked the crap out of me, giving everything I have to execute them to the letter and it took a toll.

Last week I started thinking about the work I did in the Fall and how light, strong, fast and fearless I felt and knew that this little experiment needed to be altered. So, as I hit Thursday night and I finished my 8-mile run with pick-ups I told myself, "That's it! Enough's enough! I'm racing Sunday and doing about 17 total miles, just core for the next two days while my legs recover enough to not want to smote me on Sunday - especially with my new competition with Mangorunner."

The two days off were the best thing I could have done for my body. It is the whole "practice what you preach" thing. All fall I told my teammates to listen to their bodies when it comes to their training and that the better they know their bodies and what they can take the better their training will be. For my part, I don't think I have really pushed my body that hard yet. I feel like there is a well of untapped potential that I have yet to reach, but I am starting to find my way to it.

Sunday was the NYRR Manhattan Half-Marathon and I showed up mentally prepared to rock it, but physically annoyed. As many runners can attest to, if you don't take care of your business in the morning it can make a training run or race an absolute HELL! Apparently my body wanted to remind me of that fun fact and decided that I should suffer through the entire 13.1-mile race around Central Park.

For the entire duration of the race I felt nauseous, the worst of it during miles 4 and 8. For that span I just kept talking to myself, saying, "You can stop at the next portos and just get it over with, but suffer to get back up to speed or you can stick it out, maybe puke while on the course, but fight your way through it." In the end, I just fought through it, knowing full well that if I did stop the cold would consume me and I would feel even worse trying to get my legs to turn over again.

It was a battle of epic proportions, but I feel that I won this one! I finished the race in 1:27:05 (6:38 pace) without any nutrition (knowing that I would puke it up) and only two sips of water on the course (1. because they were all ice cups, and 2. because I felt like I would puke it up). For the last mile of the race I had repeatedly caught up to this one guy and every time I did he would take off, not allowing anyone to pass him ... that is until the last half of a mile. Then I finally drew level with him and called out to him, "OK, now it's time to see your kick!" The two of us started to pour it on and we were level for about 400m (with a number of other runners taking up the finishing kick mantel at the same time), but over the last quarter I overtook him and smiled my way through the finish line.

After finishing I went back up the course to cheer on my teammates and run in a friend of mine who is coming back from injury and looking to dominate her Spring marathon.

Now it is time to put into affect the second portion of this training experiment and work with lower mileage, but with focused and specific high-intensity workouts three days a week and a steady increase in my weekend long run mileage. All of this will be done uttering the "listen to your body" mantra, which I think will bring about the exact results I am looking for.

"Success isn't how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started." ~ Prefontaine

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Return of the Fun Run

Coming to the close of last week I had altered my training schedule, scaling it back a little, so I could be prepared for the first throwdown between myself and Mangorunner. This was something that bothered me to some extent, because I hate to amend my training schedule to the shorter end of my mileage, but it made the most sense and my body was having a hard time adjusting to the higher mileage. Regardless of all my apprehensions, it never ended up being an issue, because Mother Nature ensured that neither one of us was going to be able to race ... they both were snow and iced out.

So, in the absence of my Boston Build-Up 15K race I decided to go up to Rockefeller Park to do a trail run with Coach Adam and fellow RwPer Farrah, who will also be running Boston in April. The snow was still falling in the morning, but it wasn't quite as biting cold as it had been the day before. It really was quite beautiful, aside from the disgusting black/grey/brown sludge created by all the cars on the streets. I met Farrah on the train heading up to Philipse Manor gearing up as we rumbled along, texting back and forth with Coach Adam so he knew where we were. As it turns out, once you head outside of the City and get into the burbs plowing must be a somewhat foreign concept, because he ended up being late, due to poor road conditions.

Farrah and I walked towards Rockefeller Park and Coach Adam picked us up on the side of the road looking like a couple of transient, hobo athletes; me in all black and brown and Farrah in an outfit of delightfully vibrant contrasting colors, like Helen Keller mix-n-matched it for her. When we got up to the high school parking lot we pulled up next to Jackie Vanover who humbled us all by coming out at all after doing the Walt Disney Goofy's Race & a Half Challenge the previous weekend. Coach Adam, in a wondrous attempt to trump that feat, stripped down to his running shorts ... in the snow ... and was like, "What? You're all going to wish you were dressed like me once we're out there." Below is an accurate representation of just how excited Coach Adam was:

Once he finished getting himself run-ready, we hit the trails, for what ended up being 12-miles, and it was amazing! After a brutal week where I had mentally been struggling with fatigue, the mercilessly cold temperatures, and the many miles in my training schedule this run was the perfect response. It was almost as if I had forgotten how much FUN it can be to go on a run with a group where you don't care what the pace is, you just go out and enjoy it. I found myself reveling in every moment that we had in the snow caked woods with drifts raining down on us blown free from the limbs high above. I was captivated by all that saw and felt on those trails and remembered why I love running and what an amazing and beautiful place the World is.

Just a little literary food for thought, R.W. Emerson once wrote, "Nothing divine dies. All good is eternally reproductive. The beauty of nature reforms itself in the mind, and not for barren contemplation, but for new creation."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Are You Mental? (part 1)

I am sure that I am not the only one that gets up in the morning over the Winter, opens the window for five seconds and instantly utters one simple, primally fueled phrase: f#ck it's cold! Accompanying that phrase is an autonomic response where your body shudders for a second and unconsciously returns to bed forcibly repeating through every nerve in your body that, "there is NO WAY in hell we are running in this sh&t!" That is the very moment when the mental side of Winter training begins and it is the most difficult one to overcome.

Last weekend I got to experience the full gamut of the mental onslaught that runners go through running in the frigid temperatures of the Northeast. While I was walking the dogs Saturday morning, before the sun had even crept over the horizon line, I just kept thinking, "ya know, a rest day would be a good idea right about now. So what if there isn't one scheduled for a couple of days. What could it hurt?" But, I knew that my biggest handicap thus far in my training has been consistency, thanks to illness, etc. so I really, really couldn't afford to take the day off.

Then I thought, "15-miles is really far and it gets dark early here, maybe I could do like eight and call it a day?" But, I had been silly and watched the news and knew that snow was coming and there was no way that I would be running that far in the Burbs with 8-10 inches of snow due to fall overnight and into the following morning.

With all the facts there and the day starting to get away from me, I set a timetable and wrapped my head around doing my 15-miler at 2:30 pm, which according to was going to be the warmest time of day, a balmy 23-degrees, but with the windchill more like 12-degrees. At 2 pm I geared up: tights, sleeveless, long sleeve Underarmour cold gear, hat, gloves, water bottle fuel belt and my marathon windbreaker. Once I suited up I stretched in the warmth of the house, took the dogs out one more time before I left and then stepped to the edge of the driveway to hammer it out.

Literally 400 meters down the street, the only thing I could think was, "I am an Idiot!" That first mile was absolute torture, not from a muscle standpoint, but just adjusting to the wind and the temperature of the air on my legs. Back and forth my mind flip flopped about whether I would be able to handle the full 15 or if I would cut it short. In the end, I kept my head, my body heated up and the run was really good.

The cold crisp air kept the roads clear and the scenery along the way was outstanding. At one point I passed a small pond where the local kids were skating with their parents and as I went by they said, "Look at that guy running, he's crazy. I bet he wishes he was skating instead?" Little did those kids know that I can't skate at all and am a complete embarrassment when on the ice. I probably would've have ended up crashing into the whole lot of them causing carnage and mass hysteria!

As I hit mile 11 or so, I all of a sudden had a nice second wind and busted out a 6:40 mile, which completely threw me for a loop. I looked at my watch and began talking to myself out loud, reminding myself that I wanted to be disciplined and not veer from the plan. I toned it down, got back into rhythm and kept it going.

All in all, it was an awesome long run that I would have been remiss if I had allowed my head to cave and keep me home. This is the kind of mental test that teaches you how to "hit the wall" and smash right through it! By forcing yourself to make the efforts that your mind tells you aren't such great ideas and persevering you can achieve something amazing. There is no greater feeling than to go out and complete one of these runs that people think you are nuts for doing and then talk to those same people afterwards and say, "I did my whole training run in some cold, raw conditions, what did you do today?"

I am sure that this is NOT the last time this Winter training season that I will be battling nature and my own head, so stay tuned as the battle for the supremacy of Speedy Sasquatch continues!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dead Leg Tempo Test

After a week of relative consistency it came time to give my body a little test to see where it is and what could be more perfect than to execute this test at the first race of the Boston Build-Up series in CT. So, on a cold, crisp sunny Sunday morning I ventured out to Scarsdale to meet Coach Adam and to catch a ride out to the race. I was pretty excited about this race since I have not lined up for a race since the ING New York City Marathon in November and going out with a good-sized group working towards the same goal would definitely keep me honest while out on the course.

The plan heading into this 10K was to do what I call a “Dead Leg” tempo run. It's exactly what it sounds like, a tempo run done on legs that I fried the day prior. In this particular case, I wore them down doing a 13.5-mile run in Central Park broken into three segments (4 easy miles @ 8-minute pace, 8 moderate miles @ 7-7:20 pace, 1.5 easy cool down miles @ 8-minute pace). I know that these are not my true paces, but because of my recent bout with inconsistency and illness I didn’t want to overdo it and risk any sort of injury.

We arrived at the high school in Rowayton nice and early to grab our numbers, etc., but weren’t too happy with the 28-degrees with a bit of wind for good measure. With our registration task and bathroom visitations completed we went back out to the car and sat comfortably with the heated seats cranking. Coach Adam, who typically jabs at me about wearing tights and warm clothes in such weather, broke down and stated, “I’m not going back out there till five minutes before the race starts.” It was a refreshing change in tune, but he still showed me up running in shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt, the cheeky bastard!

The biggest challenge for me in a race like this, without a pace partner around, is not getting caught up in the moment and completely disregarding my plan. This is the mental discipline part of running that I have really had to learn and ingrain in myself over the last two years and I think I am finally getting the hang of it, because I did what I set out to do.

My self-prescribed plan involved starting out in the back of the pack and working my way forward for the duration of the race. I wanted to feel that little mental edge and motivation that is inherent in passing people on the course. That little added confidence that keeps the spring in your stride, something that I have not felt since New York. Honestly, I’m completely fascinated by all of the subtle psychological nuances that influence a runner and how they race. I am always trying to keep a clear, focused mind so I can hear and feel how my body reacts to everything while on the course - wind, body temperature, hills, false flats, icy spots, other runners, my own footfall, annoying people with headphones who can't hear you when you are trying to pass them on a trail, etc. It is a constant and perpetual learning experience.

From the starting gun, which I never even heard, I quickly settled into my pace (roughly 6:30s) and never lost it. I was within +/- 5 seconds from start to finish. My legs felt pretty good despite the previous day’s miles, but my breathing rhythm was a little erratic during miles 5 and 6, thanks to a couple of well placed hills. The frustrating part in all of that was I knew they were coming and tried to prepare myself for them, but still ended up all over the place with my breathing. At least I didn’t get to the top of that last hill and have to stop so I could dry heave, like I did the previous year. This race last year was the only time I have EVER had to stop in a race, because I thought I was going to puke.

For the last three-quarters of a mile I had a little fun catching up to this big triathlon guy who every time I got level with him would start sprinting a bit. These bursts were nice and he looked really fast while doing them, but I kept the same pace and with each one the separation he created decreased until he really just had nothing left. The last time we came level I said to him, “come on, big man, only 400 meters to go push’em out,” and then proceeded to pass him. That was the last I saw of him, but I heard him trying to get his wind back to catch me all the way through the finish.

The last 100 meters of this race was the BEST! You came into the high school’s parking lot and the road that leads up to the front door, which also happened to be our finish, was like running on a Slip’N Slide that someone left out for the winter. It was nothing but densely packed ice that scared the crap out of me! Earlier, when I walked across it to go inside and get my bib I nearly bought it and sprawled out on the ice like Jason Priestley playing a figure skater on SNL and that was just walking. It also drummed up memories of my college days running in the winter and that one fatal slip on a sidewalk in PA that resulted in a torn hamstring and the end of my running days for a great many moons.

I ended up finishing 40th overall at a 6:39 pace according to them and a 6:30 pace according to my watch. It was a good test for my legs and lungs. I maintained my pace throughout, was disciplined and finished with energy to burn. It was a great run, some good fun and I am looking forward to the second Build-Up race in two weeks, which has even more meaning since it was the last race I participated in last year before I deferred my Boston entry due to my injured left foot. It will be time for some revenge!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Revenge of the Dread-Mill

I never thought I would have such a hard time getting my first entry together or even come up with a topic to discuss, but then it came to me, as most of my good thoughts do, during a run, over the Holidays back in Massachusetts.

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my training through the 2009 Boston Marathon and to discuss the many issues that will in all likelihood arise during those frigid morning and evening runs in the cold, biting air of New York and Connecticut, with lungs burning, heart racing and my thoughts squarely focused on a 2h50m time goal. It is during the first few weeks of my training that I came upon one aspect of cold weather/winter training that I absolutely cannot stand at all: the Dreadmill.

Reason #1: Recycled Air – The indoor conditions of any gym does nothing to prepare your body for the affects of the cold winter air on your lungs and if you train indoors and race outdoors that first race is nothing but hell and a slap in the face. Besides, where’s the fun in heavily breathing recycled air?

Reason #2: Funky Footfalls – Yes, “funky” is a technical term in this case. There is no substitution for your natural footfall outdoors. On the mill I find that my form and impact point are completely different and when I race outside I feel like I run like a duck. Not to mention the ridiculous bounce the platform provides … too much give.

Reason #3: Boredom – I consider myself a little bit of a running purist in that I will NOT run with headphones, iPod or anything else that distracts me from everything that is going on with my body and the World around me. If I am forced indoors onto the treadmill, long miles get really, really boring … correction, ALL miles are really, really boring. The closest way for me to replicate my outdoor focus is to wear a shirt with some image in the center of the chest so I have something to focus on reflecting back at me on the TV monitor, which is turned off.

“It’s a means to an end,” you say, well I have a little story to put the final nail in the Dreadmill discussion so we can all enjoy the rest of these Winter months.

On one particularly brisk, windy and vicious New England morning after what seemed like neverending snowfall I had an itch that needed to be scratched, having skipped three days of training. Yes, I was being a HUGE slacker and, to be completely honest, since the end of Fall marathon training I have had a particularly difficult time regaining the discipline I found so comforting. After listening to an excessive amount of bitching, moaning and an absolute magnum opus of whining, my mother told me to just take a 7-day pass for the local gym and go get it out of my system so they might have some peace and quiet from my laudable misery.

Taking her advice I grabbed the pass, slip-and-slided my way to Latitudes, formerly the Gold’s Gym where I played basketball in my youth, and took to the treadmill. Now, just to clarify things a little further, I HATE the Dread-mill with a passion comparable to my affection for the Dentist and all their little toys and this particular run brought my last reason into the forefront of my memory. Approximately two to three years ago I had the distinct privilege of being “that guy” at the 96th Street NYSC (New York Sports Club) when I oh-so gracefully fell and was shot from the treadmill I was rather pacily enjoying and spilled onto the floor. Oh yes, it was quite a scene.

Picture it, a post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas run indoors on a chilly Sunday around 1:30 or so. A full compliment of millers, stairmasters and elipticizers are on hand and the Patriots are on their way to the Playoffs on the TV. Now, mind you, this is still in the days prior to individual monitors for each machine, so there were only a handful of TVs around for our viewing pleasure and, much to my dismay, I was stuck at machine that possessed a slightly obstructed view and made it difficult to catch the score.

I’m hard at work and am maybe 2-miles into my run when I start to lean to my left to try and see the score. It is not the most comfortable feeling to lean on the treadmill while holding a 7:30 pace, so I am constantly trying to balance myself out, straightening my back and trying to maintain good posture, but in doing so I start drifting. Little by little I improve my viewing lie when it happens … my left foot steps on the stationary edge and my right foot falls in the center of the mill, spins my whole body and shoots me flying into the gap between my row and the row directly behind me.

“Oh God! My ass hurts! What do I do now? Get up like nothing happened? Are people looking at me? Do I act as if I tripped on nothing on the sidewalk and look at the treadmill like there was something wrong with it? Some magic impediment there that caused this spill of corporeal humiliation? How long have I been on the ground?”

With all that running through my head I think my reaction was perfectly appropriate … I started laughing, as I crawled to my knees, until a small volume of tears could be seen and my core was tired and sore. It was absolutely hilarious. Even more amusing was the number of people who laid witness to my majestic tumble and didn’t even break stride or smile but I know that as soon as I was gone or they bumped into someone they knew that this would be the first thing to come out of their mouths. I had achieved greatness and was now the topic of conversation for literally twenty or so people … Hot!

Please, for your own sanity and love of running, really hear my reasoning and consider what you are doing before you board a Dreadmill. I’m just trying to help you save your body and some face!