Monday, December 28, 2009

A Stake in the Ground..

I've had a pretty spotty running schedule due to a nasty series of colds that have been hammering both Toni and I (and everybody it seems).

Good to give the legs a break though.

Toward that end I've also experimented with several kinds of cross-training at my gym. Michele, my co-worker has been teaching me 'crossfit' training (he's become quite good at it himself), which is sort of a mix of aerobic exercises, some with weights. The squats you do for this are really good for me(I think.) All of the exercises are based on natural moves.

I've also been using the elliptical, stairmaster, bikes, etc. I don't like them as much as running out on the roads, but it does allow you ramp up the heart rate to a very fast pace equivalent without stressing out your muscles/joints/tendons like fast running does.

And, of course the gym is good when it's raining.

But now I'm ready to start mileage base-building..and so there's been some noodling over which races to shoot for. I really want to do a better job peaking for races this year.

Here's a plan:

Feb: Pasadena 1/2 marathon, to be done as a training run, no PR, probably 9:00-ish pace (hilly course).

April: Santa Cruz 1/2 marathon (train for PR, sub 8:30 pace) I love this course. My friend Martha is also signed up.

May: Eugene Marathon! A flat course that's also good for spectators.

I could also do SFM with this schedule since it's not until July 25th, which gives me almost 3 months between marathons...but not really committing to that yet.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A feeling of accomplishment

People sometimes ask me how bad you feel after running a long until you recover?

Right now it's Thursday (the race was Sunday). I'm feeling a lot better..if I had to assign a number I'd say that I'm about 90% recovered when it comes to non-running things like walking and going down stairs.

The day after (actually the worst is the day after the day after) my quads (the big muscles on top of your thighs) were the most sore. Going down stairs you use these muscles to lower your entire body from one step to the next.

When you run, they are used the most when you run downhill: you have to accept your whole weight on each leg in turn and brake using the muscle with so-called 'eccentric' loading.

Eccentric loading is is backwards from normal muscle operation, you know, you tense the muscle and it contracts and that glass of wine finds its way from the table to your thirsty lips 8)

Eccentric loading means the muscle is in tension and gradually has to *lengthen* under that tension.. When your blasting down hill, your quads are doing this, big time!

For some reason I don't understand, this is not a very efficient way for muscles to work, so they get pretty sore compared to the other leg muscles.

If you are sore enough, it's impossible to go down stairs without turning around and going down backwards (which switches the loading to the back muscles which are much bigger). I did not have to resort to that...although I admit I did grab the handrail whenever I went down stairs.

Today, they are feeling pretty good. Up and down stairs no problemo.

I probably could go running now (at a very slow pace) but I prefer to wait a entire week or so before doing any running. When I do start running it will be at a very slow pace, with no hard running for 3-4 weeks (The rule of thumb is one mile of easy running only for each mile races..therefore 26 days of easy running)

What about the heart? Is it tired?

Well, not that I can notice...yesterday I took my HR sitting at my desk at work and it was 48 bpm. That's my sitting resting HR that I often have measured. I've never seen much if any impact to my HR the day after any race or long, hard run.

Recently there's been a lot of press about deaths during marathons (and half-marathons). For the most part the conclusion is that the number of deaths is no higher, per runner out there, thanit was before.

I'll talk more about my views on this in another posting that will probably be titled "Running and the Central Governor"

But right now I'll go back to nursing the last bits of soreness here and there and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with them.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 Silicon Valley Marathon

A good race today!

Update: official time 4:15:26, 340 of 769 finishers, 34th of 59 in my age group

Garmin data here

My goals for this race were do a good job pacing (to avoid the wall), and slightly push for a PR if possible. My training hasn't been consistant enough to expect to improve my time by much, and indeed, I ran almost exactly the same pace as the SF Marathon [ 3 seconds slower]

Went to bed early on Saturday night, I got up at ~3:30am to have a light breakfast (some last carbs) then back to bed and finally got up and put on my kit at 5:45. I got to the race, which starts at the corner of Almaden Blvd and Park Ave in SJ, about 40 min before the start at 7am....the place was already hopping with runners, as usual.

As I walked to the start I noticed that my Garmin 450 GPS watch was stuck saying the time about 1 hour prior! Pushing buttons did nothing. The watch appeared to have crashed. I debated walking back to the car and getting rid of it (and my heart rate monitor chest strap) but dedcided it was too far and I'd just run the race bumming splits off other people.

About 10 minutes later I tried a really long button press and it suddenly started working again. Go figure...anyway, that was a nice repreve.

It was still before sunrise, up in the sky over one of the hotels I could see Venus as the 'morning star'. There was a lot of people, but not as crowded as the SF Marathon! Most of the crew, as usual, was halfers. There was some oldies music blasting (not bad 8) and the race coordinator with his patter. The temp was about 52, just the way we like it.

I'm guess starting to get used to the starts: The MC announced "ONE MINUTE TO START" and I looked at my heart rate monitor and my pulse was a nice relaxed 59 adrenaline (unlike my first marathon). Chugged my water and off we went with a big countdown.

Too dark to see my splits but I could see my heart rate (bigger text for that) and tried to keep it around 125 or so, as I knew that should give me around 9:30-ish pace..but the course was a bit congested for the first mile and I couldn't do it. Finally could see that I'd clocked only a ~10:00 min/mile pace. At about 1.5 miles it was opened up and I could hold my pace (trying for 2:22 splits -> 9:30 pace (not allowing for GPS error though so really about 9:45)). I settled in nicely and felt really good, with an easy, relaxed form. My breathing at this stage was very easy: I could run with my mouth closed and just use my nose.

The SJ police were out in force closing off roads ..of course nobody but us crazies was really up yet 8)

The water stops were extremly plentiful. I seemed like we had one every 2-3 miles. The cups were full-size (not the stupid little ones they used at SFM) and the volunteers were the BEST. Many of them and all on the job.

The course took us through some pleasant tree-lined neighborhoods in SJ (with good quality pavement...never saw any really bad stuff in the whole race) and then at about mile 5 took us onto the Los Gatos Creek trail (also paved). I'd never been on this trail so I was looking forward to learning about it by running it.

Just before the trail I spotted a guy running with a long stick with three balloons on it. "Oh!, a pacing group guy", methinks. As I approach him I look forward to getting some confirmation of my pace. Alas, the balloons said "4:30" on them. I was flummoxed as that is about a 10:12 pace..and he was going a hell of a lot faster than that..probably a 9:50 pace. I was tempted to ask him about it but decided to just keep on truckin' by him.

In this section of the race I passed some but mostly got passed myself. Sometimes you go back and forth with somebody: the trail has some small rolling hills as you go over bridges or under overpasses and some people like downhills (me) and others like the uphills (I slow down to keep my effort level more linear). The trail is mostly wide enough for everybody....I had no problems with people running 4 abreast or any of that rude kind of behavior.

[I also didn't have any problems with 'plugged-in' people hogging the road.]

After 7-8 miles we are still in the groove, but we are seeing the slight uphill that goes to Los the HR to hit our pace has gradually inched up to 131 or so. (It will vary based on the slope a little, but you can account for that mentally). When the watch reported my 1/4 miles splits (about every 2:22) I was right on the money for the most part.

I still felt really good. I was taking a gel pack (for electrolytes and some sugar mostly for keeping the brain happy) every 5 miles.

I had been wondering if I would see my Los Gatos friends, and suddenly at about mile 12 I realized that the two spectators at the trail's right turn about 20 feet ahead were them! I think they were so busy looking around at the runners that had gone by, and the ones coming up the hill that I think they didn't look really close. Also I don't think they are used to seeing me in my running sunglasses (they are new). As I approached I says "Hey--!" and they both got a big shock and suddenly realized it was me. We high fived and I kept on trucking.

As you approach Los Gatos after 13.1 miles the course loops around off the trail and then takes you back and merges you back into the trail. I think at about mile 10 we started to see some marathoners coming back the other way now (i.e. the fast ones!), they were impressive to watch.

Eventually, we ran onto the Los Gatos High School track and I could hear the MC up there announcing the half marathon finishers by name (he looks up their bib number in the database) and encouraging them the last 1/4 mile. Us marathoners split off and suddenly we could see how few of us there became downright sparse.

In fact, for most of the rest of the race I usually only saw 3-6 people ahead of me at any given time! Amazing.

After the half (the ante-up) is where the race really you have to start placing bets... I felt pretty good, but not good enough to do anything stupid, and so I kept to my same pace. At this point I started passing people and not so much getting passed. A lot of people seemed to have gone out too fast.

The miles ticked by, 16, 17, 18 and I noticed I was passing a LOT of people walking. Some of these people I recognized from being passed earlier. We are still holding pace well, in fact we are using the downhills really well.

Mile 20 is a belweather mile...normally in training you don't go further than this (it's too hard on you to do full marathons in training), and so how I feel vs my normal training run gives me a good indication on how I'm set up for the last 6.2 miles. I felpt pretty good, better than my usual long runs, so the last 6 should not throw a wall at me...or so I hoped. So far, my form was still pretty good and I was still holding my pace just fine.

After mile 20 you drop back down onto SJC streets where there was no tree cover. The sun was out and it was hot, probably 70 or so. More and more people were walking and I was passing them all.

As we hit the last 2 miles, I knew that even though I was wanting to stop and I was not quite holding my previous pace, I was in good shape to finish. I thought about speeding up, but the pain to do it just to save a minute or two in the last miles wasn't something that I felt I needed to do.

Eventually we saw the left turn into Discovery Park. I managed to speed up a little bit for the last 1/4 mile and the MC called out my name as I approached. (People were only finishing every 30 seconds or I said it's a sparse race.

After I got my medal (the ugliest I've seen so far, boo) and my free tacos, they had some nice chairs set up for the runners to sit in while they eat (If we sat on the ground we might not get back up too easily 8), and a bunch of us near each other started chatting about our race. I felt pretty good as all of these people were more experenced (5-20 marathons) and younger (30's , 40's) and my time was faster than all of them.

So, all in all, I felt pretty good about this race. I enjoyed the trail a lot and hearing and seeing the rushing river was nice. I was happy to have achieved fairly even pacing and avoiding the wall. I think I probably did pretty well relative to the field. [Update: I'm happy with 340/769]

Ciao for now,

Monday, October 12, 2009

Getting Ready for the SVM

I registered for the Silicon Valley Marathon, not knowing if I would really be up for it. I've run 2 marathons this year and it's not considered a good idea to do too many per year. So, I thought I'd play it by ear.

Now, 2 weeks out my ear says 'yah, do it'. It seems I have my achillies tendonitis under control: I've run 60 miles in the last 8 days (with 2 rest days) with no big problems. My training hasn't been focused on this race (I just did the 10k a while ago), but given my 10k results I seem to be in pretty good shape.

So, for the next two weeks we're in the taper. Caught a small cold the day of the big rain but able to run again 4 days later, but hey, it's the taper so doesn't really bother me to have a forced layoff.

Pace, pace pace...what pace? Marathons are so interesting to me because pacing choice is so much more important than at shorter distances.

The SVM is almost flat. it has about 330' of rise to the halfway point, then you go back the same way. This is about a .5% grade up, then down. This is tame...the calculators say it's only a 15s/mile slowdown for the same effort level.

My gut tells me to do a 9:45 pace on the way up, and then see how we are doing on the way down, and if possible try for 9:30. This would shave a few minutes from my current PR (4:15), and I'd be happy with that. This is not the race to try for breaking 4 hours. I was hoping it would be but my training has not been consistant enough that I feel that it can be done.

My recent 10k time projects (via the calculators) to a much faster marathon time than my PR...someplace around 3:48 in fact (!). My april half-marathon is also in line with a time like this.

So, all the calculators and rules-of-thumb say I should be well under 4 hrs. But, as you might suspect the calcs aren't always right ;), Everything has to be perfect to achieve these numbers if it's a marathon: long run training, hydration, eating before and during the race, wind, temperature.

There's a downside to going out too fast: The wall.

The wall is not's turns the race into quite a slog (got a taste of it the last mile especially in the SFM). It takes a lot of guts to keep running, never mind running fast. Of course you could always quit the race if you see you're going to get a bad time, but that's not for me, I want to finish, even if I have to walk.

[But let me be clear: quitting is just fine if the temps have gotten too hot, there are massive headwinds or heavy rain, or there is something specific hurting. There's No point in risking your health!]

Right now, I feel like just trying to squeak a bit faster than my previous race, rather than trying for some huge improvement. Of course who knows? Maybe the day of the race I'll feel like going really fast and it will turn out fine 8)

We will see....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

And the real answer is...

{UPDATE} Official Result: 49:45 
75 / 250 Overall
5 / 28  Age Group

[For those just tuning in, I ran the TrailBlazer 10k this morning.]

This is almost exactly an 8:00 pace, so new PR! Last years time was 52:09.

Just for comparison, my niece and nephew ran the Boulder Bolder 10k and got these times vs me:
Oscar  (age 15) 45:04.94 (7:15)  
Age graded: 41:46    (6:43)
[UPDATE: Oscar ran a 18:44 5k!]

Me     (age 53) 49:45    (8:00.7)
Age graded: 42:28    (6:50)

Ursula (age 17) 46:18.85 (7:27) 
Age graded: 44:18    (7:07) 

[Age grading scales your time based on world records for your age and sex to that of a 25 yr old male.]
So not bad, not bad at all..8)


It was NOT a really cool morning. Temp at the start (8:30am) was already 62, and by the finish climbing quickly toward 70's, with no breeze and bright sun.

This year I did my new trick of just chugging a small bottle of water a few minutes before the start and for a race this short, not bothering to take any water until after the finish. Saved me a few seconds mucking about at water stops.

Here's my pacing graph

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Great Karnac....

"8:00 min/mile".

And the question was "What pace will Paul average in the Trailblazer 10k tommorrow?"

Seriously, last year I did an 8:20 pace (no timing chips so you have to time yourself if you want accuracy...they said 8:24). The prediction based on my April 8:30-pace half-marathon is 8:05. I think I can tough it out for such a short race and do sub-8:00, so I'll try for that. One concern is the expected huge turnout of 1000+ which is 2-3x last year I think. Might be crowded for the first mile or two.

To hit this pace, I plan to bang right up to an HR of 145...pushing it up to 155 by the end of the race if I want to hold my pace (due to muscle fatigue the same pace takes more aerobic output).

But compared to marathons, 10k races are simple...just put the hammer down and go.

Will it hurt? Yes it will....but it's also fun to run fast. You can't do it every day so when you do it, it's something very special.

Mercifully 10ks are short, the whole thing should be done in 49:48, give or take.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Circles around Kafka

Recently I was attending a conference in Prague. Being jet-lagged I kept waking up at the crack of dawn, so I decided to do some running before breakfast.

The streets are pretty busy where I was staying (about 4 metro stops from the old down) and I wanted to avoid having to cross a street every 30 seconds. In looking at the map, I found I was next to two large cemeteries.

This worked out well, the distance around them was about 2 miles, and I had a slight up and downhill for variety. Not the best of conditions, what with lots of old-style diesel trucks as well as new-style czechs smoking their brains out on the way to work, but hey, it worked.

I did this run 3 times (2 or 3 loops each time), and only once saw another runner. (interestingly of similar vintage to myself). Alas, he ignored me.

Eventually I learned that buried in one of the cemeteries was the grave of Franz Kafka, so I went to visit him (see photo). I didn't really know I was running circles around him every morning...

Putting on two shoes and going out the door to run is about as un-kafkaesque an activity as there is.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Footstool

When I go for a long or hard run in the morning, I find that my calves stiffen up when sitting in the office later that day. I built this footstool so that I could keep my feet at a normal standing angle even while sitting.

It provides a steady few ounces of lengthening pressure on the calve muscles to keep them from shortening up. I can move my feet to various positions when I get tired of one place. It has rubber feet on the bottom so it won't slide around.

I made it adjustable, but so far I've been using it in the max deployment position.

I find that it works well: when I get up after an hour of sitting I'm not nearly as tight.

Total cost was about $12 (wood on hand, money for piano hinge and two lid supports) took about 1/2 hour to put together.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Just Ducky

You know how you can often recognize people by how they walk? Well, those of you that know me already know that I have a, erm, "distinctive", gait and I'm sure have zero problem spotting me in a crowd.

You see, my right foot sticks out at about a 45 degree angle, so I'm "duck footed".

While it might be handy when climbing a steep slope, you would think it's a biomechanical disaster for running. The first time my niece Ursula saw me running she commented on my massive pronation.

Pronation, schmonation, I'm way beyond that with this sucker. My right leg is about 3/8" longer than the left to boot.

Somehow it all seems to work ok....sometimes when running a race I've seen another 'ducker'....there aren't many though.

(Photos are from San Fran Marathon)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Rising popularity of running?

I commented in my postings for the Santa Cruz half marathon and the San Francisco marathon at how popular half marathons seem to have become lately.

Google now lets you embed search analytics in your web's the time history of people searching for the term 'half marathon':

Every day now I swear I see twice as many people on the road when I'm running as I did two years ago.

I went for a bike ride a week ago Saturday and I counted every runner I saw (this was early in the morning at about 8am). I counted 18 people, more than half were women.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tendin' Tender Tendons

Since I started running two years ago I have not experienced any injuries. I've felt little twinges...but stretches and rest always solved whatever niggly rumblings I had. But, it turns out it was really flurting with Achilles Tendonitis for quite a while and not realizing it..

I've always felt a bit stiff in the legs in the morning, and had to do extensive stretching after trotting about a quarter mile. However, I had NEVER had any pain or problems during my run.

Sharing the Spa with the Incredible Hulk

One night Toni in were using our spa (works wonders for recovering old bones) and I sat up on the edge to cool off for a bit. I propped my legs up on the opposite wall to get them out of the water and looked at my calves. "Hey!? What happened to THEM? "They are really huge compared to a couple of months ago?!".

They were also very, very tight (cue music "Dum da Dum Dum...")

A Big Bunch of Hubris

As you might imagine from the above, my training had been going really well, and I'd been pushing the speedwork..I knew this was dangerous, but really was improving so fast I could not resist.

One day, I was doing a 10 mile run, with 4 miles of it at "tempo pace" (i.e. about an 8:20 mile) in the middle. I had just started the tempo run when I noticed I was very gradually catching up to a young guy in front of me. Not to be rude, I said good morning....after chatting for a minute it turned out he was basically trying to do the same pace so we ran together.

After about 4-5 minutes, it became clear to me that something was wrong with him...he was not able to sustain the pace and talk at the same time, eventually he told me he needed to slow down.

"Wow", I thought to myself, I really have improved since 2 years ago!..Hmm. yes, well, as it turns out that run was the straw that broke the camel's back.....

After a full rest day, two days later I went out for a run and found my tendons were hurting with every step. I mean really sharp pain.....I limped to my stretching place and even after stretching for 15 minutes the pain was there when I attempted to run. I ran a very slow 1 mile and decided to call it quits. I was pretty shocked and upset.

On the Internets

After searching the internet, I realized I'd better take off as much time as it took to heal them up.

I waited about a week and then attempted another very gentle run. This time I got about 4 miles in and started to feel a little pain on one heel. Luckily I was doing a circular route and could abort back home. I was really bummed...I have never had any pain when running or after and now I had both.

Just how was I going to run the SF marathon (a HILLY marathon to boot) in just 5 weeks???...obviously, I was a goner for this marathon. You stupid, stupid, idiot, I thought. Every time I saw somebody running it tore me up...I realized how important running had become to me and I was fearful I would not heal up properly.

A week later, I tried another run. I felt pretty good and went along for about 6 miles....but the same thing happened again and I was hurting and forced to abort at 7 miles. DAMN IT. Why wasn't I getting better? I was icing my heels 2 or 3 times a day, attempting to do gentle stretches of my calves (which hurt!) and not running at ALL...........Argh!

Back to the Internets

Eventually, I figured out what I might be missing. Let me try to explain why I was 'stuck' in this injury:

a) My calve muscles had gotten much larger in the last month in reaction to my training, my fast paces were using those muscles to good effect but this was stressing my tendon..more importantly my new bunchy, STIFF, big calves were not properly stretched out and this stressed my tendon all the time. [Getting up after sleeping, sitting at work for a long time, then would shorten up and my tendons would really hurt when I got up and walked around]

b) Sooo, my tendons were inflamed by a) and stretching them was just hurting them more and keeping them more inflamed.

c) THEREFORE before you can work on stretching the calves, you first need to de-inflame the tendons. in my case the trick was to wear small HEEL LIFTS (see title photo..they are Dr Scholls) in my shoes during the day, and to keep a pair of slip-on shoes with lifts in them during the night so that if I had to get up to use the bathroom I would not freak out the tendons.

d)This worked great. Within 3 days my tendons felt *much* better, I started stretching them very gently a few times during the day and also doing some 1-2 mile walks (with the heel lifts in all the time). I still felt really stupid that I couldn't run but was happy to at least see/feel some improvement.

Three weeks before the marathon I thought I felt pretty good, but I'd done no serious running for quite a while and decided I needed to try one last long run to know I could do the marathon and not crap out in the middle. So I did an 18 miler with hills and golly gee but I HAD NO PAIN. Yes, my tendons were a bit tight after, but I used the lifts and then stretched after a day of that and it was good again. YAY!

At three weeks you are already into your taper to the marathon..except I'd already been forced to taper. I had no idea how this was going to work out, but I was in such good shape before all this happened I figured I had enough base to do ok and I should err on the side of given my tendons plenty more rest.

I was comforted by having read about famous runners (e.g. Emil Zatopek) that had done some record-setting runs after being injured. Most runners overtrain and sometimes a bit of extra enforced rest is a Good Thing. So I tried not to worry about *that*.

As you can see from my previous posting, I did fine in the SF run, and didn't hurt myself or anything, I did no running for almost two weeks after the marathon. For the first 3 days you are sore and it's obvious you shouldn't run (but walking is a very good idea) then you feel better but still should not do any hard running..very easy does it. This weekend (three weeks after) I plan to do a long (16+) run, but slow and easy.

What else am I going to do to prevent this from happening again?

Stay tuned.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A PR 4 PR....San Francisco Marathon 2009

Overall: 2006 out of 5036
Men: 1549 out of 3326
M 50-54: 101 out of 265
Finish: 4:15:23 Pace: 9:45 (PR)
7.6 Mi: 1:12:16 Pace: 9:31
Half: 2:05:21 Pace: 9:34
20 mi: 3:13:10 Pace: 9:40
Age Grade: 56.11%
Age Adjusted Place: 1361, Time: 3:42:37
Pace vs HR graph
Garmin Track

Today I ran the San Francisco Marathon, my second marathon.

I'm very happy to have done this race 10 minutes faster than Napa, especially since there are a bunch of hills..the worst at mile 5 where you climb from Crissy field up to the deck of the GG bride, about 250'. There is probably total of 600' of climbing in this race. So, I'm proud of myself.

I'm even more proud of myself because 5 weeks ago, due to my own stupidity, I contracted a full blown case of acute achillis tendonitis. I had to stop ALL running and then figure out what to do to reduce it, take measures to prevent it again, and still be confident enough that I had a strong enough training base to pull off a PR. (More on this whole debaucle in another post). I supposed I could hire a trainer to keep me out of trouble,, but I find figuring these things out an interesting compliment to the actual running. (Yah, I'm stubborn that way.)

The turnout was HUGE this year...which I think caught the race officials off-guard. When Toni and I picked up my number and t-shirt at the expo we were told it was a 21,000 person field (5000 full marathoners, the rest half marathoners). They had assumed the economy would have _reduced_ the entrants. Instead it was up from about 12,000 last year!

Last year had 4400 full marathoners, so you can see the increase is primarily half marathoners. One of them is my friend Martha, she's just gotten back into running in the last year or so and is already doing a half. I think in the last year the number of people I see on my morning runs has doubled. At my Santa Cruz Half Marathon the same thing happened (and there the majority of runners were women!) What's going on out there?

Toni and I stayed overnight in a nice hotel about 1/2 mile from the start so I wouldn't have to drive up to SF and find parking at some even more un-Godly hour. We also had a nice, early 'carbo-loading' dinner the night before and I spent the evening relaxing and familiarizing myself with the surprise hills for me.! As you might imagine, suprises can be very demoralizing at late stages in the race.


No angst...I selected a 9:30 pace. That's the pace I ran for the first-half marathon here last year. Even with my training hiccups I figured it should be doable for the whole race (and would be a PR). To do this pace I actually tried to run a 9:00 pace on the flats as much as possible to make up for the hills. Last year the hills were really tough for me....this year I trained for the hills and felt ok on them but they still slowed me down.

The Start

We got up at 5am and walked down to the start at 5:30 ..and it was HOPPING! We had a hard time shouldering through the crowd to my wave position so Toni took my jacket (it was 52 at that hour) and head to watch the start while I went to the start to stretch. Behind me, I could see the top of the Bay Bridge was out of the fog so I knew the GG shouldn't be too wet...good! (If you wear glasses it's not fun running in need windshield wipers!)

The Bridge get to run Golden Gate bridge! It's neat to do..Toni and I never tire of seeing this bridge or the views from it. For the runners, two lanes are closed off to cars and divided to guide you over and back to the observation point at mile 7.5. It's a long bridge, by the time you get back you're almost at mile 10. Today, luckily, it was foggy but the deck of the bridge was just below the fog level.

One problem with the bridge run is that it's not a lot of room for all the runners and so, to avoid congestion, they have to do 'wave starts', i.e. they ask you what you think your finishing time will be, and they stage groups of people out at the start at roughly 10 minute intervals. Each wave gradually spreads out and fills out forward and back to the other waves and thusly you achieve an even flow of runners.

Back in March, I had signed up for wave 5, which assumes a roughly 4:15 final time. It's pretty amazing I was spot on that time..I assure you I had no idea that is how it would turn out ;) More on that below.

Burma Shave anyone?

One of the fun things in this race is they have a kind of rolling-SF-trivia quiz on various poster-board signs along the route. This starts on the long climb up to the GG bridge with the question 'What is the steepest hill in San Francisco?'. Of course you are thinking "THIS ONE!", but 100 meters down the road they give you the real answer which was something like "Filbert St between 22nd and 23rd". They point out in the next sign that it's grade is 33%...(we're running about a 4% which is plenty steep if you don't have pitons and climbing gear)...and the final sign says (of course) "Aren't you glad you aren't running that hill now?".

This quiz continues for the entire course....a nice touch. It reminds me of the old "Burma shave" signs back in the "old days". (Young'uns can google it.)

A Rant

Enter Curmugeon Mode:
Ok, so I'm _REALLY TIRED_ of people that don't understand the basics of running in a large race. If you are running on a narrow path DON'T RUN ABREAST with your friends. I mean, DUH!..COME's so rude to force faster runners to pause and try to pick a path around you....And RUNNERS WITH EAR BUDS......gee great, glad you have nice music to cheer you on! Which allows you to ignore the frequent 'On your left' requests, etc...grrr.. The people that do this are often the 20-somethings..what's our youth coming to?, etc, etc..ok Exit Curmugeon Mode...

Some fun things...

Many people cheer on their friends and loved ones with signs. My favorite was a guy that I first spotted at mile 5. He was leaning into the road and holding up a 5"x5" sheet of white paper in one hand, extended fully at arm's length.

On the paper was one word, two letters: GO

I saw this guy again 3 more times. When I spotted him at mile 22 crossed over and told him. "I Really like your sign". He laughed.

Favorite costume: A full Sparta warrior with armor. I passed him at about mile 8 on the bridge. I wonder how he did.

Favorite band: At about mile 23 was a great band playing Aquarius, from Hair..I sang along for a bit until I ran out of breath ;)

GG Park

There are a LOT of half-marathoners in the SF marathon. (Including me on the first half last year!) Unlike any other marathon I know of you can run either the first half (you get to run the bridge, finish in GG park) or the second half (you get to run through the GG park, run down funky Haight ave, etc....and finish at the same finish line as us "Full Marathoners" ;).

There is one huge problem with this for the Full runners...we are surrounded by people running half as far, and so, running considerably faster. For the first half, it doesn't seem so bad as you start out fresh and know that everybody is feeling about the same as you.

But the SECOND HALF, ARGH!!!. After the first-half crew peels off to go to their finish line, the full course corkscrews around in GG park (which is very beautiful) and things are nice and quite and not crowded. HA! Soon I spotted a HUGE crowd of runners gathered to run a race through the woods....methinks....huh?!..I guess they are having the 5k race there?. NO, silly, it was the Attack of the Second-Half-Marathoners..I hear a countdown, and in just seconds we are flooded with fresh, snappy young monster zygotes bouncing down the track with us. One of them sees the full marathon sign that says "14th Mile" and says.."hey, mile 14, that was easy..ha ha!". (explitive deleted)...we aren't really in the mood for this. I try to look on the bright side and have them inspire me to run faster...mostly that works but I missed my 20 minutes of calm.

Haight and Beyond

Running down this street was fun...and not just because it's flat. There are a lot of funky storefronts here and by the time we cruised through here (about 9:00am) a few people were out watching us cruise by. At mile 22 we spotted Toni and gave her the high five and let her know all was going pretty real tendonitis issues.

There are some biiiiiig downhills in this part of the course, and while I tried to pick up the speed a little I was not liking the way my quadraceps felt afterward. We like it flat...yes we do.

The scraggly-est area was down by 23nd and women shouted out as she walked along: "Just look at those stupid F**ers run!".

I was not offended .....just speaking the truth after all...8)

The sun finally came out in this segment on the race (after about mile 22). At first I was excited to see it..but after I started to heat up from hit I was not quite as happy.

Into Wall Territory

Yah, well, my friend Bill Schmidt says "The last 6 miles of the marathon are done from the neck up"...i.e. that's where the guts come in. I didn't have too much trouble until past mile 22. At that point I really started to feel the 'ol gradual loss of steam in the legs and the state of "no-matter-how-hard-you-try-you-just-don't-hold-the-pace". If you've never felt this you can't really understand's not being "tired" in the usual have the most overwheming desire to stop.

I went out fast for a PR knowing the trick is to make sure you arent too fast....else you hit the dreaded wall and either suffer horribly for many miles (and get a slower time) or you quit and walk (and suffer a miserable, demoralizing time).

I called it pretty close. The last 2 miles took FOREVER. I could not hold my target I compromised with myself and just tried to hold my heart rate steady at lower. The HR monitor is great for letting you focus on relative effort....and unlike pace information is updated every few seconds so you know exactly when you are slacking off. Would you belive me if I told you the effort in the last 3-4 miles seemed about equal to the previous 23?

So, I got my PR and a little 'taste' of setting a pace at the edge of trouble....a good, but not too painful lesson.

The Finish

Boy did that finish line look good on the last 1/4 mile! After the finish we walked down the chute and I found there were 4 gates to choose from to get your finishers medal....3 of them labeled "half marathoners" and ONE labled "full marathoners". Then I looked over my shoulder and realized there was a line of about 100 people in the "full" line. So I went to the back of this line and and instantly my legs started to stiffen up.

It's a REALLY BAD IDEA to stop running cold after 26.2 miles..let me tell you.

I started grousing under my breath a little bit and moving my legs in place and lo-and-behold: they started dispensing both types of medals to all lanes and we started moving 4x faster. Yay! I got my medal (you can see it above) and it has a picture of a dungeoness crab on one side, and of course the GG bridge on the other. Cool.

Exit the chutes and I find Toni....and she hands me a peeled orange she got at Whole Foods.

There was NEVER an orange that tasted so good! Wow. Then she gave me some pineapple chunks which I chowed down on as we walked to her car.

Back to the hotel (Toni got late checkout), a nice shower, iced the tendons for a few minutes, and then off to North Beach for a beer (mmmmmm..beeer) and nice lunch in the now fully sunny day...


Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Fast Finish Long Run

The most important part of marathon training is the weekend long run. In most beginner programs you make a steady progression over the course of 18-25 weeks until you can finish 20 miles. Noobs may only do one before the race, veterans may have been doing them for years. The more long runs under your belt, the softer the dreaded marathon "wall" becomes.

But, the most common question non-runners have is "Have you run the full 26.2 miles in training?". They are shocked and surprised when the answer is "No!".

Almost universally you will find that marathon guides and coaches frown on running the full distance in training. The reason cuts to the simple essence of training:

Stress, then Rest, then Repeat

That's it. The stress event (long run, fast run, hill run, etc) tells your body to kick improvements into gear that will make it easier the next time. The rest allows the repairs and changes to take place before the next stress. Not enough rest, and you'll just break yourself down..i.e. "overtraining". If your a youngster, "rest" might mean run the next day, but go extra slow ("recovery pace"). If you're older, rest might mean "do nothing" or perhaps crosstrain (e.g. swim or bike).

For long runs, here's a partial list of the improvements that kick in:

- You grow more mitochondria to store glycogen and have more easy energy on tap.

- Your muscles learn how to metabolise fat (triglycerides stored in your muscles) when they run out of glycogen (carbs). This happens past about 14-16 miles. As this mechanism kicks in, the distance moves down to about 10 miles. You can tell when this is happening as a by-product of this reaction is something called 'ketosis'..and your post-run sweat has an unusual smell that is slightly chemical (ketones).

- Your joints and tendons harden up and adapt to the stress of the pounding.

- Your brain convinces your body to convert fast twitch muscles over to slow twitch for the long run.

- Your brain learns how to control and fire all your muscles properly for a good stride, even as your blood sugar lowers. (Preventing the 'falling apart' of your stride as you get tired'). Another way of saying this is that your running "economy" improves..i.e. you can cover the same distance with less energy.

- Your mind learns that you can overcome your feeling of wanting to stop get accustomed to the feelings in your muscles past 13-14 miles and realize they can be tamed.

To return to our original question, the purpose of training for a specific race is probably because you want to maximize your performance given the amount of training time you are able to put in, with the natural limits on what your particular body can stand.

There is an optimum stress to generate the benefits above without requiring too long a recovery. A long recovery means you push out your next cycle, or you try to do another cycle when you are still tired and then injure yourself. Therefore, there is a trade off of stress intensity and recovery interval to get the maximum improvement for the amount of time put in with minimum chance of injury.

And so, since the above changes happen whether you run 20 or 26 miles, you don't need to run the full 26. Make sense? In fact, you don't run the 20 miles at your full race pace either. There are other changes to our body and mind we need to run fast, but we can do that with other types of runs and don't need to combine fast and long runs until the day of the race.

However, in the course of your training you also need to figure out what pace you should try for. How can you learn your pace if you never run the full distance at full speed? It is for this reason the "fast finish" long run was invented. Basically you run your long run at the normal training pace (which might be 1/min per mile slower than your idea of your race pace, and then, for the last 6-8 miles you kick it up to your goal race pace....and perhaps as hard as you can for the last 10 minutes.

By attempting the race pace after the first 12-14 miles of your run, you simulate the conditions late in the marathon and can see if you feel like the race pace will be sustainable for the entire race.

You also learn how to hold yourself back in the first half of the marathon...difficult to do when everybody else is passing you but critical to avoiding the "wall".

This Saturday I did one of these are part of my prep for the SF marathon. Here's a graph of pace and heart rate vs distance:

You can see that I kept my pace at 10:00 min/mile until mile 10 and then we opened it up, running at about a 9 min/mile
pace for the next 10 miles.


Monday, April 27, 2009

My First Trail Run

Saturday I did my first trail run: The Los Trancos loop at Foothill Park. I was wearing my new trail shoes
that I got at Zombie Runner.

It seemed like a good idea to do such runs with a partner, since you are far from any help if you take a spill (or get jumped by a mountain lion ;). So I went with my running partner, Jeff, who happens to know his way around all the local trails.

It was a little tough...we started out climbing right off the lead in or warm up. In about a minute I was clocking 140+ bpm. Eventually it got better but I still had to power-walk the steepest bits...just could not keep up a climbing pace that wasn't a walk.

The trail we end up on as part of this loop is called the "21 bridges trail"....these days the bridges are numbered so you can keep track as you cross each one.

The trail is beautiful. It starts in very dense forest but eventually you hit the summit (1800') at a clear meadow. The backside valley you drop into takes you down to the river with a cute little falls.

Along the way you're treated to the smell of bay laurel and many kinds of flowers (lupine, iris) in bloom.

There are some really nice things about trail running:

1) Hills. No better way to build strength (and hence speed).

2) Less pounding, more varied foot/leg motions. Good for avoiding overuse injuries.

3) Views, nature, quiet, solitude.

4) The hills make it very difficult to track your pace vs heart it's a chance to ignore all that and just listen to your body.

It was great. I plan to make this a regular part of my training. At some point I'm going to find a race or two. Perhaps
even someday I'll try a 50k.

Here's my garmin track of the run.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Not every run can be a PR....

Here's a news flash: not every race is going to result in a new PR (personal record).

If you've followed the previous postings, it looks like I'm on a path to the Olympic Trials 8). Well, of course not. I'm 53 and I have (hopefully) a couple of years of asymptotic improvement before we begin the long, slow, um, slowdown....

So here's the thing:

While you can do it, your a fool not to try. Someday, when i can't run at all, I'm going to look back at all my training and races and savor the memories. Hopefully, I'll still be motoring along at some kind of pace (and the best in my age group 8), but if not, I'll still remember the amazing training runs and races I've experienced.

It's not about extending your lifespan to that of a Galapagos Tortoise, it's about enjoying the Here and Now. Yes, you can eat good food and not gain weight and yes, you feel like a million bucks when you sprint up a flight of stairs. It's a wonderful feeling.

However, getting up at 5am for a 20+ mile run seems insane to a lot of people. Let me confess to you that as crazy as it sounds, I wake up at 4am chomping to start. The feeling I have is best described by the phrase "the horse has gotta run"....the horse being "shank's mare" as they used to say in colonial times, (i.e. one's legs). Maybe it's just endorphins and incredible moonrise views, but it's unforgettable what ever it is. You feel really alive in a way that you'll never forget.

So, be gentle with your body, but gradually push it, prod it, and see how fast and/or far you can go. You'll find it's an amazing journey into yourself and what makes you tick, and you'll feel great, even if your gradually slowing down.

The endpoint we all know..... So keep it moving! 8)


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

2009 Santa Cruz Half Marathon

On the spur of the moment this week, I decided to register for the Santa Cruz Half Marathon. Some shorter races are good speed practice for the marathon and this looked like a really nice one.

Come Sunday and what a beautiful day it was for this race. Sunny, no wind, ocean and bluffs, pelicans, etc. A bit warm for the forecast but I should be done racing by 10am, so not too bad.

If you've read my story about pacing for the Napa Valley Marathon, you know it's a big decision for your race: "how fast can I do it?".

No angst figuring out a pace for this race....given my recent training history (and the fact that it was "only" a half marathon) I set out to run an 8:30 pace.

How the heck did I pick this pace?

Well, I've done a number of training runs at faster paces lately (working on speed) and found that doing a 9:00 pace over a 10 miler required a heart rate (average) of 125 bpm. This is not a very fast heart rate for me since my max heart rate is ~168, (verified on a doctor's treadmill). In January I ran half marathon a time trial on the track at a 8:50 pace (127 hr)...I also felt I could go faster and hold the pace in a real race. My previous best 10k race (Sept) was at a 8:20 pace...I'm in better shape now than then, but I didn't think I could do the entire half marathon at that pace.

This course is not dead flat, but the hills are not very big: just some rolling 30-60 foot dips and rises here and there.

Anyway, 8:30 pace it is.

The scene at the 8am start is relaxed. The sun is up and it's about 55 degrees and getting warmer. The surfers are out and the air smells of the ocean.

At T-10 minutes the PA fires up and they let us know we'll be going out before the 10k runners. Yay! There are fewer of us so that will make the first few miles less congested. They also tell us that this year is a record number of women entries: 65% of the racers!

At T-6 minutes I chug down and discard the small bottle of water I've be keeping for this moment.

5..4..3..2..1 Bang! We're off with a loud canon shot.

The course immediately heads up onto the aptly named Cliff Dr. Popping up 50 feet it takes us through a fancy neighborhood on top of the bluffs. It's quite congested for the first half mile so I can't get up to my target pace. A particularly chatty-cathy group of girls insists on running 4-abreast which is very impolite and annoying..must get away from all that yakking! They don't seem to be working hard at all, sigh. What do they think this is, a fun run? Gradually it thins out a bit and I can get around the gossipers and pull ahead. Oops, clocked a few sub 8:00 quarters....slow down a bit, silly!

First water stop comes up at about 2 miles and I chug a cup. They have lots of great volunteers for this race, which is really far I'm liking this race setup.

By the time I get to the 10k mark, I've been doing an 8:20 pace and I'm doing ok, but definitely going fast for me. I'm glad to be a little under my goal pace because it's going to get hotter (probably 65 already) and I conjecture some time reserve might be a good idea. Along the way we've passed a few people clearly going out too can tell at a glance from the breathing and the stride deterioration when somebody is eventually doomed to slow down.

We hit a section of the race that is on dirt trails and they are lumpy and stony in places which takes a bit more energy for the same pace. Around me I'm getting to know the same set of people by sight...we pass each other as each of us speeds up or slows down depending on how we are feeling and how hard we like running up-hills vs down-hills. Almost all of these people are younger than I am. Some of them have clothes that make me hot (thermally) just looking at them...tight fitting spandex pants to the knee, long sleeve tech shirts, etc. probably seemed like a good idea at the start...

The trails are narrow enough that you can't run abreast with each other so we are all spaced out nicely (although there is good room to pass). At one point, I raise my head and I look down the bluffs and I'm treated to a surreal view of a sinuous line of people running down the coast..legs all pumping madly...

At around 8 miles we are off the dirt and heading back the way we came. At the water stops now I take two cups and dump one of them down my this point it's "Half-In, Half-On" . It feels good, if a bit shockingly cold...I can tell I'm running hotter that my usual morning training runs. Every few minutes we pass somebody walking...

This course is an out-and-back for most of it and we are now sharing the course with the slower runners still coming our way. Many are walking. As I get to the 10 mile mark my legs are really starting to feel it. It's very hard to hold my 2:07 quarter miles now and I can see my average pace gradually losing ground toward 8:30. The game now is to hang on.....some of the group I've been with has pulled away from me, some has fallen behind. We are passing more walkers now and sometimes fast and fresh people blow past us ..(hmm must have really going slow for the first 2/3). There are no more chatty-cathys out here. Everybody is doing hard breathing now.

At this point, I'm counting down the quarters to 13.1.....we're past all the hills and just trying to hold our pace as best we can. It feels hot...somebody has a hose with water spray and I take a pass through it. It's cold! (Or I'm hot).

The volunteers have been offering free power gels at several stops...I have no desire...I just want water...

My average pace continues to slip a bit but we've come so far its got a lot of weight behind it now...thank god for that. I'm really feeling dead in the legs, but I still crank out sub 2:07 some of the quarter splits so it's not total 'fall apart time'. However, I'm very glad to be almost done...for the final downhill off the bluffs and onto the beach we kick it up a bit. Then we have to walk in the sand to clear the finish...ewww...that's not fun!

Somebody hands me a medal, and another a bottle of water. Both are nice to have!

Our time: 1:51:26, which is almost exactly an 8:30 pace. Yay!

Finished 450/2604 overall
Finished 19/114 in my age group
Age Graded time: 1:36:02 time (7:20 pace)

Here's my garmin track.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Running the Napa Valley Marathon

Hello friends and relatives,

Many of you know I was running the Napa Valley Marathon on Sunday, March 2, here is my full story:

A lot of thought goes into trying to decided what pace to set for a marathon. One of the attractions of the marathon for me is that, unlike short distances, you can't bull your way through 26.2 miles with hubris.

If you want to run it, you have to have the training under your belt and you have to be smart...even the experts that have run 50-100 marathons say you never know what will happen after mile 20...that's where you need the hubris too!

So, as a beginner it's all especially problematic.

I'd had a few fantasies of faster paces during training, but when I saw the weather forecast (wind, rain) I was very "concerned" (i.e. read "scared";). I've never run in a hard rain. I have run in headwinds and they can be killer. Gulp.

My favorite running author (Hal Higdon) says forget the hubris and equations and what you "think" you can do...he recommends that if you never run a marathon (in my case not in a long long time) you should target 5 x your 10k race time as a good time to shoot for.

For me this is about 10:00 min/mile (or a 4:22 marathon). It's normally a very easy pace for me on long runs so I hoped that should give me enough extra oomph to see me through at the end.

I didn't sleep more than a few hours the night before. I heard the #$%@&! rain start at around midnight and every time it came down hard I woke up and sighed. I kept listening for the wind.

I awoke to that stupid pissing rain (the entire way as it turned out), and a light headwind of about 5mph (on the nose 2/3 of the distance). "Hey, could be much worse", I said to myself.

When I walked to the 7am start at around 6:30 (dawn-ish) I could feel that I was excited and I could see it too: my heart-rate monitor said around 105 (when it would normally be around 75) due to the adrenaline! At 7am we sang the national anthem and off we went!

The adrenaline rush died out by around the 4th mile and I found my groove and just ran the ~10:00 min/mile pace (with hill variations of course).

Passing through the vineyards, with horses neighing and roosters crowing and heavy lines of fog/mist along the hills was a real pleasure. The ups and downs of the hills were gentle (but noticeable). It was a really nice run, even with the rain. It was fun to see all the different people, each with their individual styles of tackling the course. During this time I was passed by a lot of people.

This marathon is not a good marathon for's an picture-postcard beautiful course down the Silverado trail in the Napa valley. You start in Callistoga and end at the Napa "Vintage" High school ("Home of the Crushers").

But, you can only watch the runners at a handful of cross streets that meet up with the Silverado trail. I told Toni to forget all the early spots... [ you don't need any cheering on then anyway] ..try to meet me at one of the second half spots.

The first half of a marathon is the easy're really just getting ready for the 'interesting part'. You feel really good and the temptation is to go fast, but everybody that's experienced tells you, in no uncertain terms, 'DON'T do it...don't go out too fast...'.

Every couple of miles there would be a clump of hardy spectators cheering us on....I got so I really liked having all the cowbells and clamor after the solitude of the open stretches. Also every two miles we had aid stations with a dozen or so wonderful volunteers out in the rain serving up water or gatorade (and after mile 17, orange slices!) I walked and chugged as much water as I could at every station.

Coming up at mile 16, saw the next clump, and quickly picked out Toni leaning out over the road (w/umbrella) and waving! It was a lift! She could see me 'cause I was wearing my favorite bright yellow shirt. I told her all was well so far, and high-fived her and kept on running...then she took off for the finish area. (Which I wouldn't be at for another hour and a half-ish).

After the last real hill at mile 19-20, I bombed down the backside onto the napa city area proper and by about mile 23 I realized I was probably going to make it! I didn't feel a big "wall" as my legs starting having to burn fat directly, just a little more discomfort (same as in my training runs).

So I kicked it in a bit faster (you can see that on the graph..pace goes down , heart rate goes up).

I passed many people walking or walk/running in the last 6 miles that had not been able to hold their pace or had muscle cramps of some kind and was grateful to not have any problems!

When a young strapping guy (you are trying to keep up with) moves to the roadside and starts _walking_ it's both a boost ("hey, _I'm_ still going!") and a _scare_ ("uh oh, am I going to have a problem too, should I go slower??").

finished 1019 out of 1864 finishers (2300 registrants)
finished 77 / 122 in the M50-54 age group

4:25 (hr:min) which is a 10:08 min/mile pace

[The marathons I ran at age ~24 were much slower therefore this was a
so-called "PR"]

[Yes, I'm a nerd:...enclosed is a graph (from my gps watch) of pace (in blue, minutes per mile, lower numbers are faster) and heart rate (beats per minute in red) vs miles.]

The finish area was not very fun for Toni..they don't seem to make it easy for the spectators there either. She managed to get a photo of me but it was hard with the chain link fence in the way!

But for the runners it was pretty posh... warm showers in the high school gym, hot soup + rolls and free massages for the runners! The 1st place man and women got their weight in wine as the prize!

After the race we zipped up to Yountville and had a AMAZING lunch at Bottega that Toni reserved the previous day (when we couldn't get in for dinner). Wow. I was hungry and the food was great is that? Nothing like eating good food after burning about 3500 cals in one go!

Needless to say I was really happy with how it all came off. It was a very intense day and I have a lot of good memories (and sore quads today!) from it. I'm already planning the next one....8)

Thanks to all of you for exhibiting interest in my endeavor (and listening to my boring endless running discussions during training ) Your interest helped motivate me during the race!