Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dallas White Rock Marathon - Personal Record & Boston Qualifier!

Earlier today I had the fantastic experience of running the 2009 Dallas White Rock Marathon, and loved it!  My reasons:
  • Beautiful course - especially around White Rock Lake.  I enjoyed the diversity between White Rock's nature and scenery and Dallas' urban landscapes;
  • Great pacing groups!  The 3:20 group helped control my normal impulse to jack-rabbit the critical initial miles.  Though I could not hold onto the group past the two "Dolly Parton" hills at miles 19-20, I appreciated the group tremendously;
  • Supportive Dallas spectators;
  • The topography of the course provided a moderate - but not an overwhelming - challenge that added interest to the course.
During this marathon I managed to simultaneously accomplish five goals:
  1. Personal Record with a 3:22:38 (by 3-minutes);
  2. Boston Re-Qualification;
  3. Marathon Maniacs Qualification;
  4. Surpass 2009 miles during the 2009 calendar year!
  5. Finish the marathon strongly (in the final six miles I passed 56 other marathoners, while only 3 passed me - link)
My pacing (not ideal, as I had a positive second-half split of 3:32):
  • Through 10K @7:37 - perfect - running with 3:20 pacing group;
  • 10K through Half @7:34 - minor mistake - too fast; ran a minute faster than the pacing group;
  • Half through 20.1 Miles @7:52 - Ouch!  "Dolly Parton" hills were tough!  Unfortunately, I lost the pacing group in the distance;
  • 20.1 through 26.2 Miles @7:51 - Kicked 'er in on the downhill stretch - feeling tired but in control.  Great support from Gloria, then as the clock ticked down I realized I'd just P.R.'d!
Factors which I credit for my White Rock P.R.:
  • I was more diligent in following the KenyanWay program incorporating guidance provided by Coach Sean Wade.
  • Losing weight!  Subsequent to my last P.R. at the Chicago Marathon two-months ago I'd lost five-pounds.  Importantly, I'd lost this weight not in muscle, but in fat.  Dr. Jack Daniels book and his VDOT correlations reveal the huge benefit of weight-loss to running performance (see this site for a great spreadsheet which simplifies the numerics).  Losing one pound of surplus weight translates - everything else held constant - to a predicted faster marathon time of one minute.  Adjusting for White Rock's two disadvantages - its hillier course and warmer temperatures - the correlation works as I believe a 3:20 would have otherwise been attainable.  Regardless, for both health and running performance reasons it's wise to lose those surplus pounds!
  • My Newton stability trainer running shoes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

10K Uptown Park "Turkey Trot" - Great Experience & P.R.!!!

This morning I ran Houston's Uptown Park 10K "Turkey Trot", and again loved it!  The weather was perfect - temperature in the low 50's, sunny and clear.

I started-out well, with my initial mile, my slowest, at 6:50. From there, with the wind partially at my back the next two miles were my fastest - 6:37 and 6:49. Feeling strong, I turned-around, and held my pace constant the final three miles with a 6:51, 6:52 and a 6:51. Sprinting the final 0.2 miles I finished the race with a 42:34 time (6:49 average pace), which represented a 2-minute P.R., and placed me third in my 50-54 age group!

All in all, a great day!

Misc:
  • Per Daniels' Running Formula this result shows my VDOT to be 48.3, predicting a potential Marathon time of 3:16!  Combining this incredible result with my recent Chicago Half Marathon result (which predicted  a full-marathon target of 3:19) I'm feeling more confident with the attainability of my 3:20 goal in the forthcoming Dallas and Houston Marathons.
  • Another P.R. in my Newton shoes!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chicago Lakefront 50K Race Report

This morning I had the pleasure of running the Chicago Lakefront 50K. It was a great experience, as the organizers did a fantastic job, the race participants were uniformly friendly, and the course truly unique and beautiful!

The race started at the historic 63rd Street Beach House, then continued north ~5-3/8 miles along Chicago's beautiful running/biking trail that is on park land between Lake Michigan and South Lake Shore Drive. At that point we turned-around, and upon then returning to the Beach House this completed one "loop" - of which there were three to assure the complete 50K distance. Since we switched back on numerous occasions we had plenty of opportunity to see and briefly interact with other competitors, both on the 50K and the 50-mile course. I found all of the runners to be uniformly friendly, which lent itself towards a very pleasant experience.

As regards my performance I'm very happy to report that I ran in 4:38:35 (a 8:58 pace), putting me in 20th place out of 209 finishers (top 10%), and 3rd place in my division. It was also a huge personal record - an improvement of 78-minutes versus my prior best 50K!  While I was obviously very happy with this result, I had run only two prior races of this distance, and both in Huntsville State Park (which presented a far greater technical challenge owing to their narrow dirt trails, hazards and elevation changes.)

As regards my race execution I must note that I'd once again fallen prey to poor performance -  specifically by running the first 10-mile loop far too fast which cost me in the final 21-miles of the course.

Reflecting on the key difference versus my much better executed Chicago Marathon performance (held three weeks prior), I attribute the Chicago Marathon's availability of numerous pacing groups - which take the burden off the runner in holding a consistent pace.

Nevertheless, a great day! I'm certainly glad that I ran the Chicago Lakefront 50K, and recommend the event highly.

Misc.:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chicago Marathon - 7-minute personal record!

This morning I had the fantastic experience of running the 2009 Chicago Marathon. The results were beyond my wildest expectations since I completed the marathon in 3:25:32, which improves by over seven-minutes my personal record and re-qualifies me for the Boston Marathon! I was especially delighted since up until only six-weeks ago I was unable to run for a month while recovering from a minor stress-fracture.

I was very familiar with the Chicago course, as it was my 4th (and 14th overall marathon distance or beyond). The race temperature was absolutely perfect: 34 to 41°F, minimal humidity with a moderate 5-8 MPH wind from the north. While it was admittedly very cold during the pre-race waiting period, through wearing a disposable sweatshirt, hat and gloves (which I tossed at the start) I was able to remain comfortable.

I was very happy with my pacing consistency, as is shown on this chart. My first half-marathon time was 1:43:08 (7:52 pace), and I managed a rare negative-split in the second half with 1:42:24 (7:49 pace). Proving especially helpful was running the first 5K with the 3:30 pacing group as this mitigated my unfortunate tendency to jack-rabbit the start. Though I gradually ran ahead of the pacing group after that point, it played a continuing psychological benefit since I knew that if the group were to catch me I would then be able to hang-on with the 3:30's until the finish line. On reflection, during both my recent marathon successes (Houston and Chicago) I benefitted by pacing groups, where-as my recent April Boston Marathon was a partial disappointment (in terms of my completion time - not the fantastic overall experience) due in-part to their absence.

With regards my recent successful stress fracture recovery I credit my coach's excellent recommendation that I pool-run and bicycle during my five-week recovery period. Additionally, I credit myself for having the wisdom to follow my doctor's sage advice to interrupt my marathon training while giving my minor stress fracture time to fully heal. The bottom line lesson-learned was was not to give-up following an injury! Instead, keep-up the hard work and your positive attitude via finding healthful alternative activities to maintain your physical and mental health!

Additional elements which helped my Chicago performance:
  • Other than my stress-fracture recovery period I closely followed the excellent Kenyan Way marathon training program. I highly recommend this program for any Houston based advanced marathoner.
  • Rather than consuming my normal Crank eGel I tried out a new product - Gu's Rocktane (Vanilla/Orange flavor). Though eGel has more sodium and potassium per packet (220 vs. 125, and 80 vs. 55 mg respectively), adjusting for its 50% larger volume, both are comparable in electrolytes (though the smaller Rocktane size allows more frequent consumption and therefore provides a more consistent electrolyte and blood sugar levels). Two additional ingredients found only in Rocktane are 1200 mg of amino acids (the building-blocks of protein needed for muscle repair) and 35 mg of caffeine (which I've been convinced since my April 4-mile run helps my performance). I took my first Rocktane 10-minutes prior to the race start, then took an additional packet every 5-miles.
  • My Newton stability training shoes (which I also had excellent results with during my recent Chicago Half Marathon) proved to be well worth their higher cost. Somewhat similar to a natural barefoot landing the Newtons help promote a more healthy and efficient mid-foot landing - which is especially important when running on typical concrete race surfaces.
  • Upon approaching the half-way point of the marathon I realized that despite temperatures then in the upper 30's I was sweating heavily. Consequently, I removed my thin Boston Marathon shirt that I had been wearing and ran shirtless the final half. Though attracting odd-looks from the jacket and hat-laden spectators, I'm convinced that doing so helped tremendously. Since I had clipped my race number to my running belt/gel-holder (instead of pinning it onto my shirt) I was easily able to remove the shirt without worries of being interrupted as a suspected bandit!
  • Finally, as I was seeded in one of the leading corrals that are restricted to qualifying runners I avoided the typical frustration of weaving in-and-out of slower marathoners in the initial miles. This is definitely something for advanced marathoners to check-into whenever registering for a large urban marathon!
Miscellany:
  • My preliminary results were: Division Place, M50-54, #129/1471 (top 9%); Gender Place, #2,828/18,983 (top 15%); Overall Place, #3,258/33,608 (top 10%)
  • My Forerunner 405's Connect.Garmin.com log.
  • On October 14th I participated in a Runner's Roundtable podcast featuring a number of runners who participated in various distance running events worldwide over the weekend.  To listen to the banter click here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Alpine Races Half-Marathon

After Saturday's 20-mile training run at beautiful Moraine Hills State Park the following day I ran the Alpine Races Half-Marathon.

The weather was very good. Moderate humidity and temperatures in the 60's throughout. Despite the massive mileage run over the prior week I felt good through the run.

Having the benefit of my recent benchmark P.R. from the prior week's Chicago Half-Marathon I knew my ideal pace. Adjusting for my partial fatigue I dialed-in my goal 7:20 pace into my Garmin Forerunner 405, and tried to hang-on. By the fifth mile I knew that pace was a lost cause, however, so backed-down a bit.

I was able to complete the half in 1:38:35, a 7:31 average pace, which put me in 2nd place in my age-group! All-in-all, I was very satisfied with the race and the weekend - particularly as both runs provided me confidence going-in to the quickly approaching Chicago Marathon.

Misc:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Newton Running Shoes Rock!

Having used Brooks Adrenaline stability shoes for many years I suddenly developed a minor left-tibial stress-fracture in late July. In the subsequent month-long injury-induced recovery period I had ample free-time opportunities to contemplate the causes of my first-time serious running injury and to read the excellent Born To Run book, which highlights the Tarahumara Indians and their startling ability to run for hundreds of miles on a thin sole sandal without injury.

Contemplating these incredible athletes' avoidance of stress-fractures it occurred that my own behavior was largely to blame by significantly exceeding the generally recommended 10% increase in weekly cumulative mileage and running sprints downhill on hard surfaces. Additionally, avoiding injurious heel-landings can be easily accomplished by adopting the type of mid-foot landing utilized by the Tarahumara on a minimal sole shoe.

During a marathon expo I'd met with a representative of Newton Running Shoes, and after trying-on their shoes and familiarizing myself with their technology, I purchased a pair of Newton's Stability Trainers. A good video explaining the Newton shoes technology and design is found below:

Subsequent to switching to the Newton Stability Trainer for all my subsequent races, I P.R.'d every one of them (with the sole exception of a half-marathon run two weeks after another)!  While I have no doubt that my increased fitness level resulting from my switch to KenyanWay is primarily to credit, I'm also convinced that the Newton shoes have been significant contributors to my improved performance owing to my more more rapid leg turnover due to their lighter weight, energy-recovery provided efficiency advantages through the springy forefoot lugs, and landing more healthfully at the midsole of the shoe due to the lower heel.
As initial proof of the Newton shoes' advantage I was happy to set a massive ~5-minute P.R. improvement at the Chicago Half-Marathon - with absolutely no discomfort or pain.

Follow-up Notes:
Coincidence?  I don't think so! I partially credit my Newton shoes in additionally providing me subsequent P.R.s at nearly every race in which I've worn them - without any hint of a return to my former stress fracture, i.e.:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Importance of Strength Exercises for Runners

First, here's an excellent NY Times video link demonstrating several good knee strengthening exercises.

Secondly, Brent Vaughn, sub 13:20 5,000m runner and former University of Colorado star, discusses the role of General Strength (GS) in his training. While he discusses this topic I've included an "uncut" example of pedestal routine (aka plank routine).

Brent Vaughn on General Strength from CoachJayJohnson on Vimeo.

Swiss Ball Exercises for Runners:

Swissball Exercises for Runners from CoachJayJohnson on Vimeo.

Five general strength routines (excerpted from link). These exercises are best done after training. But if you can't do them then, find another time during the day to set aside a few minutes for this routine. Your running body will thank you for the small investment in time. Demonstrating the exercises is Sara Vaughn, who owns PRs of 2:03 for 800m and 4:11 for 1500m.
Without further ado, here is the first video, which outlines the first phase of pedestal poses and the Myrtl routine.

Running Times: Part 1 from CoachJayJohnson on Vimeo.

The second video features a leg circuit as well as a more challenging pedestal routine than the first video.

Running Times: Part 2 from CoachJayJohnson on Vimeo.

The third video adds leg lifts to the pedestal routine and introduces the "Cannonball cooldown" routine. (Jazz fans will be happy to hear it's named for Cannonball Adderly.)

Running Times: Part 3 from CoachJayJohnson on Vimeo.

The fourth video introduces the "Grant Green" routine (more fun for jazz fans!), which adds few new exercises but is more than challenging thanks to its duration.

Running Times: Part 4 from CoachJayJohnson on Vimeo.

The fifth video showcases Leg Circuit #2, which we guarantee to cause a few wobbles the first few times.

Running Times: Part 5 from CoachJayJohnson on Vimeo.

Finally, here's a video link to usage of the Medicine Ball for Runners, which might be of interest:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chicago Half-Marathon - 5-minute P.R.!

This morning I ran the 2009 Chicago Half-Marathon. It was a beautiful course, running largely on Lake Shore Drive, and overlooking Chicago's scenic skyline. The course started and finished in Jackson Park and showcased the south lakefront, the Jackson Park Golf Course and the Midway Plaisance on the University of Chicago campus.

I was somewhat apprehensive going into this morning's race, since I've only returned to running in the past three-weeks following nearly five-weeks rest to allow my left tibial stress-fracture to heal. Though the injury is 99% healed, as I'd noticed more worrisome twinges of discomfort while running on hard-surfaces (versus my vastly preferred dirt or gravel trails) I was concerned that the Half-Marathon's course run entirely on concrete might do me in.

Instead, I found no problems at all! I ran the course in 1:35:54, which was a huge 5-minute half-marathon personal record!  I credit, in part, my Newton training shoes, as I feel that they encourage me towards a more natural fore-foot and mid-foot landing that the heel landing style encouraged by my former favorite running shoe - the Brooks Adrenaline.

Results:
Thanks to the Sean Wade's Kenyan Way Training Program and my increased dedication to running, biking, or swimming daily I believe that I'm my best shape! I gauge this based on the nearly five minute P.R. achieved on today's run.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Once again, pacing was a real issue for me - and my biggest area to show improvement in the future. While my result was fantastic, I risked a derailment with an initially far-too-aggressive start, and a resulting positive split in the back-half of the run. I believe that I let my fellow-runners drive me to a pace that was unsustainable, as I started very close to the front in Corral "B" surrounded by incredible runners (it was a bit reminiscent of my April Boston Marathon). I started miles 1-3 at a blazing 6:57 pace. Miles 4-6 were run at a more appropriate 7:18 pace, however the final six-miles were at a comparatively lethargic 7:26 pace. While I was happy to see that I had enough 'gas in the tank' to kick-in the final mile at a 7:15 pace I clearly lacked sufficient discipline to control myself appropriately in the initial three miles. I attribute my substantial P.R. nevertheless as due to my overabundance of training for a half-marathon course.
  2. I believe that my Newton Stability Training Shoes kept my out of trouble despite my not completely having recovered from my prior stress-fracture. Despite the course's concrete surface I believe the Newton's inherent stress and impact reduction via landing on the mid and fore-foot versus the traditional heel-landing achieved this improved running stride.
  3. I appropriately carbo-loaded the evening prior to the race, and the morning of. I stayed-away from anything unusual (lesson-learned from my earlier Palos Heights Half-Marathon).
  4. I got to the race over an hour and a half in advance of the event, which allowed me plenty of time to attend to my needs, find the bag drop-off area, and actually warm-up for the race (something I unfortunately very rarely do).
  5. I listened to an excellent mix of New Age music on my iPod Nano, which allowed me to stay somewhat relaxed throughout the entire event (I shudder to think what my initial three-miles would have been had I been listening to a hard-driving rock mix!)
  6. I made much better use of the water stops than any prior run. Instead of slowing to a near walk (a bad habit I've gotten into, particularly in marathons) I instead managed to snag a Gatorade cup, followed by a water cup without any slow down. Since the temperature was in 60's I didn't need to imbibe deeply of the Gatorade - just a swig or two was sufficient. With the water I tossed it over my head providing much-needed cool-down, and allowing me to maintain my strong pace despite the powerful sunshine (the sky was clear throughout the race).
Finally, I happily noted afterwards that Dr. Jack Daniels' highly respected running formula for race predictions, this half-marathon result translates equivalently to a potential full marathon of ~3:19:40! Extrapolating this half-marathon performance and my recent 4-mile run suggests that with proper conditioning I should be able to achieve a further 13-minute improvement in my full marathon time! This is great motivation for the Chicago 2009 then Houston 2010 marathon training.

Results:
Age: 20/373 (top 5%), Males: 444/5794 (top 8%), Overall: 512/13519 (top 4%) 7:19 1:35:54.

Misc:

Friday, September 11, 2009

ABCs of Running and Fitness




One of the absolute best running-oriented Blogs is "RunnerDude", which I encourage you to regularly read and subscribe to. You can do this via his link at http://ncrunnerdude.blogspot.com/. Here's one of his recent, and in my opinion best postings, which I have requested his opinion to post (my minor annotations are reflected below in italics):

RunnerDude's ABCs of Running and Fitness
Print out RunnerDude's ABC's of Running and Fitness below and post it on your fridge. Whether you're just about to start a running or fitness program or you're already an avid runner or fitness buff, sometimes a little reminder of why all this exercise is beneficial is helpful. So, when in doubt, look over this list. Highlight or star the letters that mean the most to you!
RunnerDude's ABC's of Running and Fitness
Aerobic Training—Aerobic activity is one of the best ways to help fight off cardiovascular disease as well as a host of other health problems. Recent research has even shown that aerobic activity is even better at holding off dementia in older individuals than mental exercises.
Balance—Create a balance in your life of family, work, fitness. Easier said than done, but it's all too easy to put off fitness goals because of other areas of your life. View fitness as a part of each day. Involve your family in your fitness activities. If you can't get in that hour-long run, maybe you can get in a 20-minute walk or do 25 pushups while watching your favorite television program. Being flexible about how you squeeze-in your daily exercise can help keep you fit and motivated.
Caloric Intake—Make sure you're eating enough calories! The average male needs about 1500 calories and women 1200 calories just to sustain their normal body systems! That doesn't included calories needed for extra activity, not to mention intense training.
Diet—Eat a well balanced diet consisting of Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fats. 45-65% of your calories should come from carbs (complex carbs are best), 10-35% of your calories should come from protein, and 20-35% of your calories should come from fats (mainly poly- and mono-unsaturated). If you're in training for a marathon you may be at the upper end of the carb calories, you may even exceed the 65% during the carb-loading phase a few days prior to the race.
Eccentric Phase—Most resistance training involves a concentric phase (shortening of the muscle) and an eccentric phase (lengthening of the muscle). For example in a chin-up, the concentric phase is pulling yourself up to the bar and the eccentric phase is lowering yourself back down. Often more focus is put on the concentric phase and then we quickly zip through the eccentric phase. If you count to four slowly as you go through the eccentric phase it's like getting an extra workout.
Functional Training—Don't limit your gym workouts to machines that only work one joint or muscle group. Incorporate more functional exercises that support your sport of choice. If you're a runner, exercises like squats and lunges (with or without weights) are much more functional than the leg extension machine.
Group Runs—Finding a group to run with can be very beneficial. Long runs are much more enjoyable with a group. Early morning running or evening running is much safer in a group. The motivational and support aspects of running with a group can be very beneficial during hard intense training.
Hydration—On race day, be sure to drink 16 oz. of water 2 hrs before the start. This gives it time to go through your system and be voided. During the race drink 6-12 oz every 15-20 minutes. Water is fine if the race is no more than 60 minutes. If the race is over an hour, sports drink should be used to help replenish the body's glycogen stores and electrolytes.
Intervals—Intervals are one of the best ways to burn calories as well as increase your speed and build endurance for short-, mid-, and long-distance runners. Intervals are not the only form of speedwork, however. Hillwork and fartleks are also great ways to burn calories, increase speed, and build endurance.
Jump Rope—Hate the treadmill? Try jumping rope. Jumping rope provides one of the best cardio workouts while at the same time giving the entire body (lower, core, and upper) a good workout. [Click here] for more information on jumping rope.
Keep at it—Have a bad run? Not meeting your goals? Don't give up. Take a day or two to re-evaluate your goals and the strategies you're using to reach them. Are you overtrained? Are you undertrained and expecting too much too soon? Consult with a fellow runner or fitness professional to get some guidance on next steps. Don't quit.
Log—Logging your miles/workouts/nutrition is a great way to keep track of all that you've accomplished. It will also help you track down the source of a training injury. You can keep a written log or check out many of the online training logs such as Athlinks, DailyMile, and RunningAhead.
Muscle—Don't be afraid to add a little muscle. Women, especially, tend shy away from adding some muscle because they don't want added bulk. Runners (men or women) tend to do the same thing. But one of the best ways to lose weight is to add muscle, because it increases the metabolism thus burning more calories. Runners, remember that a stronger upper body can help decrease the chance of fatigue later in a distance run. Once your form starts to go, then everything else starts to fall apart in a distance run. Runners can focus on endurance resistance training by using lighter weights and up the reps.
Nutrition—Proper nutrition is vital to a healthy runner. If you're not providing your body with the quality energy it needs, it will not be able to perform at optimal levels. Want to know the amount of each food group you need daily, [click here]? Another great site for nutrition information is EatRight.org.
Open Mind—Be open to new fitness ideas and new training methods. Be careful not to get caught up in a fitness fad, but allow yourself to try different things like yoga or functional resistance training to enhance your overall fitness.
Protein—Protein is a vital macronutrient and is important in the repair of muscle tissue, but you only need a certain amount. In the case of protein, more is not better. The average person only needs .8g of protein per kilogram of body weight. Endurance athletes require 1.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight. Resistance training athletes require 2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. Research has shown that the body will not use more than 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight and in fact extra protein can end up being stored as fat as well as harm the liver.
Quality Workouts—Running the same distance at the same intensity level day after day is not going to help you improve. Be sure to throw in some focused quality workouts, such as speedwork (intervals, hillwork, fartleks), tempo runs (running a 4- to 8-mile run at a pace slightly slower than race pace), and long runs (a longer-distance that's run about a minute slower than race pace).
Rest—Be sure to include rest days in your training. A rest day doesn't have to mean no activity. A rest day could be a short slow run the day after a long hard run. But, sometimes your body doees needs a "real" day off. You'll be surprised how much better you'll run the day after a rest day.
Stretching—Dynamic stretches are best before a workout. Dynamic stretches are more sports specific and require more range-of-motion involving more joints and muscle groups. Squats, lunges, buttkicks, and high-knee skips are great dynamic stretches for runners. For more examples of dynamic stretches [click here]. The more traditional static stretches (stretch-and-hold) are best after the run or workout.
Thirst—Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink. Often if you're dehydrated, your thirst mechanism will not work.
Unload—Use your runs and workouts to unload all that stress you've accumulated throughout the week.
Variety—Just because you're a runner doesn't mean you can't do resistance training or throw in some cross-training. Adding a little variety to your training routine can help build a more balanced, stronger body as well as help to keep your training fresh and fun.
Winner—Even if you never place in your age group at a race, that fact that you're out there running or in the gym working out or both, makes you a winner in the life race. Your quality of life is going to be that of a winner both physically and mentally.
X-Training (Cross-Training)—Break up your weekly runs with some cross-training such as cycling, walking, the elliptical machine, and/or swimming. These lower-impact forms of training will still give you a great cardio workout while giving your joints a rest. These cross-training exercises will also work different muscle groups that may not be used (or not used as much) in running.
Yoga—One of the things runners (and most athletes in general) need is more flexibility and better balance. Yoga is a great way for runners to gain this flexibility and balance.
Zen—Using running as a time of meditation or reflective thinking can do wonders for relieving stress.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I'm Back!!

Thanks to giving my tibia sufficient time to heal I've successfully begun running over the past several days! Naturally, I'm overjoyed to finally be back on the running trails again... particularly since the Chicago Marathon is only five-weeks away, and the Chicago Half-Marathon (which I may partially walk depending upon how I feel) is only one-week from now. I'm grateful for the good advice provided by my many running friends, and am satisfied that thanks to biking and pool-running I've managed to maintain relatively good fitness in the interim.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

False re-start; need to endure!

After a month of biking and pool-running to allow my left tibial stress-fracture to heal, upon prematurely concluding that I was fully healed I ran three days in beautiful downtown Chicago. Though the first two days were a glorious return to running with absolutely no discomfort or pain, on the third day I realized that I'd returned too quickly to my favorite passion - and by doing so almost certainly lengthened the time required for my stress-fracture to fully heal.

Lesson learned and word to the wise - avoid the huge temptation to deviate from the well-proven pool-running and other non-impact activities until any and all discomfort associated with the stress-fracture is completely gone (and preferably until your G.P. gives you the green light!) When you do return to running do so gradually, almost as though you were a beginning runner.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pool-running perfected


In my July 28 posting I'd recommended pool-running - a fantastic technique which allows an injured runner to maintain their running-specific fitness and their cardiovascular capacity while recovering. If you haven't reviewed my recommended article I've excerpted from it the deep-water running technique that I've been successfuly using:

Deep-Water Running (Cross Country Style): The cross-country style of DWR looks qualitatively more like land-based running due primarily to the increased horizontal displacement (position) of the ankle. This increased movement of the ankle allows for a greater range of motion to be achieved and thus maintains the normally elliptical appearing gait pattern found in land-based running and increase the muscular benefit. The AQx was specifically designed to be used with this style of DWR.

Key points:

1. The water should be at shoulder level below the chin with the head held in a neutral position facing forward.
2. The body leans slightly forward of a vertical position. This is important because if you lean too far backwards your knees will come up too high in the front and you will be practicing the high-knee version of DWR (which looks more like stair-stepping).
3. The arm carriage should be relaxed and identical to land-based running. Your arms will primarily move from the shoulder joint (relatively stable) with elbows flexed at approximately 90º.
4. The hands are held in a slightly clenched-fist position with your thumb resting lightly on your forefinger to decrease the likelihood of using a dog-paddling- type motion.
5. The legs will actually follow a pattern that is VERY similar to a faster type running motion like interval training where:
a) The knee comes up toward the surface of the water until the hip reaches a position of approximately 60-80º (hip flexion), followed by full extension (not hyperextension) of the leg toward the bottom of the pool.
b) The foot moves from approximately 0º dorsiflexion at full hip flexion (imagine your foot in the same position as if you were standing on the ground in a normal position) to approximately 50-70º of plantarflexion (toes pointed slightly at the bottom of the pool) when the leg is fully extended. A good thing to imagine is to think of your foot touching the bottom of the pool when your leg is fully extended, then moving your foot back toward the edge of the pool as far as possible without rotating your hips, then the foot moves under your butt, and finally lifting the knee up to allow the foot to continuously move through the gait pattern.
c) The major differences between the high-knee and cross-country styles of DWR are that the high-knee style leg action is primarily in a vertical plane with the legs moving straight up and down in a piston-like movement pattern with very little horizontal displacement present (imagine marching or stair-stepping) while the cross country style has a much greater range of motion which elicits more muscular involvement.


My only tweak to this description is instead of running solely in the deep-water - where some type of flotation device is certainly necessary - I avoid the flotation device via interspersing running in shallow water with deep (my fitness center's swimming pool is ~15 yards shallow and ~10 yards deep.) I find that by doing laps using this technique in both shallow and deep water I avoid the crushing boredom that previously afflicted me when I'd initially solely run in deep-water.

I feel that this lap-based pool-running technique combined with resistance strength training and long-distance biking best maintains the injured runner's fitness level until his/her full-recovery. I hope this technique proves helpful to others (in fact, I like it so much I plan to continue using it to minimize my cumulative stress in my higher-mile weeks)!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Argggghhhh! Probable Stress Fracture Strikes!


After ten years of running, eleven marathons, two 50K's, and only one bout of Achilles Tendonitis to complain about... I guess my good luck had to break - and it did!

Though inappropriately increased and high-impact excessive miles are the more likely cause of a stress fracture than any single run, I believe the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back" was my unwisely sprinting downhill while on a run with a friend in Edmonton, Canada last week. Afterwards, I noticed pain in my left lower interior tibia, and after seeing my G.P. was told that I've probably got a stress fracture - which clearly warrants my stopping running until the pain subsides.

Sadly, there's nothing better than a potential marathon-impacting injury to prompt one to do the research that in retrospect I should have already done! As I discovered:

Tibial stress fractures are the most common stress fractures in athletes, but their symptoms are often confused with other disorders of the lower part of the leg, like compartment syndrome and inflammation of the tendons on the shin. So, how can you tell if you might have a tibial stress fracture?

Unfortunately, as was my case routine X-rays often fail to detect stress-fractures for several weeks following the initial fracture (X-Rays can only detect the calcification process which occurs slowly through healing). Alternatively, a more definitive and costly bone scan procedure may be performed. In a bone scan, radioactive material is injected into the blood; the rebuilding bone tissue at the site of a stress fracture will accumulate more of the infused radioisotope, and the affected bony area will show up as a dark splotch on a ‘scintigram’.

The pain produced by a stress fracture is ordinarily quite different from that caused by compartment syndrome - a condition where pressure builds up in one of the compartmentalized sections of a leg during activity - producing pain, numbness, and weakness.

Conversely, the pain associated with a stress fracture is sometimes called ‘crescendo pain’ since it tends to build up gradually during the act of running, beginning as an annoying irritation and becoming a throbbing torment as the run continues. There is usually little of the numbness, weakness, and swelling associated with compartment syndrome, and pain is usually not present to a significant degree when the athlete is at rest. Sometimes, there is a specific point of tenderness in the lower leg, which is often felt on the inside of the calf when deep pressure is applied with the fingers. Often, the bone will hurt when it is tapped near the damaged area (some podiatrists apply a large tuning fork against the tibia bone as the resulting vibrations are excruciating when a stress fracture is present!)

If the problem is not a stress fracture but rather inflammation of the tendons (tendinitis) of the shin muscles, the pain is often quite diffuse, running up and down the lower part of the leg along the tibia. While it is true that tendinitis can mimic a stress fracture by producing crescendo pain, tendinitis discomfort is often less localized than stress-fracture pain and usually can’t be produced simply by tapping on the bone. With shin tendinitis, there is usually none of the numbness associated with compartment syndromes. Naturally, if your shin-area pain is a continuing problem, you should seek the advice of a sports-medicine doctor.

Identifying the problem:

Tibial stress fractures are definitely not fun. They can stop training in its tracks, they are painful, and, while it is often said that they require two to three months to heal, the reality is that up to six months may be needed to restore the bone to normalcy and remove most traces of pain, and some athletes may require a year or more for full recovery.

How to stay in-shape while your stress fracture heals:

Perhaps most importantly, maintain a positive attitude despite the injury. Concentrate on what you can do, not what you can't! Thus, until my shin fully heals I plan to shift to pool running, strength training, and gradually elliptical exercise and stationary biking (see these great links which on best doing a pool run: #1 and #2). Hopefully this will allow me to maintain my current fitness levels, since I hope to do well at both the Chicago and Houston marathons.

Of course, prevention of tibial stress fractures is key. The best prevention includes avoidance of too-rapid increases in the volume and intensity of training (another likely contributor to my injury), consumption of a nutritionally adequate diet, and the utilization of special exercises which promote the fatigue resistance of shin muscles (remember that your shin muscles are less able to protect your tibias when they are tired).

Here are several shin-muscle strengtheners which you can employ regularly in your training to help decrease your risk of tibial-area problems:

(1) Wall Shin Raises

To carry these out, simply stand with your back to a wall, with your heels about the length of your feet away from the wall. Then, lean back until your buttocks and shoulders rest against the wall. Dorsiflex both ankles simultaneously, bringing the tops of your feet toward your shins, while your heels remain in contact with the ground. Bring your toes as far toward your shins as you can, and then lower your feet back toward the ground, but do not allow your forefeet to contact the ground before beginning the next repeat. Simply lower your feet until they are quite close to the ground, and then begin another repetition.

Once you have finished about 30 repetitions, maintain your basic position with your back against the wall, dorsiflex your ankles to close-to-their-fullest extent, and then quickly plantar flex and dorsiflex your ankles 30 times over a very small range of motion (much smaller than the nearly full range you use for the basic repetitions; the emphasis should be on great quickness, while maintaining coordination). These short, quick, ankle movements are called ‘pulses’.

Complete about 30 repetitions and then 30 pulses of the wall shin raises, without hesitating in between. You will very likely notice a fair amount of shin-muscle fatigue as you do this, which is an indication that the strength and fatigue resistance of your shin muscles needs some reinforcing. Rest for about a minute (walking around and shaking your legs to ease the tightness in your shins, if necessary), and then repeat the 30 basic repetitions and 30 pulses. Perform this overall routine a couple of times each week (it can be easily incorporated into your warm-ups, for example).

As your shin muscles improve their strength and fatigue resistance, you may progress with the exercise over time by increasing the number of sets and repetitions. Your ultimate progression will be to begin carrying out the exercise on one leg at a time.

(2) Heel Walking

Walk quickly and briskly on your heels for about 20 metres, with your toes pointed straight ahead. Then, without hesitation, rotate your legs outward at the hips so that your toes are pointing outward (duck style), and walk for 20 more metres, high up on your heels. Quickly, rotate your legs inward at the hips so that your toes are pointing inward (knock-kneed style), and walk expeditiously on your heels for 20 more metres. Rest for a minute, and repeat the routine.

(3) Heel Hopping

On a very soft and forgiving surface, hop forward for about 10 metres on your right heel, taking quick, small hops and preventing the bottom of your right foot from hitting the ground (stay back on your right heel). As you do this, keep your upper body loose, relaxed, erect, and coordinated, and do not look down at your foot. Rest for a moment, repeat, and then carry out the same routine with your left foot. Once you are really skilled with the exercise, you may also hop on your heels with toes pointing in and out and use a weighted vest for added resistance.

(4) Heel Stops

Stand in a relaxed and comfortable position, with your feet directly under your shoulders and your knees slightly flexed. Then, bound forward about 12 to 15 inches, landing on your left heel only and remaining stationary once you have landed. As you land, keep your right foot off the ground, and try to prevent the bottom of your left foot from touching the ground; you should be supporting your body weight on your left heel area. Next, push off the ground with your left heel, and bound forward onto your right heel, again maintaining a stationary position once you land and keeping full body weight on your right heel area (don’t let the bottom of your right foot touch the ground).

Continue in this manner until you have covered about 15 metres, using erect body posture at all times and avoiding eye contact with your feet. As you improve your ability to carry out this exercise, you may increase the distance of your bounds and your overall speed of motion. Make sure that you begin this exercise on a very forgiving surface (sand, soft dirt, grass, a ‘tuned’ gym floor, etc).

(5) Drop Jumps

Using a sturdy bench or box about six to 10 inches in height, begin by standing on the edge of the structure with the front portions of your feet over the edge (the edge of the platform will be just behind the middles of your feet, so that your toes are angled just slightly downward). Keep your knees slightly bent and your arms relaxed at your sides. Drop – don’t jump or step – from the elevated surface to the ground. To drop, simply let your feet slide off the edge of the platform. As you descend toward the ground, prepare for landing by flexing your legs lightly at your knees and hips, and cock your elbows back. As your feet hit the ground, instantaneously jump forward as far as possible, land on both feet, and maintain a relaxed, stationary position (that completes one rep). You should try for maximal intensity and effort in your jump, and also the shortest-possible ground-contact time. Start with just one set of five reps for the first few times you do this exercise, and progress to a greater number of sets and reps over time.

The ultimate progression with this exercise, of course, is to carry it out on one leg at a time (for example, you would stand on your platform with your right foot only, slide off, land on the right foot, and then explode forward, landing on your right foot and holding your position). This exercise should improve shin-muscle strength and also promote better bone density in your tibias.

If you would like to use these exercises to improve your shin strength and protect your tibias, don’t rattle them all off on your first day! The exercises are challenging, and each puts a certain amount of controlled stress on your tibias; doing them altogether without prior experience might be too stressful for your poor shin bones. Instead, try each of the exercises on separate days (as mentioned, they can be easily incorporated in your warm-ups), and then gradually increase the number of exercises you do on a single day. Once you feel comfortable completing the quintet during one workout, you may use the ensemble of five exertions a couple of times per week and achieve a great protective effect.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Speed Work Lessons (Re-)Learned

Early this morning on a business trip to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada I ran my first speed-work session following Sean Wade's customized Kenyan Way Marathon Training program. I ran in the beautiful Louise McKinney Riverfront Park, alongside the North Saskatchewan River - a great running trail which can be easily reached from Downtown Edmonton.

Though my target 1-mile pace was 6:45 (based on my recent 4-mile pace of 6:53) my legs proved only capable of 7:09-7:35. I do not take this as a disappointment since I'd pushed myself during training a bit harder than appropriate the day prior.

Documenting a few speed-work lessons (re-)learned:
  • Trust your coach! By doing unscheduled legs-focused weight-work the day prior I'd left myself slow for the day's speed-work;
  • Re-hydrate after each segment via making use of a water fountain (or via leaving a water bottle) along the trail;
  • Do not listen to your iPod doing speed work, as this takes the mind away from the mechanics and can affect the stride;
  • Minimize elevation change during a speed-work so-as to provide better consistency between sessions, and to minimize stress on the Achilles during uphill segments (for this reason I ran on the flat segment alongside the river);
  • DO NOT run the first speed-work segment at a pace that you cannot match on your final segment! I committed this common mistake, and realized to my chagrin afterwards that I'd initially pushed myself too hard.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Kenyan Way Rocks!

At the advice of a friend this week I joined an excellent Houston-based marathon training program, called The Kenyan Way. I am very thankful for this advice, as the program offers some distinct advantages versus other Houston-area programs.

The Program:
Based on the season Kenyan Way offers programs year-long. In preparation for my Chicago marathon I signed-up for the Fall program. Participating in my first long-run this morning, I was delighted to discover that water and sports drinks are provided every two-miles along the course. Additionally, I was very glad to see Coach Wade lead-off the groups unambiguously, such that every experienced runner is led to join a group appropriate for their pace. Thus, as my marathon P.R. is 3:32, and my goal Chicago Marathon is 3:30 I joined the 3:30 - 3:40 group, which the Coach instructed us on departure to run approximately 30-seconds slower than our Marathon Pace - and as a consequence we ran at a good 8:30 pace.

The obvious advantages of running with a pacing group matched well to the individual's desired pace is to encourage conversation, while causing the time to seemingly fly by. Talking through the run additionally builds camaraderie while - through the physical act of conversation - demonstrating that each runner is not running anaerobically.

Other Benefits:
When you join one of the Kenyan Way programs you will receive more than just a training schedule. You will also receive access to a vast array of information that will help you train smart and remain injury free. Remember, steady consistent training is the key to success.
Expertise:
Sean Wade, a native of New Zealand and graduate of Rice University has competed for more than 20 years as a professional runner both internationally and nationally. He is currently the fastest master's runner in the world being undefeated in 2008. Sean was named 2006 Male Masters Runner of the Year by The Road Runners Club Of America (RRCA), as well as being selected as the 2006 Masters 40-44 Runner of the Year by The Running Times Magazine. Sean Wade has a personal best marathon time of 2:10:49 and was the winner of the 2003 Houston Marathon.

In addition to being an accomplished runner, Sean Wade is an outstanding running coach with more than 10 years of coaching experience. Members of Kenyan Way programs not only benefit from running Sean Wade’s carefully designed workouts but also have access to his running expertise. Members are always encouraged to ask Coach Wade questions about their training. Sean Wade ensures that members of the Kenyan Way get the most out of their training and meet their personal goals.

Camraderie & Customized Training Schedule
Running as part of a group, particularly with others running at similar paces, allows you to push yourself harder while still having a good time. The Kenyan Way has groups of runners at all paces so that everyone is encouraged to reach their full potential. The Kenyan Way has runners of all ages training for many different races.

Enrollment in any Kenyan Way training program includes online access to a complimentary personal training schedule. You are assigned a training schedule based on what program you are enrolled in and which race you are training for (if any). When you log in you will be asked to fill in information about how you would like to schedule your week and your current fitness level. The schedule is then tailored to your personal training needs using advanced computer algorithms designed by Coach Sean Wade. The Kenyan Way’s advanced schedule customization techniques ensure that you do not over or under train as is often the case with more generalized training programs. The schedules are designed to provide runners with workouts that push them to unleash their full potential.

Instructional Videos
Members have access to instructional videos covering a variety of running topics which include hydration, nutrition, strength training, core training and stretching. Are you stretching and warming up safely and effectively? Members can watch Coach Sean Wade’s instructional video on the topic. Or members might want to watch his multi-part video series on building your core strength with essential core exercises.

Wade Running Technique
Is your running technique flawed? Do you tend to get injured as you ramp up your training? The Wade Running Technique describes and promotes an ideal style of running that helps reduce injuries and improves economy and efficiency. Just think – faster running with less injuries! Give it a try!

Online Training Log
Keeping a running log is a great way to keep track of your training and further motivate you to stick to your training schedule. Members of Kenyan Way programs each receive a complimentary online training log. The training log is easy to use, cuts down on paper clutter, and allows you to quickly navigate through your past training.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Runners are Strange Creatures

As a long-time listener to running-oriented podcasts I've thoroughly enjoyed Runners Roundtable and Phedippidations.

Through my periodic interactions with Toni Harvey, Steve Runner and BuckeyeOutdoors' Ben Deutschle, I was invited to join a Roundtable panel on June 10th entitled "Runners are Strange Creatures". This episode focuses on the quirkiness of we runners, i.e. counting miles, mapping out runs, agonizing over training schedule or even trying to plan family vacation around running events.

In preparing for the dialog I began thinking about my own running-passion (admittedly bordering on an obsession), and have compiled a partial listing of these behavioral traits below:

  1. Whenever I happen upon any portion of a marathon route that I'd previously run I immediately find myself contemplating the approximate mileage on the course and my physical/emotional condition at that point;
  2. Continually daydreaming about my next training run or race (including while I'm already running);
  3. When reviewing the nutrition information on any meal or snack, I find myself automatically converting the calories into equivalent running miles (and feeling guilty if my morning run distance didn't burn as many calories as the food item);
  4. Frequently reviewing detailed weather information solely to know what's in-store on my next run;
  5. When traveling for business or pleasure choosing a hotel that offers the best nearby running routes;
  6. Calculating all discretionary purchases as multiples of my favorite new running shoes or running-related gadget;
  7. Using BuckeyeOutdoors.com daily via manually recording every run or exercise session within 30-minutes of its completion, then posting a link to my Garmin Forerunner upload. Not being able to fully relax until I perform this ritual;
  8. Upon returning home from a race, regardless of its outcome, of feeling compelled to both perform this Garmin ritual and to post a detailed blog entry regaring the event;
  9. Reading at least one book per month on the general subject of running;
  10. Reading several running-focused blogs per week;
  11. Listening to three or more running-focused podcasts per week;
  12. Obsessively charting every possible element from my running log, from my weight to my pace to my distance run;
  13. Targeting weight loss not for health or vanity reasons, but instead to make myself faster at my next race (P.S. - for each pound of fat that a runner sensibly loses they can expect to be approximately one minute faster over a marathon);
  14. Making the decision about whether to attend a social event on the assessed likelihood of meeting another runner;
  15. Continually dreaming about running at night;
  16. Continually daydreaming about running, including while running;
  17. Maintaining a detailed blog solely focused on running;
  18. Beginning every run by first deciding its purpose (i.e. tempo, interval, hills, distance, recovery), then setting my Forerunner GPS watch's 'Virtual Partner' feature so-as to continually remind me of my appropriate pace;
  19. Whenever hearing the city Boston referenced, immediately thinking about its (fantastic) marathon.
Items I hope to bring-up during the podcast if time allows:
  • I wish 'running advisor' John Ellis a full and complete recovery. I look forward to many additional contributions from John, and am eager to identify how his life experience shapes his training and especially nutrition-related advice;
  • I recommend that all runners - casual, committed (or those who should be committed!) - use the superb on-line running diary BuckeyeOutdoors.com, or find another means of recording their training runs, races, and successes. Notably, failures (either the rare DNF and/or injuries which may occur) provide excellent opportunities to reflect upon the cause, and what we can/should be done differently so-as to prevent such problems in the future;
  • If training for a specific competitive event, then be sure to utilize the wisdom of the most knowledgeable in planning your training. One of the many reasons why I am a BuckeyeOutdoors.com supporter is that by using that on-line tool it is extremely easy to create a training program from one of several top-notch sources. Through the following weeks this will then serve as a day-by-day reminder to you as to what is your appropriate day's activity. Marathon training programs which I personally have used (though strongly recommend that each runner evaluate what's appropriate for themselves) are: Hal Higdon's Advanced Marathon Training Plan; and Hansons-Brooks Advanced Training Plan. I'm currently close to finishing the below-referenced Matt Fitzgerald book, following which I intend to utilize its recommended training program for my next marathon;
  • Additionally, maintain a running-focused blog, or optionally produce a podcast. This exercise will provide you additional means of expression thereby allowing you to help others by sharing your own experiences;
  • Read some excellent running books, which will inspire you, provide encouragement, and help you avoid many pratfalls which would otherwise occur. Highly recommended: Running and Being: The Total Experience by George Sheehan; Masters Running: A Guide to Running and Staying Fit After 40 by Hal Higdon; Lore of Running by Tim Noakes; Why We Run: A Natural History by Bernd Heinrich; and Brain Training For Runners: A Revolutionary New Training System to Improve Endurance, Speed, Health, and Results by Matt Fitzgerald;
  • Run, whenever possible, with others. Doing so, especially on casual, recovery and/or long runs will make them more enjoyable, allow you to tap the collective when encountering inevitable running-related challenges, broaden your social network, make your runs fly-by, and improve your personal safety. Additionally, through talking periodically during your runs you will be demonstrating that you are running at the appropriate aerobic cardiovascular zone (where-as when running solo it is all to easy to make an intended long-run become an inappropriate tempo effort).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Successsful Achilles Treatment

This past weekend I found the following posting at http://www.ultrunr.com/achilles.html regarding an "eccentric stretching" treatment for Achilles Tendinosis (AT) which I’ve been successfully doing since. The described stretch has proven extremely helpful via providing immediate relief.

Excerpt from referenced posting:
For those suffering from AT (as I do), be advised that there has been a major development in treatment. (See disclaimers below.*)

In a recent issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine (vol. 26 no. 3, pgs. 360 - 366), clinicians at the University Hospital of Northern Sweden reported their study of "Heavy-load eccentric calf muscle training for the treatment of chronic Achilles tendonitis." I urge you to get it via MedLine or from a medical library if you possibly can.

A series of 15 middle-aged recreational runners were treated with an amazingly simple method: stand on a step or ledge on the balls of your feet. Rise up on your GOOD leg, transfer your weight to the AFFECTED leg with ankle fully flexed downward (plantar flexion), and descend all the way down (to maximum dorsiflexion). Repeat 15 times (one set), and do 3 such sets twice a day. Also do these sets beginning with the knee of the affected leg partially bent, rather than extended (straight); this works the soleus muscle. Later on you can add weight, in the form of a backpack or weight machine on the shoulders, to increase the strengthening effect.

All 15 participants in this study had excellent results. I have had Achilles tendonitis for many years, worse this year since I increased my running mileage. But since I began doing these exercises I have had a marked reduction in pain and morning stiffness, and have even noted some increase in speed on training runs.

It's exciting to find good science -- a controlled, prospective study by reputable people -- that really works, and costs nothing!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Palos Heights Half-Marathon Race Report (and P.R.!)

This morning I ran the Palos Heights "Running for Kicks" Half Marathon. Despite being a simple out-and-back course it was very scenic with nature preserves for 90%+ of its length, was relatively flat but with gentle rolling hills. With my time of 1:39:14 I achieved a fantastic (+5 minute) P.R. - despite losing nearly 2-minutes with a critically needed restroom break in the 11th mile! All those extra training miles paid-off!

The weather this morning for the race was absolutely perfect - low 50s with minimal wind, clear skies and low humidity. The runners enthusiasm was evident as we cheered loudly for the beautifully sung national anthem, then quickly led-off westwards past the start line.

My first half of the run was at a blazing - and in retrospect too fast a pace at ~7:15. After partially fatiguing near the half-way point I slowed in the second half to ~7:35.

I attribute my unscheduled - and extremely urgently needed(!) - bathroom visit to my inappropriately experimenting prior to the run. I had drunk two 12-Oz. Starbucks coffees within 30-minutes of the race, where-as the most coffee I'd previously drunk so close to a race was half that amount. Additionally, 10-minutes prior to the run I foolishly consumed half a Cliff Shot Block packet of a flavor (Cola) which I'd never previously tried. I'm not sure which of these items were the cause of my intestinal travails, but this marks an important lesson (re-)learned - don't experiment before a race! Fortunately this happened in a race where the two-lost minutes were not critical to the outcome.

Finally, I happily noted afterwords that even without attempting to adjust for the bathroom break, per Dr. Jack Daniels' highly respected running formula for race predictions, this half-marathon result translates equivalently to a potential full marathon of ~3:26. Both Daniels' half-marathon and 10K formula predicts that with proper conditioning (which evidently I'd been lacking in my prior eleven marathon efforts!) I should be able to achieve a further 6-minute full marathon improvement. This will be great motivation for the Chicago then Houston marathon training (but in the next three weeks I'm first going to minimize my running miles so-as to allow my chronic right Achilles tendinitis an opportunity to fully heal.)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Boston Marathon Race Report!

The Boston Marathon is the best since...
I rank Boston as the best U.S. marathon (followed by Chicago then Houston) since entrants are required to demonstrate a prior marathon time sufficiently fast to qualify them by their extremely strict requirements. This selectivity - excluding 90% of all marathoners - results in Boston runners being honored by the running community generally, and by race spectators in particular.

The famous "Heartbreak Hill" is merely one of several tough hills found on the Boston course - all inconveniently situated between miles 17 and 21! The course is beautiful, starting in rural Hopkinton, and concluding in downtown Boston - passing extraordinary sights and hundreds of thousands of cheering spectators. It is extremely well organized, and the area truly open their hearts to the runners.

Specific to this run:
I had an absolutely fantastic first Boston marathon experience! After being dropped off by my friend in Hopkinton I was fortunate through his wife to be provided a "VIP" pass which allowed me access to the Hopkinton middle school and most importantly their indoor restrooms - a huge treat versus the alternative of long queues for the outdoor Port-A-Potties!

Other than the head-wind the weather turned out to be very good, as the temperature was in the low to mid 40's and the skies were clear. The only problem was the strong and consistent head-wind of 10 to 15 miles per hour.

While my personal results were a bit disappointing, with less wind and better hill training I'm sure I'll have a better outcome next year. My overall time was 3:50:30 (8:47 pace), worse than I'd hoped via my recent P.R. at 3:32:17 (8:06 pace). Encouragingly, my half marathon time was 1:46:30 (8:07 pace), and my strength was very good. Nevertheless, I'd squandered energy averting and fighting the wind, and with on-set of the hills in Newton my second half deteriorated severely to 2:04:00 (9:28 pace). However, considering my prior Achilles tendonitis that prevented my training adequately on hills, and especially after adjusting for the head-winds* I'm generally satisfied.

Amongst the high points of the Boston Marathon experience were:
  • My wife and daughter leaving me recorded motivational messages on my e-mail the evening before the race. I copied these - unlistened to - on my iPod, where they played just just I needed them the most - at the start of the race and while struggling with Heartbreak Hill!;
  • The UNBELIEVABLE support and cheering along the course;
  • The incredible management of the Boston Marathon by its officials and volunteers. Especially nice was starting with others who ran at my pace, which prevented the normally frenetic running around other slower runners;
  • Enjoying dinner Saturday night with several fellow Houston running friends, and seeing most of them Notes:
  1. *On page 282 of the linked reference a recent study demonstes that a 10 MPH head-wind requires a 5.5% increase in energy utilization. As energy expenditure is linear with running velocity (reference Table 8-6 on page 281), but is ultimately limited by the runner's physical condition, any runner facing a 10 MPH head-wind must slow by 5.5%. Thus, my 3:50 result equates roughly to ~3:38 on a still-wind adjusted basis.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Great Boston Marathon Interactive Maps!

Check out the following link posted by the Boston Globe's site: http://www.boston.com/sports/marathon/course/map/ - It's a great interactive map to help you visualize the Boston course.

Along the same lines, you can download from http://www.tagzania.com/kml/pt/baa-boston-marathon-race/ a "kml" file of the Boston course, which with Google Earth allows you to do a visual look-down from a theoretical airplane's perspective of "flying" above the course.

Finally, here's a great link to a collection of odd-ball aspects of the Boston Marathon: http://boston.com/sports/graphics/04_17_09_the_odd_road/

Monday, April 13, 2009

Time to reset my Boston Marathon goals!

I didn't mention this during my Saturday long-run video, but in tapering for the Boston Marathon on 4/20 I'm following the advice of Bernd Heinrich from his great book "Why We Run". Bernd writes that in the week preceeding one's marathon run you should - as much as possible - run at your marathon pace. By doing so you'll feel very comfortable running at that speed.

I recognize that this statement may be seen as completely contrary to my stated position on Saturday's video that "whatever time I run Boston I'll be happy with"... but that was Saturday! Subsequent to that video I completed that 16-mile long-run, the following day I had a great 10-miler on the same hilly trails at better than my goal Boston marathon pace, and today I had an excellent tempo run.

What's most encouraging is my newfound recognition that I'm 99% recovered from my former Achilles injury. I credit my usage of the elliptical over the last two months - a great non-impact cardio exercise which maintains cardiovascular fitness while the Achilles is allowed to recover at its own pace. I believe that stretching exercises have also helped, as has the use of the Strassburg Sock.

As a result I'm now in the midst of setting much more ambitious Boston Marathon goals. Specifically, my new goals are:
  1. Finishing healthy, having had a great time;
  2. Re-qualifying for Boston - at Boston! (3:35:59 or better);
  3. Setting a personal record (3:32:17 or better);
  4. Qualifying for the New York Marathon (3:30 or better).
Bottom line, though, is while my cardiovascular conditioning is excellent, that doesn't necessarily speak to the adequacy of my endurance over 26.2 miles, and my ability to survive the hills beginning at Newton Lower Falls - especially since I've only recently emerged from my Achilles-induced funk I've omitted 90% of the key pre-Boston hill work. Consequently, while I've set my Boston goals ambitiously, I'm going to play it by ear, see how it goes, and will adjust accordingly! Wish me luck!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

First Age Group Victory!!!

Today was an absolutely incredible day! After saying goodbye to my wonderful wife, I headed off to Memorial Park to run the 4 the Park 4-Mile Fun Run. This inaugural running event supports the Memorial Park Conservancy, and had an amazing 1,000 runners.

After meeting-up with friends Paul, Mary Beth and their daughter we ran a relaxing 3-mile warm-up, following which we lined-up for the 4-mile race. It was with some anxiety that I awaited the gun, since I will be running my first Boston Marathon in only two-weeks, and continue to struggle with my Achilles tendinitis. While my warm-up had not revealed any significant pain to the sore right Achilles, I was nevertheless cognizant that by starting-off too hard, and especially by toeing-off too vigorously I risked a potentially disastrous tear to the Achilles, which would destroy any chance of completing Boston.

Nevertheless, with the thought you only live once and the announced count-down I felt growing confidence that I would put in my best effort. With Paul initially running adjacent to me I shot past the start line, and after a few minutes was amazed that I had just knocked down a very comfortable and in-control first mile at 6:53. Since my prior personal record pace was 7:03 I knew I was running faster than I had thought possible! Nevertheless, I did not slow since I felt strong and my right Achilles - though tight - was not hurting. So I kept-up the strong initial pace, concentrating on alternating my breathing technique between relaxed deep breaths and allowing my natural respiratory pace to take over.

Despite having started 6-seconds after the gun, with perhaps 30 or 40 runners in front, I was surprised to continually pass other runners during the second mile. After a brief time I was astounded to see the second mile mark ahead, and noted my second mile pace was 6:52! This was insane! I was running faster than any other race in my life - at age 50!

Doing a quick status check I realized that I had made a mistake by not having removed my T-shirt prior to the race. Though the starting temperature was cool at 65F, I should have known that by running at top speed I risked overheating. Not wanting to slow down to remove my shirt I instead tossed a volunteer's provided cup of water over my head, then concentrated on my right Achilles - while it wasn't in pain, it was getting distinctly tighter.

Beginning in the third mile I shifted into pure racing mode, using the mental technique that I learned from Olympian Jeff Galloway, whose book Marathon was my initial running Bible in training for my first marathon in 2004. First, I visualized throwing a steel cabled lasso over a runner ahead of me, cinching the cable to prevent my target from gaining any further distance, then reeling them in until I caught them. I repeated this technique for several runners, then saw a grey-haired man quite likely in my age bracket (age 50-54), in front by about 20 yards.

While not even dreaming of placing, much less winning my age bracket (I had been disappointed in all my prior races upon realizing that I was worse than tenth behind my age bracket winner), I nevertheless knew with confidence that I MUST reel in that man. Using the same lasso technique I realized to my frustration that this target would not be as easy to catch as the others had been. Seemingly whenever I stepped up the pace my quarry sped up simultaneously - as though he had eyes on the back of his head! While I was not falling behind, neither was I gaining ground.

Fearing that I may not be able to catch him, I noticed a slight hill ahead, and was encouraged to see my opponent slow! Shifting into passing gear I applied another racing technique described by Dr. George Sheehan in his great book Running and Being. As I passed my target I listened carefully to his breathing. While mine was labored and fast, his was more rapid and strained, so I relaxed realizing that if I maintained a consistent effort he was not a threat.

I passed the third mile marker realizing that I had run my penultimate mile in 6:54. Despite not purposefully doing so I was seemingly locked within a very narrow 2-seconds variation in pace - with only one mile left! Truly buckling down I remained in racing mode the final mile via continuing the lasso and reel-in techniques with additional runners, including two fast young men who were both likely in their mid-twenties. To my frustration, however, with one-quarter mile remaining both got their revenge by simultaneously passing me to my left and right! Try as I might to re-catch them, I was simply unable, and while I was unhappy to see these competitors irretrievably pass I was mollified that at least they were not in my age bracket.

With the finish-line now less than 100 yards ahead, to shouts of kick it in I did - and shut-off my Garmin Forerunner with a 4-mile time of 27:34, representing an average pace of 6:53 - improving by 10-seconds per mile my prior personal record! I was completely ecstatic that I had done well while not further hurting my Achilles! I then happily waited a brief time to cheer Paul, Mary Beth and other running friends from the Houston Fit "Green" training group. After a final cool-down 3-miler I was astonished to learn from Mary Beth that I had won my age-group competition with my closest competitor being a full one-minute behind!

Afterwards, with the benefit of retrospect I learned several things from this race:
  1. Caffeine rocks! I had about 150 m.g. of caffeine via a 12-ounce cup of strong coffee 20-minutes before the race. My intuition tells me for a 10K or shorter race caffeine should be ingested 20-30 minutes prior to the start, but for full or half marathon it should be taken 45-minutes to an hour in advance;
  2. The racing technique that I had utilized in the final 2-miles worked great! It directly takes one's mind off of the discomfort of running so quickly, and allows one to focus solely on running via mentally keying directly on the target runner in front. Furthermore, with each new victim passed the final distance is punctuated with a series of rewarding victories which provides great motivation to keep up the effort;
  3. An easy and relaxing warm-up run, preferably run with friends, ideally warms-up the muscles while simultaneously providing a relaxing confidence before the event;
  4. Unless you're convinced you have no shot at placing within your age group, start extremely close to the starting line! While I was fortunate to win my competition by a good margin, I realized later my mistake through having ceded 6-seconds - as my closest age-group competitors had more shrewdly lined-up at the starting line;
  5. Regardless of how well or badly you think you may have done, always check the official standings prior to leaving the post-race area. Had I not had the fortuitous conversation with Mary Beth alerting me to my unexpected victory, I almost certainly would have walked away, thereby foregoing both the opportunity to have my picture taken with the others who placed in my category while also relinquishing the generously provided gift!
  6. After checking Athlinks.com it turns out there was one older and faster runner than myself, who finished with a time of 26:18 - i.e. 6:34 pace). I've got my work cut out for me next year!
  7. Per Daniels' Running formula this race predicts a potential marathon performance of 3:21.
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