Friday, December 31, 2010

RunnerDude Chats with Chuck "Marathon Junkie" Engle

I've always been a huge fan of "RunnerDude's" blog found at, owing to it's consistent high quality focus on all matters pertaining to both runners and individuals simply looking to improve their overall fitness. It deserves every runner's bookmark.

Today's post, however, is especially exceptional, as it  features an incredible interview with Chuck "Marathon Junkie" Engle. As you'll see, his moniker goes well beyond being merely apt!

Have a very happy, safe and productive New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Here's a great video forwarded by my wonderful daughter:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Houston Half - Here I Come!

Earlier today I attempted the Kenyan Way 22-mile long training run, targeting an 8-minute pace for the first 16 miles, and my goal Marathon Pace (7:30) for the final 6 miles. This was a huge day for me, having unaccustomedly bonked in the late miles of both the recent Chicago and San Antonio Marathons it was important to test my fitness level to determine whether to remain in the Houston Marathon, or to drop to the Half.

I got as far as 17.5 miles, and though I'd held my desired goal paces until the final quarter mile, my body guided me to the right decision - I'll be running the Houston Half in January. I'm relieved by my decision, and am excited to hopefully excel at the half-marathon distance. Since with my coach I'd previously committed subsequent to the January Houston race to take six-months off from marathon training and endurance-oriented competition via concentrating instead on speed, through running the Houston Half I hope to have an excellent transition in that direction.

The weather conditions for this morning's run were warmer than I'd hoped, starting in the upper 50's and finishing in the low 60's with very high humidity. Nevertheless, I don't hold that as an excuse, especially as the conditions were well within the expected range for the end-of-January Houston race.

Until mile 17 I had the benefit of running with an evenly-matched friend training for Boston. The miles always go by much quicker with companionship and conversation, and today was no exception. Nevertheless, beginning at the 14th mile it became very clear from my exertion level running at only an 8:00 pace that the 7:30 marathon pace would prove difficult. As I'd feared upon speeding up at mile 15 my rapid and labored breathing in the remainder of the run provided evidence that I'd not be able to complete the full 22 at my intended pace. This was confirmed in the final half mile slow-down, and after re-hydrating at the Kenyan Way staging area I noticed that I felt as I had in Chicago and San Antonio while nearing glycogen depletion. Though initially disappointed I know I'm making the right decision, and look forward to training for the Half.

“Nothing endures but change.” –Heraclitus

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tag Post

I'm looking forward to tomorrow's 22-mile training run with Kenyan Way, as how well I do will determine whether I stay in the Houston full or drop to the half. The weather bodes to be quite good, especially so considering the nasty conditions elsewhere in the country!

TAG - Jamoosh from Last Mile Lounge was tagged by five questions, and in turn he passed-on the tag to others:

1. What are you most proud of accomplishing in 2010?  
I was proudest to have learned from my many training errors in preparing for the 2009 Boston Marathon, and as a result to set a P.R. in the 2010 Boston.

2. What are your running goals for 2011?  
After five marathons per year for three years running I need a change in pace, literally and figuratively! After running Houston full or half marathon I'm planning to spend six-months working on speed and my running form. After doing so I hope to set a 5K and 10K P.R.

3. What is your favorite race?  
See #1 :-)

4. What is your favorite holiday guilty pleasure?  
Starbucks Eggnog Latte - I feel guilty for every one of its delicious 610 Calories and 27 grams of fat.

5. What was your most embarrassing running moment?  
A few years ago, shortly after starting a long run with a group of friends, I was caught-up in my conversation and was completely oblivious to my surroundings - which I proved by running headlong directly into a wide wooden four foot tall pole that the other runners easily avoided. I bounced backward sprawled horizontally on the ground looking up as my friends concernedly asked if I was okay. With much embarrassment I picked myself up and resumed my run, reassuring everyone that I was fine -  thereby proving the power of endorphins over pain and pride receptors ;-)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Houston Full or Half Marathon?

Should I run Houston's full or the half marathon? It's a head-scratcher, partly tied to the 2012 Boston Marathon.

While I'm currently signed-up for the Houston Marathon on January 30th I could easily run the same day half marathon instead, provided I switch by the December 19th deadline.

Subsequent to my recent San Antonio Marathon disappointment I've been strongly thinking about switching to Houston's Half Marathon, as based on my recent Chicago and San Antonio marathon splits I would have easily set personal half-marathon records, so I clearly have the fitness to excel at that shorter distance. Additionally, my coach Sean Wade and I feel that I would tremendously benefit by a six-month rest from my three year recent history of running five marathons per year, and to instead concentrate on speed versus endurance by focusing exclusively on 5K and 10K races.

However, I want to be able to line-up in Hopkinton in 2012. As the Boston Marathon will certainly sell-out immediately upon registration opening (anticipated in October, 2011) presuming I begin my six-month marathon hiatus subsequent to my next race it would be ideal for me to get another Boston qualifying marathon run under my belt at Houston.

Of course, as the 2011 Boston race sold out in only eight hours the BAA may change its 2012 registration date, significantly tighten its qualifications standards, enlarge the number of runners (at minimum by stopping the congestion-inducing and freeloading bandits), and/or move towards a a lottery system. However, as all of these possibilities are outside my ability to predict or influence it makes sense for me to simply re-qualify under the current rules then hope for the best.

Consequently, here's my plan. Until Saturday, December 11th I will continue training while generally following the Kenyan Way full marathon plan. I will then run my scheduled Kenyan Way 22-miler (16-miles @8:00 pace with the final 6-miles @7:30 marathon pace). If I flag on that key training run I'll switch to the half instead with a clear conscience that I've done the right thing. Though as a result I may be unable to run my third Boston Marathon in 2012 I'd be completely OK with that outcome, and would be happy to start my forthcoming speed-focused training with a half-marathon personal record. Time will tell! Thoughts?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Trot 10K Race Report

With dread that I saw the weather forecast for the 2010 10K Turkey Trot held this morning, a sizzling 74°F combined with high 85% humidity and 10 MPH southerly winds. As a very poor hot weather runner, and my thoughts on a very funny and apt Hyperbole and a Half sent by my wonderful daughter I had only one unhappy thought - aargh!

Nevertheless, it was great to socialize at the event with several good friends and to support the entirely deserving Sheltering Arms agency. Upon starting the race at an improved location versus prior years I was happy to lead-off the first two miles relatively well. However, despite pouring water over my head in a vain attempt to cool-down at each aid station I was forced both by the heat and the congestion caused by the merging 5K runners to tremendously slow down in the second half. Nevertheless, I had a lot of fun, and was happily surprised to see that I'd finished in 7th place in my age group with a time of 46:57 (5-minutes off my February P.R.)

It's important for me to more profoundly reflect - especially during this time of Thanksgiving  - upon all of the blessings that my family and I have been consistently provided, included in which is the joy, serenity and friendships provided by running. So, during this holiday I wish you and your families the very best!

Monday, November 15, 2010

San Antonio Marathon Race Report

The weather gods would have had to work even harder to make conditions for the 2010 San Antonio Marathon any better. It was cloudy with moderate winds and the temperature was in the 50s.

As this was my first San Antonio and Rock & Roll Marathon I deliberately didn't run with my normal iPod so-as to better appreciate the music and interact with spectators and fellow runners. This worked out quite well, and the groups along the course were quite good - especially a blues band playing at the half-way point.

The San Antonio Marathon logistics were excellent, far better than the numerous complaints from runners whose primary gripe was the former starting location requiring frequently delayed busing (now solved with the new downtown start). The course continues to include great scenery including the Alamo, though I was a bit disappointed with sparse spectator support for many late marathon miles owing to the remote municipal airport routing. My worries of elevation changes along the San Antonio course proved to not be a non-issue, though they were larger than Houston's pancake flat terrain and comparable to Dallas White Rock's (and nowhere close to the very technical and challenging Austin course).

As to my performance... well, I was very disappointed. But, I learned some good lessons through the experience.

I felt good on the morning of the race, albeit with some lingering sniffles from a nasty cold that I was nearly over. As such, I decided to line-up with the 3:15 pacing group hoping they'd guide me to a 4-minute P.R.. The pace group leader Derek was very good, and he held the group to generally consistent 7:20 splits, which I was able to hold onto without a problem until the 16th mile when the 'wheels fell of the wagon'.

At that point, quite unexpectedly and very suddenly I bonked very hard. Within a quarter mile I suddenly felt very hot and began to feel a bit lightheaded - as I had in the Chicago Marathon five weeks previously when I'd similarly bonked shortly after the 20th mile marker. I immediately slowed down hoping that I'd get my Mojo back, as I had somewhat demonstrated in Chicago's late stage while approaching the Grant Park finish. However, no dice; my proverbial goose was cooked.

In my emotional let-down in the remaining 10 mile walk to the finish line watching stronger and better paced marathoners quickly pass I briefly thought of calling it quits and DNF'ing my first race by jumping into the sag wagon. I didn't and was glad. I really wanted the medal, and am now glad to have it! While I hope I'd not hesitate to DNF should medical issues necessitate, I knew my problem was ultimately simple glycogen depletion caused by poor preparation and bad race execution.

During my long walk, where I was only briefly able to jog slowly for brief quarter-mile segments, I was glad that I didn't have my iPod since it forced me to interact with the incredibly supportive San Antonio spectators. I also talked extensively with numerous other runners whose bad fortunes matched mine, and was encouraged to find many first time marathoners who were enjoying their inaugural runs. While walking-in to a discouraging 4:32 finish, I genuinely enjoyed the race, though immediately began plotting how to avoid a similar fate.

In retrospect I believe that my undoing was several-fold:
  1. While I'd shaken the worst of the very bad cold that I'd picked-up only four days before the marathon, my body's energy reserves in the preceding days were spent fighting the cold virus - versus storing glycogen energy reserves as ideally occurs during a taper.
  2. My most recent marathon in Chicago was only five-weeks prior to San Antonio's. While I'd shown remarkably resiliency in the past (most recently in January with an even shorter four-week delay between my Houston and Austin P.R. Marathons) the difference was that unlike Chicago I hadn't bonked Houston. As such my legs had felt great afterward allowing me to train well through both Houston and Austin without a hiccup in training to either (conversely, in the five weeks preceding San Antonio I only had one good 12+ mile training run which was itself lacking through only being 16 versus the ideal 20+ miles.)
  3. Once again my ambition on race-day got the better of me. Deluding myself into the conviction that I was ready to slam another P.R. I ignored my wife's good advice (and doubtless Coach Sean Wade's, had I asked) to choose a slower pacing group then target a negative split late in the race.
So, as the bottom line on this day after the marathon, though facing worse-than-normal body and muscle aches I'm truly very glad that I ran the San Antonio Marathon and highly recommend the course (comparing Texas Marathons I'd still list Houston's as the very best, followed by San Antonio, Dallas White Rock then Austin.) I learned, and re-learned, some lessons along the way and I hope to be ready for Houston - now only 11-weeks away.

Here's an apt post marathon day humorous video well describing my current situation:

Finally, here's a great article by Matt Fitzgerald on the inherent challenge to appropriately pace a marathon, even for very experienced marathoners.

Post Script: After the race was completed I discovered that several hundred runners who began the race a few minutes behind me were held-up by an unscheduled train by as much as three to four minutes. I was contacted by the race organizers afterward asking me whether I was held-up by the train, and if so by what length of time. Naturally, I responded that I wasn't held-up at all, so was very surprised earlier this week when I was informed that my finishing time was adjusted by subtracting four seconds (evidently a mathematical calculation was made for all runners using their potentially train-interrupted first 5K split versus their 5K to 10K split.) While this approach is probably the most defensible methodology it obviously over-estimates  runners' train-induced delay for those individuals like myself who in fact were not delayed (as most individuals in Corrals 1-3 were not), and for those individuals who attempted to make-up for lost time and therefore ran significantly faster afterward. Given the alternatives of denying individuals a hard-fought P.R. or B.Q. by under-estimating the train delay I guess the organizers have made the right decision - but the whole thing just rubs me the wrong way, and I sure hope trains are stopped in the future! 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

In New York, a Sun Rises then Sets

Edited on 11/15/10 based on Haile's change of heart:
There were great happenings at, and immediately after the New York Marathon today.  Combined, these will have the running world buzzing for months to come.

First, I was ecstatic to watch American Shalane Flanagan spectacularly make her marathon debut. She dramatically did so through cinching a strong second place time of 2:28:40, only 20-seconds off the winner's. Shalane led through significant portions of the final six miles, and had the best New York finish by any American woman since Kim Jones finished second in 1990. Pictured at the awards ceremony afterward were winner Edna Kiplagat, center, of Kenya, flanked by Shalane Flanagan, right, and third-place finisher Mary Keitany, also of Kenya.

Second, Haile Gebrselassie, the current marathon world record holder and arguably the greatest marathon runner in history announced his retirement from the sport to a shocked audience. The press conference occurred following his dropping out of the race with a knee injury just prior to the 17 mile marker. Gebrselassie came on the stage to answer questions, and started with his own statement regarding the race: "I'm a little bit disappointed, disappointed to myself. Whatever it is, I can not change. I am a little bit unhappy... I don't want (to do this again). It's better to stop here." While it was initially hoped that Geb was talking about the race and not his career he then said, with his voice full of emotion: "It didn't work. Next time, to complain again and again. It's bad for all you who support me (so I won't do it again)." Asked to clarify whether he was retiring, he responded, "Yes", and added I did very hard training. After this, I have (had) no discussion with my manager with anybody. I discuss(ed) with myself, that is better to stop here. I never think about to retire. But for the first time ever, this is the day."

Having always been amazed and impressed by Gebrselassie's fantastically long streak of athletic accomplishment, charitable contributions within his country and unassuming bearing I wish him the very best in what I hope proves to be a long, healthy and active retirement. The running community who have consistently admired and respected Gebrselassie will long remember his unequaled longevity and dominance of his sport.

11/15/10 As noted in this NY Times Article Haile Gebrselassie has reconsidered and has decided that he will, in fact, return to the sport! To celebrate, here is a beautiful time-lapse video of this year's New York Marathon start, as uniquely seen from the top of the Verrazano bridge:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Friday & Saturday Funny

First, the latest creative work from my friend Colin Hayes ( is too funny to not re-post:

Then, I ran into this gem:

On the serious side, I wish the very best of luck to everyone running the New York Marathon on Sunday. With that great race in mind here's a good link to two great N.Y. Marathon related video series.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Welcome to Ironman Access - NOT!

As a marathon runner with a bicycle in the garage and memories of competitively swimming in High School I've long been tempted to try an Ironman. While I've been dissuaded by the staggeringly high registration fees ($600 to $1,000!) as this NY Times article points out the demand for Ironman slots continues to grow nevertheless.

The following PG-rated animated video which I found on Iron Brandon's site humorously ridicules the World Triathlon Corporation's attempt to bridge the supply-demand imbalance to their singular profit via their "Ironman Access" program (which, interestingly, was rescinded the day after its launch due to negative feedback):

Regardless, I sincerely respect anyone who can even finish an Ironman event, and even more-so with an incredible time in the marathon after having just completed a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike leg. Here's a great video recap of Australian Chris McCormack's recent second Kona win; note his relaxed form while completing his 2:43:31 victorious marathon:

More Ironman humor:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Endurance Relay Tips

I enjoyed participating in the latest Runners Round Table episode focusing on endurance relays. Dr. Dave ( hosted, as he'll be running RAGNAR Florida Keys. I co-hosted along with Colin Hayes (, Chris Russell (, and Amanda Lanza (

In advance of the show I put a few top-of-mind thoughts tapping my two prior years experience running the Texas Independence Relay (in 2009 and 2010). If you're looking for a unique racing experience you should give an endurance relay a try!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Boston Marathon Filled - Now What?

Having absolutely loved the unique experience of qualifying for then running the Boston Marathon in 2009 and 2010 (I'm hoping to run it again in 2012) I watched with interest on Monday as the BAA opened registration for the 2011 race. While I anticipated that the race would sell-out far sooner than last year, I did not expect it to fill-up in eight hours!

The BAA's Executive Director Guy Morse had the following to say afterward, and I am glad to hear that the BAA will seriously consider changes for the 2012 registration process:

While it is increasingly common for major metropolitan marathons to be filled on their initial registration day, leading race organizers such as New York's and Houston's to move towards a lottery system, I hope that the BAA does not follow this path. Three key elements significantly differentiate the Boston Marathon:
  • Boston's long-time history of the marathon - the 2011 race will represent its 115th - is truly a national treasure;
  • Boston's unique and beautiful course provides an awe-inspiring experience from its small town Hopkinton start to its dramatic Boston finish, frequently along narrow and scenic two-lane country roads lined by hundreds of thousands of exuberant, enthusiastic and noisy New Englanders;
  • Boston is uniquely positioned as the only world-class marathon whose tough qualification standards define those runners who are the most dedicated and strongest.
As well summarized by Dr. Dave in his blog post, should the BAA in response to the rapid sell-out of the 2011 race:
  • Have lots of people qualify but only a fraction who get to run - or fewer qualifiers that everyone can run?
  • Implement a hybrid qualifying time and lottery, or would that diminish the cachet of the race?
  • Increase the field, and what does this do to the quality of the Boston experience?
Pending the BAA's eventual decision regarding almost certain changes for the 2012 race I hope that the running community coalesces upon a consensus to assist the BAA in its ongoing deliberations. In that regard, though risking being excluded I feel that in lieu of adopting a hybrid qualification and lottery system that the BAA should instead strengthen its unique athletic tradition by uniformly tightening qualification standards - though using a more rational basis such as outlined in this Running World article.

To fully address the Boston Marathon's supply-demand imbalance the bib supply should also be reviewed. In doing so the BAA must first acknowledge that it has encouraged the continued growth of bandits on the Boston course (of which over 6,000 are now estimated) via not enforcing a prohibition against runners who have not registered.

While I concede that the narrow country roads east of Hopkinton are not conducive to a substantially increased number of runners, through a rigorously enforced exclusion of bandits the BAA could easily add an additional 6,000 runners to the course. In addition, 15,000 runners could be safely added through excluding bandits and by adding a third ~15,000 runner wave (with each wave separated by 45 versus the current 30-minutes to minimize congestion).

I reject many runners suggestion to substantially reduce the 20% allocation of running bibs currently provided to non-qualifying athletes (i.e. sponsored/charity individuals). The losers of such a move would be needy clients of the many worthy charities throughout New England, and the loss of good-will to the BAA by the many communities, agencies and corporations which directly or indirectly support the Boston Marathon.

The future of the Boston Marathon is at stake in the BAA's ongoing deliberations. While simply adding a lottery system to restrict entrants to those runners who have achieved the current qualification times would be the easiest to implement, doing so would fundamentally transform the Boston Marathon to merely another running event versus the race which defines the world's strongest runners - as it consistently has for 114 years.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Houston Hopeful Women Interviewed on Runners Round Table

    Be sure to download from iTunes or to listen directly to Runners Round Table episode 103 featuring Julie Threlkeld, who spoke with the talented and driven Jaymee Marty (her blog), Julie Wankowski, Jill Howard, Lori Kingsley and Jen Hitchings.

    Julie T. writes for Running Times and maintains the RacesLikeAGirl and Houston Hopefuls blogs. In the latter she interviews Masters women aiming for - or having since completed - an OT marathon qualifier requiring a finishing time of 2:46:00. Tonight's Runners Round Table discussion was interesting and a lot of fun since this incredible collection of strong women runners had much to share.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Chicago Marathon Race Report

    I tapped my running watch as I quickly crossed the half-way marker of the 2010 Chicago Marathon, happily noticing my half-marathon split of 1:35:14. This was right where I'd hoped it would be, and I was impressed that had the race just ended I would have easily set a new half-marathon personal record. However, my confidence was fading with the sweat pouring down my back and I was beginning to question my judgement in joining the team.

    The day had started well. After my wonderful wife dropped me off at Grant Park I had ample time to prepare. Standing next to the beautiful Buckingham Fountain I contemplated the great city and reflected favorably on my prior four Chicago Marathons. I was happy that I'd avoided last year's nearly calamitous late arrival to my assigned starting corral, so had ample time to meet the 3:10 pacing team leaders and the other runners who shared my goal. I felt comfortable with the team since the leaders were extremely experienced and as its members were generally runners like myself - Boston qualified marathoners with comparable prior finishing times.

    With growing excitement and the sound of the starting gun ringing in our ears we excitedly began our race. After two miles of the expected weaving around erratic and suddenly slowing runners I felt comfortable with the team as it assumed its 7:15 pace. My breathing was in control in the morning air, and I successfully repeated my mantra to relax. However, beginning at the second fluid aid station I noticed the pacing leaders dramatically speeding-up afterward for a mile which was both annoying and somewhat worrisome. Ultimately I accepted their approach comforted that if I remained with them through the half that I could then drop away and self-manage a 7:35 pace through my hopeful P.R. finish.

    Despite my doubts upon crossing the half I successfully followed exactly that strategy until just after the twentieth mile. At that point the strong sun and climbing temperatures - ultimately reaching a brutal 80°F - exacted their harsh toll. I was astounded to see just how quickly my apparently inadequate consumption of fluids and electrolytes caused me muscle cramps, a headache, lightheadedness and general weakness - which in combination forced me to a walk.

    In retrospect it was fortunate that I yielded to these symptoms. During the subsequent miles walking through the remaining aid stations and slowly jogging between them I drank amply and took some extra Succeed Electrolyte Caps to restore my fluids and electrolyte deficit, and began feeling much better. Upon seeing the 3:30 pacing team pass I sped up in the final mile and ran through the finish line to the loud shouts from the crowd of tens of thousands. Though disappointed with my 3:38 time I was happy to finish healthy and to learn many lessons:
    1. When the predicted temperature plus dew-point is more than 120°F (Chicago's became 80°F+50°F=130°F) to back-off my target pace by at least 20 seconds per mile per 5°F above that point;
    2. A recent study found that marathoners slow by 19 seconds per degree over 55°F. As the average temperature was predicted to be 74°F, which translates to a six minute slow down, I should have reset my goal finishing time accordingly; 
    3. Not to allow worries of losing the pacing team to inhibit my:
      • Obligation to fully satiate my thirst (in retrospect I should have drunk three versus two cups though most of the aid stations); 
      • Consuming electrolytes per my prior hydration and fueling plan.
      Nevertheless, despite the weather induced mis-judgement I had an absolutely great experience, and highly recommend the Chicago Marathon!

      Friday, October 8, 2010

      My Chicago Marathon Plan

      Well, the big day is almost here! It has been a long six-month marathon dry spell since Boston.

      Six weeks ago I announced my goal Chicago finishing time of 3:10, predicated upon ideal weather. However, as the date draws near it's clear that the conditions will be decidedly sub-optimal. The temperature will be warm, from 64 to 79°F, sunny, and somewhat humid with a dew point of ~50°F.

      Nevertheless, my plan remains to run with the 3:10 pacing team. I've trained for this race in comparable, and even warmer conditions. I'm ready to follow my hydration, fueling and electrolyte plan while taking into account the advice provided by the Chicago Marathon staff.

      At every 10K marker I will gauge my exertion level at the pacing team's 7:15 pace. If I feel that I'm excessively pushing or straining I will bid adieu to the group and gradually ease-up a bit on my pace. It'd be great to knock down a 3:10. However, if it isn't the day then I'm OK. Wish me luck!

      Wednesday, October 6, 2010

      Remember for your Marathon: Discussion on Runners Round Table

      I just completed hosting a Runners Roundtable with our topic: "Things to Remember for your Next Marathon". Co-hosting were the extremely talented and experienced Chris Russell (, Colin Hayes (, Stephen Tarleton (, and Pete Larson ( I was delighted to coerce the creative Colin to play a couple of his compositions, and I encourage all runners to check-out his complete collection via visiting his humorous blog.

      This show was very topical given the flurry of fall marathons on the immediate horizon (in my case Chicago on Sunday). I encourage you to listen to the podcast via downloading from iTunes or listening directly. Let me know what you think!

      Saturday, September 25, 2010

      Trail Running for the Urbanite: Discussion on Runners Round Table

      On Wednesday evening I had a fun time participating on another Runners Round Table podcast with Amanda, Chris, Stuart and Mike. We discussed our collective love of urban trail runs, and I encourage you to download Episode 99 (you can either select the episode from iTunes, or click here to listen directly from your PC). Let me know what you think!

      Urban trail runs are a fantastic way to better explore the area in which you are living or visiting. Prior to booking your hotel or stepping out the door we recommend doing some initial research via Google Maps. Look initially for nearby large green spaces (e.g. parks, wilderness areas, etc.), then use the web further to identify the presence and accessibility of trails. To serve as an initial starting point the panel put together a list of trail runs in cities that one or more members have had positive familiarity with, so check out our list, then give trail runs a try!

      Friday, September 17, 2010

      Running Form and Shoes: Discussion on Runners Round Table

      I've previously written regarding my ongoing efforts to increase my running turnover/cadence, eliminate my prior over-striding heel-striking form, and my experimentation with minimalist shoes. Last night I had an opportunity to discuss these topics on the Runners Roundtable with Joe Garland, Pete Larson, Steve Magness and Jason Kehl.

      Our discussion was wide ranging, and covered topics such as our personal experiences with changing running form, how to identify and correct over-striding, the importance of the hips, the relationship between footwear and form, barefoot and minimalist running, and who should and shouldn't consider form change. Please give it a listen!

      From RRT you can view the show notes, listen on-line, download the .mp3 file or from iTunes directly. I learned a lot and would love to hear what you think!

      On a related note, shown below is an excellent video explaining proper running technique, and discussing the importance of transitioning to minimalist shoes such as the Newtons:

      Meanwhile, I'd like to encourage all enthusiastic runners to follow the Runners Round Table, and to sign-up for the RRT Google Group. Doing so will automatically copy you on discussions with other runners, and allow you to volunteer for and submit ideas regarding future RRT episodes - which you're welcome to join or lead. The RRT podcast is entirely free as the teleconferencing site is hosted by, and relies upon the creativity, energy and eagerness of participants to broaden running's base and to share our knowledge with others.

      Saturday, September 4, 2010

      Got Pace?

      Finally, the weather has begun to cool! This morning's pre-dawn Houston temperature was a comparatively moderate 72°F with a dew point of 70°F. While 90% relative humidity is clearly not optimal, I'm thankful for the improved conditions since as recently as two weeks ago we routinely started our long-runs with temperatures in the low-80's. I'm looking forward to doing more of my forthcoming weekday tempo, progressive and interval training runs outdoors, since over the past three scorching months I've only been able to run fast indoors on the treadmill.

      With the Chicago Marathon now only five-weeks away I've been contemplating my goal finishing time. Things used to be simple, as in my initial marathon my sole focus was to finish. Upon completing my first glorious marathon this goal transitioned to setting a new personal record. Once I got within 20-minutes of achieving a Boston Marathon qualifying time that became my new target. Now that I've run Boston twice I'm back to targeting new personal records again - while beginning to dream of someday crossing the three hour threshold.

      Friday, August 27, 2010

      First outdoor run in the Vibram Five Fingers!

      Earlier today I ran outdoors for the first time in my Vibram Five Fingers. I ran six miles, and absolutely loved the experience!

      What differentiated the run for me was the intense awareness that I had of the Memorial Park running surface, i.e. I was keenly aware of when I was running on loose dirt, crushed gravel or the occasional tree root. This awareness - which was never painful or jarring - led me to automatically adopt the key running form elements that otherwise required concentration to maintain, i.e. a rapid cadence (~180 steps per minute), somewhat shorter stride, a forefoot or mid-foot landing, and a slight forward lean from the ankles.

      I had previously purchased my Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) "Classic" model in May. In the intervening months I transitioned to them by migrating away from my former heavier stability shoes into other light weight and less supportive shoes, while simultaneously reinforcing the above-cited key running form elements. I found this practice and experimentation was most effectively done on the treadmill, as it offers many advantages for a runner who is working on their form elements, i.e.:
      • Minimizing visual and sensory distractions which otherwise interrupt one's concentration;
      • Providing a softer running surface than concrete or asphalt, thereby reducing the likelihood of developing an injury while in a vulnerable mode of transition;
      • Allowing easier and more consistent audio and tactile feedback of the 'proper' stride (i.e. when I lose concentration and/or become fatigued I hear a different sound and pattern from my footfall on the bed of the treadmill);
      • Offering a fixed-speed running surface - set between a one to two-percent grade so-as to make the effort equivalent versus running outdoors - which the runner can use to indirectly gauge their running efficiency via their their rate of respiration.
      Launching me in this direction was my initial racing success in my Newton Stability Trainers roughly one year ago, as I was immediately gratified by a string of significant personal records which has continued since. These Newtons remain my prime racing shoes, and I will wear them at my forthcoming marathons in Chicago, San Antonio and Houston. However, intensely cognizant of the high cost per mile of running in the Newtons ($175 per pair), I searched for lower cost light weight training shoes with a similar minimal heel-to-toe drop.

      This quest led me to transition most of my training miles away from my former stability shoes, the Brooks Adrenaline and the Mizuno Wave Inspire. Though well made shoes, they are relatively heavy (~11 Oz.), and possess a large (12mm) drop which encourages a heel strike and makes it difficult to land properly on the mid-foot or forefoot. Consequently, I purchased a pair of the ultra flexible soled Nike Free Run+, which I thoroughly enjoy as they provide a tremendous amount of comfort while strengthening the muscles of the foot. The Nike Free Run+ are light weight (~9 Oz.), and also have a low drop (though clearly not as low as the VFF's, which have a zero drop.)

      Another excellent transitional shoe, which was recommended by Pete Larson in his tremendous running blog, is the Brooks Mach 12 Cross Country Running Flat, which similar to the VFFs have a near zero heel-to-toe drop.

      Late last week, after three months of transition I felt that I was ready for the VFFs. While my initial run on the treadmill was largely successful I was forced to switch shoes after only four miles owing to chafing from the rubberized/cloth seam against my large right toe. Fortunately, prior to this morning's run I purchased a pair of Injini toe-socks which solved the chafing problem completely.

      Vibram's website emphasizes the importance of transitioning appropriately prior to running in the VFFs. I concur, as I had none of the problems that some have reported (i.e. heel pain, pain on top of foot, or an extremely fatigued calf muscle.) Conversely, running in the VFFs provides a unique, nearly barefoot experience, but without its anxiety. I believe that other experienced runners who similarly take the time to transition gradually will also see their first VFF run as a real eye-opener.

      Finally, on a related note suggest review of my prior blog post regarding the Evolution Running DVD which has proven in my running form transition, and a good blog post by Barefoot Chronicle's Jason Robillard which discusses the ongoing minimalist shoe movement.

      Monday, August 23, 2010

      Negative split *every* run

      Having the good fortune of training in Houston through the excellent Kenyan Way program over the past several years I've repeatedly heard Coach Sean Wade's introductory comments to new runners. In each case he says with his greatest vehemence: "If you remember just one thing tonight, it should be this: You should negative split every training run and every race. This does not mean pushing the pace but rather starting out super easy and increasing the pace naturally as you warm up."

      Sean Wade's opinion matters. Currently 44 years of age, and a native of New Zealand, he was named the fastest master's runner in the world in 2006 by the RRCA, and was selected the 2006 Masters 40-44 Runner of the Year by Running Times Magazine. Wade is one of only two men over 40 years old to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Trials by running 2:20:00 at the 2007 Houston Marathon. Other achievements include competing in the 1996 Olympic Marathon for New Zealand, qualifying with his personal best marathon time of 2:10:59.

      Additional elements of Sean's training philosophy are that: "The key to improved running is consistent steady training with a slow increase in weekly mileage. You need to know your different training paces (recovery, long run, threshold and 5K paces) and be sure to run easy on your easy days. Too many runners don't run slow enough or fast enough. Everything just blends together. Tempo runs, hill, intervals at goal race pace, and long runs are all important pieces of the puzzle. You have to listen to your body and take an extra recovery day or skip a hard workout if you are not feeling up to it."

      To help the Kenyan Way runner, Sean converts his successful training philosophies into reality by providing access to powerful web-based tools which automate the creation of a custom training plan. The runner merely inputs their recent 5K race result, their next race, goal finishing time, the number of days per week that they are willing to train, and the extent to which heat affects them (clearly, a huge factor in Houston!) Upon doing so the custom calendar is built, which provides detail surrounding every day's run, distance and goal pace.

      Consistently achieving a negative split in all races and training runs requires a fundamental shift from a typical runner's approach. Particularly in races, with the athlete well rested and eager to begin their race, the jolt of adrenaline at the gun often overwhelms reason - with the predictable disappointing end result. Often erroneously described as "just a Rookie mistake", it actually afflicts nearly all runners - including unfortunately myself on countless occasions. Sean's antidote is for the runner to fully utilize their Garmin Forerunner in the early miles, then keeping their pace within their pre-established initial plan. When I have departed from this sound advice I have regretted it (as I have also when I ran ahead of my marathon pacing group in the first 20-miles).

      Ultimately, Sean's emphasis of building a strong base of endurance, then negative splitting every run makes perfect sense by requiring the runner to begin their run at an appropriate pace, then to naturally speed-up as their muscles warm-up. Running faster while fatigued builds the required mental discipline for success, accelerates beneficial physiological training adaptations, and is very motivational.

      When planning your next race or training run keep Sean Wade's 'Negative Split' strategy first and foremost in mind!

      Sunday, July 25, 2010

      Striving for an Improved Stride

      It's odd that both serious and recreational athletes of seemingly all other sports than running are encouraged to continually improve their technique, often spending tens of thousands of dollars and a significant amount of personal time in doing so. Perhaps the consensus thinking is that by adulthood our running-specific neuromuscular patterning is too ingrained to be effectively altered.

      Opening my eyes that improvements in stride can be
      very beneficial is the observation by an excellent international distance coach, Jack Tupper Daniels. He studied a range of top Olympic distance athletes across all distances, and found their running cadences were amazingly consistent, regardless of the athletes' height, at 180 steps per minute (spm). Also encouraging are two recent Science of Running posts (i.e. #1 & #2) describing several successful efforts to change runners' biomechanics, and advice from my Kenyan Way coach, Sean Wade.

      With this in mind, some time ago I had measured my cadence, and found it to be 165 spm. 
      Despite knowing that I should therefore target a quicker stride cadence, my subsequent attempts to do so felt a bit awkward and were generally unsuccessful. This began to change with purchase of my first pair of Newton running shoes about a year ago. Newtons are very lightweight, have a reduced heel and slightly elevated mid-sole landing area, and thereby encourage the runner to avoid heel-landing by instead landing with their mid-foot or forefoot, using a somewhat shorter stride and more rapid cadence. Immediately gratified by seeing my finishing times significantly improve I became a Newton shoes convert, and continue to use them as my prime racing shoes.

      However, owing to the Newton's comparatively high cost per mile I have been reluctant to wear them routinely in training.  W
      hen I grow fatigued while not wearing the low-heeled Newtons, I often lose concentration on my running form and revert to an inefficient and slow cadence heel-landing stride. To avoid this, I've begun a gradual and - I hope permanent - change in my running form to a shorter and quicker stride with a forefoot landing via:
      • My purchase of an excellent DVD, Evolution Running: Run Faster with Fewer Injuries. After viewing the DVD and following its exercises I highly recommend it as the system is well communicated via the informative videos, dialog and explanations. Please see this post by Coach Mierke on the importance of running turnover and form.
      • My download of the excellent Podrunner audio tracks for use on my iPod while running. Simply by listening to the rhythmic and percussive techno and progressive house tracks my stride automatically synchronizes. With a faster and slightly shorter stride, combined a slight forward lean from the ankles and relaxed shoulders I find an efficient new stride has quickly emerged! Over a period of four weeks I gradually - and successfully - transitioned to this faster (180 spm) stride cadence by listening to faster Podrunner tracks while concentrating on the key running form elements. One should not attempt to increase one's cadence by more than 3-5 strides per minute per week, however. Thus, in my first transitional week I ran at 169 spm via listening to identical beat Podrunner tracks, followed by 173, 176 and finally 180 spm.
      When not racing in the Newton's I train in comparably light-weight - though significantly less expensive - training shoes, the Nike Free Run+and the Brooks Mach 12 Cross Country Racing Flats. Through gradually increasing my running distance in these shoes I find they help strengthen the muscles in my feet, and have allowed me to transition to the Vibram Five Fingers for a portion of my runs.

      Here's a good video from
      Harvard's Dr. Lieberman regarding forefoot/mid-foot running:

      Cautionary Disclaimer:
      Thanks to fellow running bloggers Pete
      Joe and Flo I found the following super slow-motion videos of the elite leaders and Ryan Hall during the 2010 Boston Marathon. Fascinatingly, you'll see the full range of heel-landing, mid-foot and forefoot landing techniques represented, though from my perspective Ryan Hall's stride appears closest 
      to perfection:

      Elite Men in the 2010 Boston Marathon - Super Slow Motion from Runblogger on Vimeo.

      Ryan Hall Super Slow Motion - 2010 Boston Marathon from Runblogger on Vimeo.

      Sunday, July 4, 2010

      Run Wild 5K Race Report

      Earlier this morning I ran the Run Wild 5K. The skies were clear, there was no breeze, and the temperature was between 77 to 81°F with a very high 74°F dewpoint (i.e. 90% humidity).

      My expectations for the race results were relatively low, both owing to the high heat index, and as I'd not tapered at all! Instead, with a couple of marathon-focused running friends the prior day I had run 15 tough and hilly miles in Conroe, Texas, to build my endurance for the Chicago Marathon. As with my other races since the Boston Marathon, I was racing solely to gauge my fitness level and to improve my pacing.

      Nevertheless, solely out of pure competitive instinct, as I lined up near the start line I looked around to identify any likely age-group competitors. Not seeing any through the race, after finishing with a 20:35 (6:40 average pace), I was surprised to see the age group results. Had I run only four seconds faster I would have improved my fourth place age group position to second place! Nevertheless, I was happy knowing that I'd held my pace relatively constant, that only 16 seconds separated me from a personal record, and with a more appropriate taper I would have done much better.

      Overall, the Run Wild 5K event and its organization were excellent. The race supported a good cause, the Special Olympics of Texas.  Most importantly, recognizing the potentially dangerous hot and humid conditions the organizers routed the course through the adjoining shady subdivision, provided plenty of cool drinks, misting fans, and showers. I hope other warm weather race organizers follow this lead!

      The Blues band performing afterward was terrific, and everyone had a great time. I highly recommended the Run Wild 5K!