Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Edge on the Sword

When this adventure started with my dad and uncle right around now in 2008, they laid out where we'd be going training-wise following the National Half Marathon.  My uncle put it like this: "Think of the distance training you've done for that race as fashioning the sword.  Now we're gonna put the edge on it.  It's time to cut someone." 

Little did I know that that edge would come courtesy of many, many intervals, in many forms.  From 400s up to 2000s, step ups, step downs, mile repeats, and everything in between.  The sum of all these sessions equaled a helluva lot of trips around the track, several evenings alone in the cold, in the heat, just me and some curious deer, coming to the brink of throwing up, backing down, then ramping it back up again -- hands on knees, chest heaving, sour saliva emptying into my mouth.

But, in the end, the results are hard to argue with.  I've watched the steady lowering of my PRs in races from 5K to 26.2. 

My latest "sharpening" came this Saturday morning.  Today became the first of three marathon predictor workouts.  On the agenda was the famed Yasso 800 workout.  It was my first go round with these in any marathon training program, so I was interested to see 1) how it would feel and 2) just how my "predictor" time would work out.

Leading into this workout, I wouldn't call myself nervous, but it's been nine weeks since my last race.  For a time (Fall through New Years), I raced steadily and could see almost instant results from my training.  each race was a new measuring stick.  Now, it's been tougher to get that instant gratification, particularly with all the snow on the ground and the monotonous tracing and retracing of only two loops I can run on.  So I've had to put my faith in the program and just hope it was working. 

I released some of that pressure last week with a solid 4x2000m interval workout.  Again, because of the snow, I had to do 1000 out and back...the first 1000 being a net downhill, meaning, the back end is a net uphill.  That back end left my quads stinging and lungs burning, but, as my uncle also said, "You have to run run fast."  I averaged 5:21 miles and sucked in the relief with those raspy breaths.

So, in addition to juggling loops (over and over and over), I had to juggle my schedule this week.  Due to some extended hours at work, the start of our floor hockey title defense, and a testy IT band, I had to push the Yassos to this morning.

Hoping to actually do this one on a track, my plans were foiled again because...snow.  I drove back home and cut down that 1000m route to 800, got a nice 2 mile warm up jog in and...away I went. 

The first couple felt like all interval workouts: miserable -- the body still waking up, trying to come to grips with the initial shock of the speed and sudden intensity.  Whew!  But by my second set, I'd settled in, the stride smoothing out, the arms driving me forward, the seconds in my favor, and God bless negative splits. 

My initial goal coming in to Boston was to go sub-3 hours.  If that didn't happen, I just wanted to requalify.  And, should it not be on my side that day, I just wanted to enjoy the experience (as much as one can enjoy running 26.2).

When I rounded the last turn back to my house, I clicked the watch, sucked in hard, and glanced at my wrist on its way up to rest on my head.  Some quick math to average out the times (uphill vs. downhill for each interval because of the route).  Drum roll:

Yasso 800 prediction: 2:43

How will I celebrate?  18 miler on the National Mall and Mt. Vernon trail tomorrow.  The edge is sharp.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Taking a Run Down Memory Lane

During my 18 miler this past Saturday, my body wasn't the only thing running.  Being out for over two hours gives you a lot of time with yourself, and thus, a lot to think about.  I've been asked before, "What do you think about while you're out there for that long?"  I always have a hard time answering.  A lot of times, it's simply assessing where I am, how I'm feeling, is that car going to hit me, parts of my upcoming route that may be challenging, or offer respite.  I've heard others say that they must listen to music.  While I think that helps, I often get so lost in thought or in the pace that I don't even know the music is there anymore.

This past Saturday, I cruised through 18 miles.  It's rare I get to say that on a long run, but it was one of those where everything just felt right and precisely because of that, I tried to keep my mind off of that fact lest any doubt creep in.  

While my body ran, my mind went off for a little jaunt of its own through trails of memory.  Most of them pertained to running, adrenaline dropping in when remembering races past, particularly my BQ race, the 2009 Vermont marathon.  

But then I settled on another memory that got me so pumped up for Boston (61 days from now according to my whiteboard at work). It was actually thinking about to the first marathon I ever ran, and more specifically, the experience of my first race weekend.

Signing up for the 2004 Philadelphia Marathon went a little something like this:
(Phone rings, it’s Rachel, catching up chitchat)
Rachel: So my dad and I signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon in November.
Brad: Huh? (snicker)  You two are going to run a marathon?
Rachel: That's nice. Think you could do it? Why don’t you sign up and do it with us?

Next thing I knew, I had to go from barely being able to handle running two miles to tacking on 24.2 more in five months. My racing experience extended back to one spring season of high school track.

Fast forward to race weekend. So much anticipation and unknown. Philly teemed with runners of all shapes and sizes. We debated where we fit in? Should we walk around? Should we sit around? Is it ok to eat this?

But the big attraction, for me at least, was the expo. We waded through a claustrophobic maze of booths boasting discounts and gear galore. It was a dizzying array of colors, shoes, socks, gu packets, sunglasses, massage sticks, oh, and our race numbers.

What I zeroed in on were the runners walking around in their Boston marathon jackets. They wore them like badges of honor, truly something that had to be earned. I pointed them out to my wife and father-in-law and we all sort of laughed, knowing that whatever time and pace we ran the next day would be nowhere near a BQ. Nor could either of us conceive of ever being able to run 26.2 miles that fast.

This jacket became my symbol for Boston. At the various races we signed up for over the years, from 5K through other marathons, there were always a small contingent of runners wearing those jackets and I looked at them with such envy.

One of the first things my wife and I talked about on the plane ride back home to VA after I qualified was getting that jacket.

About a month ago, I got an e-mail from BAA advertising 2010 Boston Merchandise and I about fell out of my chair at work when I saw the jacket. I had to fire off a couple giddy e-mails then...just stare.

When I get tired on my runs now or am low on motivation, I think about crossing the finish line in April and sliding my arms through that jacket, finally earning the right to wear it.

I’m not sure if this helped power me through my run on Saturday, but there was a little bit more bounce in my step in the middle of that run.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

This Treadmill Workout Brought to you By the Blizzard of 2010

I woke up to an odd sensation in the bedroom this morning: sunshine streaming in.  Of course, the wind still howled outside, whipping the bare trees and stirring up what I can only call mini-snow tornadoes.  Nevertheless, the sun represented one thing to me: hope.  Hope that perhaps some thawing would occur and by God those snow plows would come out and we could see the asphalt again!  And most importantly, I wouldn't have to resort to running short loop after loop around any exposed asphalt or packed snow on the shoulders of neighborhood roads.

Each time I walked past my training program (which was a lot since I haven't left the house much this week), I tried to ignore the coming interval workout, knowing full well I wouldn't be on the track for it, but perhaps an outside chance I could use the 1,000m route I'd used in my last program.   What I feared was having to *cue ominous music* do my workout on the treadmill (or dreadmill, or hamster wheel, or any other accurate derogatory term for the machine).  

My wife and I went out at noon today to walk the dog and take stock.  Surprisingly, once we got to the main road running through our neighborhood, it appeared mostly clear, especially the sidewalk.  So that would give me about half the distance I needed.  The first half, however, still proved treacherous.  

Our walk turned into her and Mattie walking me down to the gym.  I actually had a dream last night that I was trying to use the treadmill for this workout but the tread was so narrow, I kept falling off.  Yes, the treadmill has penetrated my subconscious.  

My problem with the treadmill, beyond the monotony, which for me is arguably the worst part of it, is that perceived pace is so much greater than actual pace.  When I get on and dial up 7:30 pace, I have the sensation of racing, but when I step back -- figuratively of course -- I realize that my heart rate is barely elevated and my breath is steady.  I had the fear of being that guy pounding and pounding incessantly, sweat flying, trying to keep up.  I hoped that no one would be there, because who in there right mind would walk all the way up to the gym on a day like today?

I walked up the stairs, rounded the corner and to my horror saw several coats hanging on the hooks outside.  Apparently, seven other brave souls and most of them were on the cardio equipment.  There was still one treadmill left.  Lucky me.  

I stripped down to my shorts and t-shirt, an odd feeling in and off itself.  The whir of the machine started and I trotted along in a nice rhythm at 7:30 pace, telling myself to relax, that I wasn't working hard yet.  And that seemed to work, except with nothing to stare at except the pool, or rather, the pool below a couple feet of snow, that mile was patience was not.  The gym has tvs to look at but unless it's right in front of me, I find it too big of a distraction to turn my head and watch.  Again, fear of falling.

So, 7:30 later, after what seemed like a half hour, it was time to start the workout: 8x1000m run in roughly 3:41-3:52 and a 200m jog recovery, then 3x200m with a 200 recovery between each.  The workout stressed that the length of the workout not the speed should be the fatiguing factor.  I started the first at 6:50 pace (or goal marathon pace) and braced again...but it was fine.  In fact, it was easy, and thankfully quiet.  

On the next interval, I cranked it down to 6:45...more of the same.  Finally, I settled in at 6:29 pace and drew no more attention to myself than anyone else who was there.  Though, I'm sorry to say, I was that guy flinging sweat...kinda gross.  Actually, I was soaking wet when I finished.  This was also a phenomenon I'm not used to since it's been such a cold winter.

What I found was similar to adding an interval or fartlek workout into the end of a long run.  I focused less on where I was in my route (or the clock ticking up ever more slowly on the treadmill) and more on the actual interval.  It became more about completing the time or distance and savoring those precious seconds of rest than where I actually was on my route and how close I was to being done.

I was pumped when I finished.  I threw in a cool down mile which was pure drudgery but not bad enough to ruin the euphoria of completing the workout...without falling off.  I was surprised to see more than 50 minutes had elapsed on the screen.  I got down, a little wobbly, and tottered over to get a wipe to towel off the machine then threw in some core stuff.  

I walked home, the sun beating down on my face, and my shoes sloshing through the river running down the street.  My eyes had not betrayed me, I could see pavement.  Glad I got through the treadmill workout in one piece...but I'll see you on the road tomorrow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Surveying the 2010 Snownami Aftermath...on Foot

When I woke up yesterday morning, my wife and I went downstairs and immediately to the window.  "I can't really see my car," I said.  Our neighborhood had been blanketed, well, that word doesn't even seem to convey what I'm going for here, suffocated? smothered? avalanched? by what I heard was 32 inches of snow once the storm moved on late Saturday night.  I liken emerging from the house to the survival of some catastrophic event the likes of which most of us have only seen through Hollywood's eyes.  Think post-apocalyptic, post-bombing raid, post-tornado...pick your disaster.  We gingerly set foot outside and began to mar the perfect canvas that had taken 36 hours of non-stop snowing to produce.  That had twisted trees and knocked out power.  An eeriness hung in the air during the storm.  We took the dog for a walk Saturday afternoon and she could stand at the main intersection of our neighborhood and the road and not worry about cars coming.  The silence was total.

And then we spent the majority of Sunday shoveling.

As an OCD runner, my first thought on Thursday night, 16 hours before the storm was supposed start, was "When am I going to get my long run in?"  Sunday?  Not likely.  Saturday? No chance.  So when my work let us out at noon on Friday, I came immediately home, laced up and headed out in what was deemed the "non-accumulation" period of the storm, i.e., it's snowing like hell but not sticking to the street.  I chose a 6.5 mile loop that doubled back over the house just in case things got really bad and I had to come inside.  But instead, I sloshed through a 13 mile progression run, snow and sleet pelting my face, shoes soggy, legs crying for relief after a week of 37 miles (soon to be 50) and two hockey games the night before.  When I got home, there was a sense of relief and also a sense of "beating the storm."  Like when a rainstorm is baring down on you and you run into the house, turn, lock the door, and take a heavy sigh.  Then I promptly fell asleep on the couch for an hour, Runner's World in hand.

With no work today (remember we live in D.C. so this kind of snow is unheard of and no snow crew could hope to stay on top of it), I thought more about how to begin this week anew and get my run in.  I've had to be creative over the past couple weeks (note this was snowstorm 3 in just 7 days.  I did say D.C. and not Rochester).  So today was no different.  I had to cover a 45-60 minute easy run, which normally translates to about 8 miles.  I went out with pure fun on my mind, to just go do the run, enjoy the scenery and not get hit by a car or slip and fall.

Our neighborhood was in varying degrees of plowed.  The section my wife and I live in falls under the category of not plowed, or 4-wheel drive essential to pass.  Other parts ranged from asphalt to partially shoveled, to shoveled and treated.  Along the way, I ran through tunnels of snow, mazes along the sidewalk where there was a single path and snow nearly up to my waist on either side.  In other areas, it felt like I was running on sand, the snow packed down but melting slightly and mixed with gravel.  

I hadn't anticipated people having shoveled their sidewalks, though once I got used to running on them, I scorned the people who hadn't bothered, forcing me back out onto the street.  At times, I stepped aside and into a snowbank to avoid oncoming cars trying negotiate the slippery one-lane roads.  A few curses here and there as the snow crept under my pant leg.

In some instances I could read the lips of people passing slowly by.  They ranged from, "He's crazy" to "Look at this a-hole."  Nice.  I had an older man out shoveling yell, "You're dedicated" which made me smile and pick up the pace -- as much as I could.  I also got waves from cars and people.  The walkers waved, then turned and looked at me as though I went by with two heads.

I also trudged by road crews out plowing, shoveling, and treating the streets who didn't regard me one way or another.  And others digging out their cars and parking spaces in quiet agony.

By the time I finished and looped back to the house, I surprised myself by covering all 8 miles, in one piece no less.  There was the occasional bout of ice where I had to call on my years of hockey and the puddle of slush that looks more shallow than it is until you're up to your ankle in cold water.  But all-in-all, it proved a successful jaunt and, most notably, got me out of the house and helped my cabin fever (thank God for the Caps/Pens game and Super Bowl yesterday).  

Tomorrow, well, the weather is pretty grim.  We're supposed to get 10-20 inches beginning at noon and carrying through until Wednesday night.  Call it an aftershock if you will.  More creativity required!  And, hey, shoveling snow is x-training right?  *sigh*

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Winter Here to Stay...And Flexing its Muscles

I happened to notice in the news yesterday that according to that quirky annual tradition, groundhogs from Pennsylvania to Nova Scotia (I was checking hockey news), saw their shadows, meaning six more weeks of winter.  What does this really mean?  More snow and cold.  As if winter wanted to really make its point, the D.C. area is getting slammed by snow all week.  And that has called for some route creativity this week.

It started this past Saturday.  Weathermen across the area called for 4-6 inches of snow.  I woke to a smattering of flakes falling that didn't start falling full on until...I started my run.  My wife asked if I'd be running on the golf course, normally a safe bet; however, I wasn't feeling the three loop 15-miler.  Instead, I drove out to the Cross County Trail, parked, and headed off into the woods.  I had whimsical visions of springing through the woods like a buck, nimble and graceful.  The drive proved more treacherous than the actual run, but I'm sad to report that my form was less spring buck and more bumbling drunkard. 

I thought (famous last words) that perhaps the trail wouldn't be as snowy with flakes gathering on the branches...of course this is winter and the trees are bare so the snow essentially falls right through...onto the trail.  I got my 15 miles in but returned to the car with ice-crusted eyebrows, a red face, and two soggy feet -- not so much from the snowy trail, but because I didn't navigate the creek crossing on the back portion of my out and back and ended up submerging each foot (on separate occasions) in the frigid creek.  Those absent leaves that let the snow fall straight through to the trail meant that roots and rocks were hidden and I had to step extra careful.  One cool part though: the snow looked like a satin sheet pulled snug over the rocks making it both beautiful and easy to spot where not to step along the creek.

With the snow still relatively fresh, I set out for a fartlek run on Monday donning my wife's chartreuse vest and a headlamp, since to successfully navigate the neighborhood sidewalks, I'd have to run some in the street and wanted a fighting chance of being seen by the cars.  The surprise of this run was when I turned onto the golf course.  I actually turned off the headlamp because as I made my way past houses, the course had a soft glow.  A fresh batch of white clouds combined with the weekend's snow served as my lighting system or electricity necessary.  And, taking in this scene helped take my mind off of the fartlek intervals and provided a nice cool down back drop.

That cloud cover had other motives, however.  After a morning 4-miler, I headed out again Tuesday night and while experiencing the same illumination from the night before along, not just the golf course, but the road as well, those clouds spilled over with another storm.  Luckily, nothing was sticking to the road yet and my face has, I think, built up a resistance to the constant pelting of sleet and snow because last night, I wasn't phased.

Another four inches, another detour required.  Tonight I worked in a set of hill intervals on a nearby hill where, thankfully, the sidewalk had been miraculously shoveled off.  That's all well and good, but, this weekend's weather forecast?  SNOW.  And not just a dusting.  Snow starting Friday, continuing all day Saturday and dumping anywhere from 12-18 inches on the area a la the December storm we had.  Harumph! 

Now I'm going to have to get really creative with a 90 minute progression run staring me down this weekend.  Dare I say treadmill?  Nine minutes already feels like 90 to me on the hamster wheel.  Plus there's no telling how many people will be there.  A friend told me how terrible the gym has been with all the snow.  So now what?  I suppose running spawns creativity.  We'll see what I can come up with.

Stupid groundhog.
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