Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Fat Tuesday training update and FFF 5K Recap

It’s been an interesting and rewarding few days of running.  I set a new 5K PR, solidified some race goals, had some unexpected training rewards, and I think I’ve even nailed down what I’m going to give up for Lent.

This past Saturday was the Fitness, Family, and Friendship 5K in North Cabarrus Park (Concord, NC).  The counselor at my elementary school and her husband—who happens to coach Cross Country at the High School—organized the event.  I had run at the park before, and I was looking forward to racing on hard-packed gravel instead of asphalt.  My intention was to get up super early and log my long mileage for the weekend before going to the 10 o’clock race, but my sensible wife and the cold weather convinced me to bag it and get a couple of extra hours of sleep in a warm, comfy bed. 

The extra rest paid off.  I went to the part charged and itching to race.  I ran the course as a warm-up at my projected marathon pace to loosen the legs.  I shed my jacket, donned my racing singlet and arm sleeves, and downed my traditional double espresso gel.  I toed the line next to Carly, a college student I had seen at a few other middle distance races over the past few months.  Carly was faster than me, but I had been working on my speed quite a bit lately.  I would keep an eye on her.  Also present were several members of the High School’s Cross Country team, including Jose, on whom I had my money to win.  The rest of the pack included amateur racers like me and a lot of Kannapolis City School District staff.

For 5K, the course was a workout both mentally and physically.  Turnarounds and switchbacks led us to climb the few hills along the gravel greenway a couple of times, and we had to be on the lookout for faint, spray-painted directional markings to keep us on course.  More than once, I shouted ahead to others who had missed a turn, and I only knew the way because I ran the course once already for my warm-up.  I lost the high-school athletes after half a mile, but I kept Carly in and 3 other runners in range.  My 1st mile split was 6:28, almost exactly on pace for a 20 minute finish.  Not bad, considering the terrain.  By the end of the second mile, the pack in front of me had drifted back.  I made my move and passed all of them but Carly.  She kept a good 25 yards on me.  Mile 2 was 6:23, which was good to maintain a 20 minute finish, but it left practically no breathing room.  Pun intended; I was gassed!  Mile 3 was more of chasing Carly and keeping us both on  the modestly marked course.  After a quick dip into some rooted woods, we broke out on the greenway for 200 meters of sprint to the finish.  Carly beat me by 3 seconds, but she and 4 high school track athletes were the only people to finish ahead of me.  Jose won the race with a near sub-17 minute time.  My finishing time and PR was 19:48, so I actually had quickened my pace a tiny bit during the last 1.1 miles.  I was satisfied.

The following day, I decided to get my long mileage in with a bunch of other DART members.  I planned on 10 miles at a very gingerly pace, not wanting to injure myself before the upcoming Umstead Trail Marathon.  11 miles later, we were headed up South Street, which was 1200 meters of straight climb.  My running buddies Mike and Sam had cajoled me in to negative splitting the last hill.  We maintained a sub-7 minute pace for the last mile, and crested the hill at my 5K pace, which is not a workout one typically welcomes at the end of long run.  I finished feeling good though, and I enjoyed some well-deserved coffee at Summit afterwards. 

During our post-run coffee, Sam and Dave Munger really convinced me to examine my marathon goals.  Up until now, I would have been pleased to match my Thunder Road pace at upcoming Umstead.  Now, I will be disappointed if I don’t demolish it.  Sam, Dave, Mike, and several other experienced marathoners have been keeping track of my progress over the past few months, and they all agree I could run a 3:30 road marathon right now if I wanted.  Given the zone in which I have been training, I must say that I agree with them.  Umstead is different, though.  21+ miles of bridle trail plus a good 5 miles of single-track is a different beast than 26.2 miles of smooth asphalt.  Sure, the surface will be softer, but the pace will be slower as well.  The terrain will be very hilly too.  So, I’ve been including hilly trail runs into my regimen as much as I can in order to cut down on my road/trail pace differential.  I’m going to PR this beast, with you the readers as my witnesses! 

After Sunday long runs, I like to take Monday as my rest day, or maybe squeeze in some light strength training.  With this past Monday being Presidents’ Day, I had a little extra time in the morning to get to school, so I scheduled a 6.4 mile loop with Dave before work.  Running from the YMCA to our meeting spot across from Summit and running back after our loop turned the 6+ miler into just over 9 miles.  Later, I would add another mile (barefoot) on the treadmill after some weight training, bringing me to a 10+ mile day, meaning I had back-to-back long run days.  For sure I would take a rest day today (Fat Tuesday).  Nope.  I woke up feeling like a racehorse, so I laced up some super-light Innov-8’s and knocked out 7 miles at sub-marathon pace.  I was 2 miles into that run when I realized I had forgotten to wear my IT Band wraps.  My legs were feeling great, and my form felt spot on, so I finished my morning run elated.  I felt so good throughout the work day, that I promised myself an evening run just to take advantage of good time.  That evening run turned in to just over 10 miles, capping me at 17 for the day.  So much for a rest day.

Well, there you have it: a back-to-back-to-back set of long run days, all with less than two weeks until Umstead Marathon.  It's Tuesday, and I've nearly passed my mileage for all of last week so far in this week.  I don’t know if this is a good sign or not.  I don’t want to train myself into a corner, but I have to take advantage of what I have.  I have one more longish run on Sunday, which will NOT exceed 10 miles.  Aside from that, I may throw in one more speed day, and everything else will be at an easy recovery pace to keep the legs moving. 

While I’m in a resolute mood, I should mention that I have come to my decision as to what to deny myself for Lent, which starts tomorrow.  I already have given up nearly everything that is bad for me, so this year is quite a challenge.  Given that I get a lot of my protein from nuts, legumes, beans, and whole grains, I figured meat was a logical choice for a sacrifice.  I will continue to eat eggs, but only local, farm fresh eggs supplied by one of my colleagues at school.  I have not had milk or cheese for months, and I don't really eat any red meat to speak of, so I'm basically giving up poultry, fish, and the occasional strip of bacon.  It will be interesting to see how my fuel/recovery diet will respond to this change, but I think I can do it successfully if I plan far enough in advance.  We shall see…

Happy Mardi Gras!  Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Umstead Marathon Training Update: 3 weeks out

I currently am in the peak week of my loosely adhered-to marathon training plan for Umstead Trail Marathon, which takes place in 3 weeks (March 3rd).  This will be my 3rd race of marathon distance or greater, the previous 2 having been Thunder Road Marathon and Frosty 50K.  For Thunder Road, I followed a digested form of Hal Higdon’s Intermediate training plan for nearly 4 months.  I juggled around some long runs here and there, and I improvised the speed work, but I was pretty faithful to Higdon’s template.  I finished Thunder Road very confidently without hitting a wall or getting hurt.  I feel I was well trained, but also that I was performing well within my limits.  Ideally, I’d wanted to push myself right to the edge of my limitations, so I took a slightly less conservative approach to Frosty 50.  Frosty was 8 weeks after Thunder Road, so I adopted a fairly symmetrical pyramid of recovery/increased training, peaking with a 22 miler at 4 weeks out, and then tapering down as if doing it all in reverse.  After getting over some wear-and-tear injuries early in this plan, I started setting massive PR’s for 5K’s, Half Marathons, and the like.  My goal for Frosty was sub-5 hours.  I accomplished this by a margin of about 90 seconds, and my body was spent by the time I crossed the finish line, so I was convinced I had found out where my limits were.  However, I went running the very next day…and he following day…and the day after that, and so on until I had gone almost a full week without a rest day despite having just run and ultra.  Having another 8-week window between Frosty and Umstead, I decided I might be able to handle a more rigorous training pyramid.  This ended up including two 20 milers instead of one, back-to-back long runs (to practice running on tired legs), weekly speed work/races, and several two-a-day runs when my schedule allowed.  I also have kept up with my cross-training (a few elliptical sessions here or there) and I maintain at least two days of weight training each week.   My recovery was and has been a lot more positive this time around.  2 weeks ago, I ran 21 miles with a hydropack on my back at an 8:12 average pace and felt fresh as a daisy afterwards.  I never had that kind of resiliency during the late stages of Thunder Road or Frosty 50, and I ran each of those at a much slower pace.  Maybe my body is just finally adapting to a higher sustained volume of training/racing.  Tomorrow will be the test.  I will be doing my last 20 miler on the trails of Lake Norman State Park before my taper for Umstead.  This 20 miler will help me solidify my goals for the race.  My original goal for Umstead was to finish in less than 4 hours—conservative to account for high mileage on unfamiliar trails.  However, I feel confident I could complete a road marathon in 3:30 if pressed to do so in a couple weeks, so I figure I can do Umstead in 3:45, especially since I am becoming very accustomed to trail running.  I would be happy enough just to PR, which would mean beating my Thunder Road time of 3:52.  I understand that publicizing these goals now holds me accountable, and some of my training partners may yet admonish me for being too conservative, but a marathon is like a baseball game: the damnedest things can just happen without any warning. I will be sure to post any updates to my training as they come, especially as March 3rd draws nearer.  After all, once I get through Umstead, I have another 9 weeks to do it all again in preparation for Long Cane 50K in May.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Winter Flight 8K Race Recap

Saturday had started off as a kind of poopy day.  A stomach virus had been spreading like a wildfire through my school, causing 25% of the students and faculty to be absent on Friday, and making the rest of us paranoid.  I was not feeling my best on Friday, so I took it easy and got a decent night’s sleep.  Saturday morning, I did not feel any better, but not really any worse.  I would be fine if I could hold this thing off until after today’s race.

February 4th was the 29th annual Winter Flight 8K in Salisbury.  Winter Flight is the state’s oldest 8K, and it always draws a big crowd of fast runners.  I had won a free registration to this race from a giveaway contest by Théoden Janes, the Charlotte Observer’s runner/blogger.  1996 Olympian Joan Nesbit still holds the course record, which has stood for 20 years.  Joan was on hand to meet and greet people, and she ran the race with us as part of her 50th birthday celebration. 

The race was to begin at 10am, which is rather late in the day for someone of my schedule, so I decided I would get up early and bank some easy, long mileage beforehand, making Saturday my long run day, and leaving Sunday for rest.  At 6am, I met fellow DARTer John Richards and his friend Garry at my local YMCA.  John and Garry had 18 miles on their schedule before their Myrtle Beach Marathon taper, so I decided to join them for about half of it.  We kept a nice, slow pace, and the company was great, but as I broke off to return to my car after about 6 miles, I just couldn’t get into a groove.  Maybe it was my shoes.  My Brooks Pure Flows were fairly lightweight by most runners’ standards, but they were way more cushioned than the shoes in which I normally run during the week.  Were they throwing off my form?  Maybe it was my hydration backpack.  I don’t normally carry water for anything less than 10 miles, but I have been wearing my hydropack on long runs for training purposes so I will be used to it before me next 50K in May.  Maybe the sloshing around was affecting me.  When I reached my car after 9 miles, I concluded that I was most likely coming down with something.  I wasn’t sick, but I wasn’t 100%. 

As I drove home to pick up my wife Heidi for the drive to Salisbury, I examined my goals for the race.  I knew I would not be able to sustain a 5K pace, which was an idea I had thrown around.  I decided I would just shoot for a 7 minute/mile pace throughout.  This would be a good tempo run, and it would ensure a PR since I had not raced an 8K in quite a while.  I had a couple other secret goals, but more on that later. 

During the pastoral 45 minute drive across two counties to Salisbury, I was feeling a bit queasy.  This had nothing to do with race day nerves…there was something else roiling around in there.  I told myself that it was ok to throw up as long as it was before or after to the race…hopefully not during. 

Heidi and I arrived at Catawba College, a small but beautiful campus in the middle of a seemingly downtrodden Salisbury.  The packet pick-up was inside the gymnasium, where there was an expo that might have rivaled some marathons.  Peter from Vac-And-Dash—everyone’s favorite running retailer/vacuum cleaner repair/screen printing store—had a large booth with dramatically slashed prices on apparel.  Another booth had running shoes for up to 50% off.  Heidi and I agreed we would have to stop by the expo directly after the race.

I had enough time to get a warm-up run in, so I ran an easy mile on the course with a few short bursts at race pace to get that speed into my head.  The warm-up run made my stomach feel a little better, and I was confident going into the beginning of the race.  After a few dynamic stretches and a Double Espresso flavored Turbo-powered Clif Shot, I was ready to toe the line.  It was unseasonably mild for early February, but I still dressed lightly as to be a little cold at the start.  Rain had been threatening to fall all morning, and the asphalt was wet, but the start of the race was lucky enough to have a break in the precipitation. 

As the race began, I politely elbowed my way around much of the crowd until I found a nice pocket in which to run.  As I glanced at my watch, I was seeing paces between 6:15 and 6:30.  “Settle down, Chas,” I told myself.  There was a long incline coming for most of the first mile.  I slowed down to a 7:00 pace and did my best to ignore everyone else.  Two thirds into the 1st mile, I spotted another DART singlet 50 yards ahead of me.  I knew from the broad shoulders and backwards cap that this was Jim Crotts.  I knew Jim was a quick runner, but he also was in my age group, so I couldn’t in good conscience just let him go.  I wanted to kick up to meet him, but I forced myself to stick to my race plan and try to maintain a steady pace.  Crotts could wait.  Besides, the steady hill we were climbing already was bringing a few other runners back to me.  As long as I was consistent, I would make my way up the pack.  My split at the 1st mile was 6:58.  So far, so good.

The 2nd mile continued to the top of the long hill and then detoured through a residential area.  In this neighborhood, shortly after 1.5 miles, I came up alongside Jim.  He recognized me, but we both were concentrating too much on race pace to say “hello.”  A simple thumbs-up would suffice.  I ran alongside Jim for half a mile.  If I tried to pass him too early, he would make me pay for it the rest of the race, much like he did at the A2S 5K in Davidson last September.  I relaxed at race pace until just before the 2 mile marker and then made my move.  A 7:02 mile brought my 2 mile split to 14:00.  I was right on target.

During the 3rd mile, I spent a lot of time running in a no-man’s-land between packs.  A racer in a baby jogger caught up to me on a downhill and was threatening to pass.  He was looking pretty strong.  “Run your own race,” I reminded myself silently, but the pride in me sounded more like “No way am I going to get beat by a guy with a baby jogger!”  The downhill was short, and another gradual climb followed.  Baby jogger man slipped behind me, but my pace was slowing as well.  I was beginning to fatigue. Luckily, there was not much wind on this open state highway.  A strong headwind would all but kill my pace.  The 3rd mile was 7:05, with a 21:05 split.  Not bad, but I was slipping behind my pace.  I would need to find my 7 minute mile again.

The terrain helped on the 4th mile.  I rode a steady downhill to both quicken my pace and catch my breath.  Baby jogger man took advantage of the downhill as well and caught up with me.  Crap.  I kept him at bay, but another runner in a light blue tech shirt caught up to me as well.  He was well passed my age group, but I am not one to get passed late in the race.  I pushed my pace and kept track of him by the sound of his breathing.   By the end of the 4th mile, I was feeling pretty good.  My 4 mile split was 28:00, meaning I had accelerated to a 6:55 mile, and I was still picking up speed.  I was pretty much locked in for a PR.  All I had to do was negative split the hell out of this last mile, and I would accomplish another secret goal—beat Théoden.  Théoden was not participating in this year’s Winter Flight.  He was busy running the inaugural Charlotte Ultra Marathon 50K in a smoking 4 hours, 18 minutes and change.   More power to him.  However his time at last year’s Winter Flight was 34:47.  Yes, I looked it up.  Since I was racing on Théoden’s dime, I made it an unofficial goal to beat his time. 

A short incline during the last mile allowed me to drop Blue Shirt and Baby Jogger and continue the race on my own.  The final two thirds of a mile took us through the Catawba College Campus.  I could see and hear the stadium where the finish line was, so I picked up the pace.  The last 300 yards were on the track inside the college’s stadium.  Breaking onto the track really prompted me to let it all out.  I sprinted across the finish line to the cheering crowd with a time of 34:25.  I finished 30th overall out of 272 8K runners, and I was 4th in my division of 20 males aged 30-34.  I had beaten Théoden, and I had set a new 8K PR by more than 2 minutes, but most importantly, I didn’t throw up!  I think racing actually settled my stomach.

Heidi greeted me at the timing table and grabbed a quick picture of me with Jim, who had finished 30 seconds after me.  Fellow DARTer Kevin Ballantine congratulated us as well.  He had finished at 31 minutes and change, slightly ahead of Joan Nesbit.  Heidi and I sought the dry warmth of the gymnasium where I took advantage of the cookies and peanut butter, and we bought some marked-down merchandise from the Vac-and Dash tent.  Then, it was nap time.


The Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves are my favorite shoes.  I have worn them to work, to the gym, and on quite a few training runs.  This was their first official race, and they did not disappoint.  At around 7 ounces, they are much lighter than many conventional racing flats, and the Vibram outsole gripped well on the wet asphalt.  The Brooks Pure Flows I had worn earlier that morning are great shoes too, but they do not grip well on wet roads.  Also, as I have stated, I am trying to move to zero-drop shoes like the Merrells whenever I can.  I will still use the Pure Flows for long training runs.

I have to give props to the Salisbury Rowan Runners Club.  This organization not only put on a great race that attracted hundreds of runners from counties away, but they have a full calendar of similar races throughout the year, all at affordable prices.  If you are looking for some well organized 5K and 8K races to fill in some weekends, look up this running club.

Thanks also to Théoden Janes for holding the giveaway contest and making it possible for me to race this 8K for free.  Sorry I gunned for your time, but it was nothing personal.  Besides, your Charlotte Ultra Marathon time destroyed my best 50K time.  Congrats!

Next on my race calendar (for now):

February 18th: Fitness, Family, and Friendship 5K: Concord, NC

March 3rd: Umstead Trail Marathon: Raleigh, NC

May 6th: Long Cane 50K: Abbeville, SC

September 7-8th: Blue Ridge Relay (maybe?): Asheville, NC

September 29th: Hinson Lake 24 Hour Classic: Rockingham, NC