Monday, October 12, 2009

It's So Nice When Things Start to Fall into Place (and a Half Marathon PR!)

You know sometimes things just come together in life and running when you don't really expect them too. At the beginning of this year I set significant PRs in everything from the 5K to the marathon. Honestly, I saw it coming. After 2006, I had been suffering with a hip injury for much of a year and my running, or at least mileage had been spotty at best. I really approached 2008 with a conservative mindset just to get me healthy enough to run marathons again and I accomplished that in NYC 2008 in November. At the same time, however, I wasn't training as much as I wanted to and was doing little speedwork and taking extra off days or cross training days. So while I ran a respectable 3:15, just 3 minutes off my first marathon time, I certainly knew that if I could ramp up my training just a bit and spend a little more time in training with some speedwork and get beyond the 40 mile weeks I had been doing that I was going to have a big leap in my race performances. So when I started running PRs all over the place early in the year it didn't really surprise me that much, even if some of my particular races like the 1:00:55 10 miler I ran were beyond the expectations I had for that training cycle.

My winter/spring training cycle was thus relatively easy. There was nothing too complicated about it. I started running more, running faster, and running more consistently and that's all I needed to do. This past summer has been a different story. There was no obvious next step. Of course I could always add more mileage or harder workouts or just build off the previous cycle and assume that more running over time would take me where I needed to go. But frankly there were no guarantees and I desperately wanted another shot at going under 3 hours this fall on a tough course in NYC after I had only managed a strep-throat induced 3:02 on a very flat course in May. I basically made the decision to up my mileage even more or at least to keep it at the highest levels I had done for a longer period of time and farther out from the marathon and then drop my mileage down and do more faster running closer to race day. It was a luxury I had never really had before to start without having to really build up my mileage to what I considered an acceptable level for the marathon.

Still, I didn't expect my summer running to be as tough as it was. Part of this may have been that I didn't give myself enough time to rest after the May 3 marathon because I wanted to do the 5 borough NYRR half-marathon series this year and had to get back on track for a May 30 half in Brooklyn. Regardless, I plugged away all summer and was consistently hitting 75-85 mile weeks with an occassional down week from late June through early September, topping out with one 93 mile week. Without looking at the data specifically, I'm sure I ran at least twice as many 70+ mile weeks as I ever had building up to a marathon even before I was into the final 10 weeks of training. While more mileage seemed like a great idea, it didn't really seem to be working for me after awhile. The Brooklyn Half went fine and was an OK race in 1:25:59---two minutes off my PR, and the weekend after that I ran a 18:07 5K, just three seconds off my PR. But after that it seemed to go downhill as I added all the mileage and all my race times just started to spiral downward as the weather warmed and I added more mileage. Really the biggest problem was that I started to feel very clueless about my training, believing that I had not given myself a necessary down period after the previous marathon and that there was now nothing I could do about it in time for NYC in Novemeber. It all hit the fan more or less when I ran an awful side-stitch and agony filled 1:29:54 in the NYC Half Marathon in mid-August. At that point I kind of felt resigned to the fact that this was just going to be a failed training cycle in terms of improving my running and getting back into the conversation for a sub three time.

Regardless, I was determined to stick out what I had set out to do until the end. So I kept plugging away at my high mileage weeks until the beginning of September when I planned on cutting back the mileage and upping the intensity and hoped that along with cooler weather would see my plan through even though I didn't have much hope for it. One signficant change I did make in my running in about August, I should mention is that I started doing my long runs at a slower pace, perhaps even at what some would consider too slow at around 8:30/mile. Frankly, the end of all my long runs had become a struggle and I used to relish the longest run of the week more than any other and it was getting to the point that I wasn't enjoying them at all. So I decided to make them more fun by running with someone a bit slower who I thought would keep me company a bit and perhaps make the running more fun for me just from the company and by not pushing the pace at all. So she started to join me for the second half or so of my 20 milers and I started to have fun doing them again even if I didn't really think at first that this really had much of a benefit to it from a training perspective, but I didn't think it would do any harm either since it seemed an improvement over bonking at the end of 18-20 mile training runs.

As fortune would have it, I fell in love with my new long-run partner. Literally, head over heels in love, though it had much much more of a foundation than just the running we did together. As our relationship grew, I really became much happier and I thought a lot less about running and in a sense it became much less important to me because I was just so incredibly happy and running stopped being the most important thing in my life, which it may have started to become without me realizing it. At the end of the day this all my made my running come together finally in the last couple months before the NYC marathon. I'm sure the slower long runs helped as did making running more fun. The two bigger factors probably were though that my training plan of doing heavy mileage and then starting to cut back the miles actually gave me a really strong foundation and proved to be a decent plan particularly as the weather made it easier for me as well, and that I stopped focussing on running so much and was just so happy with the rest of my life to an extent I didn't realize was possible.

Three weeks ago I ran a 1:24:30 in the Queens Half Marathon on a day I wasn't even really shooting for a fast time and didn't expect to do well after all the bad races I had had all summer. It wasn't a PR, but it was only about 40 seconds off, and on a very hilly course with lots of turns and I had not focussed on it as a goal race at all with any sort of taper aside from the gradual reduction in mileage I was starting leading up to November. Thus I think that that race was an indication to me at least that I might be headed in the right direction and at least wouldn't be awful in NYC. Then two weeks later I did a little 1.7 mile race and placed very high up in the overall standings while maintaining a 5:30/mile pace. Since I hadn't been doing a lot of fast running, it felt really good to know that I could do that and I started to believe more. Then yesterday I went out to run my goal/tune-up half marathon on Staten Island three weeks out from the NYC Marathon and ended up running 1:21:45, which was a 2+ minute PR on a day that frankly my legs didn't feel all that fresh or great. I have no idea what marathon day will bring for me and I know it might just not be my day etc. but I certainly know again that it is at least possible to think about breaking 3 hours and frankly less than 2 months that was starting to sound crazy. I think the best part is that if I have a bad day I'm also more OK with that than I would have been in the past. But yes I really do want to break 3, it seems like a long road from my first marathon three years ago when I foolishly thought I could do that. But hey for the moment, I'm pretty happy with the half marathon time!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Finally Some Success

It has been too long since I posted here and I finally have something positive to post from a running perspective again so I thought I would give a quick update. For the last five weeks since an ugly 1:29:50 at the NYC Half, I have held off the racing. I started off with hitting some high mileage weeks in the upper 70s to mid 80s and have curtailed my mileage a bit lately. Didn't taper or anything this week before the Queens Half Marathon, which I ran in 1:24:30 on a hilly and extremely turny course. I felt very good about it because I have had some really sub-par races in the last few months and this at least allows me to keep the dream alive of breaking 3 hours in NYC this fall. I really went into the race with the mindset of keeping things relaxed throughout the entire race, not really pushing as hard as I could, but also trying to avoid side stitches which have been my foible in longer distances as of late. I definitely accomplished that and managed to have enough left for a 6:05 final mile while only averaging 6:27 for the day, so there was definitely something left there and I passed a lot of people in the last 4 miles to move up near 50th place. I may go for a slightly faster time in the Staten Island Half marathon three weeks from now when I wrap up the NYRR 5 borough series, but I do hope that maybe all this mileage I've been putting in is coming together for me. Sorry, don't have time to say much more for now as I have been quite busy, just wanted to give an update.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

So hot, So Slow...

Today was one of those races I'd like to forget. It was hot, yes. It was humid, yes. A lot of other people in the race struggled, yes. But I had tapered this week for a half, which I've never really done before. With the weather forecast I went out conservatively and was going pretty slowly in the first hilly 7.5 miles and then expected to pass lots of people in the flats. Then the side stitch from hell hit again around mile 9 and it just hurt so damn much and I had no goal that I was shooting for anymore that I basically jogged in the last 3 miles of the race at 7:15 to 7:30 pace. So that was the story of today's NYC Half and my awesome 1:29:54, which was in case anyone cared six seconds slower than my half split in the Jersey Marathon in May. I've only failed to break 1:30 in two of my 11 half marathons, and it was in my first and third ones ever---the first time before I had ever run 13 miles before and the other one after I had taken two weeks off running and it was equally hot.

 I could live with this all but I feel like it's becoming too much of a trend this summer with these slower times. I haven't run a good race since the marathon in May and that was already a step down from where I was in April. I ran one respectable 5K in 18:08 at the beginning of June and a half the weekend before that which all things considered wasn't so bad in 1:25:59 but suffered from a side stitch in that too. I don't feel beaten up or tired or anything right now I'm just slower than I should be. Every time I think all is lost I run a workout like the 16 miles at 7 minute pace that I did two weekends ago or the three one mile repeats a month ago in 5:42 average that make me think all is still well or at least might not be awful. But all these side stitches (this has been going on in longer races for years now) and all these slow races recently really have me questioning things. I guess I'm going to stick the course but maybe I should bag the marathon for this fall or just sort of do it and chill and wait until Boston next year because I sure don't see how I'm breaking 3 hours in New York this year right now. Sorry to vent, I'll get over it I promise!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Seduction of Mileage

You know I've always been one of those runners who always laughs a little under his breath when people get obsessed with their Garmins, heart rate monitors, or fixating on a certain weekly, monthly, or yearly mileage goal. In fact as late as January or February of this year I was still in the camp of avoiding too much mileage just for the sake of mileage and taking a day or two of the week to cross train on the eliptical or stationary bike and not really caring or trying to figure out how that fit into my total "mileage." I guess that in part was why my weekly "mileage" number was a bit meaningless to me because even if I was running 50 or 60 miles I was still doing more than a typical 50 or 60 mile per week runner because I was doing it on just 5 runs a week and I had extra training I wasn't even including but must have counted for something. Anyway I have to officially admit I have been seduced a bit by the mileage game since I have upped my mileage and started running doubles recently. A few weeks ago I added an extra mile here or there just to hit 80 instead of 78 for the week, this week I just hit 83 and I will probably take tomorrow off because that is what I would normally do with the number of days I've run and the work I've put in but it is tempting to go out for an easy run and hit 90 for the first time. The real change in my thinking though is that I do judge my weeks some right now on how much mileage I run, which is something I never did in the past. I'm not sure if I like this development or not but I guess it will all come down to how I race later this year in some half marathons and in the marathon. There is also no question that if possible I would like to hit 3,000 miles for the year as I'm just a couple miles shy of 1,800 right now.

Anyway for those interested today's organized long training run with New York Roadrunners went reasonably well as I stuck with the 7 minute per mile group for 16 miles and ran an easy 3+ miles each way to and from the start for a total of 22.5 miles today. The run was nothing to write home about and I would have started struggling with a couple more miles at 7 minute pace but I felt reasonably good at least for the temperature climbing towards 80 degrees (the lower humidity made such a difference though) and having run my highest mileage week ever. Now if I can just drop 10 seconds off that per mile pace and hold it for an additional 10 miles by November 1 in hopefully much cooler conditions when I'm rested and I'll be all set.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Treadmill, oh Treadmill

Hidden in my last blog entry is a little tidbit that if you weren't looking for you wouldn't have picked up on. I have a well documented historical aversion to treadmills. But alas I think I actually like them now that I do doubles for some of my second short runs. There's just something about walking a couple blocks to the gym, running easy on a treadmill, glancing at a tv, and being back home in 45 minutes to hour that has an appeal to it. Of course it always helps that it's a million degrees and humid in the late afternoon/early evening and that I've already been drenched once during the day and would quickly run out of dry running shoes otherwise but...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Summer Doldrums (Still!)

So the summer has been raging on here in NYC and the irony is that it hasn't even been a particularly hot summer yet (unfortunately given that it was cold in April like it should have been in March, and rainy in June like it should have been in April, I'm pretty sure it's going to be hot here all the way into September and October, and I'm just hoping it all cools down by marathon day, November 1) by typical NYC standards but from a running perspective it feels absolutely awful to me. The humidity has been pretty steadily in the 90% range and the temps ranging from low 70s to high 80s over the course of the day for the last two weeks now, so it really feels like summer is finally here to stay with no more breaks of a cooler day or two here or there.

With summer the running has gotten tough for me. I have still been logging in all the miles and in fact more than I ever have before with the addition of doubles over the last couple months and July will mark my highest mileage month ever as it currently sits at 319 with one day to go, and whether I run or not tomorrow (either Friday, Sunday, or Monday will be an off day) it has already surpassed the 317 I totalled back in March (which was of course had no doubles to pad the mileage). But the pace of my runs is SLOW. I could go back to June when I failed to break 6 minutes in a couple of 5 mile races, something I could do consistently in the late winter or spring, but the 4 mile race two Saturdays ago (subject of the previous blog entry) was the real wake up call that I simply just can't compete right now with the times I was running earlier this year.

I thought that July 18 4 miler might simply have been a bad day but last week was really tough. Friday I did a tempo run with my normal Friday night training group (note these Friday runs are the only time I do primary run at night and try to run fast at night and I find it very difficult to do regardless of the time of year) and over the course of a 5 mile tempo I was a good 2 to 3 minutes behind people who I was even with or within a minute of in the winter, but this didn't come as a huge shock to me as I hadn't been running my tempos as hard lately and they had all beaten me in the race the previous weekend too. It was my Sunday group long run (usually the only run I do during the week with others as I only do the Friday tempo once or twice a month) that really shocked me. We were going relatively harder than we should have on a long run and up some pretty tough hills and trails but I was struggling a bit to keep pace with everyone (and I'm not one of the weaker runners in this group) and after about 10 miles of a planned 16-18 I just called it a day. I was absolutely totally exhausted and honestly I don't think I could have run another 6 miles at any pace if I had wanted to. I can't even remember the last time I cut a long run short because of fatigue, in fact I'm not sure I ever have.

Since last Sunday I have felt a little bit more refreshed and am not as concerned that something is wrong and that I'm about to have a complete running meltdown/slowdown but all I have been doing is easy running (a lot of it for sure as I should hit 80+ miles this week) and I know my faster paces are still going to struggle next time I try to push it, but I'm just hoping that last Sunday's failed long run was a complete and utter anomaly and nothing at all resembling a trend. I will have a good indicator though this Saturday as I'm signed up for an organized long training run by New York Roadrunners in which people go off in pace groups and have gatorade, gels, etc. available. Given that I hate carrying stuff and usually just sip water from water fountains on my runs I wanted to use this as a real opportunity to do some sort of more challenging long run though I'm not sure what I'm going to do now. After last weekend there is honestly the little thought in the back of my mind that running 20+ miles in the heat is going to be a major struggle in itself. I think I will probably either run between 10-16 miles with the 7 minute pace group and tack on the extra mileage to reach 20 at a much slower pace before/after or that I will run 20 with the 7:30 group (and maybe tack on an extra couple miles to the start).

After last Sunday's failed long run I've been mulling over the possibility if I'm overtained, slightly anemic etc. or if my body is just reacting to the heat and the increased mileage I've been running. Part of my problem is that I love running so much that I basically never mentally burnout from it the way a lot of other people often do, so given that that is usually a major symptom of overtraining it is hard for me to determine if my body is feeling overtrained because mind certainly is not (sure I get tired of racing etc. sometimes but I have almost never not wanted to run on a given day). I'm also not injured (fingers crossed) and my legs aren't aching any more than usual, I'm just running and racing slowly and on a couple of runs, most notably last Sunday's long run, I have just felt completely exhausted long before I should have given the distance and pace.

So until I have another setback or particularly bad run I'm just going to keep plugging along. It has been my plan all along to build a large mileage base in the summer, run a lot of shorter races, train through them and not care about my times and then come out glowingly once the cooler weather hits in the fall and as I get closer to marathon day. I just don't think I expected to be struggling quite as much right now and slowing down at shorter distances. The reality is of course that I do have explanations and excuses that make perfect sense, I just don't know if I'm tricking myself into believing them because I don't want to tone down my training or if they are really in fact valid.

My first excuse is the weather and the fact that I just don't run and train well in the heat. My second excuse is the increased mileage and the doubles and consistently running 70+ mile weeks (and creeping up to the low 80s) for two months now (with only one cutback week below 65) which is something I haven't even done in the last couple months before my marathons in the past. My third and final excuse of course is that I planned it this way and just like I did last winter before a very successful spring of running, I increased my mileage, held off the speed work and just accepted that I was going to be slower for a period of time while building up to something greater. The only difference in the winter was that I felt really strong and like I was improving and building towards something each and every week and I'm not convinced that is the case now (I also didn't really race for those two months from late November through early January so I didn't have the feedback of poor race times).

But here's the big thing/excuse/unknown. I have never really done this before. I am in uncharted waters a bit right now---and I'm not talking about the doubles and the slightly increased mileage/longer buildup. I've been running for ten years now and started my first marathon training 3 to 4 years ago but this is the first time I have ever gone into a summer of racing/training after running heavy marathon mileage in the winter and having successful races that are frankly quite difficult for me to live up to. The first summer I trained for a marathon in 2006, I had hardly run any halfs and I was doing much longer runs than I had ever done before and adding speedwork back into the mix for the first time in almost four years so of course I was going to get faster and improve from what I had been doing the previous year and the previous winter. Then I was hurt for most of the first half of 2007 so when I matched a couple of my times in shorter races in the summer it seemed like a great accomplishment (and they were in fact my goal races as I wasn't building up towards a fall marathon), for the summer of 2008 my focus was just rebuilding my mileage back to the point where I could run half marathons and marathons again without getting injured so I had relatively low expectations for my summer race times and matching what I had done in the past seemed like a great accomplishment as well and I didn't have any race times from the previous winter to try and live up to. Of course right now that is all changed because I am coming off of my first spring marathon ever and I have 15K and 10 mile times from the early spring that I simply could not even run in the same ballpark as right now and a half marathon time from January that will be a tough challenge to beat in my upcoming halfs in the next few months. So I really don't know how much I should expect to be slowing down in the summer simply because of the weather and I'm also not totally familiar with having a relatively successful running season and then plateauing/declining/rebuilding a bit before seeing renewed gains.

That at least is my optimistic approach to my current training/struggles and I hope it is the case. Only time will tell I suppose. First I have to get through this weekend's 20 miler to make sure last weekend's run was in fact an anomaly in how absolutely awful it was. Then I have a 5K and half marathon coming up the two weekends after. In March and even again in early June I was right on the verge of breaking 18 minutes in the 5K and I don't expect to be there anymore so I'm just going to more or less train through next week and see what happens but then I'm going to taper significantly for a week before the half and see what happens. It will still be summer, it will still be hot, and I don't expect to magically improve over the next two and a half weeks but I do think it will be a telltale sign of where my training is at right now because I think all of these extra miles I've been running have been hurting my shorter race times as I adjust but I don't know what impact it will all have when I'm racing further than 5 miles. Even though I won't have trained with that half in mind as a goal race and I will still have just been slogging through miles for the most part, particularly with an easy week beforehand it would be a confidence boost or at least a mild reassurance in my training if I did not have another awful race. I can save up the good ones for the fall, and November 1, but I also could do without too many more bad races or days in the process.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Here I Come Penguins!

It's official after today's race I have decided to move to Antarctica. I don't know what the race time temperature was but it was very humid and at least in the 70s---the high today is supposed to be 86. First of all racing at 9 o clock in the summer is awful. I am an early morning runner and I run best when it's within my typical routine which doesn't involve mulling around 3 or 4 hours in the morning before I go out to run hard. Throw in the higher temps and sun you get at 9 o' clock versus 6 when I'm used to running and it's not too pleasant.

Well anyway today's 4 miler seemed fine warming up and at the start and I was OK in the first mile holding down a 5:49 pace which was the average I was more or less shooting for, though it was probably too fast given that the mile was uphill. In mile 2 I started to get a stomach cramp and just felt crappy, when I went through the downhill mile at 6:06 I sort of lost motivation. If I wasn't going to break my old 23:54 PR, it was very hard to find motivation in the heat. Mile 3 is by far the hilliest mile and I knew I wasn't going to hold under 6 minute pace which meant that I was probably going to have close in 5:40 for the last mile no matter how hard I was pushing in the third. Early in the third mile I saw a faster friend of mine who had decided to stop because of feeling sick in the heat and waited for me. At this point I decided just to run with him more or less and not to push it, there really was no point---it was just too hot, I felt crappy, and there was nothing much to gain. I cruised in the last two miles (and they still didn't feel too great!) and finished in just under 24:50 I think.

Yes that's right I ran faster by almost 20 seconds per mile in last weekend's 5K when I was in the middle of an 80 mile week and had more of a tempo run than race mindset. It was also almost ten seconds per mile slower than I ran 10 miles in April!

I've said I didn't care about what kinds of times I run in the summer and that's why I'm loading on all the mileage etc. but I thought with a little cutback this week I would do better than this. It was sort of disappointing, but at the same time I realize I made a decision somewhere around 2-3 miles that it wasn't worth pushing myself today. I mean I feel like hardly took anything at all out of my legs and I feel like I'm ready to enter another one of my three heavy weeks of training before a cutback week before my half marathon, which at least starts at 7 AM!

Anyway this is why I am moving to Antarctica (might I remind you my half PR was in 8 degree weather). I will send postcards and pictures with the penguins.