Marathon Training Update

marathon_update_001It’s been a few weeks since I mentioned my marathon training, so though this would be a good opportunity to provide a status check. I’m just starting the fifth week of my 18 week training plan. Over the course of the last four weeks I have been extremely happy with how my knee has responded to the rigors of daily activity. Despite the increased workload, I have not felt any discomfort. This may be partly down to the use of a knee strap while running and an ice pack afterward, but that’s a whole lot better than medicating with painkillers on a daily basis. I’ve also been rather impressed with my ability to get up at five o’clock in the morning and get a run in before heading off to work. Whether that continues as the days get shorter and the mornings darker, we’ll just have to wait and see. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are pretty tough with such an early start and I need to be more disciplined about going to bed on time the night before and getting enough sleep.

These past few weeks have been a challenge in two areas; the heat and the distance. If you recall, I really only started running seriously late last year. Prior to this year, I had no experience running in the summer and I have to admit – I hate it. The heat and humidity do not agree with me one bit. Besides being extra smelly when I come back from a run, I find my energy levels depleting quite quickly on runs – even when I’m taking on board supplements and gels. For those reasons, I have not always been able to reach my distance goals on each run. My long run in week two should have been nine miles, but I hit the wall early and struggled to clock in at six. Some of my mid-week runs have been slightly shorter also, both because of the conditions and getting used to some new training routes around Prospect Park.

Even with the aforementioned issues, I like to look back over the opening weeks with some semblance of pride and regard them as moderately successful. I’ve come to realize that it’s not always possible to stay true to the plan, but so long as I’m training smart then I’m making good progress. Although I’m not setting the roads alight with my speed, that I can finish an 11 mile run in a reasonable time and maintain my physical condition makes me very happy. I’ll check in again just before the half way point and prior to the Yonkers Half Marathon with another update, but in the meantime you can get more regular activity-based updates on my twitter feed.

How Technology Helps Me Train on Vacation

tech_001According to Jess (who knows me pretty well), I can be pretty regimented at times. In particular, when following through on plans or directions. She’s not wrong either – I can be inflexible, diligently adhering to the plan without really taking the time to pause and assess whether my actions are for the best. Stubborn is a word that has been used once or twice around our place. It’s something that came up in the past and caused a bit of tension between us. It is also one of the reasons I ended up with an over-training injury earlier in the year. Not surprisingly, flexibility of schedule was the subject of a recent tweet by one of the individuals I most respect in the running community:

When real life interferes, sometimes you can juggle schedules and maintain momentum; other times you need to sigh and skip the workout.
– @higdonmarathon

As we approached summer, many questions circulated my brain relating to maintaining my training while enjoying weekends and vacations at the beach and lake. I would like to think that I have learned my lesson, and am not blindly prioritizing training activities ahead of all else. But the unfamiliar was definitely causing me some stress as discussions about various trips loomed. This summer has given me lots of opportunities to test out my adaptability, and put into practice some of the promises I made to Jess last year. Whereas in the past I might have been hesitant to take days and weekends away from my home base, potentially disrupting my ever so well crafted training plan, these days I can be more flexible thanks to technology and a little forward planning.

Ever since I started running over a year and a half ago, I have been using an app called Runkeeper to track my activities and view historical reports. I like it because it’s easy to use both on the web and phone. Recently, I started to make use of the routes function. Initially, I used this to map my routes for the various training runs in my plan. However, I quickly realized that it also gave me the ability to pre-plan routes for those times when I’m away from home. So far this summer I have been able to create routes near our upstate weekend retreat and along the Jersey shore where we recently spent some time with friends. We’re planning further trips through the end of August, and to maintain my plan I have mapped out appropriate routes in and around Virginia Beach and Fire Island, NY.

Using the tools and technology at my disposal, I am able to travel and take advantage of the summer while holding myself to my training plan. The biggest issue is then simply a case of finding the right time to head out for a run. As I’m an early riser, I am able to take advantage of the cooler temperatures in the morning and complete my run before anyone else is awake and moving about.

I’m on Twitter

twitter_001I had been toying with the idea of starting up a Twitter account for a while, but was a little apprehensive about getting sucked into the whole social networking side of things. I’m no luddite when it comes to technology, it’s what I have built my career on, but I was definitely hesitant to get into something I new little about. I dabbled with Facebook a few years back but bailed on it and shut my account down after a couple of months. Although it did enable me to reconnect with a couple of friends that I had lost touch with over the years, I couldn’t see myself using it all that often and got scared off by the privacy issue. I had similar reservations about Twitter, but decided to spend a little time investigating the platform to see if it could really add value to this endeavor. As it turns out, there are quite a few (a slight underestimation) members of the running community active on Twitter these days. And so, with typical zeal but little thought to how I would use it, I jumped right in and setup my own Twitter account: @merunfast.

Like the majority of new converts, my first few tweets were embarrassingly lame but because I had no followers there was nobody around to share in my shame except for myself. My initial thought was to use the account as a way to post regular updates regarding my marathon training, but I was not happy with the style and didn’t feel like counting down to the race date every time I posted. After some poking around the web and observing how other accounts communicated, I settled on a style that I like and plan to stick to. I am also now using the account to reach out to other runners (Bart Yasso & Hal Higdon) and organizations (Philly Marathon & Runner’s World), although obviously have to be careful not to be too eager and get blocked for spamming them.

To get myself started I have identified some active accounts to follow, including some publications and well known marathon runners. I’ll expand this list as I encounter and engage with more interesting parties. As yet I don’t have any followers, but that’s inevitable and will hopefully change over time as I raise my profile by tweeting useful information to the community. The other aspect of Twitter that I quickly learned about is hash tags. Hash tags are essentially keywords that enable grouping of tweets about the same topic. I discovered the #runchat hash tag, which is very active amongst the running community. I have already caught some informative tweets about training and nutrition and will continue to monitor the hash tag and chats on a regular basis.

If you’re active on Twitter and interested in getting regular updates, feel free to follow @merunfast.

Pace Charts

pace_chart_001Science is a great thing – it can help us learn, develop, and plan for a better future. When it comes to running, science is no different. Most top runners these days incorporate some scientific elements into their training programs. Runner’s World published this pace chart to help racer’s easily determine their per mile times for the most popular race distances. That’s great if you’re used to running a certain pace, but in my case I know that as a typical 8:15-8:30 race runner, it’s really not possible for me to enter a race and consistently hit 7:45 or 8:00 over a long distance. How then, do I get from where I am now to where I want to be. Recently, I came across something that uses a bit of scientific jiggery pokery to do just that and could potentially be a very useful training reference.

The McMillan Training Calculator, found on Greg McMillan’s web site, uses some simple calculations to determine optimum interval times for various distances and pace times for different types of runs, based entirely on the athlete’s predicted finish time for a specific race. Sound complicated? It’s really not … I tried it and it was actually pretty accurate.

I chose the 10K distance as my benchmark for the analysis. I entered my time of 51:36 from this years Scotland Run and provided the other qualifying information such as age, experience, gender, etc. The results were surprisingly accurate when you allow for the inevitable individual variations between athletes – my predicted race time for the mile was under by 5 seconds, for the 4 mile distance it was under by 20 seconds, and my predicted race time for the half-marathon was over by 30 seconds. Interestingly, the calculator predicted a marathon finish time of 4:02:06 based on my current level. That’s only two minutes over my goal time and, given the error rate based on my other distances, very encouraging.

But I don’t want to keep running at the same pace all the time. Part of the enjoyment of competing in races is going out there and trying to improve on my personal best times. So with that in mind, I changed the time on the calculator to 48 minutes – a personal goal for the 10K distance. The new predicted race times 6:37 for the mile, 32 minutes for the 4 mile, and 3:45 for the marathon. All of which are within range of my personal targets and therefore not unrealistic.

But the best part of the calculator is not the predicted finish times, it’s the pace times that it recommends for training runs – the times I need to be achieving on a daily and weekly basis, so that my body is used to running at that speed. Like the predictions before, the pace times for my current level were all plus or minus 2% of my current training level. After I ran the calculator for my goal time, I was able to see what my pace times need to be in order to condition my body to achieve that goal – and frankly those pace times are not that scary. I’m already running within range for my endurance workouts: the long, recovery, and easy runs. It’s the stamina and speed runs where I need to lift my pace. My body has become too used to running within a very narrow range of paces, and if I’m going to meet my goals over the coming months I need to start pushing myself more on the speed and tempo runs. Right now I’m hitting 3:45 on half-mile speed intervals, that needs to come down by 15 seconds to around 3:30. On my tempo runs I’m averaging 8:20 per mile, but need to take that down to around 7:50. It’s going to be a challenge, but if it brings with it the kind of results that McMillan’s calculator predicts then it will all be worth it!

* When I used the calculator I had to enter my current time for the distance. However, I could not get the application to work when entering just the goal time, it asked for both current and goal times. Even then, I saw no difference in the results. My suggestion … run it twice and save/print the results to get a comparison of where you are now (use current time) to where you need to be to achieve your goal time. When I used that approach everything worked fine.

If you have better luck using the current and goal time comparison, why not use the comments to let me know.

Central Park Conservancy Run for Central Park

cpc_001Central Park – home to thousands of runners every day and an essential park of the running culture of this city. So it stands to reason then, that each year New York Road Runners and it’s members celebrate the park and contribute to it’s maintenance by supporting a run in aid of the park’s conservancy organization. This year the four mile race was scheduled for Saturday, July 14 and encompassed a loop of the inner circuit – between 72nd street transverse and the 102nd street transverse. Without the strength sapping Harlem Hill to slow the pack down, and with some fine weather forecast for that morning, the race held the promise of some fast times for those in the right frame of mind.

I considered myself one of those people – I had been back running for about a month following my knee injury and everything was going fine. I had eased myself back my slowly increasing my weekly distances and there were no issues to report with my patella. I felt no pain or discomfort, and I was back up to my pre-injury running pace. Physically, I felt in good shape and if the weather cooperated (i.e. not too hot or humid), I thought that I might be able to take advantage of the relatively flat course to put in a good time. Maybe even a personal best!

The race started well for me. Making my way up the east side of the park, I was in a groove as we struck Cat Hill and motored up the incline with little trouble. By the first mile marker I was clocking just over an eight minute pace. The rest of the east side was familiar territory, and I used my experience on the roads to manage my output until rounding the bend at the 102nd street transverse. Crossing the two mile marker, I was still on pace for a personal best, coming in around 16:30. However, my excitement was quickly tamed as I started down the west side and the notorious three sisters hills. I must have been going too strong too soon, because half way up the second hill I felt my legs turn to solid weights and had to slow down to a walk for about 30 seconds. Similarly, cresting the third hill and the water station, I had to take a walk break because I was overheating and feeling tightness in my legs.

I kept going though, because my time was around 25 minutes and there was still the potential for a personal best. Unfortunately, my average pace had slowed too much because of that third mile, and even though I covered the last mile in just over eight minutes, the combined time as I cross the line was 33:15 – 21 seconds slower than my personal best. Slightly disappointed to have missed out by such a slim margin, I made my way to the baggage area to collect my gear and head home. As I sat on the subway going back to Brooklyn, I reflected on what might have been. Did I really need to take those two walk breaks? What would my time have been had I kept going?

Of course, I’ll never know the answers to those questions but I did come away from the experience knowing that I had come so close to a personal best on a bad day. The next time out, if it’s a good day, I have it in me to shatter my fastest time. Roll on September 15. that

Marathon Training Plan

26_predictions_001I have just finished creating my marathon training plan. I’ve spent some time looking around online and discovered that there are a large number of outlets that actually charge for this service. I’m not going to mention the fee-based services here, but a simple web search will reveal them if you’re interested. I can’t say I’m that surprised that someone has figured out how to monetize training plans, but the reality is that most of the information needed to create an effective plan is available online, and for free. With a little work, any runner can build their own customized plan and save themselves a few dollars. After all, most of these outlets are just reselling a set of canned plans that are tweaked slightly based on the individual parameters that a customers provides. The reality is that nobody knows the athlete better than the athlete themselves! I took the time to create my own plan for the half-marathon and it worked pretty well … so I’m going to do the same thing for the marathon, and fingers crossed I’ll see similar results.

In addition to using the same sources as before, I am incorporating some additional wisdom gathered from fellow runners, online resources and my own experience over the last few months into what I hope will be a well-rounded marathon training plan.

Having never run a marathon, I am vaguely aware of the amount of work required to bring my stamina and endurance to the level required to sustain me for four or more hours of running. I need to be careful not to over train and risk injury, while ensuring I do enough to meet my bodies needs. I am looking at an 18 week plan, with five days of running per week and gradually incrementing long runs on a Sunday (the only day of the week my schedule can support 2+ hour runs). I am planning on incorporating two rest days into the schedule, probably Monday and Friday, to allow myself sufficient recovery time between activities but also to accommodate some cross training such as cycling or swimming to use alternative muscle sets. In addition, I plan on including some variation in the running in the form of tempo runs and speed work. The speed work will combine Yasso 800s, Fartleks, and hill repeats. Essentially, this is the same half-marathon plan with some minor adjustments for the increased distance, workload, and time span.

As the marathon takes place on a Sunday, all my long runs are scheduled for Sunday mornings. I believe consistency is key in preparation, and helps reduce the risk of injury. However, I deviate from that model in weeks two and six because I am taking part in organized races.

Entries highlighted in red are organized races – more information for those can be found on the race information page.

Marathon Predictions

yasso800While researching marathon training plans (which I will address in a later post) I came across a few interesting articles that discuss different techniques for predicting one’s marathon finish time. I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical, but as I delved further into the topic and those behind them I began to see that there’s actually some basis of truth and science to these predictive techniques.

Yasso 800s
The first method to predict one’s finish time is the Yasso 800. Named for Bart Yasso, an accomplished runner, athlete, and senior contributor at Runner’s World, the Yasso 800 claims to predict the athlete’s marathon finish times based on his or her 800 meter time. It’s a really simple gauge and here’s how it works:

If you want to run a 3:30 marathon, train to run a bunch of 800s in 3:30 each. Between the 800s, jog for the same number of minutes it took you to run your repeats.

Of course, this is not a one of session. The idea is to run these Yasso 800s every couple of weeks during the course of the training, and to increase one’s speed from one session to the next. For my own marathon training plan, I am including 4 dedicated sessions as part of my speed work, beginning with 4 repeats and working up to 8 repeats. The last session will be two weeks before the marathon, to avoid placing unnecessary stress on my legs in the final build up. My goal for the marathon is four hours, but for the Yasso 800s I am hoping to be able to average out at 3:40 by the time I get to the final set of repeats.

Here’s a link to the full article from Runner’s World. You can also find the article reprinted, along with other helpful and interesting information on Bart’s personal website.

Miracle Mile
I also read some articles by and about Jeff Galloway’s training methods, and in particular his miracle mile. Personally, I’m not a fan of Galloway’s conservative methods but that just may be because I find them to be oriented towards beginners. There’s nothing wrong with the run/walk method, I have used it on occasion but I would not rely on it as the foundation of a training program at this stage in my development. Anyway, back to the miracle mile. Essentially, what Galloway is saying is to:

Choose a mile within the course of a run, and time that segment specifically. The mile should be run at about 80-90% capacity. Take the time and then adjust it to reveal the predicted maximum mile pace for a typical race. The adjustment factors are 5K (+33 seconds), 10K (x 1.15), half-marathon (x 1.2), and marathon (x 1.3).

Over time and through training, the athlete should improve his or her mile time so it’s advisable to recalculate every couple of months. I don’t know how much confidence I have in the miracle mile method – I’ve tried a couple of calculations off the top of my head, and the predictions come back slower than those from the Yasso 800s. Maybe I’m just being too optimistic and over-rating my own abilities, but I’ll come back to this topic when I have some concrete examples and we’ll see just how well the two pan out.

Use the comments to let me know if you have any experience of either method and how accurate they were for you.

Achilles Hope & Possibility

achilles_001I was a little apprehensive coming into this race for a number of reasons. I had only been back running less than a week, and was still favoring my left knee after the recent injury. The previous weekend I flew back from Poland and in the intervening days I had managed only a single leisurely 4 mile run. I was definitely hesitant to put a lot of pressure on my knee, but after setting an easy pace on the treadmill I found that there were no lingering effects of the tendonitis. It seemed as though the break, along with the ice pack, stretches, and strength exercises were actually making a difference.

The morning of the race I headed off to the park. I resolved not to push myself too much, preferring to finish the event and chalk up another notch in my 9+1 quest for entry to next years New York City Marathon, rather than risk further injury and setback. I knew I had a long summer ahead and my mind was also on my training for the Philadelphia Marathon, due to start in mid-July. If I was going to be ready to take on that workload I had to make sure my knee was in the best condition possible.

That morning was hot and humid. I had been somewhat sheltered up to that point, having only run in relatively mild or cool conditions. I learned that morning that running in the heat and humidity is really not for me. The whole race was a struggle for me because of the heat, the drop in my fitness level from a month off, crowding at the start of the race, and general stiffness in my legs. But primarily from the heat and humidity.

We started on the west side of the park and circled the southern end. By the time I hit the the first mile marker I was already struggling and somewhat reluctantly checked my watch. Imagine my surprise when I saw it registered just shy of ten minutes. As I said, I had resolved to take it easy but ten minutes for the opening mile was much slower than planned. There was some crowding at the start that led to bunching and slow downs, but certainly not enough to have that much of an impact on my time. From that point on I knew it was going to be a rough day, so I settled in and tried to make the most of it.

By the time we reached the west side at the 102nd St transverse I was starting to take walk breaks every half mile or so. My knee was fine but my legs felt heavy and the humidity left me feeling sluggish. I remember feeling an immense sense of relief as the finish line came into view. I had picked up the pace enough over the middle miles to end up with a respectable time of 47:40, averaging 9:32 per mile. This was by far my slowest ever race, but given the conditions, my recent break and the fact that I was still protecting my knee, I felt like I had accomplished an important milestone in my comeback.

Happy Feet

happy_feet_001Over the course of my recent downtime I was reading a lot about various running injuries and preventative measures that athlete’s can take to avoid common problems. Curiously, it seems as though the feet and ankles are the most overlooked area of the casual athlete’s body.

This often leads to various foot injuries or joint problems in and around the ankles. I say curiously since the feet and ankles are central to the running form and take the majority of the front line beating. Perhaps we runners (and I include myself in this generalization) should spend a little more time focusing on the various impact and stress points instead of blindly trying to build muscle mass. Outlined here are some basic foot and ankle exercises, collectively designed to build strength and help limit the wear and tear that results from long miles on the road or track.

 

Single-Leg Directional Hops
happy_feet_001 Improves ankle and knee stability for a stronger push-off and landing.
To Do: Standing on your left leg, with the right knee raised to hip height, hop forward, landing softly. Hop back to start, then hop diagonally (to the left) and back to center, hop to the left and return to start.
Do 12 reps; switch legs.
Three-Point Lunges
happy_feet_002 Develops energy transfer from landing to push-off; strengthens the lateral knee muscles for improved stability.
To Do: Lunge the left leg forward. With quick force, push the left foot off the floor and into a diagonal lunge to the left, keeping the hips straight. Push the left foot off the floor again, landing in a lunge to the left side, keeping the upper body stacked over the hips. That’s one rep. (Each rep should take about three seconds to complete.)
Do six reps; switch legs.
Squat Jacks
happy_feet_003 Builds strength from the feet up through the hips for better transfer of power.
To Do: Standing in the bottom of a squat position with feet hip-width apart and shoulders stacked over hips, shoot your legs out to the sides and your arms out to shoulder height (like a regular jumping jack) without moving your upper body.
Do 16 to 24 reps.
Single-Leg Mountain Climbers
happy_feet_004 Strengthens foot-strike muscles; engages hip flexors, quads, glutes, and core.
To Do: Starting in a plank position, with abs engaged, bend your left knee and pin it against the right knee. Hop your right foot forward to waist distance, landing lightly on the ball of your foot and keeping the left leg from touching the ground. Then, shoot the right foot back, keeping knees pinned and left leg raised. That’s one rep.
Do 16 reps; switch legs.

 

 

Group Running … Analysis

nbr_001With all this extra time on my hand, I have been able to revisit a topic I wrote about a couple of months ago. As I mentioned at the time, I have been considering joining a running group to provide myself a little more support and hopefully benefit from the knowledge and experience of other runners. Admittedly, I’m not sure how well I’ll adapt to group running but I figure I’ll give it a try and see how things work out. If I like it and I fit into the group culture then that’s just another positive environment for me to be in and a place where I can potentially learn enough to take my running to the next level.

I have to be realistic and don’t want to waste anyone’s time while evaluating my options. Therefore, I have come up with a short set of criteria to help me determine which of the available groups works well for me.

  • Location – This is a very important criteria. I don’t want to have to run 4/5 miles just to get to a meeting point. It would be great if I could find a group within a 10/15 minute jog from my home, ideally with Prospect Park as the base.
  • Schedule – Extremely important given that one of the things I’m looking for is support and motivation, especially on long runs. With school scheduled to start in September, and classes running on alternate Saturdays, my long runs will all be on Sundays. Ideally, the club or group will have their long runs on Sunday morning with a few other runs during the week.
  • Group Size / Runner Level – Although part of the reason for joining is to have the group motivate and push me, I don’t want to be paddy last! I would like to know that the group has runners across all standards, so I can find fellow athletes to learn from and give something back too.
  • Cool Logo / Shirts – The least important of the criteria but it matters enough to warrant a mention. The vest color and logo should be interesting and cool, and something that grabs people’s attention at races or when you’re out there on the street!

Most of this infomration I was able find on the various groups websites, but for some I had to reach out to the primary contact email address and wait for a reply. After collecting all the information, this is how it shakes out in reverse order:

  1. BRRC – The group meets on Prospect Park West which is comfortable distance from my home. However, their schedule doesn’t really work for me. Midweek runs are Tuesday and Thursday evening’s (I prefer morning) and weekend runs vary in distance. They have a lot of runners around my level, which is a plus. Unfortunately, green is not my color.
  2. PPTC – This group meets at Grand Army Plaza, about a mile from home so it’s relatively convenient. Unfortunately, their long runs are on Saturday morning and the only other group runs are a short loop of the park on Sunday and a large group run on Wednesday evening. The club has a wide range of skill levels, so I could definitely blend in well. However, I don’t look good in red.
  3. SBRC – Their location works great for me! They meet at Carroll Park, which is about 5 minutes from my house. However, the schedule is not so good. The morning group runs are at 6:45AM and my morning cutoff (when I have to be back home) is 7:15AM. Based on their web site, the group size tends to be small and they have a limited number of “slower” runners like myself. Constantly being among the slowest would definitely be a de-motivator for me. The logo and shirts are cool though.
  4. NBR – Of the four groups North Brooklyn Runners seems to be the best fit. They run most days, but the two that most interest me are the short to medium run on Wednesday morning @ 6AM that meets at Grand Army Plaza and the long run @ 7AM on Sunday that meets at McCarren Park. Although this is well outside my home zone, I could take the G train a few stops and then jog to the meeting point. This group seems to have a lot of members, ranging in skill levels. They also have an excellent website and an awesome shirt/logo.

Now I just have to head out and join them for a couple of runs to see if my research pans out. I’ll follow up on this post once I’ve found a good home.

Note: The ranking of clubs above is not meant to be empirical and is based solely on my own personal analysis and needs. Each club is unique in it’s own right and offers support to runners of all ages and levels. No one club is better than any of the others, but one may be better suited to an individual runners depending on a wide range of factors such those I mentioned above. If you are looking for a group, please take the time to research and meet the groups yourself, so you can find a comfortable place to run.