All 5k’s Should Be Sponsored by Breweries

So it’s been quite awhile since I ran a race of any kind.  Despite the competitive nature of Crossfit workouts, a dedicated race always seems to make me try a little harder, particularly when it’s a run.

I’ve been having trouble recently pushing myself on runs.  I’m not sure if it’s because last time I tried to ramp up my running, I hurt myself, or because I usually use the run portion of WODs to recover from the other exercises, or just because I’m lazy, but it’s been hard to do anything more than a pretty relaxed 3 mile run when I hit the streets.

But a race can change all that.  My last 3 runs before the race, I was averaging a 9:28 mile.  And no, this was not part of any designed taper.  This past Saturday at the Rahr and Sons Oktoberfest 5k?  7:48.  Yes, I’m sure that nicer weather had something to do with it, but I’m positive it was more the attitude that surrounds a race.  There’s always someone to chase down.  Always footsteps behind you (I HATE that).  And always some 80 year old who cruises by you like you’re standing still.  I’d honestly forgotten that feeling, but I am going to try to run some more races to keep that motivation.  My hope is that before I turn 30, I finish a 5k running a sub 7 minute mile.

And can I add that beer makes an AMAZING recovery drink.  Seriously.  It’s cold, refreshing, and I’m sure there’s some science to justify it as a carbohydrate replenishment in the same light as Gatorade.  And it tastes really good.  The only problem is when they give you 3 x 16 oz beers, and start the race at 9 am.  Given that I don’t eat a lot before a run, I had three beers on a mostly empty stomach after a run before 11 am.  Glad I wasn’t driving.  But as long as you’ve got someone to safely get you home, it makes a great incentive to bust your ass to the finish!

So get out there and race!

Intervals: Good ’till your heart pops!

Hiya folks,

Since I managed to get myself into good enough shape to run a half-marathon, I’m trying to maintain and improve that level of fitness.  So far, I think I’m doing an ok job at it.  I was able to run the Tri-State Tough Mudder without too much difficulty, and aside from the scrapes and bruises, my body didn’t suffer too much for it.  But running can still be something of a task if it’s the same course day-in and day-out, so I like mixing it up.  My new favorite would probably be quarter-mile intervals.

I like this workout for a few reasons.  You’re not doing the same thing for too long a period (as opposed to say, your long run).  You’re running fast, which I think everyone would agree is more fun than running slow.  And at least for me, it’s a difficult enough workout that I can’t really think about anything else while I’m doing it.  This was a particularly nice factor this past week.  It had been a lousy week, I was feeling really stressed and pissed off, but about 45 minutes later, I was feeling SOOO much better.

Here are the basics:
1.  10 minute warm up run.  Don’t skip this.  I’m really bad about warming up, stretching, and cooling down, but I DO take the time to warm up before speed work, because you’re going to be pushing your muscles hard.
2.  Run a quarter-mile hard.  Hal Higdon recommends your 5-k pace.  I go for my desired 5-k pace, which is definitely faster than what I could sustain right now.  To track your distance, the easiest thing to do is head to a track or use a GPS enabled watch.  If you don’t have either of those, don’t worry about it, just find some metric that will keep you on track.  Maybe it’s 3-4 blocks, or 10-12 telephone poles along your route.  Use Google Maps/Google Earth or Garmin Connect to help plan it.
3.  Run two minutes easy.  By easy, I mean whatever pace that lets you recover enough to maintain your target pace during the 1/4 mile hard portion.  While you’ll get a bit more out of it if you keep jogging, you can certainly walk for this part.
4.  Repeat steps 2-3.  Increase the number of repeats by one each week.
5.  Do an easy 10 minute cool down run.  I find that as long as I actually make it part of the workout, I have an easier time performing this cool down.  I usually use the warm up to get me over to the river, then run the intervals up the river and back, and finish with an easy jog back home.

It’s interesting (to me anyway) to see the splits for this.  Here’s what I turned out on Friday (7 Intervals):
Time/Distance/Pace
1:35.1/0.25/6:21
2:00/0.20/9:57
1:32.6/0.25/6:11
2:00/0.20/10:10
1:47.9/0.25/7:12
2:00/0.20/10:14
1:46.4/0.25/7:06
2:00/0.19/10:38
1:45.2/0.25/7:01
2:00/0.19/10:24
1:44.4/0.25/6:58
2:00/0.19/10:46
1:46.1/0.25/7:05
2:00/0.17/11.53

I had a hard time keeping my pace on the intervals.  Not really sure why.  The week before I did six intervals and I don’t think I missed my pace on any of them.  Also, I could really feel my lungs and heart working at the end of the quarter-mile.  I guess that’s just one of the vagaries of day-to-day running.  And of course you can see my recovery pace dropping.  But I felt damn good afterwards!

Anyway, if you find yourself bored with your daily loop, throw some speed work in there.  It’ll give you some variety, and with the blood pounding in your ears and your lungs heaving for more oxygen, you ought to forget whatever else it is that’s bugging you today.  Go get ’em!

Running by the Numbers: Tech Gadgets for Nerds

Hi folks,

Two weeks after the Newport Half-marathon, and I have settled back into my workout/running routine (more or less).  And that includes the Sunday long runs.  I’ve decided to start another Hal Higdon Half-marathon training program, and since I’ve got one under my belt, I’ve moved up to the “Intermediate” level.  And I’m taking his comment on cross-training to heart.  Because I’m not interested in just running to keep me in shape, I’m sticking with three days of running and three days at the gym per week.

If you’re anything like me, you may find it occasionally difficult to get yourself to go work out.  This is particularly true with me and long runs.  Luckily, I have a wife that will ignore my whining, and drag me out the door to go pound the pavement.  Unfortunately, she’s been nursing a bit of an injury lately, so I was on my own today.  But I do have another trick to get me to go run, and that’s technology.

I’m a bit of nerd.  Always have been, and probably always will be.  Add that pre-existing condition to four years of studying engineering in college, and you might understand why I love numbers.  Not necessarily math (I came very close to failing my last math class), but numbers in the form of data.  Information that can be used to quantify performance and transformed into charts and graphs.  I love that stuff.  And luckily for me, there is a plethora of devices and services that will give you all the data you want.

I’ve been running with the Garmin Forerunner 405 for about 3 years now.  I like it, although it is by no means perfect.
Pros: Lots of options for workouts, reasonably accurate, nice size, good analytical software
Cons: Learning curve, occasionally takes forever to get a signal, sometimes gets temperamental when linking to compute, not happy in wet weather

Let’s start with the good.  The 405 is small enough that you could wear it as your everyday watch (assuming you can get away with wearing a digital watch).  But it still has a very usable screen area.  And you can customize that screen area in a multitude of ways.  You can set up to 3 screens to display information like time, pace, distance and other stats, so all you need to do is tap your watch to get the info you need.  For me, if I’m feeling good, I look at the pace and pat myself on the back for being so awesome.  For the other 98% of the time, it’s usually set to the remaining distance, which I check every 15 seconds and then sigh heavily as I slog through the miles.  I’ve also used it for interval training, which you can set to distance or time.  I’ve tried using the feature that allows you to set a goal pace, but overall, I don’t think that works very well.  I think it’s better to set it to take laps at regular intervals (1/4, 1/2 or 1 mile usually) so it can average your pace.

And the Garmin Training Center does a good job at visualizing your data.  It even gives the option of reviewing the whole run (at accelerated speed).  This is kind of fun if you’ve been running hills, because you’ll see your heart-rate spike (assuming you’re using the heart-rate strap) and your pace (probably) drop as you attack the hill.

That said, the 405 is not perfect.  I don’t think the user interface is intuitive, and I’m usually pretty good at being able to figure electronics out just by using them for a bit.  Once you learn it, it’s fairly easy to get it to do what you want, but it takes some time.  And speaking of time, let’s talk about the time it takes to lock on to the GPS signal.  Sometimes it’s almost instantaneous, and other days, it’ll take over 5 minutes.  I might attribute it to the urban environment I’m living in, but I had the same issues in places with wide open sky view.  And it always seems to take forever when the weather is really lousy.  Occasionally, there will also be issues with using the wireless transfer to put data on your computer, but that seems to happen more when you’re trying to update the 405’s firmware.

Aside from training, it’s fun to bring the 405 along on other outdoor pursuits.  I particularly like taking it skiing.  Once you sync with your computer, you can output into a Google Earth  format and see everywhere you went.  On a good day, between the runs and the lifts, you can cover upwards of 40 miles!

I haven’t taken it on any big hikes yet, but I imagine it would work well in that capacity as well.

So do you need fancy GPS enabled electronics to run successfully?  Absolutely not.  I occasionally force myself to go out without even a watch on so I can just focus on the experience, or really listen to what my body is telling me.  But for me, it adds to my enjoyment and helps get me out the door, so I think I’ll stick to my nerdy runs.

13.1 miles… because 13.2 would be crazy!

Hello readers,

This past Sunday marked a noteworthy event in my athletic career (and by “career”, I refer to my attempts to justify eating such things as Oreo Truffle Cupcakes).  I ran my first half-marathon!  I made my goal, managed to not hurt myself (not too badly anyway), and really had a pretty good time in the process.

Now how did I come to find myself at the starting line with 2,700 other lunatics on a brisk Sunday morning when I could have still been asleep?  Well the answer to that goes back to early this summer.

After running the Colorado Tough Mudder back in June, I talked to my sister about how it stacked up against other races she had done.  Now to get an idea of how my sister thinks, you need to know a few things:

  1. She’s a bossy OLDER sister.
  2. She’s a Marine.
  3. She’s in obnoxiously good shape.
  4. …and she hit me in the head with a baseball bat once.

So needless to say, despite all behavior to the contrary, I respect he opinion on most things.  She’s done a few Tough Mudders, a couple of marathons, and a bunch of other races, so I figured she would be a pretty good gauge of how events stack up against each other.  After running the 12 mile course in Beaver Creek that wound its way up the mountain, and managed to have not one, not two, but THREE of the obstacles bristling with 10,000 volt shocks, she informed me that if I had finished that, the additional 1.1 miles of half marathon shouldn’t be too hard.

She had a point.  Up until then, the longest straight run I had done probably was in the 7-8 mile range, but I had certainly gone on hikes that topped 16 miles, and those tended to be up to mountain summits.  So it wasn’t so much the absolute distance that intimidated me, but more the idea that such distances are to be covered while running the whole time.  I mean, 13.1 miles is a fair distance.  Living in a place where driving/parking in town tends to double my blood pressure, I routinely walk up to a mile to go to a restaurant or bar.  But quite frankly, is someone tells me that my destination is much more distant than that, I’m either looking for the subway or my keys.  But with the endorphins (and beer) flooding my system that afternoon in June, I figured “What the hell?  Let’s run a half-marathon.”

So after returning to the East coast, my wife and I started looking for a race to enter.  Luckily, we found a race that was taking place just south of us.  Even better, we had plenty of time to train properly for it.  However, I can attest that having the time to train properly, and actually running the prescribed schedule are two very different things.

At the advice of my sister, I based my running on Hal Higdon’s training programs.  I had previously followed his 5k program, and I was pretty happy with the results.  Alas, the heat and humidity of summer often found my enthusiasm lacking to get out on the weekends and do the long runs.  Thank goodness my wife wouldn’t stand for my whining, and she’d drag me out the door to beat the pavement for a while.  Unfortunately, a few weeks into this, out on our 6 miler, my knee really started to hurt.  And not the sort of hurt that you just power through.  Based on previous experience with similar pain, I think it was probably illiotibial band syndrome, or ITBS.  I got this pretty bad in college, to the point where I was hopping one-footed up stairs because it hurt too much to walk.  When my wife (then girlfriend) told me I should go see a doctor, I told her I was fine.  Because hopping up the stairs on one leg is what normal people do everyday, right?  But I relented and went to the see the doctor, who informed me it was probably ITBS, and really the only thing to do about it was to rest it.  Super.

Anyway, back in the present day, I figured that the combination of increased mileage, road surface (all concrete and asphalt) and my stupid habit of not stretching is what got me into this predicament.  So I backed off the running for 2-3 weeks, and then slowly started building up.  Of course by then, I was way behind the training curve of my wife, who has an excellent work ethic, and followed the training program much better than I ever would.  This is why a few weeks ago (as mentioned in a previous post) she was easily outdistancing me on our weekend runs.  But I figured that if I could make it through 10.5 miles of hills, I could probably push through to 13.1 on a flat course.  And so as the air horn sounded around 8:35 this past Sunday, I started putting one foot in front of the other, and didn’t stop for almost two hours.

I had never been in as big a start as that before.  While relatively small (a little over 2,700 participants), everyone starts at once in a high-rise area, so there’s a certain mob feel to it.  But after the first half mile or so, the pack had loosened up to the point that you could start moving around pretty easily.  My goal going into the race was to finish without having to stop to walk, and that if I could break 2 hours, I’d be happy.  This breaks down to a bit over a 9:00 min/mile pace.  Hardly a sprint, but still, it’s a decently long race.  Earlier in the week, I’d done an 8 mile run, and held around a 8:48 pace, so I was hoping I could hold something like that.

I ended up running it in 1:53:32, which made me pretty happy.  And while I was all kinds of sore for the rest of the day, I don’t think I hurt myself.  It turns out I’m not a very consistent runner: my pace varied from 8:01 (mile 2) to 9:25 (mile 13).  But I averaged an 8:40, so now  I know what to aim for if/when I run the next one.  But I learned that if I want to do better, I will definitely have to do more long runs.  Around the 10 mile mark, I hit a wall.  Hard.  And no, not an actual, physical wall, although given my usual amount of grace, I wouldn’t put it past me.  It was just a very rapid onset of fatigue.  At that point we were running along a marina, and while Google Earth claims that stretch was only 0.6 miles, I’m pretty sure it was at least 4, maybe 5.  But I managed to keep on running to the finish, glaring all the way at those who had enough left in the tank to pick up the pace for the final couple miles.  Up until then, I was definitely overtaking more people than were overtaking me, but not there at the end.  Aside from the final 50 yards where I managed a lumbering sprint similar to drunk tyrannosaurus, I was definitely getting passed.  Oh well, I’ll get ’em next time.

I really enjoyed having the goal of something I had never done before to train for, and running with my wife has been fun (aside from a little disagreement regarding running through crosswalks, which I still maintain is the runner’s right of way).  As long as I can avoid injuring myself, I see myself doing a few more of these, so I guess I  better get running!

Run run run…

Hiya,

I know all of you have been simply devastated by the lack of updates.  I apologize.  I wish I could say that I’ve been too busy saving puppies from burning buildings, but to be honest, I just haven’t been trying hard enough.  I’m going to see if I can do something about that.

I hopped on the scale the other day, and I wasn’t too pleased by what I saw.  Now, to be honest, I don’t care that much about my weight because a) it’s really not an indication of fitness or health, and b) my weight can fluctuate 5-7 pounds in the course of a day.  Like back in June when I went running when the heat index was 105 degrees (not the best idea I’ve ever had).  But still, it confirmed the feeling I’ve been having that I have not been leading the healthiest lifestyle ever.

Luckily, my lovely wife who has much more willpower than I do has been training rigorously for the half marathon we are doing in a couple of weeks.  So I’ve been joining her for some of her weekend long runs.  Last week she did 11 miles (I did 7), and today she did 12 (I ended up at 10.5 with a sore knee).  Surprisingly, I felt a lot better after today’s run than I did a week ago.  Not nearly as sore.  Of course, doing a better job managing hydration and running in cooler weather probably helped quite a bit as well.  But I have to say that I love the feeling of knowing that I’ve done a solid workout for the day, so now I can sit on the couch, drink a couple of beers, and watch football.  GO BRONCOS!