Wednesday, April 28, 2010


With my taper underway and my mind free to wander on things other than how early I have to get up for my next training run, I thought I'd talk today about some things people do in races that I just don't understand.

Thing #1 : Why do some people insist on lining up at the front of the race when they know they're not going to finish anywhere near the top 100? Besides being detrimental to the runners who need to get around them, it also puts them at a disadvantage.  Many people around them are running fast and they might get sucked up in a fast pace they can't sustain. I guess I'd rather have them get caught up in the moment and run too fast because that at least thins them out and makes them easier to pass. Unfortunately, only about half of the people who line up in front run too fast. The rest just go along at 9 minutes a mile for a 5k, usually shoulder-to-shoulder with their friends, making it extremely difficult for anyone to get around them.

Thing #1b: Why do walkers line up anywhere within the front third of the starting line? I guess this question pretty much answers itself: They're walkers and they have no idea that there's people trying to run fast to place in their age groups or PR. For the most part I give these people a pass, although they could at least try to stay off to the side. Have you ever seen walkers off to the side at the start of a race? No, they're always right in the middle of the thing. When I ran the Fools 5 in Lewiston I thought the way the had the start was genius. There were big signs that said things like "fast runners" and "competitive runners" at the front and "joggers" and "walkers" at the back. I was running with my wife near "joggers" and we probably passed about 50 walkers in the first mile. Maybe they didn't see the signs.

Thing #2: Why do people throw half-filled cups of blue Powerade behind them in a marathon with 10,000 runners, 6,000 of which may be directly behind you? Powerade is sticky--please don't throw it at me.

Thing #3: Huge fuel belts for a 5 mile race--a race that has two water stops. I guess it doesn't affect me so if you wanna carry 5 extra pounds of water--whatever.

OK, I guess that about does it. For all these things newer runners get a pass. If you've ran more than 3 races please look around at the annoyed faces of other runners as you and five other runners create an impassable mass at a water stop as you slow to a walk--I'm talking to you. If you're flinging blue Powerade at anyone who tries to pass you and your posse--I'm talking to you.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Let the Taper Begin!

It was a great week of training topped off with an 18 mile run in the rain and the purchase of a new pair of running shoes.

I woke up this morning to rain and thunder but a quick peak at the radar told me I could wait a while and the rain would get a little lighter. No problem--I had a coupon to Marathon Sports so I headed over there and got a new pair of running shoes. I tried on a bunch but I finally went with the Asics Speedstar 4. It's lightweight and it looks pretty sleek too so I'm looking forward to trying it out tomorrow.

After finding the perfect shoe I went on my last long run before the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon. The rain never got too bad and it even let up a couple of times although after a while I was too wet to really notice whether it was raining or not.

This 18 miler was supposed to be at MP + 20-30 seconds. I was feeling pretty good despite a week of pretty tough training so I decided to just go for 7:20 / mile. Apparently my goal pace is around 7:00 / mile. The rain didn't really bug me and it was a really nice run. I ran around the chain of lakes in Minneapolis and it wasn't as busy as it usually is on a Saturday morning. There were still plenty of people running but I didn't have to maneuver around people. You could tell all the runners out there were hardcore because it was raining. None of those "it's a beautiful spring morning so I'll throw on my Brooks Beasts, camelbak, and run around the lake shoulder-to-shoulder with my running partners and not even move when people try to go around me."

Around mile twelve some guy walking next to Lake Calhoun points to the water and says, "look at that." He must've been able to tell I'm a fisherman so naturally I paused the Garmin to take a look. There was a big old muskie swimming around in the shallows. I was all, "awesome," and he was all, "looks like he's looking for a snack." Then, back to six more miles of running.

At mile 16 I decided to push the pace a little and ran a little faster than 6:30 / mile for the last two miles. I finished the run at 7:04 / mile and not feeling too spent at all. I'm psyched for the marathon and looking forward to two weeks of taper time.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Weekend Reading - Born to Run

One book I rather enjoyed recently was Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run." "Born to Run" follows the Tarahumara, a tribe in Mexico that besides being shy and wearing sandals made out of tire rubber, also happen to be accomplished ultrarunners.

"Born to Run" also chronicles the author's struggle with running injuries and his quest to run injury-free. McDougall gets into some interesting information about running shoes, minimalist and barefoot running, and an evolutionary discussion contemplating whether or not running made humans human. In other words, are humans "born to run?"

The book features an interesting cast of characters including Caballo Blanco, a former boxer turned ultrarunner turned running hermit. Caballo Blanco is putting on an ultramarathon of 47 miles, which for some reason McDougall decides is 50 miles. Poetic license I guess. The author brings some American ultrarunners to run in Caballo Blanco's utramarathon, the most memorable of which I believe is Barefoot Ted.

This book is pretty readable and McDougall does a pretty nice job of moving between narratives of running the ultramarathon, the Tarahumara, and the American ultrarunners, along with the various sections on minimalist running and the shoe industry. Most of those sections were pretty interesting though it seems like some of McDougall's "facts" were a little suspect. I definitely recommend it though as a good, light read. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Count down

With peak week over, I'm down to counting down the days to the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon--except without the counting. Peak week went great--I put in over 63 miles so I'm feeling pretty confident heading into the marathon.

My 21 mile run on Saturday went pretty well. I think carrying my stupid Nathan water bottle thing around my waist slows me down a little--at least that's what I tell myself when I look at how fast I'm running compared to my heart rate. I'm trying to talk my wife into riding her bike with me while I run 18 miles next weekend so she could carry some water for me but she doesn't seem too thrilled with the idea. She said something about not wanting to be my pack mule. Whatever.

I'm still going to put in a fair amount of miles this week--probably around 55-60. This plan has a two week taper, so no cutting back until next week. I did the whole three week taper for my first marathon so I'm going to be a little more aggressive for this one. We'll see how that works out.

This morning I got the side stitch of all side stitches. I was doing two tempo intervals of 15 minutes each and after the second one I felt like someone was stabbing me in the liver. I actually had to stop and walk before running the two recovery miles at the end. Geesh, I hope I don't get one of those in the marathon. It's the only stitch that made me walk so far, so you know I'll be due for another one in the marathon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Peak Week

It's the week of sore legs and lots of miles (relatively speaking) for me. This next Saturday will be three weeks from the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon and my attempt at a BQ time. I'm going to celebrate the three week mark by running between 20-22 miles. The plan I'm using calls for 23 miles but that seems a bit excessive to me.

I decided I'm going to run every day this week and possibly every day next week before my two week taper. Yesterday was a time crunch so I pulled my first double in years. I'd thought about doing doubles a couple times, but never mustered the motivation for them. This time, however, I managed to do 5 in the morning at approximately MP on tired legs. It felt good and gave me some confidence to be able to run near MP on sore legs. Then, after my 11ish hour work day I put in 5 easy miles in the evening.

I had a fun moment yesterday morning when I went out to run. A kid at our apartment complex says to me, as I'm walking out the door, "You go running even when it's raining?" Yes, kid, I do. I'm waterproof. I'll take running in the rain and 50s over running in snow and ice when the wind chill's below zero.

I'm pumped for two more weeks of hard training and then taking it easier the next couple weeks before the marathon. I haven't been training this hard or felt this good about my running in years.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Fetzer 20k Race Report

In running there's nothing more exciting than having an unexpectedly great race, especially when the race is a tune-up for a goal race. On Saturday morning I went into the Dr. Fetzer Memorial 20k with three goals:
1. Break 1:25
2. Get a good stimulus for aerobic improvement
3. Use my time to set my goal pace for the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon on May 8th.

I went out with a 6:30 mile, which was uphill for about a quarter-mile. The next mile brought us back down hill and I ran it in 6:18. When I hit the lap button on the Garmin 305 and saw 6:18 I thought either I was going to pay for that mile later or I was in better shape than I thought.

After around 3 miles I caught a guy in front of me who was in triathlete gear and we chatted for a bit. We ran in silence for a while and than we started chatting when he asked me what my goal was. His name was Kam and he was looking to run 6:20 - 6:30 miles and I told him I was looking for 6:30 - 6:50. As we were talking about our goals and what races we'd ran I realized I was talking pretty comfortably and could probably run faster. Two guys passed us and they were going pretty quick. When a guy in gray passed us I was feeling pretty fresh so I decided to try and go with him.

I stayed with the guy for about a mile and then on a bridge he sped up right before we passed these two women (the women started 13 minutes before the men). I got boxed in behind them. After I got around them I decided I was going to catch this guy again. He was maybe 20 meters ahead of me so I tried to gradually catch up to him. He didn't look overly speedy so I thought I could maybe throw a surge at him and try to lose him. That's when I dropped a 6:07 mile but he stayed right with me. He passed me at a water stop and I never did catch him again. I'm not sure what his name was so he either finished 40 seconds or a minute faster than me based on the results. I know he was close to catching another guy but I don't know if he ever did.

The 6:07 mile didn't kill me and I was able to finish strong for the last several miles. I wasn't able to run another fast mile, but I was very happy with my time. On to the goals.

Goal number one, running under 1:25, was a success--in fact, I smashed goal #1. Demolished it, destroyed it, and kicked it in the head. I ran 1:19:53--6:26 miles. Goal number two was also a success--definitely a good aerobic stimulus for training.

Goal number three, using the 20k to set a goal pace for the May 8th marathon, I'm not so sure about. According to McMillian's running calculator a 1:19:53 is equivalent to a sub-three hour marathon. That's awfully fast. I was only shooting for sub-3:10. Maybe now I'll shoot for sub-3:05 and see what happens from there.

This weekend was a busy weekend. After the 20k I went to beautiful Frontenac State Park and did some volunteer work clearing trails. It was gorgeous out there and I wished I'd brought my camera.

Today (Sunday) my wife and I headed to Lewiston, MN and ran the Fool's 5. It was Laura's fourth year running this race. It was my first and I ran with her for the first couple of miles before finishing up with some easy 8 minute miles. I used the 5 mile race as part of a 7 mile training run to get a good start at my peak training week for the marathon.

I finished this week with just over 48 miles. I was shooting for 50 this week but decided it didn't make sense to push it on Thursday and Friday and sacrifice a strong race effort on Saturday. Life gets busy sometimes so you just got to do what you can.

Next week I'll shoot for 60+ miles and that should be the most before the marathon in May.

Here are some shots of the Fetzer 20k:

Here I am behind my new friend Kam. I ran with him for a few miles after this:

The guy in the gray shirt passed me after this:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Weekend Reading - Training Books Special

Last Friday I missed out on posting a book review due to Easter festivities with family in Nebraska. This Friday, however, I'll make it up by giving a rundown of my favorite training books I've read recently, and some of my not so favorite.

If you've kept up with some of my posts, you've probably read about the book I'm using now, "Run Faster From the 5k to the Marathon: Be your own best coach", by Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald. This book is a quick read and it gives some great theories of training in the model of the great Italian coach Renato Canova. It also brings in elements of the Lydiard system, although it's far less periodized--which basically means Hudson mixes things up more.

"Run Faster" emphasizes three basic systems to train--musculoskeletal, aerobic system, and race specific endurance--and gives workouts for training each system. He goes into how to notice when one system's behind the others and how to tweak your training plan to "catch up" the lagging system.

I like the customizable nature of Hudson's training system and much of what he says make sense. The writing isn't stellar but it's an easy enough read to get through quickly. The back contains the popular "cookie cutter" schedules, though I suspect he mostly included them for marketing reasons as he emphasizes individualized workouts and training plans. One nice thing about this book is that it offers training plans for a variety of distances (obviously from the 5k to the marathon).

Two other trainig books I enjoyed were Hal Higdon's "Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide", and Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas's "Advanced Marathoning." These books offer more traditional training programs. Higdon's book is focused on novices and Pfitzinger's is focused more on those looking to PR or run a fast marathon.

Higdon gives a lot of good, practical advice and his conversational writing tone is easy to read. His book is definitely not technical so for those just looking to complete a marathon and not really caring about VO2 max, lactate thresholds, and complex workouts, Higdon would be a good place to start.

Pfitzinger is much more technical and his training plans are extremely detailed. Reading the text is a must for someone looking to run a great marathon as knowing the why behind the how is key to understanding the purpose of Pfitzinger's training plans.

This past year I've also become more interested in running form, and in that vein I read "Chi Running," by Danny Dreyer, and "Master the Art of Running," by Andrew Shields. These books both give information on tweaking (or outright changing) your running form to become more efficient, faster, and injury free.

I can't say that I loved either one of these books. "Chi Running" gave some good information and I definitely incorporate some of the techniques in my running. At the same time, however, some of it felt gimmicky and there to make money. I thought about signing up for a seminar but they're over $100. No thanks. You can probably watch Chi Running videos on YouTube and get the gist enough to incorporate some of the techniques into your running if you're concerned about form.

One problem I had with the Chi Running form is its emphasis or landing on the midfoot--basically landing flat-footed. I don't think this really matters at all as long as you're landing with your foot behind your center of gravity. By trying to land flat-footed if you're a natural heel striker you're looking for an ankle or Achilles tendon injury. Dreyer claims if you learn the form you won't get injured. However, if you do get injured, it's because you didn't learn the form and you should sign up for one of these $100+ classes so you learn the form. Why write a book about form when you can't learn the form from the book?

"Master the Art of Running" was OK but honestly I don't remember a lot from this book. It mentions Chi Running and POSE (which I haven't read), but a lot of it has to do with the Alexander technique, and I didn't much care for that. If you're really cerebral about running form or interested in the Alexander technique, you might enjoy this book.

Well, that's it for the Training Books Schedule Special. I'm definitely going to be reading more training books, so this won't be the last.

Tomorrow I'm running the Fetzer 20k in Rochester, Minnesota. I decided I'm just going to get as close as I can to running 50 miles this week and hope that the easy extra miles don't kill my legs for tomorrow. I put in 9 last night and there's no school today so I'm going to put in some miles this morning, race tomorrow morning, and maybe do a recovery run tomorrow evening.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cutting it Short

I'm faced with a conundrum for the next couple days. I'm running a 20k on Saturday morning and was hoping to use it to gauge my fitness for the Lake Wobegon Trail Marathon which takes place exactly four weeks after the Fetzer 20k. This week I was scheduled to run 50 miles, and it's looking like that's not going to happen unless I put in some serious miles today and tomorrow.

Being busy and tired have kicked my butt this week. It's been exciting (my wife and I have just signed an agreement to purchase our first home). Work's also been crazy and I've had too many late nights and early mornings. Last night all I had time for was a run of 3 miles because our realtor was coming over with paperwork to sign and I'd just put in 11 hours at work. Now I'm wondering if I should put in some extra miles today and tomorrow to at least get close to the my goal of 50.

If this was just a regular week with a regular long run on Saturday I'd have no problem doing 10 today and 8 tomorrow. The thing is, I really want to use my time in this 20k on Saturday to set a goal pace for the marathon. If I'm worn out on Saturday I'm not sure if that's going to work.

I guess I got all day at work to think about it, so we'll see what happens.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring Break Brush with Death

I spent the last week down in Nebraska hanging out with family, eating great food, celebrating the Easter holiday, and running. I also had a close call with a ravenous German Shepherd--a dog I could tell had a taste for human flesh.

This past Wednesday morning my wife Laura, sister Sarah, and I were taking my niece to kindergarten. As Laura was loading my niece into the car, a German Shepherd came up to my sister's garage, growling menacingly and looking ferocious. Laura told my niece to get into the car just as I was getting out of the house. I tried to be friendly with the dog, but it barked and growled at me. I yelled "bad dog" and pretended to throw something at it and it ran off.

As we drove my niece to kindergarten I told Sarah and Laura that I was hoping that dog was gone when we got back so it wouldn't bother me when I ran.

Less than an hour later I left my sister's house to go for a run. The wicked German Shepherd was still on my sister's side of the street so I decided to cross the street and hoped the dog would leave me alone.

It didn't. It ran across the street barking and growling at me. I looked for something to throw at it but there was nothing. I yelled "NO!" and faked another throw but this time the dog kept coming. It growled and faked a charge at me. It bared its teeth. I was thinking, I've been running almost 10 years and I'm going to finally get bit by a dog.

The German Shepherd looked like it was done growling and ready to bite and just then--not even kidding--an Animal Control van pulled up. The driver opened the door and banged on the side of the van and the dog ran to the van. I felt like I was in a movie or something. If that van had been a couple minutes later I'm pretty sure that dog would've been chewing on my leg while I tried to kick it in the head.

Fortunately I didn't have to try to fend off the dog which would've almost definitely ended badly for me.

I did get some good workouts in this week--a good tempo run and a 14 mile MP run. I ended up with over 50 miles for the week and I'll shoot for 50 more next week with a 20k race this coming Saturday.