Monday, October 31, 2011

Weekly Training Wrap - 10/24 – 10/30

This week brought our first real blast of winter weather. As a result, my schedule seemed in flux all week long.  First I switched my MLR and my GA run to accommodate the impending weather. And then Saturday I was supposed to do 18 with 14 at marathon pace. However the one long, flat training area around is a breeze/crushed gravel trail and still had too much remaining snow. Now I get to attempt that run next Saturday! On the whole this week didn't seem that hard. I would almost describe it as a "maintenance" week where I sort of just kept and fine-tuned my fitness -- makes sense considering I pushed the hardest run of the week off the calendar.

I finished the month of October with 233 miles, my fourth largest of the year.  Since I will be tapering for half the month, my November mileage will drop off significantly.

A little random thing I thought I would share: This week I reread Lance Armstrong's book "It's Not About the Bike". I have read it several times in the past, but not since I've learned what it means to be an endurance athlete. It's a very inspiring book and an interesting read because you can compare the man he is today to the man he described himself as in the book.

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest
Tuesday 12 MLR at GA pace
Wednesday8 GA run in snow
Thursday 10 Intervals 5 x 1000: 6:30, 6:22, 6:22, 6:18, 6:18
Friday Rest
Saturday 17 LSD run with 1250' vertical
Sunday 5 Recovery with a little burst
Total 52 About 3300 vertical feet gained

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why I Run

But struggling and suffering, as I now saw it, were the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not constantly demanding more from yourself—expanding and learning as you go—you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip. -- Dean Karnazes
Recently I have been debating a few buddies about purpose, passion, and inspiration in life. And the conversation has focused primarily on the workplace and our jobs. Like many people, work has become a real source of frustration and energy drain. Is it because the unusual and hard circumstances facing the middle class?  Or, perhaps, it is because the three of us happen to be at similar stages of life and are reaching dissatisfaction at the same time? I'm not sure and I don't think it really matters.

Our debate has heightened with the death of Steve Jobs because he is famous for inspiring people and credited with "never working a day in his life". And while I think that is a great thing to aspire to, I'm not sure it's something that everyone can expect in their life.  In fact, it is my opinion that we sometimes glamorize other peoples' lives because they seem better than our own.  Here are a few reasons why I don't think that Jobs' life is for everyone:
  • Not everyone has the risk profile, creative mind, or entrepreneurial spirit that Steve Jobs possessed
  • If you've ever read Outliers, then you have to give some credit to the idea that our success is determined by factors we don't control
  • For every entrepreneur, there simply have to be thousands of others that make a business work.  The majority of those people cannot have the autonomy and power needed to love their job the way he did
  • This entire argument is based, at least to a degree, on the idea that we all measure success by bank accounts and stock options
  • This line of thinking almost dismisses the idea that Steve Jobs had tough periods in his life
  • Even people that love their jobs occasionally succumb to the pressures and have it feel like "work"
So what does this have to do with running? Well one of the main reasons that I run is to find inspiration, passion and happiness in my life. If you have read my story, then you know that I used to be just another member of the heard. My long journey through running has lead me to places I never thought when I started. I am not just a freak of nature born with superior running skills. The early years of running were difficult as I struggled with weight and motivation. Earlier this year, I struggled with very bad knee tendinitis that had me questioning whether my goals for the year were even possible. Here I am more than 10 years later -- down 65 pounds -- and finally starting to understand what it means to live a healthy life.

This summer I decided to run my first ultramarathon. When I signed up to do it, it had nothing to do with inspiring myself or anyone else. The primary reason I signed up was to have a BIG challenge to train for. Somewhere along the way things changed. I was getting stronger and healthier every time I ran.  It became effortless and fun. All my personal best times began to fall with ease. And it was all because I worked hard at it. There was a direct link between my hard work and  the results. How often does that happen in corporate America?

And another funny thing happened, I inspired other people!  My daughter ran her first 10K with me (and finished in the top 10% of her age group by the way).  She spent weeks preparing for that race and has become one of the better runners in her school.  Later in the summer my kids both torched a 2K run in Marble, CO.  Before this year my wife pretty much hated running.  She ran two half marathons in under 2 hours each.  Countless other people that I know began asking me for advice about running.  My sister made the absolutely incredible sacrifice of flying out here for barely more than 48 hours just to be a member of my ultra crew.  Then she went on to run a darn good marathon of her own later in the summer.  I made numerous new friends and even enhanced some relationships with existing friends.

Those who run long are not freaks of nature. We are not a handful of chosen ones blessed with indefatigable muscle and indestructible cartilage. Nor do we have indomitable willpower that others lack. If anything sets us apart it is a kind of sensitivity. We can hear a faint chord vibrating on old and brittle strings. It begins to resonate through us when we rise predawn for a morning run. The sound builds the longer we stay at it. On a long run through the mountains our attention becomes focused, in tune, automatic. Each footfall and each breath synchronized with a primal tune. Ours is a re-creation of once necessary dispositions. -- Powell, Bryon. Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons

The other beautiful thing about running -- running long in particular -- is that each run is a microcosm of life.  There are almost always parts of the run where you struggle and have to preserver. There is a constant struggle to balance between enjoying the moment and pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone. We learn to embrace and overcome pain and weakness.  If you run with friends, the ups and downs are evident in your interaction with one another. During period of the run you are joking, teasing and really enjoying one another's company. And at other times you are too busy struggling to say a word.

The week before my ultramarathon I developed a virus that caused me to run a 101 degree fever. And, for reasons still unclear to me, I had terrible stomach discomfort that kept me from eating and drinking the last three hours of my run. The competitor in me wishes that those things had not happened because they ruined my chances at reaching my goal time. But the human side of me wouldn't change a thing because I learned so much about myself on that day. Everyone has a story, but those that involve struggle and sacrifice make for more gripping theater.

Those of us that look for passion and meaning in life in our work are likely to come up empty more often than not. Perhaps people are living lives that are too comfortable. As part of a modern industrial society, we have many conveniences in our lives. But I believe the true beauty in life is overcoming adversity and finding a way to enjoy the journey. Running appeals to me because it is such a simple sport and it reveals your character in raw form.

As I close this, I want to leave you with a video shared with me by a running friend.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekly Training Wrap - 10/17 – 10/23

"The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die." -- Pre

If you read this blog, you have probably seen that quote before. As I warmed up for my "tune-up race" today, that quote was bouncing around over and over in my head. It has been many months since I really attempted a 10K race. In fact, I have very little experience racing them. Consequently I don't know a lot about strategy for a race of this distance. What I did know: I needed to run a 42:30 to keep with my 3:20 marathon training plan and I had just run 17 miles a day earlier. Honestly, I didn't have high expectations. But I'm not really a defeatist, so I decided the best pace was suicide pace (whatever that is!). After a decent warm up, I switched directions on the track -- to help balance the load on my body -- and started running. With a 6:51 target pace, I decided to bank a few miles below that without spending all my energy. First mile 6:42. It felt pretty darn good. So I banked a few more below the necessary pace (6:35 and 6:29). At the 5K mark I had tied my best pace on this same track (20:20). Hmm, am I going too fast? Can I keep this up? Every time I started to struggle I focused on my form -- lean forward, drive your knees, keep your feet landing under you, use your glutes to propel forward -- and I just kind of settled into a 6:28 pace. I ran my second 5K faster than the first and beat the "necessary" pace by nearly 2 full minutes. If I'm being fair, I should acknowledge that the conditions today were PERFECT. And I always run my best times on that track.

So now I have a decision to make: what the heck do I do on race day? That 10K pace suggests I could run a 3:11 marathon. And that doesn't include the 10 second per mile benefit that I should get from dropping 4K feet in altitude race day (maybe 5 or 6 minutes on race day). Could I really run a low 7 min/mile marathon?!  Seems impossible.  I am the same guy that was happy to break four hours 12 months ago. BQ is for studs. Only feather weight runners with an insane V02 max can run a sub-3:10 (my BQ time). I still feel like that is an unrealistic goal, but I am insanely happy that I can even think about it. I won't consider revising my goal of sub-3:20 until closer to the race. And it's very doubtful I'll attempt a 3:10 unless conditions on race day are absolutely perfect and I feel amazing at the halfway point. It is too risky. With Leadville training coming up, I may not have another shot at a road marathon for a while.

I have three more hard weeks of training before taper, meaning October will likely be my last 200 mile month of the year. The big run this week is 18 miles with 14 at marathon pace. But what is my marathon pace?! I suppose I'll shoot for something in the 7:30 range.

A quick update on Leadville:  registration opens November 1st.  They are expecting the 100 mile races to fill quickly.  And since I'm impulsive anyway, I will likely sign up early if I am going to sign up at all.  At this point I would say it is likely, but I'm still searching within to think it over.  If you know me, you know I don't half-ass anything.  If I do it, I will build my entire summer around that race (24 weeks and at least 2 tune-up ultras).  It's a huge commitment and I'll need a dedicated crew and pacers to make it happen.  Stay tuned.

Day Miles Notes
Monday 8 5x600 Intervals
Tuesday 4 Easy pace
Wednesday12 MLR at a pretty easy pace
Thursday 4 Easy pace
Friday Rest
Saturday 17 An LSD run with 1300' vertical
Sunday 10 Tune-up race 10K
Total 55 About 2800 vertical feet gained

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekly Training Wrap - 10/10 – 10/16

This was a BIG week for me. In fact, it's not hard to argue that it is one of the hardest weeks of running I've done all year. The combination of the massive LT run, the MLR, and the near MP twenty miler sure was a ton of work. I feel like I really nailed them all. The LT run was difficult to read because it was on a treadmill at a low elevation (500 feet in Austin), so there was some estimation in how to pace it. And the 20 miler was probably 15 - 20 seconds too fast, but it felt comfortable on the heels of a rest day Friday. And I have two recovery days (Sunday and Monday) before my next hard run. I describe that pace as near MP because it was on hills (71 feet gained per mile), at altitude (4000 feet higher than Vegas), and with a bit of wind. Add that all up and I figure it is worth 20 or 30 seconds per mile, meaning the level of effort I exerted was near marathon pace.

Next week will be interesting because the plan introduces the tune-up races into the schedule. I've decided to substitute some long intervals instead. On Saturday I plan to run 2 x 4 miles at roughly HMP for roughly 11 total miles. And then on Sunday it calls for a 17 mile long run. That sort of takes me back to the summer where I was doing back-to-back long runs.

Day Miles Notes
Monday 7 TM Recovery miles in San Antonio, TX
Tuesday 11 7 progressive LT miles at an average pace of about 7 min/mile
Wednesday5 Recovery miles in Austin, TX
Thursday 12 Early morning MLR at about a GA pace
Friday Rest
Saturday 20 A hard (borderline MP) 20 mile run
Sunday 5 Recovery miles
Total 60 About 3100 vertical feet gained

Monday, October 10, 2011

Weekly Training Wrap - 10/03 – 10/09

This week was a cutback week and I really enjoyed it. There were a couple of highlights to the week.  The first was my Wednesday V02 max workout. Jon gave me advice on my splits: I am assuming because he was helping me test my limits. It was hard and I didn't quite complete the workout the way I wanted, but it is a sign that I have a bit more in the tank than I realized. The second highlight was the Saturday run through the snow and rain. I can only think of a few runs that were even close to this tough with weather:

(Funny, Jon seems to be a part of all those stories.) And the final highlight of the week was going down and watching my wife and a bunch of my friends kick butt at the Denver Rock and Roll Marathon and Half Marathon. In particular I would like to thank my wife (1:55 half with almost no training) and Chuck (2:53 full despite fighting through injuries) for inspiring me to continue giving it my all. What an energizing way to kick off the remaining tough weeks of my training!  In fact, I have officially changed my goal to 3:20.

This week will be little more of a challenge because I am in Texas until Wednesday evening where the weather is supposed to be in the 90's with unbearable humidity.  And this might be the toughest week on the Pfitz 18/55 plan.  In particular I am dreading the 11 miler with 7 @ half to 15K pace.  Yikes.  Fortunately I'll be 6K (yes six thousand!) feet lower in elevation when I attempt it.  According to the altitude adjustment calculator, that should be a 25 second per mile benefit.

I am just shy of 2000 miles running for the year and 150,000 feet of vertical gain, but I still feel strong!

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest
Tuesday 8 GA miles to start my running week
Wednesday8 with 5 x 800: 6:22, 6:18, 6:15, 6:18, 6:30 (crashed on the last one)
Thursday 5 Recovery miles
Friday Rest
Saturday 14 Slogging through the snow
Sunday 8 Somewhere between GA and MP pace.  
Total 43 About 2700 vertical feet gained*

Monday, October 3, 2011

Weekly Training Wrap - 09/26 – 10/02

Another tough week of training. I am surprised at how much I feel like I'm being pushed on this plan. It seems to me there are a couple of potential reasons for this. First, I am finally pushing my pace closer to my limits (compared with all the LSD ultra running I did over the summer). Since I never really ran for pace over the summer, most of my runs felt comfortable (as long as I was properly hydrated).  It never really occurred to me that I could run this fast/hard. Perhaps if I wore my HR monitor more often I would know these things! The other potential reason is that I didn't give the Pfitz plan enough credit. Because the plan is "only" 55 miles per week and with only one long run, I don't think I gave it enough respect. Nonetheless, I feel like I am finding gears that I never thought I had. It is unbelievable to me that I ran 16 miles (on Saturday) in just over 2 hours. I have only run 8 miles in under one hour about a half dozen times in my life. And that same 16 mile workout took me about 2:20 in preparation for last year's Denver RnR marathon. What's more, my average HR was 152, so I wasn't exactly killing myself on the run. Wow, an eye opening week. I might need to revise my goal to a lower pace (gulp!).

Day Miles Notes
Monday Rest
Tuesday 6 Recovery miles to start my running week
Wednesday 14 A very early morning MLR at low end of GA range.
Thursday 5 Recovery miles
Thursday 4 Parent Running Day: 3.65 miles in 25 mins, including a 20:20 5K
Friday Rest
Saturday 16 Long Run with 13 miles @ or below MP, several miles were close to HMP
Sunday 6 Family recovery run (extremely easy)
Total 51 About 2500 vertical feet gained*