Race Face: June Racing Recaps #findingmyfast

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve blogged, and I’ve raced a few races. In fact, I’ve raced THREE! Ah, sorry for not giving each their own post, but they were short and I haven’t quite figured out how to indulge literarily (is that a word?) on running events that take less time to run than it does to write a post about them.

So, on with it.

I sort of did a reverse-distance race plan for the month of June, in which I ran a 10K, followed a week later by a 5K, which was followed two weeks later by a 1 mile race. I have really been digging the idea of just jumping into races, and fortunately, the Saint Louis area has a ton of races. The weekend I did the 10K, there were over a dozen running events in a 50mile radius. But, I chose the Route 66 10K because it was the Central Region RRCA Championships, and I wanted to see how fast I could run a 10K with the training I had been putting in.

So, first race on the list: Route 66 10K. Obviously, I am not a pro at racing 10Ks. I have only ever run four in my life, including the one I raced earlier this month at the Midwest Champs. This race distance takes practice to dial in, and I think that the 10K is one of the toughest events (that, and the 800m on the track). So, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I didn’t race it well. I definitely, without a doubt, went out too fast. When my watch said 6:08 at the 1mi mark, and I was shooting for 6:45s, I panicked a little. I let off the gas, and rolled through mile 2 with a 6:35. Ok, a little slower, that’s good. But then my time kept rising. Mile 3 = 6:45. Mile 4 = 6:55. Mile 5 = 7:20. Eeek. I just pulled myself together to cross the line. Good way to get the first race of the year out of my legs.

10k

Moving on to the second race on my list: The Go! St Louis All-American 5K. This one is self-proclaimed to be the fastest 5K in STL. And it was; net downhill, point-to-point, perfect time of year (mid June), and lots of fast people. Holy, crap. We’re talking Saint Louis University’s 10K record holder, Hillary Orf, and Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, Julie Lossos. Fast women. I was more excited about this race;  I LOVE 5Ks, they are quick and relatively painless. Plus, I needed redemption.

I settled into the start line two or three rows back, knowing full well that lots of people would sprint out of the gate. I didn’t want to do that, but I did want to get into a good position. After the gun went off, I settled into pace after the shuffling of people in front of me toned down about 100meters in. I cruised through mile 1 feeling great, and looked at my watch. 5:55. Ok, well… that’s a little fast, considering I was shooting for a 19:45. Whatever, roll with it. Use the middle mile as a relaxed-but-tactical mile. I pushed a little on the ups, but not too hard, and I used the downhills to my advantage. Mile 2 was a solid 6:30. That felt like a 6:3o. I picked it up a little, pushed a little harder. Mile 3 was 6:25. Fantastic, I think that’s the first time in my life that the third mile was faster than the middle mile. The course, with its net negative elevation gain, did have a few blips of uphills, including three teeny ones in the last mile, but I felt strong and finished in as much of a sprint I could muster, with a time of 19:36, good for 11th woman and 3rd in my age group.

In between the 5K and the mile, I headed to visit my parents’ in Michigan. Unfortunately, my mom was admitted to the hospital for side pains the Sunday after the 5K, which – after a CT scan – led to the diagnosis of pulmonary clots… so for a week, I learned more than I thought I could about what it truly means to be strong, and to be patient. By the end of the week, she was released from the hospital on strict orders, and while I would have loved to spend time with my mom on better terms, I was reminded once again of the love and caring family I have. While she’s not out of the woods yet (she’ll need to go to the clinic at least once a week to get blood levels checked for the next six months), she is feeling better, and at home, and is also making progress on her physical therapy (she had her rotator cuff repaired 6wks ago, too). I love you, Mom!

OK! Finally, the third race on my list, the Macklind Avenue Mile. I’ve lived in Saint Louis for nearly three years now, and I’ve volunteered at this event for the last two years. It is so much fun; loads of spectators and racers, and tons of enthusiasm all around. This year, I decided to follow through with my new mantra, to find my fast, and decided to race it. I had no idea how fast I would go, since I haven’t run a mile since high school. High school! That was 12 years ago. Seriously, that’s a long time. And I don’t honestly remember what my fastest time was. I think it was 5:45. I think. Have no idea. I think that I ran a low 5 in the 1500 in college, which probably translated to roughly a 5:30 mile, but that was on a track when I was training for short stuff. Anyway, back to what I said: I had no idea what I’d do.

So I signed up for the Macklind Mile as soon as I got home from the All American 5K. The MM is really unique; the races are segregated into a “community” event, which is for those who are looking to race with their family or dogs or whatever. Then, there is a “competitive men’s” and “competitive women’s” race, followed by an “elite” race (top 10 fastest seeds from men and women are eligible). I chatted with some friends before the race, and warmed up a bit, but was not sure how quick my legs would be.

The open (competitive) women’s race was after the men’s, and I lined up in front next to a few youngin’s and some older women that I recognized from other races and group runs. The first part of the race is a steep downhill, followed by a small climb, and the last half is all downhill. I tried to not go out too fast in the first quarter but I didn’t want to lose contact with the front. Through the 400, I was at 1:20, which was about right given the downhill and my recent paces on the track. I settled in a little, and floated through the half at 2:43. I was surprised to see at this point that I was next in line behind the leader, Heidi, who crushed me in the 5K two weeks before (she ran a mid-18). I could hear a small pack behind me, and felt another girl inch her way alongside me. She got ahead of me, and around the 3/4mi mark, I realized I could be running faster.

Photo taken by Brent Newman

So I did. I pushed, positioned myself back in 2nd, and crossed the line behind Heidi in 5:22, 2nd open woman. It’s rare for me to finish in the top three overall. In fact, I don’t know that I ever have in a road race, regardless of the distance. The pessimist in me says, “well, the elite women were in a different race, so you really finished 8th.” But, really, I am proud of this race and how I did, and proud to have pushed at the finish and cross the line in second place.

Photo by Brent Newman

Thanks to Big River Running Company for being a part of two of the three events I raced in June; these were fantastic. BRR puts on exceptional events; they are well organized, well orchestrated, and I always enjoy them. The Macklind Mile is truly a unique event, and Saint Louis has such an amazing running community- thanks in part to the crew at Big River. I went to their weekly run from the South City store right after moving to this city; it was the first exposure I had to the St Louis running community, and it’s truly a great one. I am so glad to be back into and focusing more in the sport, and it’s events like the ones I raced in June that help reinforce why I love running, and racing, so much.

Advertisements

How to write your own training plan #marathon #training #racing #running

Everything that’s in this post is based on what I’ve learned over the last decade either by those who have coached me (i.e., collegiate endurance sports), what I’ve learned from teammates, what I’ve learned from graduate-level exercise science courses, and what I’ve read out of books. I was an assistant coach for my collegiate XC and track team during graduate school, and I followed the “training bible” of Jack Daniels, PhD, closely under the tutelage of the teams’ coaches. I do think that, over the years, I’ve learned quite a lot about endurance training and running in general, and yet my strategies for marathon and endurance-training are ever-evolving; that being said, after much exploring, I have honed in an ideology of training that really synchronizes with my physiology (and psychology) and I’ve clung to it. Every time I’ve trained for a marathon (all eight), I’ve done so by coaching myself.

Obviously, like I said, I was coached in college, but I didn’t run marathons competitively (or at all) in college. I had my first running coach when I was in middle school, with whom I maintained a strong coach/athlete relationship throughout my high school years, and also consistently had a running/endurance coach throughout my collegiate career (two coaches, actually). In graduate school, I no longer had any sort of official coach to guide my workouts each day, but I (thankfully) paid attention during my coached years and learned “the pattern,” and therefore was able to maintain more-or-less of the approach I was exposed to during my “developing” years: run more, run often, and mix it up with varying levels of intensity. And, because I was coached by numerous different coaches with different styles and approaches, I was able to identify what training methodologies worked for me, and what methods led to burnout.

Here’s the basics on how to set up and design your own training plan (or, how to pilfer it from somewhere else):

  1. Do your research. Not every plan will work for every person, that’s why there are so many books and plans and coaches out there (in other words: If one thing worked for everyone, wouldn’t everyone do it?). We all have different lives, different priorities, different physiology, and different goals. For example, if you are a veteran marathoner wanting to train for a faster marathon, and you have been consistently running bigger mile weeks without injury for the past few years (we’re talking 50-80miles), then you may be able to successfully execute a marathon training plan with 60+ miles per week in training (but what you do during those 60+ miles will influence how fast you race). On the other hand, if you’re new to the distance and have never run more than a 40-mile week in your life, jumping into a high mileage plan without making any adjustments should be avoided as it will likely set you up for injury. The most important thing is knowing yourself and your limits, knowing the basic concepts behind the plan, and fine-tuning them for yourself.
  2. Find the right plan(s) for you. Like I said in #1, there are hundreds of books out there providing insight on how to train for a marathon. Finding the right one for you is tricky. The first thing to do is ask yourself: “Does this plan fit into my life, or can I make it fit?” If you work 50 hours a week, have three small children, and a spouse that also works full time, training 20-25 hours a week may be something you’re looking to avoid. However, if you know you can manage the training time required to get in 80 mile weeks, then by all means, set yourself up for higher volume (that is, if your body is ready for it). But just remember, running more does not always mean running faster. There is a threshold at which you will become more and more fit the more time you put into training, but once you get there, your performance can plateau.
  3. Find the pattern and follow it.  Setting long-term goals is important when setting up your own training plan. Cookie-cutter training plans taken from running websites or books are helpful for beginners and those interested in exploring other training options than they’ve tried in the past, but they are generic and are rarely designed specifically for you. What cookie-cutter plans do provide, however, is a skeleton schedule that is already ironed out and easy (well, easy enough) to follow. For example, a plan from Hal Higdon’s website details specifics for daily mileage, with every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday aiming for an easy run or off day, every Tuesday aiming for a “strength” day, every Thursday aiming for a “tempo” day, and every Sunday being a longer run. That schedule skeleton establishes a pattern that is easy to remember, once you get through a few weeks of it, and the pattern eventually becomes routine. Sure, the strength and tempo days are usually different; you may need to find a hill to run up or a track to run on, but it is more or less a consistent pattern that takes the stress out of figuring out your daily workouts. In general, most plans follow this type of schedule; oscillating between low and high training days (low being rest/recovery and high being intensity/duration). We need the rest in order to excel at the intensity days. This is called microcycle periodization, where – within a short duration of time, say a week – your body is stressed at different levels and allowed to recover and make gains. Periodization also occurs at the meso- and macro-scale, too, where training adaptations are targeted to monthly or quarterly cycles, respectively. Mesocycles are typically designated as “preparation” and “competition” phases, but can also be designated as different phases (strength-building, speed-building, skill-building, etc.) depending on the goals of the plan.
  4. Build up slowly and, when in doubt, rest is (usually) best. Taking on a new training plan is a stress to your body in and of itself. There are times when the stress is good, where it builds fitness and strength. But if the new training plan deviates substantially to what you’re used to doing in training (e.g., dramatic increase in mileage), easing into it is a good idea. Avoid dramatic increases in mileage quickly; many physiologists and coaches recommend no more than 10% increases in total training volume per micro- or mesocycle when building up to a volume that you either haven’t seen in a while or have never seen in your life. There’s a balance between feeling sore and stiff because you just ran 20x400s at 5K pace for the first time in ever, and then there’s teetering on the edge of getting injured. Knowing this limit is also one of those magic questions that only you can likely answer. So be honest with yourself, don’t be arrogant and bullheaded. Regardless of who I was coached by, the most important thing I learned during my coached years was that there is strength in consistency, and that I had to absorb the rest days just as much as the big training days. And, what I continue to learn is that, when I was 20 years old, it was a lot easier to recover from a big training day than it is now that I am 30.
  5. Adapt or get left behind. What cookie-cutter plans lack is specificity, and a lack of specificity can leave veteran and advanced runners in the dust. In order to get faster, stronger, better, we need to adapt, and if we always run the same thing every week, we aren’t going to adapt. So, although out-of-the-book plans are … ok … for beginner/first-timers, as veteran runners, we need to put a little more thought into how we are going to adapt our training plans in order to adapt our bodies. This may mean we go on longer runs, or we incorporate more repeats on strength days, or faster repeats, or less rest between repeats; maybe we increase our consumption of hill repeats, or we incorporate two-a-day runs, or we add a few mornings of weight training or plyometrics. Some believe that, in order to make fitness gains, you should simply run more miles. Obviously, there are limits to this, and it takes some figuring out on your own behalf to know how far is far enough, and how far will lead to injuries and lost speed. In the simplest terms, designing a training plan is a game of balancing residuals: extra miles can lead to gains in fitness, but too many miles can lead to injury and fatigue. Getting to know how to optimally train is the magic question, right?
  6. Don’t be afraid of mixing it up. Swap cross-training (maybe a bike ride?) for one of your easy runs (with the 1.3hr bike time for 1-hr run trade); learn how to swim or aqua-jog and swap that out for a run to keep the heart rate up without building on accumulation of high impact from running; run on gravel or trails whenever possible instead of roads/sidewalks. Easy runs don’t have to be time, or mapped out (if you are “supposed to do six miles,” try just running for an hour instead of mapping out the miles and stressing about getting a nice round 6.0 on the GPS). Most importantly, RELAX. It’s not baking at altitude; you don’t need to follow everything by the half-teaspoon measurement. I feel like Ron Burgundy (I have many (leather/paper-bound) books), but the truth is, I love to learn about training and exercise science. Some books are better than others, but there’s always at least little gem or two that can be pulled from the pages of books written by “the experts.” But my favorite, and perhaps most adventurous, thing about having multiple books on different training methodologies? Designing my own in my little training/racing melting pot. True, some training methodologies are complete 180s of other training methodologies, and perhaps my library fits more under the “scientifically proven” category (again, I am a big fan of Jack Daniels). But, finding the connections between different strategies and racing theories is almost like a game to me, putting together my own story (or literature review, for the academic geeks out there) in order to make sense of it all. If that’s not for you, don’t worry… Most of the books out there reference other books in the long line of endurance training literature, so the authors, in a way, do that work for you.

What training plan(s) do you use? Do you design your own, or rely on a coach for guidance? In your opinion, what is the biggest unknown in the realm of endurance training strategies that you wish you had the answer to?

Staying on Track: Update

This week, I logged my first official track workout in a series of speed sessions, all by myself on the St Louis Uni track. It. was. fantastic. Technically, I wasn’t alone. I showed up to the track on Wednesday night, and it was a happenin’ place, with nearly 30 kids and their parents bustling around. Six-yr-olds practicing 4×100 relays. They were better at hand-offs than some college relay teams I know. It was cool to watch as I ran lap after lap.

The workout: hammer out 12x400s with 400 rest, shooting for my 5K race pace. Truth be told, I actually broke it down a bit faster. I tried reigning it in, but no matter how much I felt I slowed down, I ran faster. When I run a big block of repeats on the track, I try breaking it down into sets so A) I don’t lose track and B) I don’t get bored/overwhelmed. For Wednesday’s workout, I broke it down into groups of 4:

First set: 1:29, 1:26, 1:26, 1:23
Thoughts: Ok, these were a little fast (the last one 10sec faster than my goal pace) so try not to implode on the next set. Stay relaxed, you have real estate to slow down a little.

Second set: 1:23, 1:22, 1:24, 1:22
Thoughts: Seriously, slow down. The last set is going to be painful.

Third set: 1:20, 1:21, 1:21, 1:19
Thoughts: Ok, well then, don’t listen. The final 400, #12, was a “might-as-well-see-how-fast-you-can-go” with the last 100 a sprint, but I never felt … tired. It was great. Very confidence boosting.

Next up, I have a 5K in mid-June (All American 5K) and I may or may not jump into a 10K in Edwardsville the weekend before. Did I mention that I’m signed up for the Fox Cities Marathon in September?

Speaking of marathons, and 12×400 repeats on the track at 5K race pace, I recently updated my marathon training library with Luke Humphrey’s new book:

 photo IMG_20130601_090853_608_zpsdc0d2875.jpgThis book was super appealing to me for two reasons: I am a big Hansons Brooks fanatic, and the methodologies aren’t too crazy off-the-wall compared to what I’m familiar with. While the 18wk plan (advanced) that I’m following just started last week, and I missed a few 6-milers because of travel to NY, I am feeling confident and focusing on being consistent and running nearly every day. That being said, yesterday’s 6-miler turned into only 2, because 10minutes into my run, the tornado warning sirens went off.

To me, the interesting thing about the Hanson’s method for marathon training, compared to other plans out there that millions of people follow (Galloway, Higdon), is the lack of mega-long runs and incorporation of consistently maintained physiological stress during the week; If I follow the Hanson’s Advanced marathon training plan as it is written to a T, I won’t run anything longer than 16 miles.  When training for a marathon, a lot of runners find this blasphemous. But truthfully, when I look at my week of training midway through the plan, I get a little excited. It reminds me a lot of training in college, under a modified Jack Daniels plan, that incorporates speed, tempo (what we referred to as Lactate Threshold, or LT), and a longer run with consistency and speed. I won’t necessarily have high volume weeks because it’s not practical for me right now (the highest mileage week I have planned is 63 miles), but I will have high physiological stress and cumulative fatigue.

In the past, I’ve cobbled together my own plans in the past based on insight from highly successful coaches (including Pfitzinger’s, Daniels’s, etc.), which follow similar methodologies and likely guided the Hansons in developing their own marathon method. Jack Daniels, an expert exercise physiologist and running coach, literally wrote the book on endurance run training (and also shifted my endurance training mentality during my junior year of college, when our cross-country team welcomed a new coach who followed his methodologies to a T).  What I didn’t embrace before, but is clear after reading the well-written book by Humphrey and reflecting on things here and there that I overlooked in my marathon training over the past five years, is that Daniels’s running methods specifically instruct runners, regardless of their goal race distance, to not incorporate long runs >25-30% of their weekly volume. Even still, I admit that in the past, I ignored this advice in order to just get that “big long run” in on Sunday morning, even if my training during the week was inconsistent, because- well- that’s just what you do when training for a marathon. You gotta have a big, long run. Turns out, actually… you don’t. Oh, and just in case you didn’t know:
 photo daniels_zpsa51dcb1b.jpg

Of course, depending on my total weekly volume, the absolute duration  my long run is irrelevant (remember: it’s 25-30% of my weekly volume at most!); if I design a training plan with the highest volume week of say 100 miles, the longest run of the week would be more than 16 miles. But, 100 mile weeks for me right now are not practical, and I’d probably get injured.

My success and failures in marathoning thus far hinges on cumulative fatigue. Last year, I was ill-prepared for the St Louis Rock and Roll marathon and switched to the half… during the race… even though I ran several long, 3hr+ runs. But I lacked consistency, with typical weeks of training only consisting of 4 days of running per week, and I didn’t accumulate physiological stress to adapt and be faster for longer. The best marathon I’ve had I raced 5 weeks after my first Ironman triathlon, and the accumulation of training 20-30hr weeks with one stellar (albeit forced) taper during post-ironman recovery served as a fantastic tuning for a fast and – most importantly – fun marathon.

Stay tuned for a post about writing your own plan for your goal race while taking into consideration your physiology. It involves one of my favorite hobbies: Doing the research!