Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Marathon Training: Week -1

Marathon #3 of the year is Chicago. October 9. Last race in the Year of the Marathon.

I am seriously going after a BQ at Chicago.

There. I said it.

There is a pretty good chance I won't make it (again), but I don't know if I don't try. My Boston qualifying time for 2013 (b/c 2012 registration will close well before the Chicago Marathon) is 3:35. My Gansett Marathon qualifying time for 2012 is also 3:35. 8:12 pace. No 59 second leeway in either qualifying time. That sounded fast, until I realized that I ran close to that pace in the first half of Cox. I've done half marathons at 8:13 and 8:06 paces. Yes, it is different trying to hold that pace for a marathon. But at least I have some idea about how to make it happen. Chicago is flat. Crowded, but flat. The 8:06 pace half marathon was on a moderately hilly course. Run 3:35 in Chicago and I am in Gansett for 2012. Run 3:35 in Chicago and I am possibly in Boston for 2013. Good thing I just barely got myself into that qualified corral. Corral C baby all the way.

I am upping my mileage, doing some speedwork, and adding strength training. The training plan I picked (Hal Higdon's Intermediate 1) is 100 miles more than the plan I used for marathon #1 and #2 (Hal Higdon's Novice 1). That sounds like a lot, but it's only an extra 5-6 miles per week. I am faster, so it should be about the same amount of time. Sorta. The bulk of my training will be in August to mid September. I have to factor in heat and humidity. While I may be faster, the heat and especially humidity will slow me down. But then again, I am supposed to do some of the runs faster. I can always go to the gym if it is too hot. I am going to work on strengthening my quad muscles. I didn't do any weight lifting in my last two training cycles, and I realize that is a mistake. Two massive quad muscle failures is enough. You hear that, quad muscles?

Of course, the big deciding factor is the weather. The weather on raceday is the wildcard. Right now, my foot/ankle is another wildcard. So we will see.

It all starts June 6. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bad Run, Bad Run

Not every run can be a good run. Bad runs are part of the process. Some runs just suck, maybe because you're not mentally there or the weather didn't cooperate or you're too hot or too cold or your stomach is acting up or something hurts or for no reason at all.

I had a "bad run" yesterday. My usual route. Should take me a little more than 30 minutes. No problem, right? Except for when it is the first spell of warm and humid weather. I walked. Really? I never do that, at least not on this route. It probably wouldn't have been so bad if I had carried water, but I was already dehydrated to begin with. All I could think about at the end was, "I need water. I need water." Oh well. I got out there and did it.

Then I went out today for an hour and 30 minute run on the bike path. No real distance goal. Just go out for 45 minutes, turn around, and go 45 minutes back. It's still warm and humid. My sunglasses broke, so I wore a white wicking baseball hat.

I'm usually ready to start the run by 8 am. I wasn't ready to start til 9:10 or so.

The parking area was crowded. I have never seen so many cars there. In the spaces, parallel parked on the other side, on the grass.

Hello, Providence

This is my least favorite part of the bike path. A half mile out with no shade. But the water on two sides is nice. On a day like today, the breeze was welcomed.

How I do enjoy running next to Narragansett Bay

More water

All throughout the winter and spring, there was a port-a-potty at Haines Park. It was gone. But oh! It's park season. I figured there had to be bathrooms somewhere in the park. So I took a little detour into the park. A real bathroom! With soap and running water! It's all about the little things that make runners happy.

I turned around just after Haines Park with a little less than 5 miles on my Nike+. The first hour or so was fine. I tried a Vanilla Bean Gu. The flavor was OK, but I don't like that I have to eat the whole thing in a short amount of time. My stomach doesn't sit well if I give it too much fuel or water. I will be going back to shot bloks ... not as messy, can eat one every 5-10 minutes, easier to keep track of, and can be rinsed out with small amounts of water. I was getting hot. The last 20-30 minutes were not fun. It gets easier to run in warm weather, right?

I ran 9.5 miles according to Nike+/ about 10.1 miles according to a map in a little bit over a hour and a half. Not quite as bad as I thought.

Thumbs up on the Lululemon cool racerback tank top. I've ran marathons in it. This was the first time for a hot run. It got drenched but never felt uncomfortable. My Fuelbelt stayed put. Also thumbs up for the white wicking baseball hat. I used to be anti-hat for a long time. And then I started wearing one when it rained. And when it was cold. And at night because I had another hat that's reflective. And if I didn't have my sunglasses. Having shade on my face was nice, I don't think it contributed to feeling too hot, and the white color is a plus on a sunny day.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Running on the Road

One of my favorite things to do when I travel is go for a run. You can see more things on foot, and you can do it faster when you're running.

I am at the University of Connecticut for a conference. So I checked running routes at USATF to see if anyone had mapped a route around UConn. I found a 4ish mile loop route. Perfect.

I got up early, about the same time I normally do for morning workouts, so that I could go for a run before the conference. Had coffee, got dressed, and out I went.

Where UConn basketball happens

What is that bright thing in the sky?

Quintessential New England church (wavy because that's what happens when I take pictures on the run)

This is how you know you're on a college campus

Then I turned. And kept running. And eventually realized I had probably missed the street I was supposed to turn onto. No matter. I wasn't lost, and I knew 4 miles was the loop and a little more. So I turned around and retraced my route. I figured I would be close to 4 miles by the time I got back to my hotel.

It was cool but humid. Mist rising off grass.

Finished 4.2 miles, walked a bit for a cooldown, showered, and then headed off to the conference.

Also, I tried out daily wear contact lenses. Wear them for one day and toss them. I usually do two-week lenses, but my optometrist gave me a two sample pairs of daily wear lenses to try out. I get very mild seasonal allergies. The pollen has been high the last few days, and I want to tear my eyes out by the end of the day. So far so good with the daily wear lenses. I have one more pair to try tomorrow.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Value of Rest

Running and I had a brief breakup after the Cox Marathon. I needed to let my heel/foot/ankle heal. Breaks are necessary, especially if you've been training constantly from late August to May 1. You can't keep going going going all the time. I had a few days of complete rest. Then a few days walking around Washington, DC. I purposely did not bring exercise clothes so that I could not run. Good, because DC is a city of runners. At one point on the Mall, there were more runners than tourists. In the middle of the day. I was impressed. Then I ventured back to the gym and started doing some strength training and cross training.

16 days. That was as long as I could stay away from running. I've logged about 15 miles this week.

The bad news is that my foot still hurts. It's more like mild irritation and an itchy feeling than pain, but it's enough that it will be a problem if it continues. I replaced my shoes so maybe that will help. The good news is that it isn't getting worse. Thankfully, the marathon didn't make it worse either.

I have another 2 weeks til I'm supposed to start training for Chicago. "Supposed to" is the key phrase. Hmmmm.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cox Marathon - Part II

So here the secret goal from the Cox Providence Rhode Races Marathon. I tried to qualify for Boston. Epic fail. I am laughing because it was quite an epic fail. I was on BQ pace for about the first 15 miles. The technical failure of dropping my iPod and resetting my time at mile 12 really messed with my mental game plan, though. I knew my approximate paces up to that point, but I never got myself to do the mental pace calculations after that. So not only did I not BQ, I didn't PR either. Oh well. You live and learn. I knew it was a risk to try to BQ. I knew there was a very large chance it wouldn't happen. I knew I probably hadn't done the right training. I knew my foot/ankle injury could flare up. I knew that putting too much pressure on myself almost always backfires. Ultimately, it was a combination of the iPod fail and the massive quad muscle fail that did me in. Your race performance is determined by your training. You control your training. Your race performance is also determined by the way things come together on race day. You have no control over how that happens.

I decided ahead of time that I was OK with letting go my goals, in part because I wasn't sure if they were realistic and in part because of the foot/ankle issues. One by one during the race, the goals fell on the ground. Not because of my foot but because of my quads. It's always something you don't expect. And yet, the no-goals-met marathon was a success. I still finished in under 4 hours, so that is a success. I ran 2 marathons in 10 weeks, so that is a success. I wasn't fully healed from an injury, so that is a success. I missed a PR by 2 minutes, but I only missed a PR by 2 minutes on a slightly harder course with much less crowd support and on a day about 10 degrees warmer. So that is a success. I never reached a point where I wanted to quit or didn't think I'd finish, so that is a success. I hit a physical wall but not a mental one, so that is a success. I didn't get bogged down by negative thoughts, even after letting go of every goal, so that is the real success.

The moral of the story? Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cox Providence Rhode Races Marathon recap

I ran the Cox Providence Rhode Races Marathon on May 1, 2011. Marathon #2. The race starts in downtown Providence, crosses over to East Providence, heads south into Barrington, and then heads back into Providence again. Most of the course follows the area on/around a bike path. The weather was perfect. Sunny, not too hot, slightly breezy.

I missed a PR by 2 minutes and met pretty much none of my goals, but I finished in under 4 hours so I'll call it a success. Given that I had a nagging foot/ankle injury since mid-March, missed several weeks of running due to the injury, was 10 weeks out from marathon #1, and ran semi-injured, that's not too bad. I ran pretty much at my planned pace til mile 12. And then I dropped my iPod, Nike+ stopped my workout, and I had to reset my time. I never got my groove back. Plus my quads were really sore starting at about mile 12-13. The exact same thing happened at the exact same point in my first marathon. I have to figure out why because it is not fun when your quads give out halfway through.

Mile 1-2: Providence. Crossed the start line in less than a minute. It was crowded at the beginning. Didn't see the mile 1 marker. First "hill" is just before mile 2. And then we split off from the half marathon course.
Mile 3: over the bridge to East Providence and through an industrial area
Mile 4-8: hit the hills, one before mile 4 and one at mile 6. Hit mile 5 at 42:15 on the clock. Waaaaay too fast, although it didn't feel too fast.
Mile 9-10: Crescent Park Carousel area. Saw Narragansett Bay. I think I hit mile 10 at 1:23:?? on the clock. A good few minutes under my goal. I knew this was still too fast but still didn't feel too fast. My foot was feeling mostly OK but my quads weren't. Took 2 Tylenol.
Mile 11-12: First section on the bike path. An area I have ran on many many times.
Mile 12: Dropped my iPod. Nike+ ended my workout. I had to reset my time and start again. Thought it was a good time to take a walk break to fix my iPod and eat some pretzels. Plus my quads were hurting. I was planning on taking a break at about 12 miles anyway.
Mile 13-14: Barrington. Passed mile 13.1 at 1:49:?? on the clock. Really rough road surfaces. I was not expecting this. Barrington is one of the wealthiest towns in Rhode Island. I thought they'd have better roads. But got some nice views of Narragansett Bay again.
Mile 15: Back on the bike path, still heading south. I think I was still pretty much on pace til about this point. Passed mile 15 at low 2 hour mark. But I had stopped keeping track of my time and pace. I was losing it. Mentally felt OK but was physically hurting. I could have pushed myself had I not had previous quad pain experience. At least I didn't let negative thoughts get to me.
Mile 16-19: On roads. Still in Barrington but starting to head north towards Providence. I don't remember much about this part. Mostly run-walking.
Mile 20-23: Back on the bike path in East Providence. Hit the 20 mile mark at 2:53:?? on the clock. The best area of crowd support was in Riverside, near where my running buddies and I meet to start our long runs. Downtown Providence was in sight at about mile 22. Short but steep hill just before mile 23. My running buddies were waiting for me at mile 23/24. I so needed to see them.
Mile 24: Narrow pedestrian bridge over a river to get back into Providence, then India Point Park with posters made by Team in Training.
Mile 25: No man's land in Providence. Very little crowd support.
Mile 26: Downtown Providence. Saw the 26 mile marker lying on the ground, so I wasn't completely sure it was the mile marker.
Mile 26.2: Finished on a slight uphill.

Pros - generally well organized, great volunteers, good course support (except traffic enforcement in 1 area ... but that is more of an issue with rude RI drivers), split off from the half marathon at mile 2, nice views of Narragansett Bay and Providence, aid stations were stocked, gear check was fast and easy, fairly flat, local race for me (can't beat leaving for the race an hour before the start and still having plenty of time to spare)

Cons - some really rough road surfaces around miles 13-14 (worse than NOLA), difficulty passing people on the pedestrian bridge (not a problem for me but can be difficult if runners don't understand how to pass or yield to other runners), course was semi-closed, bikers were on the bike path (although the bikers were less problematic than I expected), many turns on the course, crowd support was OK but was nonexistent in many areas

Overall, I'd say Cox is an OK marathon. I've ran the Rhode Races half marathon every year since it started in 2008. They had some major issues in the past but have improved a lot. I run on most of the course for my long runs, so I am familiar with the area. I knew the marathon was small (~1200 finishers). I knew the pedestrian bridge could be a problem and I knew crowd support wouldn't be that good. And I entered the race anyway. I probably won't run it again, and I'm not sure I'd recommend it. It is definitely not a good first marathon or one I would travel to, but it is an OK choice for a local marathon.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Volunteer Report - Gansett Marathon

I volunteered at the the Gansett Marathon in Naragansett, RI on April 16, 2011. Gansett is a qualifier-only marathon with current age-graded qualifying times 5 minutes faster than the Boston Marathon. Runner's World readers may have seen April's story about this race. Or you may have seen last year's article on cnn.com or the piece on NPR. Last year, the race was in Exeter (rural RI town) with about 50 finishers. But because it was so successful, it was moved to the seaside town of Narragansett. About 160 people finished this year. Since I don't qualify (yet), the next best thing was volunteer.

The course was a two-loop course with a 16-mile loop followed by a 10-mile loop on a similar course. I was at an intersection a couple miles from the end of both loops. Runners came by my spot twice.

Some Observations:

- The race director is an accomplished runner and is EXTREMELY well-organized. He does great things on a shoestring budget. I don't think this race has broken even yet but I have no doubt it will in the future.

-The runners were super awesome. My favorite was the guy in a pink shirt, pink tutu, and wand. I thought, there's no way this guy can be fast. He finished under 3:20 (BTW, this was Keith Straw ... saw him on the Badwater special on the Weather Channel).

- Handmade mile markers at every mile and half mile on sandwich boards (pictures below). Not chip-timed due to the small size.

- Flat, pretty course - I've ran on just about the entire course in other races. Very scenic. You'll see the ocean, a lighthouse, fishing boats, big houses, and The Towers.

- Weather - Unpredictable this time of year. It was very windy. Now, it is always at least a little bit windy close to the ocean. It was unusually windy due to a storm that came through the evening of race day. Otherwise, the temperature was perfect.

- Large gaps between runners - There were several small packs of runners, but I'd say the majority were running alone, possibly without another runner in sight.

- Minimal crowd support. Given the small size, I wasn't surprised.

- The course was open to traffic with volunteers at street intersections. My spot also had a police officer to help direct vehicles. However, because the course was open, that means spectators with cars can easily drive around the course to see their runners at multiple points.

- Several miles of the course were on the shoulder of a busy 4-lane road. The shoulder still had leftover sand in it. Apparently, the street had been cleaned, but the sand from the sidewalks had been cleared into the street and was still in the road. The race director said the town of Narragansett seemed amenable to the race and he'd try to work with the town next year.

- Swag - minimal and not in a bad way. Finishers get a patch with the Gansett Marathon logo. The T shirts looked and felt nice. No corporate logos on the shirt, just Gansett Marathon in a swirly font on the front and the Gansett Marathon logo on the back. The age category awards were beautiful glass sailboats.

- Course support - can't really comment but I think everything went smoothly. Water stations had water and Gatorade. There were 6 stations, 2 with Gus. I'm not sure how many total stops there were, considering that runners passed most spots twice.

- Logistics - Start and finish lines were across the street from the race host hotel. Pre- and post-race staging ground was the hotel banquet room.

- Traveling - This is not an easy race to get to without a car. Cabs and public transportation to/from and in Narragansett are limited. The airport is far away. Well, 30 miles is far for Rhode Island. Amtrak is closer (the Kingston Amtrak station is one town over), but even that is not particularly accessible.

- I have heard pretty much only good things from runners, volunteers, and spectators alike. Aside from the sand in the road and a runner's comment that you see the mile markers for the second loop including a 1 mile to go sign on the first loop, that's it.

- Did I mention the race director? Yeah. He's so good it's worth mentioning again.

- Southern Rhode Island is a nice place to visit - OK, I am completely biased here. I lived in a neighboring town for 7 years and now live in the Providence area. I realized that I really really really miss living near Narragansett. Sorry, that has nothing to do with my report. But come visit Rhode Island ;-)

What will happen with Gansett next year? To some extent, I think it will depend on what happens with Boston registration. No one really knows how Boston registration with the changes will go. Gansett got a spike in registration right after Boston closed, so some of this year's race was an overflow from Boston. I am certain Gansett will grow as more and more people hear about it. But no idea how quickly.

Gansett is about the marathon and the runners, not the frills. It will always be a qualifier-only no-exceptions marathon. EVERYONE was really nice. The weather is unpredictable, but that's true of almost anywhere. The course is flat and PRable, even with the wind. Overall, Gansett is a well-run quality race. Eventually, I want to qualify for Gansett. I'm not sure when that will happen. Maybe next year, maybe in a few years, but it WILL happen.


The Towers, Narragansett, RI

View from the banquet room of the race host hotel

Runners getting ready to go

Mile 16 1/2 mini sandwich board

Finish line

I saw the start and then I went out to my position.

Mile 14 sandwich board

Bonus points if you can figure out what the bottom line of this means:

Rock N Roll Mardi Gras Marathon recap

I ran the Rock N Roll Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans on February 13, 2011 as my first marathon. It was one of those races where the course, the weather, and my training came together. The weather was perfect ... cool at the start (around 40) but it warmed up (to the high 50s), sunny, and a gentle breeze at times.

Miles 1-2: The wave start actually worked. It took 13 minutes for me to reach the start line, but I went over the line running and had plenty of room to move. One of the most boring stretches. Levee on one side. Nothing interesting on the other side. But it was at the beginning of the race so it didn't matter. Everyone was excited.

Miles 2-7: Garden District. Nice houses. Aerial pictures taken at the 5K mark. Hit 5K at 28:41 (9:14 pace). Split off from the half marathoners at mile 5. Hit 10K at 56:55 (9:10 pace).

Miles 7-8: Audubon Park. I think this was my favorite part of the whole race. I really really liked the mossy trees in the park.

Miles 9-12: St. Charles Ave. Quick pit stop at mile 9. One of the worst streets in terms of road surface, but one of the most scenic areas. The half marathoners were on the other side of the street.

Miles 12-13: Downtown New Orleans. Not terribly scenic but at least the road surface was better. Water stop with Elvises (Elvises? Elvi?). Hit the halfway point at 1:56:36 (8:54 pace).

Miles 13-14: Edge of the French Quarter. There was a giant blow-up rocker spanning the road. Rock n roll onward.

Miles 14-17: Esplanade Ave. Also one of the worst streets in terms of road surface. My quads really started to hurt. I have never had that happen. I am still not sure why, but it's either because 1) I didn't drink enough water in the beginning of the race or 2) I didn't warm up or stretch enough or 3) I was getting cramps or 4) my quads are not as strong as I thought and I need to do some strength training. This part was kinda cruel because the half marathoners were on the other side of the street. Hearing "You're almost done" is great for half marathoners, but not for marathoners who still have 10+ miles to go. Hit 16.8 miles at 2:27:01 supposedly with a blazing fast pace of 8:27. I think this timing mat was in the wrong place. There is no way I made up over 20 seconds per mile since the halfway point. I don't think I sped up or slowed down significantly. If the mat was actually at 16.7 miles, then I was at an 8:48 pace. That's reasonable. I didn't pay attention to this mat anyway because it was in an odd unexpected place.

Miles 17-21: Along the edge of City Park up to Lake Ponchartrain. Crowd support was dwindling. My quads still hurt. One of the water stops had mini martinis. Stopped briefly to stretch at around mile 19. Hit the 20 mile mark at 2:55:44 (8:47 pace). I knew I had to run a 9:09 pace to run a sub-4 hour marathon. I knew a 9 minute pace was 3 hours even. I was right around that pace. I also knew that I would break 4 hours even if I slowed down. I almost started to cry. I was going to meet my "perfect day" goal on my first time out.

Miles 22-25: The "tail." Up to the lake. Turned left, made a U-turn, ran, made another U-turn, then turned left again to head back down to City Park. I was surprised at the pale blue color of Lake Ponchartrain. Beautiful.
My quads were still really really hurting. There was no reason to knock myself out. So I started taking more walk breaks. Mentally, I still had it. Physically, not so much. When you physically lose it, you need all of your mental skills to keep going. The mental training got me through the last miles.

Miles 25-26: City Park. Almost done. More nice mossy trees. I passed the 25 mile marker at just under 3:57 on the clock. I started about 13 minutes after the gun went off, so my time was around 3:44. I was going to comfortably finish under 4 hours.
The last 1/2 mile or so my iPod picked me The Saints Are Coming by U2 and Green Day. Well, wasn't that appropriate for New Orleans? The last mile or so wove through the park and around the New Orleans Museum of Art. I couldn't actually see the finish line until I passed the 26 mile marker.

Mile 26.2: Finished under a beautiful canopy of mossy trees. I am a marathoner!!

What I Liked: flat course, perfect weather, nice tour of New Orleans, the water stop with the bunch of Elvises, clocks at every mile marker, overall well-organized, bands on the course about every mile (most of the bands were really good), people in costumes, walking to the start line with a jazz band (thanks to DetermiNation), good size so that I was never alone, wave start kept the course from being too crowded, post-race shuttles were plentiful, text message tracking actually worked in real time (it was a paid system, but it was worth it), plenty of port-a-potties on the course

What I Didn't Like: gear check was hard to find at the end of the race, potholes and uneven road surfaces*, not too much crowd support in the higher miles, Cytomax on the course (uh, where's the Gatorade?)

*The road surfaces weren't a deal breaker for me. I knew about this even before I signed up and decided to register anyway. A local told me about the camber (slant to the roads, especially at the edges, to improve drainage). That was an important piece of advice. I would not have noticed the slant, but because I knew about it I tried to stay away from the edges of the road. I knew I had to be careful of my footing and literally paid attention to every step on the really bad stretches of road. It wasn't that much different than running in Rhode Island in the winter. I am used to potholes and watching for ice patches.

My pace was very consistent until mile 20. I actually ran faster at every split up to mile 20 (not counting the 16.8 mile time which has to be off). At mile 20, I knew I was going to finish in under 4 hours. So I slowed down. I finished in 3:55:27 with an 8:59 pace. I was aiming for a 9:10 pace. Under 4 hours was my "perfect day" goal. Well, I got a perfect day. Who says you can't have a time goal and have fun in your first marathon? I work well with picking a pace and trying to stick to it. Loved the scenery, loved the bands on the course, loved New Orleans.

Overall I had a great experience with the Mardi Gras Marathon. I am glad I picked it as my first marathon. Course and crowd support were good and it was just the right size. The bands on the course were motivating and played good music. I would run it again, although I have many more races on my list until I repeat marathons.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Wee Bit about Running On the Rhode

I'm one of those lifelong runners, although I didn't really enjoy it until the last few years.  Ran track from 3rd to 8th grade, then cross country in high school, then took a break in college, then moved to Rhode Island and got back into running while I was in graduate school. Ran a 10 mile race in the summer of 2005 and got very very badly dehydrated. Started running a bunch of shorter local races. Took a running hiatus for no real reason. Got married. Returned to running and ran my first half marathon in 2008. Ran a half marathon every time I reached a graduate school milestone. Finished my Ph.D. Ran my first and second marathons in 2011. And here I am today.

Running paralleled the end of graduate school. Set goals. Work hard. Try again if you don't get it right the first time. Persist in the face of adversity. Celebrate when you meet your goals. One of my favorite sayings is that everything I need to know about life, I learned from running.

I am likely to talk about:
running - Training, tips, observations, race reports ... it's all fair game.
marathons - ran my first 2 this year and have one more lined up for 2011
Rhode Island - I grew up elsewhere and will be moving soon, but for now I am a transplanted Rhode Islander.  Rhode Island is a small strange place.
psychology/statistics - By training I am a quantitative social psychologist. I spend my days looking at data and telling people what numbers mean.
random thoughts - whatever else I can think of.