Monday, March 28, 2011

“So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance…"

 Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m dumb, or dumber, to be putting myself through this! 

It’s been a big few weeks since my last long run.  I spent last week on St. John’s running on the roller coaster like hills in 80 degree weather, then turned it around to run in the 30 degree weather of Massachusetts.  The miles are starting to wear me down a little and if not for my Triggerpoint massage tools and Grid Roller, the help of my massage therapist, and a little extra “rest”, I’m just not sure I’d be this close. 

The recovery off the 25.2 mile run went well.  A few recovery runs, then the island trip.  I ran 3 times in 7 days with some serious climbs.  The last run of the trip was a 4 x 1 mile tempo where I was able to negative split (6:15, 6:12, 6:04, 6:02) each repeat on the only flat terrain I could find.  Going with the “tough getting old” theme, my right hip has been very angry with me.  The irony is that when I’m going fast, the hip is fine.  Apparently, my hip is trying to pace me. 

The return to Massachusetts was fairly seamless with a cold weather 12+ mile run around Worcester State College, then up and over Airport Hill Road, to the end, and back.  A few pick ups on the track finished off the zone 3 run nicely.  Another 12 miler two days later that included some more hills, some more cold, and some more aging body complaints.  Another day of rest and some work with my triggerpoint tools, and I was ready to go with the most important prep run for this race.

Sunday’s run is 3 weeks out from Marathon Monday and the last long run for most everyone running.  With Mike Roberts and Jim Hughes, we ran the first 21 miles of the course along with the Hopkinton Running Club, which means the run was supported.  If I have any chance of breaking 3 hours for this marathon, I needed a good run.  This is the dress rehearsal; the time to practice pacing, nutrition and hydration, and become re-familiarized with the course.

Ultimately, despite some rookie mistakes, I had a positive day.  The mistakes were mainly nutrition.  As I still follow the race fueling strategy of my former nutrition guru Jesse Kropelnicki, he would not have been proud today.  Not only did I forgo my race morning breakfast, but I ended up over-hydrating at the designated aid stops, and took in a few gels and endurolytes that I won’t be using on race day.  Fortunately, with many long distance races under my belt, my gut and experience will overcome those oversights.

The pacing was good with a steady pace through the first 10.5 miles.  After that, with riding a few of the downhills, the run became progressive and worked into a tempo zone for the last 11.  I had some of my fastest consistent miles since last years Boston marathon and even did a few hills well below 7 min/mile.  I went a little too hard on the first hill with a 6:35 up and over Rt. 128, and paid for it over the rest of the run.  I ran well, but struggled early on Heartbreak hill only to recovery by the top.  My average heart rate was 163 with average moving pace of 7 min/mile.  I ran the first 13.1 in 1:35, which included the water stops, and the final 13.1 miles of the run in 1:30 (mile 8 to mile 21.1 of the course).  That includes the toughest stretches of the course and a nice headwind to boot.   I had a great stretch of 6:18, 6:34, 6:35, 6:54, 6:54 between 15 and 19.  Miles’ 20 and 21 were just over 7 as heartbreak took a lot out of me.  All in all, not too bad for an old guy with achy hips.

Only a few more key workouts to go before race day.  As the title suggests, I have a chance at breaking 3 hours.  It’s going to be very close, and will require some suffering to get there.  There’s only so much to be done from this point, so it’s more about keeping fresh, working on turnover, dropping those last few pounds, and most importantly, not getting sick or hurt!  Otherwise, I’ll just be “puttin’ out the vibe” come April 18.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Moving on from the Base

As an aging runner (40), building up a solid base becomes even more important. The foundation is truly the key to everything in life, including life itself. Without a strong foundation, or base, whatever we try to build on top can come crumbling down. If you are young, you can get away with a weak foundation because the body is resilient. As you age, however, the body's resiliency wanes, and the importance of the strong foundation increases. For my Boston training this year, I've decided on a schedule similar to my training last year where the goal was a summer 100 miler. That was all about base training and there was never any speed or tempo work done. Nonetheless, marathons should be run almost entirely aerobically and therefore that was a very effective training model with 4 runs over marathon distance (26-35+ miles) prior to Boston. This year, without a 100 miler in the works (though I am signed up for the Pineland Farms 50 in May), the base needn't be near as big, so the long runs have built from 3 hours, to 3:40 2 weeks ago to a final long run (4:30 if slow, 3:40 again if quicker paced) being planned this weekend. These runs are done at a low heart rate, relaxed pace and consistent cadence.

Now it’s time to transition: gain speed without risking injury. Last weekend I had a 2:40 minute snow shoe race that almost acted as 2 x 45 min at tempo (higher heart rate/effort) yet without the pounding on the feet. Though a little beat up from that race, I had a good recovery run Tuesday morning with 8 miles and an average heart rate of 135 which is very relaxed for me. Wednesday night was what I call a progressive transition run as it serves as a tempo run that bridges the base training to the speed work. With the legs feeling good after the first 20 minutes, I began to build into the run, picking up the effort as I went. I ended up at 12.5 miles in just over 90 minutes on a very hilly route with the last half essentially at or near tempo, save for the last cool down mile+, which was all uphill.

Friday was supposed to be an easy run to get ready for Sunday’s long run. I had every intention to run a relaxed 50-60 minutes. As you can see from the run data: , average heart rate at 159 (high zone 3, upper limit of aerobic) and a 7:15 pace over almost 10 miles wasn’t what I was looking for.

So this weekend was the last of the long, slow, distance runs. I ended up “scaling it back” to 3:35 rather than 4:30 for 2 reasons. The first is because of the hard run two days before. The second and main reason is because of the pace I was able to hold with my given heart rate over the 3 hours, thirty-five minutes. At a high zone 1 average, 139, I ended up with 25.2 miles with some high aerobic pick ups over the last 5 miles. To run further would have been more risky than beneficial as at this point, the foundation is complete…and intact! From here on out, it's tempo with incorporating speed work over the last 4 weeks. Without that solid base of fitness that I've been building since December (no tempo, no speed), I would be at a high risk of injury over these next 3-4 weeks, and that's not something I want to risk.

There are so many people who injure themselves time and again because of trying to do more than what their body will allow. They want to run long or run fast without putting in the time and effort, or essentially the foundation. When you have years of long distance running under your belt, your foundation is quite solid, and the focus can be different. When you are a new runner, or haven't yet done a marathon, then there needs to be careful planning to set up the right program, and implementation of that program so that it is realistic and attainable given a persons body type, injury history and lifestyle. Working with an experienced coach can be incredibly helpful to help keep you focused toward that goal.

Monday, March 7, 2011

When Life Gives You Snow, Snowshoe!

So many of my patients wonder how I can run outside in the middle of winter with a ton of snow on the ground.  Snowshoeing provides everything that’s right about running: nature, beauty, fun, and challenge.  It even encourages proper walking and running form!  With every step you must pick up your leg utilizing the proper set of “walking/running” muscles.

Snowshoes are designed for a variety of activities including walking, hiking, mountaineering and running.  The latter is my preference because it provides me with an alternative to traditional running minus the impact of the roads.  Common hamstring and foot issues many runners suffer (including me) are avoided as it is nearly impossible to use your hamstrings when you are forced to engage pelvic and core muscles appropriately. Also, the foot is spared with a reduction of force from the impact on snow, as well as the more important reduction in push off force that is created from the lift of the leg.

This past weekend, a good friend and I ran a snowshoe half marathon in Pittsfield, Vermont.  It was an incredible challenge as you essentially ran up a mountain and back down, twice.  Several participants opted to repeat the course four times and one person repeated the course fifteen times (totaling 100 miles)!  Having run a 100 mile race last year in the middle of summer, even I can’t fathom that. 

I’m sad to see the rain wash away the snow forcing me back to the streets.  The roads, however, will be necessary training for the Boston Marathon, which is now only seven weeks away.  My hope is for the woods to dry quickly allowing the miles to continue where there are no cars: only deer, squirrels, porcupines, trees, bunnies and the occasional kamikaze owl (true story). 

For all those who struggle with the boredom and monotony of running on a treadmill or simply choose to take the winters off, I encourage you to don some warm weather clothes, try out some snowshoes, and enjoy what nature has to offer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Pain Is Not Injury

Last night, I set out for a frigid, easy 7 mile run.  By 40 feet into my run I felt something in my knee then a sharp pain in my right hip!  Over the next 1/4 mile I tried to figure out what was going on and whether I should push through, or turn around and go home.  I did both. I turned around to go home, though took a different road that would at least get me to a mile if that was to be the extent of the run.  Making my way back up the hill into the blustery sub zero air, my hip pain disappeared and the knee was never an issue since that first early step.  7.5 miles and an hour later, I was finally home, recovery drink in hand and warming up.

Injury is what happens when we are unable to overcome a barrier.  Sure, the barrier can be a broken bone, sprained ankle or pulled muscle.  Those are clearly injuries and trying to work through them will cause pain.  But how do we know when we can work through pain without causing injury?  There are two extremes to this answer,  with the truth lying somewhere in between.  If you've never been injured before, then you will likely work through any injury thinking you're invincible.  If you've had a history of being injured, then you may develop a hypersensitivity, and be concerned with every ache and pain you feel.  To work through pain and not become injured, you must have confidence in what you are doing physically and a sense of reasonable expectation.  As a physician, I will tell my patients that if pain worsens during activity or is worse the next day, then it may be heading towards injury.  If the activity doesn't make the pain any worse, then it can most likely be worked through with a very slow increase/progression if desired.  As an athlete, the answer is a little more gray.  Depending on where the athlete is in his or her training, the type of event they are training for, and the desired goal, there may be reasons to work through pain or reasons to shut someone down temporarily.  For instance, if pain sets in during base training, then it can likely be worked through with increasing rest days between activity, or increasing cross training activity.  If pain occurs during a build phase in training, then the focus may shift towards maintaining the key work outs and being sure not to miss those, but switching the less important activities around.  If the pain occurs during the taper, then shutting activity down for a brief stretch may be preferable.  

Try not to think that any pain you feel is a pending injury, yet at the same time, respect what the body is trying to tell you.  Of course, sometimes it's best not to think at all...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Follow My Training

Like anything in life, you make the effort for that which is important to you.  Whether it's an achievement you're after, your health or relationships.  Not just your relationships with others, but the relationship with yourself.  I set a challenging goal for myself many years ago and have yet to achieve: running the Boston Marathon in under three hours.  Follow along as I blog my way to April 18.