Friday, April 5, 2013

What is your Ideal Marathon Weather?

The 10 day forecast is a day away from showing the April 15 weather prediction for Boston, MA and surrounding areas?


Sunday's forecast looks promising. 

Since the weather can have such a major impact on running a marathon I am often asked about my ideal weather conditions for a marathon. 

What is "ideal" marathon weather for you?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Race(s) Report


I'm finally getting around to putting together a report of my first marathon. The delay is really mostly because my first was followed one week later by my second marathon. I had greatly underestimated the impact on my body of running two marathons back to back, at my level of training and experience, and had scheduled a half marathon the following week. At the last minute I decided to be smarter about it and just did a 5K instead.

Race #1: Carlsbad Marathon

My first marathon was the Carlsbad Marathon the last Sunday in January. The race was pretty much a blur, which is saying something considering that it took me 5:32:54 to finish in 1,304th place (out of 1,465).



Carlsbad Marathon Elevation Profile
As you can see in the elevation profile above, the Carlsbad course is mostly flat as it follows the beach between Carlsbad and Encinitas. The single hill is due to the course turning inland for an uphill section which resulted in 1,798 feet of elevation gained. Overall that is not a lot of footage compared to trail runs but it is deceiving because of the long straight and mostly flat stretch.


As most distance road runners will affirm hills are really the most challenging part of any run, no matter the weather or climate. The challenge may be going up or it may be going down, depending on your fitness and the terrain. Early in my training, the 'little' bumps you see between 15 and 22 miles were not so little to me and I'd have to walk at least part of each one. They were my walls to climb... and I did, slowly, over time. Now I barely even notice them, what a difference training makes! This is important training mentally and physically for my ultra-running aspirations where some races exceed 30,000 feet of elevation gain (and equal amount of loss), climbing Mount Everest in a day!

Carlsbad Marathon Course


My finishing time was not remarkable, in fact it is much worse than I hoped for. I'm happy to have finished but it was an amazing experience and one of the first solo achievements I've had in a long time. Getting here was not a solo experience, I owe a debt of gratitude to my running coach, Carla Barnett, and my running partners Judy & Dave Wade, and fellow first-timer Jon. We all met up at the start and were together for the first few seconds of the race but as we settled into our individual paces, we each ran our own races.

Just before the start!


I wore my GoPro Hero3 Black Edition camera for the first time at this race just so that I could show you all, especially those in the middle of the country far away from the ocean, what it looks like here in San Diego county in the middle of January.



What is it like running next to the ocean? Take a look and see for yourself!


What race report would be complete without a finisher's photo?




Race #2: Surf City Marathon
The Surf City Marathon provided a different race experience for me. During the 7 days between races I had a three day work trip to Washington DC that started the day after Carlsbad. I'm sure the walk from my car to the gate... and then at the other end from the airport to my hotel room was good for me in some way. It didn't feel great and I sure was not very fast. I also made sure to wear compression socks and do some light stretches and move around a little during the 5 hour flight.

I did not however do any running or specific exercise during the intervening week. I did not know what my body required and knew that I did not want to push it. In the evenings in the hotel I took the plastic garbage can liners from the hotel room, filled them with ice and packed my elevated knees... and kept the ibuprofen and tylenol levels up as much as I dared. All these things helped, I think.

My wife and I drove the 85 minutes or so to Huntington Beach, drove around a while looking for parking, and made a quick dash through the expo to get my bib and packet. There was a good vibe here with many thousands of people, most of whom were lining up to get their half marathon gear. There was essentially no wait for the full marathoners. We met up with fellow runners and friends at the Dog Pound (a named tailgate party hosted by friends outside their super cool RV Coach/home) for dinner at a restaurant next door. I was still limping 'a little' which was perhaps an ominous sign that I did not know was something worthy of more specific troubleshooting.

Afterwards we made our way to the hotel and quickly settled in for a short night. The 4am (or was it 3:30?) alarm came and it was time to suit up. I had some self debate about whether it was worth showering before a marathon or not, its not like I exerted myself at all since the previous shower a day earlier, but the routine-ness of it was comforting along with the hot water made a good start to the day to ease my nerves.

My wife dropped me off as close as she could to the start but I still had about 1/4 mile walk to the start. It made a good warm-up as it was a little chilly and very humid - I was dressed for the expected weather later in the day (warm and sunny). I had some time to kill so I found a porta-potty and scoped out the beer garden (motivation to make it back here later).

My GoPro Hero3 attracted the attention of a few people who asked me about it (that's when I noticed that nobody else had one, which either meant I was on the cutting edge of a trend or I was the race dork). People were friendly and as the dawn started to break over us I started to mentally shift gears and review my race plan.

I planned to go out at 11:30 pace and hold that until the last 5-6 miles (or last hour) when I could speed up if I was feeling it.

Surf City Marathon Elevation Profile


As you can see in the above graph, this is an extremely flat race with only one small hill to climb in a short out and back section that does a figure 8 through a city park. It was on my way out in this section that things started to fall apart for me.

My left knee started hurting suddenly and was making it difficult to run. So I slowed a little to try walking and that didn't make it any better. In fact it was hard to walk than to run and I found myself having to pull my leg up with my upper quads and avoiding having a bent knee as much as possible. I struggled for the next four miles with this, taking lots of walking breaks because of the pain when running... only to find the pain was the same when walking so I rationalized that if I ran the amount of time I was in pain would be less. This would work for a few minutes until I forgot how much it hurt walking and tried it again... and so it continued.

I'm not really sure if whatever was causing the pain actually lessened or if my body was becoming numb to it but after an hour it hurt less - although I found myself having less energy to run. It was very demoralizing to feel like I was done racing at mile 8 with 18 more to go! We had joined up with the fast half marathoners, first with the 1:20 pace group... who were going twice as fast as me. That didn't help my situation any and I started to experience the frustration and angst that comes with lackluster performance. Eventually the faster pace groups made their way past me and I was now among halfers going my speed (which means they started way to fast and slowed down).

Surf City Marathon Course





This race actually has three legs, each are an out and back, with the second two being basically the same scenery from both sides of a fence. This presented me with the greatest challenge though, as these extensions felt like they just kept going and going. Since I was not having a great race physically, the mental challenges were very trying. I kept on the lookout for people I might know and did see a few.

As I approached the final turn for the last out and back, the halfers were in their last two mile stretch yet they were dropping like flies. There were ambulances and fire trucks responding to calls all along the course as the day progressed. I was too much in my zone trying to finish to stop and render aid, not that anyone I was near looked like I could do anything for them in the few minutes before a local paramedic would be there. I'm ok with that... and I know that had I stopped and tried to kneel over someone I would have great trouble getting back up again and could become a casualty myself!

As I was about to cross the finish my wife was there cheering for me and videoing (I think). I have no doubt it was not a pretty sight and maybe that's why I haven't seen the video. It was great seeing her there knowing I was almost done, just another minute to finish. I finished 7 minutes slower than Carlsbad... and the winners were 10 minutes slower. I could make an argument that I really gained 3 minutes but nobody would believe me.

Pretty much as soon as I stopped going forward my body said it had enough and locked up in one giant spasm. From my belly button down I think every muscle was in trismus - I was a giant ball of cramps and almost couldn't even walk to the car. This of course provided great entertainment to my wife but at this point I didn't care anymore.

The following week I traded my wife, a half marathon for her 5K. This was the San Dieguito race through beautiful hills and homes of Rancho Santa Fe. She finished her first half and scrambled to cover the 3.1 miles which I somehow PRd. It has been about month now and I have not ran more than a mile (twice) since.

I'm now cross training with spin class, strength training, yoga, and even deep tissue sports massage. I'm getting better as I get more familiar with my body and its limitations. I'm focused on starting and finishing the 50 mile PCT50 in May...which means I may have to drop a few other race events before than depending on how things go.

I'm hoping to still finish the sister races (two more each) to both of these to get the San Diego Triple Crown and the Orange County Beach Cities challenges. I can scratch Carlsbad and Surf City off my list of races to do... I'm ready to trade the sandy beaches and occasional dolphin sightings for the mountains!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pain and pleasure the day after LSD




A warning for those Timothy Leary fans that Googled themselves here: you are in the wrong place. This post is not about lysergic acid diethylamide but long slow distance running. Both forms of LSD can produce euphoria; running is generally safer with far fewer side effects then acid, although my current running plan involves some psychotic episodes too – usually the day after I take a dose of LSD running. 

After completing a marathon distance run this fall, my goals turned toward the next challenge. A 50 kilometer run is the next standard distance event after the 26.2 miles race, and the shortest classified as an ultra-marathon. This spring during my 31 mile run with 4000 feet of climbing I anticipate spending about 8 hours pounding my feet and legs into submission while the devil sits on my shoulder telling me to surrender to the fatigue and quit. Hopefully, I’ll have an equally powerful angel sitting on the other shoulder prepared to kick the crap out of the devil.  It is my belief that the key to finishing an endurance event is to strengthen the angel into a devil killing ninja. Also, maintaining good running form while fatigued is important. Under my new plan it isn’t the LSD run that produces these results, but during a short and intense run the next day.  

What makes the day after LSD unique in my plan? Most people rest the day after running long. My plan has me running again the next day. Not only do I run, but I run fairly intensely. My heart rate goal is zone 2 (132-146 beats per minute in my case). I will do this for an hour.
Recovery is important. It is where most training gains are realized. So, why follow a long run with an intense one instead of a rest day? Because, this run develops mental fortitude that will be most important for an ultra-event. It is toughness that hardest to prepare for without actually racing. 

The day after a LSD run, I don’t feel like running. Even after a good night’s sleep I am generally tired. My quads are fatigued and my calves are sore. The siren song of my comfortable home is calling. I whine incessantly. Exactly as I imagine I will feel at mile 26 of my 31 mile race.  By powering through I “teach” my mind to suck it up.  Additional benefits are cardiovascular fitness and improved speed. These secondary benefits are only realized two days after the LSD run. Once I do my Zone 2 fatigue run the resting phase is especially important to bank all the gains I’ve made over the last two days. 



There are a couple potential pitfalls to this plan. It is very import to differentiate soreness from injury. You are going to have some fatigue after a LSD run – that’s the whole point of the training. The difficult assessment is to figure out what is just tired and sore, and what is pain and injury. Creating an overuse injury is counterproductive, but the difference can be subtle.

Another issue is that running intensity and fatigue can produce poor form, again resulting in injury. This is why the Zone 2 run is only 60 minutes. Hopefully, you can maintain the mental acuity to monitor your form for that short period of time. I find that I really need to focus to keep from getting sloppy. This is also exactly what I’ll need to do toward the end of my 50K, so this is another good lesson. 

So far, I’ve been impressed with the results of this strategy. I’m faster and my form is good after just a month. I think it will really pay off in May when I attempt my first ultra-marathon. I also believe it will be helpful in July when I have back-to-back trail triathlons. 

What do you think of this method? Have you tried other strategies to manage fatigue during a long race?  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

January 2013 Training and Racing Recap

January 2013 started with my taper in preparation for the Goofy Challenge (half marathon recap and full marathon recap).

After the Goofy Challenge I enjoyed several weeks of low activity, many trips to the skating rinks with my kids, and a rekindling of my love affair with cycling rollers.

7 Running Activities
64.35 miles
9:28:37

6 Cycling Activities
39.90 miles
3:20:06

February 1 starts my next training cycle as I prepare for the Boston Marathon.

Was January a good training month for you? 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Outsource or Local-Source Race Shirts?

Sean Ryan, director of the Cellcom Green Bay marathon, has written an excellent article about why races have "Caps" or capacity limits.

From the Race Director's Desk: What's with the caps?

The entire article is well worth reading, but the section that really smacked me in the side of the head was about pre-ordering race shirts (for all Green Bay events - kids races, 5k, half marathon, full marathon, and volunteers I am speculating this is more than 10,000 shirts).

Ryan wrote:

"PARTICIPANT SUPPLY LEAD TIMES: Not that many years ago, it was customary to give out cotton t-shirts to finishers in distance races. As long as participants registered “in advance,” they would be guaranteed their t-shirt size. Any mid-sized community has a plethora of local companies that can supply custom screen-printed cotton t-shirts on fairly short notice. I’ve put in emergency orders on cotton shirts less than 48 hours prior to an event. When moisture-wicking technical fabric shirts became the standard, all of this changed. These shirts are often cut, sewn and screen printed overseas–most often in China–and shipped to the United States in shipping containers to reduce freight costs. This causes ridiculously long lead times. As an example, in order to guarantee timely delivery for this May’s Cellcom Green Bay Marathon and Half Marathon, the t-shirt order had to be submitted by December 1st, SIX MONTHS PRIOR TO THE EVENT! There are also long lead times on things like finisher medals and gear check bags. All of these lead times forces organizers to set caps on the events well in advance or risk the possibility of over-selling and running out of the perks that runners expect."
I hope there is an apparel vendor in Green Bay (my hometown) or somewhere in Wisconsin figuring this out for the 2014 race.

My list of reasons to run a race is probably much different than yours. My top considerations now are different than my race pre-requisites 5 years ago. Some of my events are "bucket list" races while others are traditions. Some are just to do something different.

I have lots and lots of race shirts. I wear them proudly and often.

Would I select a race because of its sourcing practices for t-shirts? It probably wouldn't be my top consideration but an emphasis on local sourcing and a light race footprint might tip the balance towards one race over another.

How about you? How important is the t-shirt fabric and its sourcing? 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Vitamins and Supplements for Distance Runners

An interesting "In the News: Athletes and Vitamins" post at the Athlete's Heart blog (a must read in my opinion) got me thinking about why I take a daily multi-vitamin. I am not sure why?

I don't recall my primary care physician suggesting I take a MV. I also don't recall him telling me to stop.

Perhaps I just succumbed to a lifetime of marketing messages about the importance of a daily MV. I am taking the official MV of Major League Baseball after all.

As for other supplements ... I have never even been in a GNC store. Those big containers of powders scare me. I simply don't have the time to understand what is in those containers and why I might want to have a big shake/slurry of supplement once a day.

How do I get vitamins and minerals:

1. Daily multi-vitamin

2. Leafy green vegetables

3. Other vegetables

4. Fruit (I should eat more than I do)

5. Other stuff?

I think there is some benefits to a daily beer ... or so I have heard. I might go test that theory.

Do you use vitamins and supplements to improve your running or to help stay healthy? 

The Plan

On MLK day I start my training plan for 2013. Why so early? It is eighteen weeks until the Sun Mountain 50k trail event, which is my first ‘A’ race of the year and my first ultra ever.  This is also the only purely running ‘A’ race for the year. After that I switch my training into trail triathlons, which have shorter running sections (usually, about 10k with elevation gain). These running sections are done after a swim and mountain bike section, so having trained to run fatigued during a 50k event will be helpful. Not to mention that running fitness is the most difficult to achieve and the overall endurance effect will prepare me for a 3 or 4 hour triathlon.
This plan developed after I reviewed last year. What went right, what could I have done better and what did I wish I would have achieved. Last year was great as I built endurance after years of being sedentary. I tried out many different types of events. I did road and trail running events, mountain bike cat 2 races and endurance events, and an Xterra triathlon. In the end I recognized how wonderful running was for building endurance. It gave me great opportunities to get out and just explore the mountains on fantastic adventure runs. I loved these. I also loved the variety of the triathlon. It had been years since I had done any swimming, and open water was pretty new (although I did unintentionally swim some nasty rapids in my early whitewater kayaking career, so swimming in a wet suits on a lake was pretty tame in comparison).  So, for total fitness and happiness I have decided to focus on trail triathlons for 2013.
I also learned that I am slow. I finished almost all my races last in my age group or close to last. That is Ok, because I finished. Not only that, but I finished way ahead of everyone sitting on the couch. Just finishing an endurance event is a huge accomplishment because I had spent so many years laying around and genetically I am slow. There are no Kenyans in my family tree.  I’ve done well in non-endurance events such as downhill skiing and whitewater kayaking. Hand-eye coordination and balance have been my strength, but I’m not wired for endurance events. Playing against my destiny has been satisfying. I recognize I will never be first when competing against others. That’s OK. I just want to do better than I did last year. I want the 46 year old me to kick the ass of the 45 year old me. 
So, with that assessment in mind I set my 2013 goals. Number one is to have fun. This journey is unsustainable unless it’s fun.  Pain is OK occasionally, but must be countered by the accomplishment. The rest of the goals are important too. Avoid the IT and other injuries that plagued me last year and maintain my health. The final and least important goal is to get faster.
Lastly, the plan is a work in progress. I’ll tweak it throughout the year.  It isn’t a plan so much as benchmarks and goals to gage progress. I know I won’t follow it exactly. A plan is a great roadmap, but the detours and tangents are what makes for an interesting year.

What did you learn last year and how did it factor into your plans?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My First Marathon

In less than 10 hours I will begin my first full marathon, the Carlsbad Marathon. You can even follow me with live tracking at Track Nick Live with bib #1383 but you should know that my goal is to finish in 4:50.

I'm as ready as I could be after training for this race most of the last six months. I've felt ready for weeks now, waiting with the anticipation of a child 12 days before Christmas - I've only got 12 hours.

I've picked up my bib, race shirt, race jacket, and gear bag... along with some schwag (a new Yoga studio gave me a shirt), new sunglasses (you can get decent shades for $20), ordered some sandals (really cool very local manufacturer Cobian who've been around for years catering to the surfers just now making their racing debut), and a couple other "toys" that I'll tell you about later.

See, race day is really not the time to be trying anything "new". Stick to the tried and proven methods, foods, nutrition, drinks, etc that you have trained with. Anything new presents a very real risk of becoming a problem 20 miles into your run. This is what I've been told by many different people which has been reinforced by nearly every article on running a race, so it must be true.

Six months ago, in August, it challenged me to cover six miles in one workout. My last long run was 21 (road) miles along the Pacific Coast Highway, just feet from the sandy beach, the very same road tomorrow's race will be comprised of. With the West Coast RoadRunners we have trained for this race and run almost the entire route through the season. I know the road so well now that I can visualize most of it in my head.

The visual I'm still working on is where I'm crossing the finish line! I took Friday off work so that I could relax a little bit, get some things done around the house, and then go to the race expo once it opened. Today was "stay off your feet" day, so they say... but it was also Girl Scout cookie warehouse distribution day... so I spent five hours this morning unloading, rearranging, moving, and reloading about 20 pallets of cookies with some other volunteer parents. Hmmm... (let me know if you want to buy some cookies!)

I've been to my "sports doc" at Elite Chiropractic twice this week for a knee pain that started on an 8 mile Tuesday morning trail run. It was pretty bad but has settled down to a dull roar the last few days. I'm giving it the full RICE (rest, ice, compression elevation) treatment - ok so maybe some RICE... with ibuprofen thrown in for good measure. My fingers and toes are crossed that it will leave me alone tomorrow!

The good news is... that I've also signed up for a 50 mile race in May. The PCT50 (Pacific Crest Trail) is nearby and is so popular that it sold out in less than 48 hours! I wanted to throw in something to look forward to early in the year, that could also count as a qualifier for a 100 miler I'm also looking at for September. I've got a long ways to go to get there (ha ha ha) so I'm taking it one at a time.

Please wish me luck and I'll let you know how well all of Greg's advice works out for me! I think he likes to talk about his scrotum a little bit more than I do mine, so maybe some of the details won't be shared.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Running with an Athletic Supporter

A reader wrote after reading my post last week on genitalia support about my thoughts and experience running while wearing a jock strap. It is in an interesting query and an area that I don't have an experience. It has been nearly 20 years since I routinely wore a jock strap during exercise - running, playing basketball, and ultimate frisbee. Since then I have found the support and snugness of a running shorts liner to be adequate for race distances of 5K to 50K.

Reduce Friction
The goal for any running clothing, especially for long distances, is to minimize or reduce the impacts of friction. Friction from scrotum movement against the thighs can become unbearably painful. If considering a jock strap I would advise first using it in short practice runs and then wearing it for gradually longer training runs. If it works keep doing it. If it doesn't stop.

I also think part of chaffing risk management is moisture control. I have the most trouble with chaffing when my shorts become soaked with perspiration and or water. For an ultramarathon it might make sense to have a dry pair of shorts waiting, along with a stick of bodyglide, at a mid-course drop bag.

Ultrarunners, how do you minimize chaffing on long distance runs?