Category Archives: group run

Oh. My.

It’s been quite a while. I’ve been in one of those slumps that sometimes hit post-race, but the race was in May. Around that time things were kind of becoming a little tense with coach, and then, to the astonishment of our running group he stopped showing up at all. Sure we see him in the park from time-to-time, in which case he grits his teeth, mutters things under his breath, “Oh, for goodness sake!” But essentially he seems to have gone AWOL. It is a little confusing, crazy, and sad. So, this is a little more than a post-race slump. There’s some mourning involved, I’m afraid. Not that he might not ever return. But if he did, that would be a different chapter.

In a slump, the running is not automatic. It requires motivation. This is a somewhat alien state affairs for me and requires skills I don’t usually have to apply to running. The running magazine lays on the table, untouched. There is no beet juicing. The mind is not awash in fartlek, long runs, or tallied mileage. What is my mileage?

No one from the group showed up this morning. I took my camera and hiked up two very steep mountain ridges, in the style of the group, taking a few pics here and there. This is out-of-breath, legs go to wobble hiking — no Sunday stroll in the park. Cardio and strength. Half way up the second ridge I was drenched in sweat. I jogged back down the winding trail and down a side trail we call “ankle breaker” (aptly named), watered at the over-pressured fountain, then headed home.

Form Work (or Running Fewer Miles and Why It’s Okay)

I’ve been working on form. Really my “coach” has been working with me on it, berating, spluttering, uncompromising, head shaking, but always ready to start again next time. There in the park, every day. When the form work intensifies, I tend to feel that long runs are not really in the cards. There are a lot of drills, and though the routes are generally short, the intensity is high. The impact of drills will sneak up on you. Something’s got to give. I’m in my late forties, and wary of getting injured. Not being able to run? That would be torture. I can do a long run, but it compromises the intensity of my group runs. So the miles have dropped off. I’d been running about 30 miles a week, and that generally feels good for me. Last few weeks: Just under 20 miles.

In the past, I’ve really struggled with this. Because I want miles. The body drinks them up. There’s nothing quite like that groove of running a little more mileage than you’re used to. The legs start to feel a little heavy, but strong. But I’ve had an intuition that the form work is coming along nicely (“his knees were releasing today!”), and so I just let the miles go for the moment. I’ve got no immediate race (there’s a half in May 2014). And I’m pretty sure if I clean up my form, I’ll get some “free speed.” Recent easy runs seem to confirm this. When I focus on form, even in an offhand way, the pace picks up.

Today I arrived in the park, my first day this week. Six-thirty a.m. No polar vortex, but it is chilly. The runner nearest to me in age and speed has a scab healing around his knee and is walking his dog today. The two fast runners are no show. So two other runners and myself are given marching orders. Essentially two steep hikes, one right past Bee Rock and then another up a sheer hill along a service ladder. Blood is pounding in my head by the end. Then a winding downhill, essentially for recovery and loosening up before the training.

Coach and one of the other runners meet me below one of the main water tanks that dot the park. They both make an unusual comment, “Hey, you look pretty good.” Coach adds, “of course you knew I was going to be watching you.” Coach is a curmudgeon, but I take the compliment. One thing about this group: They will never tell you you’re doing great out of kindness or politeness or some notion of being encouraging. Coach has me run down a steep bank off the main trail, a place we call Piney Slope, and has me run two short, very steep sprints. I imagine this is to activate the muscles or nervous system or something, but I don’t ask a lot of questions. The last thing I need to do is overthink it. I’ve been observing this guy for a year and have concluded he really understands body mechanics, among other things. So I trust.

I make back up to the main trail with some nods of approval. Next he has me run some short downhill sprints. A couple things he wants me to attend to. The right foot is always an issue. Coach and one of the other runners reckon it points out at about 1 o’clock position. I venture a guess of 12:30, shot down. “No way is it 12:30.” Before it was at 2 o’clock position. The other thing is holding the chest and neck high, neck straight. (I was having the hardest time with this until a couple weeks ago when one of the runners gave me a physical prompt, she held my jaw and pressed my forehead back. Something clicked.) And pushing the hips through. And as much as anything else, getting a nice forward lean. I can’t really explain mechanics very clearly. I am kinesthetically challenged. We do a few of short sprints. Coach will sometimes ask me to stop after the first few steps, “No!” You’re doing blah blah. Try this. Let’s try again.

Next, we do a series of short races, about 15 seconds each. We are still focusing on form here, but it’s more an integration of what we’re working on – a race is a race. At this point it’s just me and another runner who’s a little slower. To compensate, coach puts her way out in front. She’s about 10 or 15 meters ahead. Just by feel, I can see that it’s going to be a struggle to catch her, but within reach. For the first few I catch her, and he keeps increasing the head start. He’s happy with what he sees today. “You got up to about 6 steps per second. If we can just get you to relax your back and lift – you should be able to get to 7-8 steps, easy.” I don’t catch her on the last couple. By the third to last race I’m shot, and my arms are doing weird things. “You’re doing that dead bird thing again. You must be tired.” Then we walk for a bit and the talk turns to cooking (certain topics are standard recovery cues — or that the workout’s over, it’s never clear which. Another common topic is football. That usually means the workout is done.)

I don’t catch the other runner for the last race either. But after the workout coach says my knees were really coming up quite high and forward, unusual for me and something we’ve been working toward. The posture was good, erect. Hips coming through. For some moments today I had a good lean forward and imagined I might even resemble an athlete. This is very gratifying as previously my form was very jogger-ish. I’m simply not someone that ever thought of myself as an athlete.

“That was some pretty good running.”

A Small Triumph

I feel that I am at some kind of turning point in my running. I am very excited, yet I am full of dread. I am accruing very few miles, but my workouts have increased in intensity (largely due to my running group). I am carrying a raft of injuries (left ring finger, left groin, right middle toe, right hamstring, right shoulder), yet I’ve never been stronger. It could be that the turning point involves my body just exploding in some kind of incandescent flowering of middle-aged hubris, defeated. Or it could be that I get stronger, faster. Part of the fun is that I’m just unsure. But my intuition is that if I stick with it, I’m moving in the right direction.

Today, for instance, was curious. Fully expecting a nice, rigorous hike with hill pushes up onto the high ridge, the backbone of the park, with a long loping return — instead, we head over to what my group calls “piney slope.” This is a couple of loose, dusty, rocky trails, covered in pine needles. From top to bottom, the elevation gain is probably 200 feet. I feel resentful. This is going to be hard work. (The hiking and pushes though also hard, heart-pounding work, are less technical, and you can get more into the flow of running.) It is going to involve 15-second relaxed sprints to warm up. There is already some talk of body mechanics — “you want to spend some energy raising your upper body, from T12 up [coach is very anatomy oriented], so that your hips can release. You want to unload your hips.” The 15s will be followed by form drills on the way to the main event, and then downhill racing and then some sprints on the flat. I do not feel up to it. When a hawk alights on a nearby telephone pole, I am fascinated. But the drills come. Single leg hopping uphill. 10 at a time. Then switch legs. Then bounding. More bounding. Then the deliberate hike to piney slope.

There, the uphill workout include one coach* has us doing recently, to increase upper body strength. We run on hands and feet, punching our fists into the pine needles (and pinecones, and rocks), putting as much weight as possible from the upper body to the hands, it lasts about 10 seconds. The other sprints, too, last about 10 seconds. These involve various form cues and ad hoc races: Keep your right foot pointed forward! Pump your arms quickly, don’t try to long-arm it! Your first footfall should be here, the second here! See what his feet are doing? Don’t do that! How much of a lead can I give him so you’ll have trouble catching him? Coach is, in my opinion, great with this stuff.

My performance on the hill sprinting today was not very good. The week after straining my left inguinal tendon, I was tentative, uncommitted to all-out effort. Coach thinks I worry too much about “injuries” and coddle myself. This is true. But his passion sometimes, I believe, crosses over into the irrationally exuberant. Yesterday, for one of the first times ever, I saw a glimmer of concern. He might have overdone it last week. We had done speed sessions both days. And he was goading us. “I don’t think Magnus will *ever* catch you from that far out.” Right toward the end of Sunday’s workout I strained something. An adductor? No. “It’s the inguinal tendon at the insertion point. Don’t run for 3 days.”

Since he never says things like this, I listened.

“It’s a sprinter’s injury.”
“Does that mean he was running fast?”
“No, it means he was running wrong.”
This week he was more toned down. “Can you run 15s?”

Today, the downhill races were frankly, bad. Never super confident on the downhill, I was tentative and lame. Paired with another injured runner we coasted in to finish like we were headed to hospital. I regained a little momentum during the last few sprints, on the flat.

Occasionally, at the end of one of these workouts we go to a set of stairs. If you know Griffith Park, these stairs, which lead up to the area of the Old Zoo, appear to be made of old railroad ties. Big blocks of lumber. We hop these stairs, a few at a time. When I first came, hopping three at a time was a challenge. A few months ago, I was surprised to find I could, even once, hop four. Today I hopped four, without much trouble. Previously, I viewed hopping five of these steps as something out of my realm. I’ve watched a couple younger, very athletic guys hop five steps. I don’t really consider myself as particularly athletic. I viewed these guys as a different breed, fast-twitch type athletes (which, actually, I’m pretty they are). One of them, for instance, loves the 800 meters. He has explosive power. I’m never going to run the 800 meters. It would be silly. Coach stops me. “I think you can do five.” I shake my head. Five? It took a few times. Coach prodded a little. “Ye have little faith.” I did it. It was a little sloppy, but clearly it was more about confidence than technique. Five has become the new four.

Whatever my limitations, at 47, today I feel like I’ve (almost radically) expanded my belief in what I can do. That’s a surprising and good feeling. Who cares about piney slope.

*deserves a post

Back in the Park

I took an unusual break from my running group last week — no workouts in the park. And I wasn’t out of town. I’ll admit that not growing up with athletics, nor serving in the military, the trash talking had gotten to me. Today reminded my why I love the group so much. It was a full cast of characters. We had our man from Ghana. Our man from West Hollywood. Our peeps from East L.A. The septuagenarians. Three little kids under 4. All told, 14 people, I think. And the Los Angeles “June gloom” is just perfect for training. Griffith Park was just there to be exploited.

Our group, four runners and a fifth to call the times, headed up what they call “Nature Trail” for some steep climbing — a typical heart pounding warm up. Then we ran our sets of 45 second sprints. I know sprints is not the right word, because they were not flat out running. But nor were they strides. Intervals? Repeats? I don’t know the right term. We did 4 sets of 3 x 45 sec repeats, with 45 second passive recoveries, and 90 seconds between sets.

  1. 46 sec @ 5:22 min/mile (that’s 3:19 min/km)
  2. 38 sec @ 5:26 min/mile
  3. 45 sec @ 5:19 min/mile
  4. 47 sec @ 5:08 min/mile
  5. 52 sec @ 5:12 min/mile
  6. 49 sec @ 5:21 min/mile
  7. 45 sec @ 5:10 min/mile
  8. 46 sec @ 5:14 min/mile
  9. 47 sec @ 5:14 min/mile
  10. 45 sec @ 5:06 min/mile
  11. 47 sec @ 5:55 min/mile (reached our mark, stopped)

That’s where we take our water break at, appropriately, the big water tank known simply as 113. Then there’s a winding downhill where we caught up with coach. He had us do a couple of steep uphill sprints at the place we call “Piney Slope.” At that point it was obvious I was having an “on” day, coach noting: “I was wrong Erika, he has some lead in his pencil!” After that we did some downhill sprints. Coach had some proprioceptive cues, had me imagine I was getting ready to ski downhill, actually used the word “manubrium” (I had to look it up — the upper part of the sternum) which cracked me up. I got some good speed there, too. Then we finished up with some shorter sprints. One of them felt really good.

  1. 19 seconds at 4:07 min/mile pace (that’s 2:33 min/km)
  2. 22 seconds at 4:52 min/mile pace

After some walking and full recovery there were a couple of 15 second sprints toward the end of the downhill. Coach was giving me grief about fiddling with my watch, so I didn’t get the last couple. (Truth is, coach is 70, and though very smart, just doesn’t get the Garmin at all. And the Kinvaras, it’s hard for him to even look at them.) I did well on the first one, and just crapped out on the last one, but it was a terrific workout overall. Really good stuff.

So glad I was able to do this, and move away from that crazy molasses-like 10:00 min/mile 10 miler the other day (which did have the benefit of hills). Variety! Consistency!

 

 

A Case of Apples to Apples

Cyclist: “Don’t you wanna walk on the other side? Safer.” (I was not walking.)

Me: “Yeah, but on the turns I can’t see what’s coming.”

Cyclist: “You right.”

Point of pride that I actually passed this group of cyclists, one of them was still cycling, even. The rest had stopped for a break. I had taken another day off from my usual weekend group runs, a little gun shy of overdoing it, the unpredictability of their outings. And frankly, felt like I needed a break from some of the personalities… I simply wanted to get a big hill in, some miles. Then given the stimulus of location, I fell into doing pretty much the run they would have done on that particular route.

Thirty second bursts (wary of calling them strides or sprints, neither seems quite right, but certainly something a bit faster than mile pace) followed by 30 second passive recovery. The group would run them four sets of 3. I lost count, so my sets were something like: 5, 4, 3. Not sure. Between sets a 90 second passive recovery.

The cyclists passed me again at a spot where the hill levels off. About two thirds up. It is a big hill, quite steep in places, winding asphalt. But once on the main part of the course, it’s strictly a service road, so no cars. Before I knew the route, I once came to within 100 meters or so of running the whole thing, but turned around, feeling that it might never end, or might go on for more miles than I was ready to face. My group calls it “Colossus.” The cyclist gave me a big grin when they passed.

I would have run this a bit faster with the group. The difference was today I had not really planned on running 30 30s, and when I did, was going to take it relatively easy. With the group, I ran it on May 4th. It sticks out in my mind because I felt distinctly not good afterwards, not what I wanted a week out from my half marathon.

Here are the two outings, apples to apples:

  1. 5/4/13     6:08     12 x 30s     1.14 miles     5:23 min/mile avg pace
  2. 6/9/13     6:26     12 x 30s     1.09 miles     5:53 min/mile avg pace

I have to give credit to my middle-distance comrades. I never would have run this workout before. I would have been sheepish about taking recoveries. I would have run the whole hill, around 9 minute pace, which is fine. Now the whole park is awash in the stimulus response of my experiences with the group. Here is the place to rest. Here is the place to run 15 second pushes. Here is the place to get some water, take a leak. It is good. Very good.

 

Champion Workouts and Other Miscellany

Just less than 4 weeks until my half marathon. Naturally thinking about where I am in my training. It would have been great to run a 10K today as a “tune up” race. That would have been an excellent indicator of fitness, allowed me to calibrate my goal pace. Instead, today ran a very challenging series of sprints, what Greg McMillan calls a “champion workout”.

Normally, I’m a strong proponent of control in training — the opposite of the Champion’s Workout concept. In nearly all workouts, you should work hard but not too hard. None of this “Give it the ol’ 110 percent” stuff. I say train at 90 percent of what you could do in workouts and you’ll find that your racing is better. It was with this in mind that Pete Magill used the same fictional workout from Once a Runner as a negative example in his January 2013 article, “The Dirty Dozen: 12 mistakes (even experienced) runners make.” But there’s a time and a place for going all-out in training, to remind yourself that when it gets tough in races, you can dig deeper.

Of course, I don’t really know if McMillan would have considered this a champion workout or not. But it was intense. Eight sets of 5 15-second sprints, with 30 seconds recovery between sprints and 90 seconds recovery between sets. The whole course took us all the way along a service road, Vista del Valle, to the water tank where we usually end such workouts, but then, somewhat mind bogglingly, uphill toward the “pass” that leads to the other side of the park, the Hollywood side. After a brief break, the instruction was to go full steam down the winding hills back to the parking lot.

I liked the way one of the runners, new to the group and who has served in the armed forces, described the workout: “It was insane.”

The sprinting part, with the rests taken out, amounted to 2.23 miles run in 11:13 — an average pace of 5:02 — well above what I could ever expect to run for any longer distance. Coach wants us to run 800 meters (a half mile) in 2:30. Which is, of course, this pace. That we were sprinting at this pace, he would say, means we are running too slowly. And he would shake his head.

Though not entirely a self-satisfied character, I was happy with my workout today. I was the first one back to the parking lot. I worked hard. I didn’t let myself crap out like last week. When it became painful, I focussed on what was good, concentrated on pumping the arms or thought “I’m good uphill!” I, err, went to the well. So I seem to be on a fairly good schedule with my training, if I don’t let up. I managed to get 29 miles in during this past vacation week (I even got some running in at elevation 7000 feet. Finding: You breathe harder.) It was a well timed rest week as I’ve been working on an increased dose of 40 miles a week for the last few weeks (43.8, 41.2, 41.8, 40). The body seems to be handling the increase without any obvious signs of explosion. (I might add that I napped twice today, took a bath with epsom salts, ate an obscenely large breakfast, and spent quality time with the foam roller.)

And I am fascinated by this edge of where the optimum training is, and when prudence might be cast aside. After a plateau of increased mileage, a spate of body weight exercises to keep the body strong, perhaps a champion workout? Perhaps an all-out race? Alex Hutchinson has touched on the issue in a great article in The Walrus — when it’s proper to cast aside the time you know you can responsibly run based on your training and just go for broke… In this story, he looks at Reid Coolsaet’s attempt against a field of Kenyans, and how it affected his standing. It’s a great read. Really top notch journalism, in my opinion, had me running over to his website to find other articles of his. Even the non-running ones.

Back Into Training, In Earnest

Yesterday ran 15 second strides (I’m still unsure what to call them) in the park. It was a fairly long, steady uphill grade. Fiddling with my watch I inadvertently shut it off, so, shudder, no data. Well, minimal data. A good workout to get the 5k training started. We also dipped back for a little canyon hike over a rock face. And it was 32 degrees when we started. There’s some data for you. About 3 miles.

Recently found the Predawn Runner blog and very much enjoying his monthly roundups, he finds good stuff! Here’s a post called “14 Tricks to Jump Start Your Running Mojo” from a while back. I’m impressed enough with the approach and dedication, and somewhat in need of something running-related to read I went and sprang for his eBook, Running Ahead of the Sun, which I’m now reading.

Set aside a block of pages in a Moleskine notebook, and sketched out, in pencil, some training notes for the 5k.