Category Archives: hills

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.

Advertisements

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

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.

 

Race Report — Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, 2013

20130511-164249.jpg
Short version:

Overall felt good, not great about this race, my third half. Certainly it’s a 10 minute PR over my 2011 race, which is nice, but not sure it really reflects the full measure of my recent training. To fully capitalize on that I still have a lot to learn about racing, for one thing.

What went right:

Preface fueling. I did some carb loading. Nothing crazy, a bagel here and there — and I went into the race fairly confident that my glycogen stores were topped up.

Confidence, focus: despite a lackluster workout last weekend, I was focused this morning, did my lunge matrix and ran some strides. I hydrated early and had no bathroom issues (seemed to come up a lot in training).

Training, long runs. Since I did several 15+ mile long runs in the weeks leading up to the race, the distance, though non-trivial, did not feel like the epic adventure of my first two half marathons. In fact, at several points I found myself scratching my head – “Wow, I can’t believe that was Los Olivos already” (6 miles).

Training, hills: I had noted a “modest hill” at the 5-mile mark, based on Garmin data from 2011, and slowed a little in anticipation, but said hill never materialized. I guess it just didn’t register given the madness in Griffith Park. Also, the modest hill was likely something of an artifact of a horizontally squashed graph I was reading in Garmin connect. #interpretingdata

What went okay.

Pacing. I went out a little fast, even though I was very much trying not to. Hard not to get pulled along, let others move ahead. With experience I think I might realize with more conviction that indeed I’m going to pass a lot of them later. Run your own race!

(I was amused by one woman who went out guns blazing, listening to music, playing air drums. Then at mile 3 she exclaimed “I can’t do this!”)

Pacing, hills. Even though I thought I was quite conservative on the hills (at one point around 8:00/mi pace) I still have the habit of attacking them. In training, good. In racing, it depends. There were two young women (1-20 age group, I’m guessing from UCSB, a coach-like woman threw them some gels before the first big hill and some instructions) that passed me around mile 6, looking all business. I passed them going up the hill at one point, which surprised me a little. Of course they passed me, I used their momentum to move past a group at one point, but they dropped me pretty quickly.

Pacing, downhill. I had assumed that taking the hills conservatively gave me license to blow out the long downhill section. But my splits show this was probably a bit overdone, as I slowed gradually and had a tough time with the final hill.

Pacing, general.
I want to reconstruct my mile splits, from the half-mile splits I was recording. Those tell me pretty clearly that my pacing is all over the place. This is a key area that I really need to work on.

Racing, general.
I placed 5th in my age group, but 2nd, 3rd and 4th were completely up for grabs! I need to toughen up. This might also fall under the heading of ’suffering’. I could have pushed harder. This aspect had even more impact than running smart, I think.

Beet juice!
On the good authority of Matt Fitzgerald I tried this. (There’s solid research that indicates up to 2.8% performance benefit.) Unclear about the result, but would like to try the commercially available shots as opposed to the indiscriminate dose of home blended.

Fueling, in-race. This was marginal, at best. I ended up relying on the race sport drink, which seemed to me pretty watery. Also, drinking from those aid stations is a skill I am far from mastering and find myself just wanting to get rid of the cup. I may need to find a gel that I tolerate.

What went horribly wrong. Fortunately, nothing. No early blowout, no late race bonk. My last split was my fastest, lending yet more credence to the Tim Noakes “central governor” theory.

Assessment? A good effort. I ran 7:05 pace, I think (forgot to hit the button at race end) right in line with training. And I think that 1:31 is easily within grasp and I may, in fact, do a beach race in the next few weeks — I want to capitalize on the fitness, not wait another two years! My training is superior to my race effort at this point. (That crazy workout April 7, for instance — now that is suffering!)

One thing that would be really helpful is to have a long distance person to race with. Something to ponder, not idly, either.

I’d gladly run this race again next year. The shirt was much nicer this year, the course is beautiful, and they cap the race at 3000 participants. I even availed myself of the free post-race massage (no legs). Recommended.

El Capitan

Just had what Runner’s World calls a “rave run”, on the Bill Wallace Trail. Six deer (2 pair antlers), hawk, legion bunnies. The trail was so green and leafy you could have eaten it for lunch. Clear on the way up, completely shrouded in fog on the descent, and also a fair amount of mud on the way down, which made for some technical slippery stuff but no falls. Highest elevation about 790 feet. Four miles, 47 minutes of fantastico.

Scouting Out the Course

5K scout

Between Dodger Stadium and Sunset Boulevard, one of the last big hills of the 5K. What lands are these?

Thinking about my 5K. I was not going to run it as a race — just a key workout — but it’s been so long since I raced. It occurred to me that I should go check out the course, partially inspired by a post at Predawn Runner, entitled “The Ultimate Race-Specific Training: Scouting the Course.” The post is really more about marathon training, but still. He makes a good case, dividing it into: Test the hills, Look for the tangents, Develop your mental game, and Visualization.

So glad I checked out the course. The hills are slightly more daunting than I might have thought looking at the map. Perhaps they’ll be a little easier running fast? Given that my last 5K I ran 24:12 pretty much anything is going to be a PR, but don’t think I’ll break 20 on this course. I ran the course, slowly, twice. In any case, it will make a big difference knowing what’s coming around the bend on race day, for sure.

Lots of little things to notice, not the least because most of the roads I’ve never been on, but also just noticing. Noticing the slight uphill grade at the start (later to be a slight downhill for the finish). Where the big hills are. The tangents. Getting a sense of what the pacing should be, or at least having the raw materials to think about the pacing…

Also noticing that the Hokas just eat up sidewalk and turn them into marshmallow. Quite satisfying.

A good race to train for. Am definitely going to make use of the hills in Griffith Park to full effect.

1:03     6.67 miles     9:35 min/mile