Category Archives: planning

Lost for Words

Excited about my training – sort of lost for words, but long runs are averaging roughly 7:30 min/mile pace now (see previous post) and mileage is creeping slowly up. The rest in pics.

The time graph is kind of cool. Possibly more telling than actual mileage. Oh, and the pace chart, yes pleased about that one.

Otherwise, see Twitter!




Rethinking the Long Run

Short version: I’m increasing the base pace for my long runs. It should be okay, so long as I am disciplined about running my recovery days as slow as necessary. The real topic of this post is agonizing over details.

It occurs to me that maybe I should be running my long runs faster. I’ve just gotten back to them, after an injury or two in July I wasn’t doing them. Now I’m up to 8 miles. I was reading up on Lydiard (as one should from time to time) and saw something about “it’s not Long Slow Distance it’s Long Steady Distance.” I dutifully consulted some pace charts. I could run my long runs a little faster, I mused.

This against the background of my coach who just shakes his head when people talk about long runs. Because usually they are, in his opinion, talking about slow running. And his assertion has always been that such running just teaches you to run slowly. Of course, that has to be right on some level. Coach may be a tad dogmatic — fanatic even — but he knows his stuff. “At a certain point you’re not doing anything in those 10 milers.”

The most recent spark was coming across a table of paces (p. 82) in the Hansons Marathon Method: A Renegade Path to Your Fastest Marathon. (I freely admit that I mostly bought the book for its various tables, pace charts, and such. I have no immediate plans to train for a marathon.) I noticed it indicates, for my goal of a 1:30 half marathon, long runs at 7:42 min/mile pace. This surprised me a little. Maybe I haven’t been attending to my running goals much recently. I looked over my (not very well kept) records. I’ve only run a handful of long runs under 8:00 min/mile pace and most of them were actual races. The other two exceptions were time trials the week or two preceding a race.

Is this a limiter in my training? I’ve run perhaps a half dozen 15-milers. Pace often around 8:30 min/mile or slower. Possibly it’s because I’m relatively new to this — have only run 4 half marathons. (Times roughly: 1:54, 1:43, 1:33, 1:35.) I’ve mostly been focusing in distance in my long runs, assuming that the tempo runs and speed work would take care of the pace. Maybe this will give me that little boost? I think it may very well.

But the initial realization led to a kind of dizzying, fortunately not-too-time-consuming, reappraisal of everything. I think this is because I’m bothered by the arbitrary nature of selecting a goal pace. You might say it’s not arbitrary, it’s based on your race results. True. But how do you know those are good results? So much of how we judge our results is based on assumptions. And assumptions drive me crazy. So I decided to consult a few of my favorite running books. I noted that since I’m not running anything even remotely like high mileage (nor have I ever) that leaning on a Lydiard-type philosophy for my training assumptions didn’t make much sense. I found some cool quotes, like this one from Matt Fitzgerald’s Run: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel:

In fact, lately I have noticed a trend among runners of trying to put a positive spin on their suffering avoidance by couching it in terms of a Lydiardian training philosophy. High-intensity training is risky, even dangerous, they say, and therefore its place in the training process must be minimized to prevent injury and overtraining. It’s not that these athletes are afraid of the intensity of high-intensity training. They’re just being smart.

and another quote:

So your natural pace does have a place in your training. However, natural pace becomes a limiting comfort zone for many runners.

I decided to read that book again. It is so good. And I continued to peruse the handful of books. I have included some of my findings from those book below, under “Ancillary Materials.” In the end, I got too into details, but I noted a few things.

  1. There is more than one way to skin a cat
  2. Long runs often include an important hill component — especially at the end — and thinking back, this is part of what kept my pace down in quite a few of my long runs
  3. Increasing my long run pace is probably a good idea — so long as I include rest weeks and a variety of approaches
  4. Pace, like distance, for the long run depends on the race for which you’re training.
  5. It is the tempo run which most bedevils me.
  6. For variety, I’ve already started consulting with a favorite freebie from Jason Fitzgerald’s Strength Running website, a pdf entitled: 52 Workouts, 52 Weeks, One Faster Runner. It’s worth a look. Recommended.
  7. You’ve got to trust your gut about what you can do. And face up to the fact that you can probably run faster, it’s about whether you’re willing to suffer enough to run to your potential. Fitzgerald, in particular, writes engagingly on this topic.

For the moment, I’m going to focus on running a solid, convincing 5k time. I really need to improve on my 20:11, which was done on a quite hilly course. Anything 19:30 or better should not be a problem. Ideally, I’d like to run it without my Garmin (or at least with pace not displayed), and really run hard. See what happens. You do not bonk on a 5k. Then, I’d like to use that as motivation/justification for pursuing my next goal: 1:30 for the half marathon.

(It is even possible I might sharpen that goal, but one thing at a time.)

Ancillary Materials:

Run Less, Run Faster (apparently referred jokingly in some circles as Run Less, Get Injured More) has a slew of paces in its various pace charts. Here you come to the problem of scale. While training for a 5k they suggest 5 miles at “mid-tempo” pace. If the goal is a 19:30 5k (roughly equivalent to a 1:30 half marathon) then that mid-tempo pace is 6:49 per min/mile pace. For a 10k, the long runs are done at “long-tempo” pace — 7:04 min/mile. For a half marathon, the suggestion for most of the training, is to run half-marathon pace + 20 seconds per mile — in this case around 7:11 min/mile (which just so happens to be “marathon pace”). For the marathon, they advocate training that starts about a minute faster than marathon pace (8:11 min/mile and gradually closing the gap. Marathon pace + 45 seconds, marathon pace + 30 seconds, etc.). This gives you a 3:08:20 marathon. The bottom line with the Run Less, Run Faster crew, is that your long run pace varies according to race. Not something I’ve given much thought to — but then again — can’t say there’s much to argue with there.

Brad Hudson’s Run Faster: From the 5k to the Marathon (a personal favorite) to my surprise, mostly advocates easy long runs for 5k training, adding progression runs for the 10k, half and marathon. The emphasis throughout seems to be finishing moderate for the last 10 – 20 minutes, and then progressing to finishing hard for the last 10 – 20 minutes. As the runs get longer, this only seems to make sense.

Matt Fitzgerald’s Brain Training for Runners (a book with a really long subtitle), another longtime favorite, tackles the issue in terms of “base pace,” defined as “more or less the pace you adopt naturally when going for a training run of a particular distance.” For my last half-marathon time, this range would be 8:44 – 7:53 min/mile. Which feels just about right. I’ve often noticed when going on a moderate, easy run, my pace often falls around 8:40 min/mile. For the race I’d like to run, the base pace is listed as 8:20 to 7:31 min/mile. Note that there’s a little overlap there. At the faster end, it’s not an easy pace for me, there’s some effort involved.

Finally, but not the least in any way, I checked the McMillan Pace Calculator. It gave me a range of 7:35 to 8:52 min/mile for long runs. So there it is. The 7:42 pace might be a little aggressive, but it’s not outlandish.


Haven’t quite processed this race, yet. Using some elementary math (even that’s not my strong suit), I reconstructed my mile splits, from the half-mile splits I was recording:

7:05, 7:17, 7:08, 7:14, 7:06, 7:11, 7:26, 6:35, 6:25, 6:39, 6:55, 7:26, 7:02

Also, on the data front — the race provided splits for:

5.9 miles: 41:46 (7:04 min/mile) and

7.2 miles: 51:07 (7:05 min/mile)

A couple of things emerge — first, my efforts on the two major hills were practically identical, the two 7:26 splits. I feel pretty good about the second one, becuase I was just hanging on at that point. Miles 8, 9, 10 and 11 basically tell a sad tale of positive splits, successively longer. I went nuts on the downhill. It worked out *okay*, but I suspect a more efficient race would probably have been a bit faster. The two young ladies blasted by me around mile 9 or 10, just as I was slowing down as I recall. Had I been running, say, something closer to 6:45 those miles, I might have rallied at the end. The race provided splits make me wonder if there isn’t some device error in my early splits. Both times indicate a pretty steady (overall) pace of about 7:05, makes me wonder…

Okay, time to split.


Race Report — Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, 2013

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.

The Seventh Thing

I had listed 6 things I’m thinking about leading up to my next race, the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon. But there is a seventh thing.

7. Specificity, particularly regarding the topic of running surface. Specificity is the idea that you should train for your race by duplicating, as much as possible, the conditions you will face on race day. It’s a broad topic, and arguably includes much of training (pacing, distance, even time of day or temperature). And specificity should increase as training progresses. Your workouts should be becoming more specific to the task at hand. (The idea is beautifully articulated in Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald’s book, Run Faster, highly recommended.)

Since my race is mostly if not entirely on asphalt, and I tend to be religiously dedicated to avoiding running on asphalt and concrete (more on this, below), I feel that it only makes sense for me to run on some asphalt, at least toward the end of training. Indeed, with that in mind, most of my long runs have been on asphalt in the last month, and some of my tempos.

Another argument for doing some running on asphalt (among other things) is to obtain a muscle tension appropriate to your race. I’ve only heard about this idea from one source, a very interesting Steve Magness article, published here in Running Times. The idea is that proper muscle tension has as much an impact on racing as other important factors such as pacing, nutrition, tapering, etc. Moreover, muscle tension can be tuned up or down according to the needs of the race — shorter races, as you might guess, requiring higher muscle tension, and longer races, less so. According to Magness, muscle tension can be increased by sprinting, strength training, faster-paced intervals and ice baths, (to name 4 of 8 methods he lists in the article.) Magness includes a list of activities to increase and decrease muscle tension as well as a few workouts, it’s worth a look — check it out.

For a half marathon, I’m not going to need a lot of muscle tension, but I want to make sure not to get flat on too much long running, do a little speedwork, and do it on asphalt.

I think most runners will recognize, in the diligent avoidance of hard surfaces, a desire avoid wear and tear to the body. I had pretty much accepted as fact, nay, gospel, that hard surfaces, such as asphalt and especially concrete, take a toll on the runner’s body, especially over a period of years. (The Kenyans, supposedly avoid running on roads at all costs — clearly they have other, perfectly adequate, methods of adjusting their muscle tension.) And, naturally, wanting to preserve my ability to run as long into life as possible, I avoid these ghastly surfaces. And so I was very interested to read in Alex Hutchinson’s Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? some research that calls into question this idea.

Without going into too much detail, the studies suggest that the body is able to somehow compensate with the differing impacts of running on these surfaces, and when force detection plates were placed in the shoes of runners, the difference of the forces detected on the different surfaces were minimal or quite modest. This is one of those counter-intuitive results that one marvels in — but I’m left a little perplexed. I don’t doubt that the body isn’t able to reduce the difference in these forces, but at what cost? That is to say, aren’t the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments undergoing some extra effort to reduce the impact forces? So perhaps the cost is no longer a direct result of the impact forces involved, but the efforts deployed to lesson those forces?

Research will probably continue to tease out the complexities of this issue. In the end it may not matter too much one way in the other for practical purposes — it still makes perfect sense to train for your race by duplicating as many conditions as closely as possible, including the surface. And maybe I’ll be just a little less religious about running on dirt trails.

[Since writing this post, I was referred to a cool blog that just so happened to have a post, “Why You Should Run On Soft Surfaces.” Worth a read.]

Two Weeks Out

Fourteen days, 14 hours until my half marathon race. Of course, I’m assessing where I am in my training, starting to think about particulars. As I think about how my training’s gone, I’m also thinking about what I might build on for the next training cycle. Not sure I can manage a full blown narrative, but I can put a ragged list together.

A Few Pre-Race Considerations:

  1. Pace. I’ve been doing “wave tempos” between 6:45 and 7:15 min/mile. Somewhere in there is my race pace. Today’s tempo run went pretty well, though I still could have suffered a little more. Maybe a lot more. For my next training cycle, renewing my relationship with pain is going to be a priority. Because, as someone wrote, when the pain hits that means you’re on track to a PR. And that’s not any crazy 110%, no-pain-no-gain philosophy — it’s just the facts. Coach Jay Johnson has a nice post about it, “Feeling good, being uncomfortable and suffering.” (I leave my strength and speedwork pretty much up to the group of middle distance runners I run with in Griffith Park. They have me running much faster than I ever would have done before, and in completely different ways. They are not averse to a little suffering.)
  2. Step up the strength work. Really what I’m talking about is The Standard Core Routine I found at Strength Running, and the Lunge Matrix I found at Coach Jay Johnson’s site. I throw in some pushups. The reason for stepping up the strength work is not just because it feels good, and contributes to running form or preventing injury. There are a couple of other things in play. First, being diligent about doing some strength work right after the workout is another training stress, another layer of fighting fatigue and working with a little suffering, especially on one of your “hard” days. The same Jay Johnson post, link above, touches upon this idea. And second, (taking out) strength work can be an element in your taper. At least that’s something I read, and it makes sense to me so I’m going to try it out. Idea being, the week before your race, that in addition to cutting your running volume you could cut the volume of your strength work. Thus creating a zippy, energized body. Not sure where I got this idea, but quite likely it was from Strength Running, Jason Fitzgerald’s site. He has a good post on tapering, here. And speaking of tapering…
  3. Tapering. In the past, and it’s been a while now, I think I reduced both volume and intensity of workouts. I’m not doing that this time. Just volume. I’ll do short, intense workouts at race pace just to whet the appetite without introducing the element of fatigue. I’ll also be considering my diet. I’ve been reading Matt Fitzgerald’s new book, The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition. Just taking a cursory look over the book I realize I have no idea whether I get enough carbs or not, to be carb loaded up. Do I eat 300 grams of carbohydrate a day? Who knows.
  4. Fueling. I’ve greatly enjoyed experimenting with taking medjool “fancy” dates on my long runs, but am not sure they’re a great solution for a race (just one type of sugar, probably not too many electrolytes). I haven’t ruled it out. I tended to use those only after about an hour of running. Just recently tried some other fuels. My last long run I took Gatorade, which worked fine. Not sure if I want to take a fuel belt for the race, though, and I don’t think they’ll have Gatorade at the race. Today I took raspberry flavored shot bloks, with caffeine. They’re okay, but require a fair amount of water to get them to go down and I find I don’t tolerate them that well. The whole process is a little distracting. I may end up going with the dates and fill them with a pinch of salt or something crazy like that.
  5. Mileage. I’ve got my long run comfortably up to 15+ miles and weekly mileage up to 40. I’m ready to move up to 50. Maybe I’ll get one week of 50 before the race? Maybe not a good idea. Honestly, not sure I’ll have the time to get to 50 in the next training cycle. Not sure how people train for marathons. Where do they find the time?? Perhaps become a Predawn Runner?
  6. Shoe choice. I recently got the Saucony Kinvara 3 (see runblogger’s review), which I quite like, but it feels a bit minimal for a half. I know many would disagree. Right now the Brooks PureFlow (see runblogger’s review) is the frontrunner. It’s light, has a sort of cushiony feel, without being as gigantic as the Hokas. I really enjoy the Hoka One One Stinsons (runblogger won’t review it for some reason, though the Hoka One One B2s seems to be helping his wife deal with hip pain — here’s a little video about the Hokas) for eating up sidewalks on my long runs, but having gotten used to lighter shoes, it feels a bit much for a race. Undecided, though. I’m going to be weighing all the shoes, out of curiousity.

Beyond this it just gets into minutiae and worrying. Socks? Packet pick-up? I feel good about my training and just want to get some good, confidence building workouts in. I may have to get creative carving out time for my next training cycle, but I also have some ideas about what to work on.

March Elevation

March has been a big running month for me, in both quantity and, perhaps less so, quality (see Twitter feed!).

I managed to transition out of a good race result from the 5K, into a more energized stretch of training, with sharpened goals, more focused training. I surprised myself by sticking with my strength training, which consists mostly of body weight exercises – but I continue to do them: push ups, three kinds of planks. More recently I’ve added clamshells, a modified bicycle and marching bridge pose – all basically stuff aimed at strengthening the posterior chain, and yes, the core.

Coach has been kicking my ass, not so much in terms of specific workouts, but more related to attitudes, expectations. I no longer require a recovery day after one of those group runs, though they are frequently very tasty workouts. Coach understands the value of variety, and hills, for sure.

And I’ve found some great running blogs for inspiration (posts to come on that front). Ok, well, for starters – this Canadian Olympian’s adventures in Kenya are really just to be recommended. Reid Coolsaet.

And tomorrow taking the overnight train to Santa Fe, elevation 7000 feet! I had read from some fairly reliable source that green tea extract helps with the adjustment. Hydration is also critical. Excited to do some easy running and photography, before launching into this April training. Half Marathon on May 6.