Spokane Negative Split Half Marathon

Race report by the tweet.
Some time here, in my hotel. Yeah, I was pretty surprised to hear the race had only 320 runners. Smaller by a factor of 10 (almost) than my last race! There were only a handful of runners in the sub-8:00 corral, so I thought my chances might be good. They all looked to be in their twenties, with telling cross country collegiate gear. But I suspected wily graybeards might lurk, biding their time.

20130706-130940.jpgSo there it is. A couple minutes slower than my last race. Sadly, I don’t think I managed a negative split – which would have been particularly apt in this race. [Actually, I managed a 40 second negative split.] The course was pretty easy, with some rises (I wouldn’t quite call them “hills”) along the Spokane River.

20130706-131326.jpgAround mile 6 or so I could feel that I am not in the same aerobic shape I was back in May. I was on track, in terms of my race plan, but rather than find the next gear at mile 7, I faltered. Then at mile 11 it just unraveled a little. I was hoping to run the last few at 6:50 min/mile pace. Still, I was pretty happy with my “race” — I managed to pass about 5 people, and none of them managed a counter move (though the last guy gave me some trouble). I did manage a negative split. Nice data just posted on the website, with halfway split, time behind leader (for full and age group results). I was 5 minutes behind my age group winner, who ran the race I would have loved to clock: 1:29:29. Next age grouper was 16 minutes behind him.


Something very satisfying about besting a man in Newtons – not sure what exactly – but anyone wearing those is probably pretty serious about their running – or have a lot of dispensable income. (In my last race there was another guy with said shoes, and to make it extra satisfying he was wearing a Stanford t-shirt.)

Yes, pretty long stretches wondering if the person I passed earlier was going to come blazing by. Pace can slacken in these solitary moments with no one to spur you on. My experience, anyway.

And that is my rather fragmented race report. Pretty happy with what I did, given the material ( i.e. fitness) on hand.

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.


An Attempt at Plus Ones

Opted out of the running group this morning, and the manic middle-distance workouts they favor, wanting to take care of a tender right adductor.* Decided to try my hand at the “plus ones” workout, as written about by Mario Fraioli at Competitor.com. As he states, it’s a bit of a hybrid — part descending ladders, part fartlek. Fraioli says this workout develops a couple of key racing abilities and I’d have to agree — at least on the strength of feeling pretty challenged. That’s an understatement, actually, as I aborted the workout.

Here are the hard working parts of the workout. Descending intervals at roughly 5k pace, followed by a recovery jog for half the time (not included here), then followed by a minute at 15-20 seconds faster per mile pace and 3 minutes recovery jog.

  1. 5:02 @ 6:21 min/mile
  2. 1:01 @ 5:54 min/mile
  3. 4:02 @ 6:23 min/mile
  4. 1:01 @ 6:03 min/mile
  5. 3:03 @ 6:19 min/mile
  6. 1:02 @ 6:15 min/mile
  7. 1:12 @ 6:40 min/mile

As you can see, by the last interval, which should have been 2 minutes, things had deteriorated substantially, and even before that the “faster” one minute segment was lagging — so I decided to cut the workout short. While that’s never encouraging, I’m just writing it off as a bad day and have a few theories about why it didn’t go so well.

  1. The pace was aggressive. My last 5k was run at 6:30 pace. I’m still undecided if this is my true current 5k pace, but today is obviously not the day to figure that out.
  2. I brought Gatorade with me. The powdered kind you mix yourself. I may have mixed it a little too thick, stomach felt a little off.
  3. I took some old salt tablets earlier. Can you see that I love to experiment with supplements? How old can salt get, anyway?
  4. I was running in the afternoon heat. I haven’t been running in the afternoon or the heat, lately.
  5. Breathing felt off. Not sure why.
  6. I was just bumping up against my laziness again.

I’d like to try this again on a morning run, use it as a benchmark workout. It was quite challenging and it would be fun to do when feeling more up to the challenge. Don’t think I’ll be up to facing an early morning jaunt with the running group tomorrow. Maybe just an easy 10 or something…

*One might rightly ask why I would choose this workout, if my adductor is sore. Well, it’s not that sore, and 5k pace is challenging, but not explosive. It’s explosive sprinting I wanted to avoid.


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.]