Saturday, March 31, 2012

March Running Madness Coming To An End

My March running trip is coming to an end, and we are heading back to Michigan. It did not go as well as I hoped with the DWD Green Swamp race, but I did manage to do some awesome trail runs in Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, and now Georgia.

Wednesday night we did a stopover in Reed Bingham State Park in Southern Georgia. They have several short nature trails there (less than a mile each), so I did not expect much of a run. However, the trails intersect in a way that allows for a pretty decent short run. I actually enjoyed the run quite a bit. It was cooler and greener than the runs in Florida, with more flowers along the trail, but it still had the same swampy look to the trail in the wetland areas, with bald cypress and Spanish moss hanging from the trees along the waterway. The area was full of birds, but unfortunately none of them would sign the consent form to appear in the video.

For those of you who can't make it to Georgia this spring, here is the video of the trails at Reed Bingham State Park:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Disaster at DWD Green Swamp: Race Report

Well, I guess it is time for a race report for the first 50k of the series. It was not a very auspicious beginning. The day started out well. The temperatures were perfect for me, probably mid 50s at the start.  I arrived at the race with plenty of time to spare and got to see the 50 milers finishing their first 5 mile loop. It was still dark, and it was fun to watch their headlamps come bouncing up the trail through the trees.

The group at the start for the 50k and marathon probably had a couple hundred people, but I wasn't really paying much attention. I had decided to go out strong, in the first third of the pack this time, because I was feeling good and expecting to have a good day.

The course started with a 6.2 mile loop on a nice wide trail, so there were no real issues with passing. I settled into a pace around 9:45, which was what I thought was comfortable and doable for the first part of the race. I was hoping for a 10:45 pace overall. I had run an 11:13 pace taking it easy in the marathon in KY on a hilly course, and I really felt a 10:45 was realistic. 

The DWD course is entirely flat, and the footing, at this point was very good.  I planned to go out a little faster than what I hoped to average for the day because I knew from experience running in Florida that it is better to make up some time while it is still cool because when the heat hits, everyone slows down, regardless of conditioning.

Somewhere in the first loop, the leaders took a wrong turn, and the rest of the pack followed. When the leaders realized there were no blue flags on this part of the trail, we all turned around to head back to the place where we had made a wrong turn. This started a huge traffic jam and allowed runners who had started slower to get ahead. I was not upset, though. We were at about 4 miles of a 31 mile race. It would all sort itself out eventually.

I finished the first loop and came through the aid station feeling great. I really felt like this was going to be a good day for me and was happy that my training seemed to have put me in good form for the race. Coming out of the first aid station is where trouble started. We hit a road of "sugar sand," as they call it down here. It was deep and soft. For a while, I was able to run the edges, but eventually those were gone, and there was no choice but to slog through the stuff. It was made even more difficult by the holes made by the previous runners.

I am not sure how long we were in the sand. It seemed like about 2 miles. I could feel the strain in my knees, lower legs, and IT band toward the end of the section, but I was hoping and praying that when I got on better footing that everything would be okay.  

Eventually we did hit better footing, and I settled back into pace. I was still averaging around a 9:45 pace overall and felt very comfortable. My IT band was tight, but I kept hoping it would just loosen up.  When I hit the aid station at Ranch Rd. (10.3 miles), I was still feeling great. I got to see my fellow RUTster, Jan, who was working the aid station rather than running because of an injury. That put a smile on my face as I headed out for the next leg.

The next section also went pretty well, but any time there was uneven footing, I could really feel it in the IT band on my left leg. I hit the half marathon mark in 2:07, still feeling fantastic except for that niggling worry about my left leg. I stopped at the aid station at Traffic Jam (13.9) very briefly to get some water and headed out again. I don't know if it was the stop or not, but suddenly things started to take a turn for the worse. I could feel the IT band getting tighter and tighter and again was just praying  that it would go away if I relaxed. 

I slowed the pace a bit to a 10:30 to see if slowing down helped at all. I am not sure that was a good move.  I hit the 15 mile mark, and that was all she wrote. The band completely tightened, and I could not put weight on the leg to run. I stopped to walk, stretched, and got about another quarter mile of running before it seized up again. I repeated the walk/stretch/ run routine and got about a tenth of a mile running before it seized again. After that I tried two or three more times, unsuccessfully, to try to run, but it was not happening.  Walking did not hurt, but running was impossible.
At mile 16, I made one last try. I still couldn't run, and this time when I stopped my knee started hurting when I walked as well. I realized then that if I had any hope of completing the race, I was going to be walking the entire way.

Then I had a decision to make: do I walk the remaining 15 miles or do I bail out. Well, as much as I hated the idea of walking for 16 miles, I hated the idea of not finishing even more. That would end my quest for the coveted buckle and throw my entire year's training plan out the window. Nope. I was definitely walking in.

That started what is probably the second hardest thing I have ever done as a runner (the hardest definitely being  the 50 miler).  I cannot tell you how miserable it was to walk for the next 5 hours and 15 miles, being constantly passed by other runners.  After the first mile or so, the enormity of walking the 15 miles really set in. I realized that it was going to be a really, really long day. My walking pace was not great. I do not train to walk. Muscles that don't get used that often were not anxious to pitch in and help after I had so badly abused their brothers and sisters.

Luckily I had my cell phone with me and was able to text Jer, who was waiting back at the start/finish, to let him know that I was walking. I also texted my friend Leslie for some moral support. They kept me from totally wallowing in self-pity although I will admit to a few angry, frustrated tears at one point.  

Up until that time the day had been pretty cool. There was cloud cover which kept it from being burning hot.  That was not too last. At the part of the course where I had to cross meadows and a long stretch of unshaded dirt road, the sun decided to come out. It was blazing hot.

It was at that point, when I started to really sweat, that I realized from the intense stinging on my back, that my hydration pack was chafing. Oh great, one more thing to add to my list of woes.
For a while I took the hydration pack off and carried it, but that was even more annoying than having it rub on my back. Thankfully, I was only about 4 miles out from the start/finish line where I could drop the pack with Jer and pick up a hand bottle. I texted ahead so he would have it ready.

Coming back to the start/finish area, we hit a few more sandy spots. I almost could not even walk through them and slowed to a shuffle in those spots. About this time, I was caught by a guy who was doing his first marathon. He was in severe distress. He was not a trail runner , had not trained on trails, and had not realized how much harder running on the trails (and in the sand) would be compared to road running. He was in pretty bad shape, but he had it over me. He could still run when he could pull himself together mentally to do so. I felt bad for him. What a horrible first marathon experience!

Also on this stretch of the course, I found out how really bitchy and mean-spirited a hot day of walking can make me. I was really annoyed at the marathoners who would run by and say "Nice job!" or "You're doing great!" It took all of the little self-control I had left not to yell, "What are you, some kind of idiot? I am definitely not doing great!" However, I realized that such outbursts would be considered incredibly bad form so managed to just find new and exciting ways for the voices in my head to express those sentiments to each other. As I got more creative, I started to feel better. There is nothing like being bitchy and mean to cheer a girl up.

Finally, at about six hours and change, I came back by the start/finish, got rid of my pack, picked up my hand bottle, and started out on the last five mile leg of my day from hell. Ironically, this last loop was my favorite part of the course. It was shady and a little cooler, and I had finally made peace with the idea that there was a distinct possibility that I might be last woman finisher. In fact, I was kind of hoping for that. I really started to enjoy the scenery at that point. I found a bird feather to stick in my hair and a little later down the trail a freshly shed snake skin. I even managed to sing a few Jimmy Buffett tunes to keep me going. I am sure passing runners thought I was delirious from the heat if they heard me. 

About that time I had the neatest experience. A guy came hobbling up. He was having calf cramps, which I could totally relate to because that is one thing I often have to deal with in the latter stage of races. We started talking. He was from Indiana (I think his name was John). Turns out he just turned 50 this year, and his goal also is to get the belt buckle for the four DWD ultras. We laughed at how similar our circumstances were and what a horrible start this was to meeting the goal. Then, after one false start of cramping, he ran off and left me. I didn't see him again until after the finish, and I was glad to know that he had made it through.

One of the more annoying things in the whole day happened about 100 yards from the finish, just as we came out of the woods onto the field where the finish was located. I was passed by not one, but two, women.  They were still able to run, and I had to limp along helplessly as they passed me and I dropped two more spots in the women's race. Talk about frustrating! Still, I was just so thankful to finish and for the day to be over.  My official time was 7:40:43.  I was 55th out of 61 finishers.

Now, two days later, my IT band is feeling better, and I likely will be able to run again by tomorrow. This experience was just like the previous two episodes I had with the IT band on the long runs, and it occurred at just about the same time. The weird thing is that I had the trail marathon in KY on the hilly course with the uneven footing two weeks earlier and had no problems with the IT band whatsoever. 

This is definitely something I am going to need to continue to work on as I move in to my next phase of training. I will be adding in exercises to strengthen my hips and glutes, as well as religiously stretching and using the foam roller.  If anyone has any additional ideas on how I can avoid this, I would be glad to hear them. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trail Running O'Leno State Park: A Pleasant Surprise

We are on the move again, heading to South Florida for Dances With Dirt Green Swamp. We stopped at one of the lesser known state parks along the way for an overnight, and I found some fun trails.

The park was O'Leno State Park, which is not too far off the 75, just north of Gainesville. We chose this park, not for its amenities but because it was halfway between where we were and where we needed to be. Our expectations were not high. We were just looking for a place to pull in for the night. It turns out that it was a really serendipitous choice, as it was a beautiful park with a system of easily accessible trails that made it perfect for a little run to shake out the kinks in my pre-DWD taper.

The trail system includes hiking and mountain bike trails. There is a river, the Sante Fe, in the park, with a suspension bridge built by the CCC in 1938. The trails are typical Florida, packed sand with stubborn grass poking through in spots, nice and soft to trot along on. The trails were wide and well cleared, which is great because I am still having allergic reactions to the things I got into on my first ill-fated trail run in North Florida.

There are several trails in the park, all of which begin just east of the suspension bridge, which is a major landmark. The one I did today was the green one, called the Parener's Branch, which is listed as 3.69 mi. The green loop allows both mountain bike and hiking, but connects into the yellow trail to complete the loop back to the bridge, which is hiking only, so I am not sure if that mileage is for only the green portion or whether it also includes the yellow section that competes the loop. I also ran the entire yellow loop (video coming) which is 1.44 mi  and is for hiking only. There are additional trails in the system, Sweetwater (1.87 mi) and River Rise (4.25 mi), so one could put together a decently long run if connecting trails. I did not see a lot of wildlife, but there were a few extremely skittish deer, some baby alligators, and many butterflies.

In talking to some wonderful ladies on the camp staff (one of whom was from Ann Arbor), I found out that I had just missed their annual Race The Tortoise 5k held in the park on March 3 this year. I was kind of bummed about that. I mean who doesn't need a race shirt with a tortoise running across a suspension bridge?

Anyway, I thought I would share the experience with you all just to put you in a Green Swamp state of mind:

Friday, March 16, 2012

First Trail Run in Northern Florida: Lessons Learned

Okay, I know I lived in Florida just two short years ago, and you would think I would remember at least some of the important things I knew about running there, but here are some of the lessons I learned (or relearned) about trail running in Northern Florida on my run today.

1. Heat acclimation is a good thing; heat acclimation at midday, not so much.  On the bright side of this one, I should be more ready for whatever DWD Green Swamp has to offer. Note to self, out tomorrow morning at 8 am.

2. Trailheads may or may not be in the same place they were two years ago. Just because you ran a trail once a few years ago does not mean that you will be able to find it again.

3. When a local says, "you can't miss it," that is Floridian for "you couldn't find it with a GPS, map, compass, and an Indian guide."   This is especially true when the little detail that gets left out of the directions is that the entrance to the trail is now in the bushes ten yards to the left of the gate with the shiny new lock on it.

4. While hidden bottles are good, carrying a hand bottle is better. This is especially true when passing back by the hidden bottle depends heavily on finding the aforementioned trail head using directions given by the local Floridian.

5. When you are lost and looking for a trail, be sure to read the front side of that sign you just ran behind. This is especially important if you find out later that the sign said "Caution: Archery Range: No Trespassing." 

6. When you pop out of the woods for a second and realize that you are indeed trespassing on some type of hunting range, check to be sure you are not standing on a fire ant hill while attempting to decide what to do next.  Always handy advice whenever in sandy ground in Florida.

7. Not all local plants are friendly. They may look pretty, but some have wicked thorns.

If it sounds like I had a bad day on the trails, it is absolutely not true. One of the things I love about trail running is that I never know what is going to happen. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Brooks Pure Grit: Finally a Trail Shoe That Works for Me!

Brooks Pure Grit
Spring has sprung in Michigan, and many runners are starting to think about hitting the trails again. Several friends at my local club are preparing for their first trail races. With new trail runners, one of the most common questions is about trail shoes. I don't usually like to give shoe recommendations because every person's needs are different, but I do have to rave about the trail shoes that I am currently running in, the Brooks Pure Grit, because I think they are absolutely awesome.

I have never been a fan of trail shoes. When I first started running trails, back in 2003, I spent a small fortune on a variety of trail shoes, none of which ever worked for me. I probably spent $300-$400 dollars over a period of about two years trying different trail shoes before I just decided that my Mizuno Precisions would work just fine thank you. I even found that the more worn out they were, the more comfortable they seemed to be on the trail, which worked perfectly for my shoe rotation and budget. When the Precisions started to lose their road cushion they became my "new" trail shoe.

The problem with most of the trail shoes I tried at that time was related to a lack of flexibility. Back then trail shoes differentiated from road shoes primarily through their more aggressive tread and the rock plate that they included in the shoe to help protect the feet from stone bruises. Both of these severely hindered the flexibility of the shoe.

I am a mid to forefoot striker with very high arches. Flexibility, especially in the forefoot, is the number one consideration I have with running shoes. It was easy to see why trail shoes and I did not get along.

Fast forward to 2010-2011 and my re-entry into trail running. This coincided with the whole barefoot running craze and especially the rush to get the Vibram Five Fingers.  I was not even tempted to jump on that bandwagon -- not because I am immune to the latest fad but because I have a condition known as syndactyly, which means that my second and third toes are fused together. Vibrams were not an option for me.

Still feeling that I ought to give trail shoes a chance, I went in to my local running store and tried on several popular models but found none that felt better for me than the Kinvaras that I was wearing for the trails at that time.

However, at the Flirt with Dirt race last spring, the Brooks rep had a table. I was hanging out after the race and went over to take a look. I told her about my situation with the trail shoes, and she told me I was in luck. She showed me the prototype for a shoe that would be out in the fall. She said they would be absolutely perfect for me. It was an unusual trail shoe: unusually light, unusually flexible, with an unusual sole, with a strange division between the big toe and other toes. I promptly forgot the name, but I did manage to remember that they were weird looking and that they were Brooks.

When the Pure Grit hit the market I did not rush out to buy them. I was recovering from a ruptured spleen and was still a little leery about heading out on the trails. Plus, I wasn't really sure I wanted to waste money trying a new pair of trail shoes. I had actually gone into the running store one day to buy road shoes when I saw the shoes and recognized them as the ones the Brooks rep had shown me. I tried them on. They felt fantastic! It was one of those things where you slip into a shoe and say "ahhhh."  I felt like I was wearing slippers. I had to have them! The price was not horrible, $99.95, but not cheap either. Although I had fallen madly in love with the shoes, the little doubting voice in the back of my mind was hoping this was not going to be another $100 wasted on trail shoes that I wouldn't wear.

So what did I do? Did I break them in carefully and test them out gradually on the trail? Well of course not. I had a trail marathon the next weekend. How could I run the marathon in my crappy worn out road shoes when those beauties were in the box? I broke one of the cardinal rules of running. I wore the shoes for the first time for the trail marathon. Now just so you won't think I am totally insane, let me just say that this particular marathon had loops, so I had also packed other shoes in case my experiment did not pan out.

The running shoe gods were smiling on me that day. Despite the fact that I got off course and ran 28.2 instead of 26.2, my feet were absolutely comfortable. These shoes ROCKED!!  I have just now completed my second trail marathon in the shoes, and I will have to say now that I have more time in them: These shoes totally ROCK!! The best thing I can say about them is that most of the time I forget that I have them on. That is high praise for a trail shoe.

I am not going to pretend to be a professional shoe reviewer. There are plenty of professional reviews of the Grit that you can take a look at, such as the one at the bottom of this post by Sage Canaday.  I will just tell you some of the things that I like about the shoes.

First of all, they are incredibly flexible, especially in the forefoot, and very light (7.6 oz for the women's). They also have a very snug and slipper-like fit. This may not suit everyone because they are also fairly narrow in the toes. If you are the type of runner who likes a really wide toe box, these may not be the shoe for you. The upper is mesh and breathes well. They just feel light and good on my feet.

Another thing I like about the shoe is how they make me feel when I run in them. The shoe is considered a low profile shoe, minimalist type shoe. It has a 4mm "drop" (the difference in height of the midsole between the heel and the midfoot), which is the same as the Kinvaras. This helps those who are trying to run more naturally and with a midfoot strike.  This 4 mm drop is not as drastic as some other minimalist trails shoes, such as the Merrell Trail Glove or  Vibrams, which have a zero drop. This is good for easing into more minimalist footwear without injury. However if you are not used to a more minimal shoe, the Grit would definitely be one you would want to break in slowly. I would not even mention something like this (I am not a shoe techie) except that I really do feel when I am wearing them that they are helping my running form.

An added bonus for me about the shoe is that Scott Jurek, seven time winner of the Western States 100 and one of my ultrarunning idols, helped design them. (Silly I know, but still it makes me smile.)

What this all comes down to is that if you are looking for a trail shoe, this one is definitely worth a try-on. If you want to know more about the technical end of things, take a look at the video below by Sage Canaday of the Hanson Brooks Running Project. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Land Between Lakes Race Report

Stage one of my March Madness down!  I successfully completed the Land Between Lakes Trail Marathon. It was a beautiful course and a great day all around for the Michigan runners who came down for the race. One of our group, Melanie Peters, even broke the women's course record for the 60k and got the $1000 award!! (Funny story: People she was passing on the course were saying "Girl, you need to slow down. You need to learn how to pace yourself in an ultra." NOT)

After a soggy day on Thursday, we had a beautiful sunny day on Friday that did a lot to dry out the course. Saturday, race day, was equally beautiful with blue skies and plenty of sun. Temperatures were in the 40s for the 6 am. start time, but as the sun rose, it warmed up quickly and was in the 60s by midmorning. By the finish of the 50 miler, some of the men were coming in shirtless.

This was one of the larger ultras that I have run in terms of number of people at the start. The race has the trail 50 mile, 60k, marathon, 23k, as well as a 10k road race all starting together. The trail runs all consist of loops of an 11.3 mile trail, with road sections to get to the trailhead and from the trailhead to the finish. Luckily this 1.7 mile road section worked to separate people out a little before the trail portion began.

Still the early portion of the trail run was a continuous "conga line" of runners. Passing was possible but difficult in sections. I did a good job of getting myself sorted into a pace that was fairly close to what I wanted to run. However, I did have to do some passing in the first few miles to finally get with a group running the pace I wanted for the day.

The loop itself was almost all really nice single track  of the type that is my absolute favorite. The trail had dried out in most sections and was perfect for running, with just the occasional muddy section to make life interesting. It was not nearly as bad as I was afraid it might have been after Thursday's deluge.

The course had an aid station at the start of the loop and then three more out on the course, approximately every 3 miles. The aid stations appeared to be well stocked, but I was wearing a hydration pack (with Power Ade Zero)  and carrying Hammer gel in a flask, so I only took water from the aid stations during the race.

In the early stages of the race I realized something very important about myself as a trail runner. I really hate running in groups!!  Since I do so much training alone or with one other person, the presence of all those other runners on the trail was a real distraction and almost an irritant to me. If someone was ahead of me, I felt obligated to try to keep up. If someone was behind me, I felt obligated to go faster or to step out of the way, even when the person said they were fine. It really kept me from getting into a comfortable rhythm.

On top of that I had overdressed, which is a problem I have being a wimpy California/Florida girl. I had very wisely worn a short sleeve with a long sleeve over top, anticipating that at some point the long sleeve would probably come off. Unfortunately, at the last minute at the start, I also threw on a fleece vest, with my hydration vest on top. I wasn't a mile up the road before I knew the vest was a mistake, but it was my favorite vest, so I couldn't discard it. I just unzipped it and let it flap annoyingly until I would be seeing Jerry at Aid Station 3 to get rid of it. Basically for the first part of the run I was hot from being overdressed and grumpy about the other people on the trail.

Fortunately the early part of the trail, roughly the first six miles of the loop, was wonderful.  It was just gentle rollers that made the running easy. I also ran into one of my fellow Running Fit Ultra (RUT) team members whom I had not met before, Melissa, and that made the last part of that section tolerable.

After the aid station, minus the vest, I was all set to go. The crowds were thinning, and my attitude was improving. That is when the hills started. Now anyone who knows me knows how I feel about hills: LOVE the downs, HATE the ups (which, by the way, is a bit of a problem for a trail ultra runner). My strategy with uphills is always to pretend the course doesn't have them and then be surprised and indignant when it does. Indignation, a fair amount of cursing, and a lot of angry walking is my hill strategy for ultras.  It also did not help at this point to be passed by my fellow RUTsters, Farra and Melissa, who obviously have a better relationship with hills than I do because I could hear them laughing and talking the whole way up the hills.

The back side of the course has what I consider to be three fairly substantial hills. They aren't California or Colorado hills, but they had most of the people I saw walking at some point (except for Melanie who obviously eats hills for breakfast). The great part for me, though, was that there was a really nice not too steep downhill payoff after each uphill that put me in a better mood.

As I was walking up one of the uphills, I realized that I was approaching two hours and that I had been overheated and sweating profusely, so decided to take an Endurolyte. I had put several in my vest pocket, which also contained my cell phone (in case of another spleen-rupturing fall). As I pulled out my phone to get to the Endurolyte caps I knew I had a problem. The phone was coated in white dust. The first Endurolyte I pulled out was smashed and empty. I had a moment of panic, but luckily the next one came out whole.

I think the Endurolyte was exactly what I needed. As I started the second loop, I began to feel better. Many people were only doing the 23k, so they weren't there for the second loop, and I could really appreciate that section of the course the second time around without the crowds. I even noticed a few wildflowers that were blooming along the course that I had not seen the first time around. 

I was moving along pretty good through that section and looking forward to shedding the long sleeve at Aid Station 3 when Ckat came bouncing along and passed me. Ckat is a friend from my other Michigan running group, Playmakers, who was out there for her first 50 miler. She was looking very fresh (ah to be in one's 20s again!). I was a little worried about her pace, but she seemed happy, so I just wished her good luck as she sped off into the distance.

Jerry was waiting patiently as I popped out at Aid Station 3 for the second time. That was somewhere around 19 miles, and I was really happy to report to him that there were no IT band issues thus far. I was also happy to get rid of the long sleeve, as the temps were now probably in the upper 50s/low 60s with bright sun. I was in a pretty good mood as I approached the hills the second time around. I like loop courses because I think it is always easier when you know what to expect.

Somewhere in the hill section between Aid Station 3 and 4, I started getting nauseous. I hadn't taken in anything different, so I decided it was probably an electrolyte issue. I also started having a few calf twinges, so I took a second Endurolyte. In retrospect, I probably should have taken three over the course of the race rather than two. I will remember that at Green Swamp and probably be better off for it. I was very salty at the end, with a definite coating on my face. It was not as bad as the finishers of the 50 miler, but it was enough to know that I needed the extra electrolytes.

For the latter miles of the trail I was really looking forward to the road finish. There was an uphill coming out of the trailhead area, but I knew there was also considerable downhill to the finish. My legs, which had been so fatigued in the latter part of the trail that I had to walk in spots on the downhills because I was not confident that I could navigate over roots and rocks on the technical sections, were really happy to be back on pavement. I averaged about an 8:10 pace after hitting the pavement and passed 5 people, three of whom were females (two of whom I recognized had passed me earlier on the trail), so I was pretty happy about that.

I finished with a 4:54:03, which was a trail marathon PR for me as a 50 year old, a 24 minute improvement over Yankee Springs in January. I always have various levels of goals going into a race. My A goal here was to finish without being injured (check). My B goal was to be under 5 hours (check). My C goal was to be under an 11:00 pace overall, which I did not do. It was an 11:13 pace. The walking on those hills just killed the average.

Ckat with her 50 mile buckle 

Post race I had the usual calf and foot cramping, along with some new cramping in the groin area. At least this time it was not bad enough to have me rolling on the ground, but it was definitely not pleasant. After the race, because most of the RUT group was doing the 60k or 50 mile, I had time to go change into warm clothes and watch the group finish. If you would like to see a video of the RUTsters finishing, you can check it out on my videos page. One of the best parts was seeing Ckat come in to successfully complete her first 50 miler.

Besides the previously mentioned insight about preferring to run alone, I also learned a few things from the race. One is that the IT problem does appear to be treadmill related. That is a relief because with spring coming I will be off the treadmill by the time I get back from this adventure. I also learned that I need more long runs, plain and simple. Although my weekly mileage has been pretty solidly in the 30-35 range, I have not had enough of the 20+ long runs that will make the ultras comfortable. Finally, I learned that I really do need to get serious with the hill training. That was the plan anyway because the Gnaw Bone and Devil's Lake races are both wickedly hilly.
Oh, and for my fellow fans of the bling, here is my LBL race bling. Besides the usual shirt and medal, they gave out a drop bag and my personal favorite, a really, really nice running hat with my name custom embroidered on it! Of course, I did not get the most coveted bling of all, the finisher's buckle. That will be another goal for another year. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

March Madness: Runner Style

We headed out yesterday for a runner's version of March Madness. I am running the Land Between Lakes (LBL) trail marathon in Kentucky this weekend then heading down to Florida to run Dances With Dirt Green  (DWD) Swamp 50k on the 24th. This is my first in the series of four in my quest to complete the Bloodied, Boned, Bruised, and Burned Series and acquire the coveted belt buckle that goes with it.

I was actually scheduled for the 60k at LBL to get the belt buckle there, but the training didn't go as well as I had hoped in terms of the long runs this winter, so I have dialed that back to the trail marathon as my last long training run before DWD.

The trip down to KY was uneventful except for a headwind. I had planned to go out and prerun the LBL course today, but unfortunately that headwind was the edge of a front that was moving through. It started raining last night and poured all day long. This is a picture of the campsite.

Looks like the run is going to be a mudfest, but the forecast is calling for sunny skies tomorrow and Saturday, so hopefully things will dry out. I am still going to prerun at least some of the course tomorrow if I can. The course is a brief section of road and then loops of an 11.3 mile trail. If the trail is not too big of a mess tomorrow, I may have some pictures. 

My plan for the race is just to try to remember that it is a training run and relax and have fun. I have been struggling with IT band problems on my long runs, so a victory here would just be to finish the 26.2 running without having any physical breakdowns. On my last trail marathon in January (which ended up being 28.2 miles because of a little problem I had following course markers), I had calf cramps that caused severe problems in the last 2.5 to 3 miles. I would just like to get through one of these without my legs mutinying on me. That is a major goal. I can't even think about going fast until I am sure my body will hold out. (Oh, and I forgot my foam roller -- probably the most important piece of gear except for my shoes. )

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Understanding Your Marathon Training (Part 3)

Well, here I am bouncing down the highway heading to Kentucky for this weekend's trail marathon (more on that in a later post). I promised this final post midweek, so I thought I would get this out to you on the drive. 

This post will cover the remaining types of workouts you are likely to see in an advanced marathon training program. If you have not read the previous two posts of the series, you may want to see Part 1 or Part 2. This post focuses on  interval training, marathon paced runs, and strides.

Interval Training:  Most intermediate and advanced marathon trainings, in addition to the lactate threshold workouts, include some type of interval training. Interval training works on developing your maximum aerobic capacity, the VO2 max.

Interval training involves a period of fast running followed by a period of recovery. The speed, distance, and amount of recovery will vary by program and workout. This is what most runners would think of as a typical "track" workout, but intervals can be run on almost any flat course.  A measured course is best, but you can really do them anywhere with today's GPS technology on our wrists.

Many runners mistake this type of training for running "all out." This often leads to running the interval workouts too hard, which besides not training the appropriate systems also greatly increases the chances of injury. Going "all out,"will exceed your maximum aerobic capacity and push you into an anaerobic state. That is too be avoided.

According to Pete Pfitzinger, the correct pace for running the interval workouts for marathon training is 3k to 5k race pace. However, since most of us don't run 3k races, it is best to run these at about your current 5k race pace. Pfitzinger and Daniels disagree slightly on the optimal time for the duration of the faster runs, with Pfitzinger saying 2 to 6 minutes is optimal and Daniels saying that the optimal duration is 3 to 5 minutes, but the difference is probably not that significant.

What is significant to note is the distance that these time frames permit. Although mile repeats are often a part of marathon programs, unless your current 5k pace is a sub 6 minute mile, you will be running for too long according to either of the two recommendations for optimal training.  Daniels and Pfitzinger both recommend that the distances be between 400 and 1200 meters for the fast running portions of these workouts, depending on your current running speed.  

One of the drawbacks of working with a predetermined program rather than having a coach is that you, as a self-coach, need to think about these things and adjust the program so that what you are doing is optimal training for you. If your 5k pace is slower than 6 min/mile, you should not be doing mile repeats as part of the marathon program, according to  both of the experts. If your program calls for mile repeats, you may want to adjust it down to 800/1000/1200 meters instead to stay within what most experts agree is optimal.

The rest between these bouts of faster running can also vary. The idea is to recover enough so that you can maintain your effort for the next one and also be able to complete the required number of repetitions in the workout.  Daniels recommends that recovery time be "equal to or a little less than" the bout of faster running. Generally your program will specify the recovery time.

Most marathon programs put a small number of these workouts into the program, often in the last several weeks before the taper. Too much of this type of workout can take a toll on your body and increase your risk of injury. Be very conservative with your interval workouts.  It is much better to be conservative with the pace and number and make it to the starting line, than it is too push too hard and be injured and on the sidelines for your intended marathon.

I may not make any friends with this one, but I want to warn you against group speed work. Many marathoners decide they need to run some intervals in their program, so they jump in with a local track club or other speed group. Often these groups are primarily 5k runners working on their 5k speed rather than marathoners. The tendency in these types of workouts is to run them too fast and to not run the type of intervals that are optimal for marathon training.  In addition, most group speed sessions have a predetermined workout that is not what your marathon program called for that day.  

Often these forays into group speed work in the midst of a marathon training program bring a rush of immediate satisfaction as the runner gets the boost in speed that these workouts do tend to impart, but then a few weeks later they often find themselves injured from the stress of running these too fast and intense speed workouts and then trying to also handle the stress of the mileage of the marathon training. If you are marathon training, do yourself a favor and follow your plan. Save those group speed work sessions for when pushing back your 5k PR is your primary goal.

Marathon Pace Runs: Many intermediate or advanced marathon programs will include some workouts, especially in the later stages, that are marathon paced runs. These are runs at your goal marathon pace to get you used to running comfortably at that pace. These are also an opportunity to work on your pacing. These runs actually should require more mental than physical effort, as your marathon pace should be one that you can sustain comfortably, literally for hours.

Most marathon training programs that include these will have you work up to 10 to 15 miles at marathon pace. Sometimes these are done on the down weekends between stretching out the long runs. Other programs may incorporate marathon paced segments at the end of the long run. Still others may call for a midweek medium distance run at marathon pace. What these all have in common is that they give you a chance to be comfortable with your marathon pace and practice the pacing. Resist the temptation to run these faster, even if you feel really, really good.

These marathon runs can also help you understand if you have picked a reasonable goal pace for your marathon. If you are struggling to complete a 12 mile run at marathon pace and the workout leaves you wiped out, then you may have chosen a goal pace that you are not yet ready for. These runs can help you figure out what is really doable and allow you to make adjustments.

Strides or Stride Outs: Most intermediate to advanced marathon programs will include strides. Strides are short (usually 100 meter or about 30 seconds) segments where your goal is to run quick but relaxed. You should be concentrating on quick strides and turnover.  Strides are a neuromuscular workout that help with running economy, stride rate, and running form. Be sure that you are sufficiently warmed up before doing these.

My first coach used to have me do these strides barefoot to work on form and to build the muscles in my feet and lower legs. I don't know if it is because I learned that way, but that is still my favorite way to do strides. I have also done strides in my socks and in aqua socks. One of the happiest part of spring running for me is when I can get out on the grass in my bare feet to do some strides.

This is a rather simplified explanation of the typical runs that are most often included in intermediate and advanced programs. If you are the type of person who is really not interested in an in-depth discussion, this may be enough for you to understand your program a bit more or to choose a program from those available that is based on sound principles. If you are the type who would like to read more, there are several good training books. The two I recommended in the previous post, Daniels' Running Formula and Advanced Marathoning by Pfitzinger and Douglas are two of the bests in my opinion. With that said, I will tell you that I prefer Pfitzinger and Douglas. 

This may seem like a lot to have gone through, but I think the more a runner knows about what he/she is doing, the more successful he/she is likely to be. Hopefully some of this information can help you as you move on to your next marathon success!! 

Now that we have talked a little about the programs, I'd love to hear from you. Are you training for a marathon or have you in the past? What program are you using (or did you use)?  What do you think of it? 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Milestone!! Thanks!

Hello everyone,
Today is my one month anniversary since starting this blog. Coincidentally one of you readers today helped me reach a major milestone -- 1000 page views! I really appreciate the support of all my friends who have encouraged me with the blog, through encouragement and for just popping in to read the posts. I just want you to know how much I appreciate it. Thanks!!

Understanding Your Marathon Training Program (Part 2: The Intermediate and Advanced Programs)

Part 1 of this two part post discussed beginner marathon training programs and the elements typically included in them. This post will cover the types of workouts usually seen in intermediate or advanced marathon programs (in addition to the previous types of workouts, which are still a backbone of the training schedule).

Where the goal in beginner programs is usually to get a runner through the experience comfortably and successfully, the goal in more advanced marathon programs is usually to improve upon a previous marathon performance. The runner does not just want to finish; he or she wants to finish faster. Therefore, the new addition in these programs is workouts meant to improve pace. These workouts generally are worked into the schedule by replacing some of the easy aerobic days and/or replacing a cross training day with a running day.

There are two main types of workouts meant to help runners improve their performances relative to marathon pace. These are lactate threshold workouts and interval workouts. Each works to improve different aspects of a runner's speed.

A Little Physiology: It is not my purpose to go deeply into physiology in this post, but you do need to understand a bit about how the body produces energy while running to understand the two types of speed work. This is a very simplified version of the explanation, but hopefully it will be enough. If you want a deeper explanation, two good training books to look at are Daniels' Running Formula or Advanced Marathoning by Pfitzinger and Douglas. These are two training books that intermediate and advanced marathoners should consider reading. They both contain excellent training plans for more advanced marathoning, and much of the information in this post is based on information from these two books.

When the body is doing activity, it has two ways to produce energy at the cellular level to move muscles, aerobically (with oxygen) and anaerobically (without oxygen). Aerobic energy production is going on constantly in our body and is what you are using when you are running your marathon and doing your marathon training.  

Both of these types of energy production create waste products called lactate in the cells and bloodstream that the body has to dispose of. In low intensity aerobic activity your body can dispose of these waste products faster than you are creating them, so these wastes do not inhibit your ability to continue running. If you are running aerobically at an easy pace you can literally run for hours and hours without these wastes becoming a limiting factor in your performance, which is exactly what we strive for in our marathons.

Anaerobic metabolism is not as efficient as aerobic metabolism and creates larger amounts of waste products, more than the body can eliminate efficiently. Therefore, when you are working anaerobically, you are on a very short time clock. Eventually, depending on how much of your energy production is being done anaerobically, the waste products will accumulate in the cell which will inhibit the function. The maximum amount of time a body can work with most of its energy coming from anaerobic sources is about four minutes, so anaerobic metabolism is not usually a factor in distance running (although you may dip into the anaerobic system in a finishing kick in a distance run).

Marathoners want to train their aerobic system without moving into anaerobic metabolism. Every runner's body has a maximum limit of how much energy can be produced by their aerobic system. This upper limit in the body's ability to produce, transport, and use this energy is called the VO2 max, and this is what runners train in interval workouts. You never actually use this pace in marathon running, but by pushing back this upper end, the pace at which you can run comfortably also gets faster. It shifts the whole range of paces that are comfortable for you to run.

As you speed up from an easy aerobic pace but before you reach maximum production, you will eventually get to the tipping point in waste removal, where you are producing more waste than you can remove. Once you get past this pace, you will eventually limit your ability to continue when you have collected too much waste to clear effectively, and you will have to slow down to allow the bodies waste disposal to catch up.  This tipping point is called the lactate threshold. However, the good news is that this process can also be improved with training so that runners can push back the pace at which the lactate threshold occurs. That is the goal of lactate threshold training.

Now that you understand the basic physiology, let's look at how these get worked into marathon training.

Lactate threshold (LT) workouts: Almost all intermediate and advanced marathon programs (and even some beginner programs) will include this type of workout. Pfitzinger and Douglas call this "the most important physiological variable for endurance athletes."   In these types of workouts you are meant to run at a pace that is just under the lactate threshold for a particular period of time. Stimulating the body in this way causes the body to adapt to make this level of effort easier and more efficient, which pushes back the pace at which the lactate threshold occurs.

The key component of this type of training is not to run too fast. If you run faster than your current lactate threshold, then you will not produce the desired adaptations. The tricky thing with this type of training is determining that pace. It can be done scientifically in an exercise lab by taking blood samples, but most runners don't determine it that way. Most programs that include threshold training will either include a chart by which you determine your threshold workout pace based on a previous race effort, such as Daniels' VDOT charts.  Others will tell you to run it at a pace that is roughly equivalent to your 15k race pace or that you could sustain for an hour without slowing down. For me this pace tends to come out to about 15 seconds per mile slower than my half marathon race pace.

The lactate threshold runs in your marathon program will usually be of one of two types. The most common is usually called a "tempo run" and involves up to 20 minutes of continuous running at LT pace. These should be done over fairly flat courses, and your goal should be to hold steady at your LT pace. In these workouts, it is better to go a little under the goal LT pace than it is to go too fast. This pace should be comfortably hard but sustainable. Besides the physiological training, they also train you to focus and develop self-discipline in pacing. You should not have to slow down toward the end of these workouts. If you do, you went too fast.
The second type of LT run that may be included is called "cruise intervals." These were popularized by Jack Daniels and have been incorporated into many marathon programs. These are shorter periods of tempo running, such as 5-15 minutes, with a short rest, usually one minute, in between. These workouts allow runners to spend more time running at threshold pace because of the short breaks that allow runners a bit of physical and mental recovery.

Many intermediate programs include LT workouts either every week or every other week. These are my favorite workouts, and I look forward to them. I always feel fantastic after these workouts, and you should too if you don't run them too fast. These workouts have a big payoff with a very low risk of injury. If you have not been doing these type of workouts in training, you will see improvements in your racing times at all distances by adding these in.  

Oh geez, although I originally thought that this information on marathon training would be a two part post, I can tell from the length of this, that I am going to need a Part 3. This was already a lot to take in. I am going to stop now. The next post will cover the second and more demanding type of speed work, interval training. It will also mention other miscellaneous types of workouts that may pop up in your marathon program, such as marathon paced runs and strides. I hope you will come back midweek for the final post inthe marathon training series

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Understanding Your Marathon Training Program (Part 1: The Beginner Programs)

Many new runners today are motivated to start running because a marathon is on their bucket list. These new runners often don't know much about running and aren't sure how to proceed. Many join running groups where they often get support, but where they don't always get all of the information they might need to fully understand what they have undertaken. 

Often a runner may find a program on the Internet on his or her own, such as the  Hal Higdon's marathon programs or those at Marathon Rookie, or any of a variety of other standard programs out there. Or, he or she might join a group and be handed only the schedule itself, without much explanatory information about the purpose of the various workouts in the plan. For a new runner it is sometimes easier just to follow the plan without worrying about the "why" of it, but eventually if one continues running, it is good to begin to understand the various components in a solid marathon training program and to understand how each contributes to your running fitness.

Most marathon training programs have some combination of the following types of workouts: aerobic runs, long runs, recovery days, hill runs, tempo runs, and speed work..  The combination of these workouts that you need and the details related to these workouts change with the type of program (beginner, intermediate, or advanced) and which type of runner the program is intended for (new or experienced).

The basic beginner program for new runners doing their first marathon, such as Hal Higdon's novice programs, typically focuses on three of the five types of workouts: aerobic runs, long runs, and recovery days.  Let's take a look at this type of program.

Aerobic runs:
For all beginning marathon programs the most common type of run that is included will be an aerobic run of various distances. This is just what it claims, a run that is meant to improve your aerobic capacity, which means that it helps strengthen your heart and lungs, as well as build strength in your legs.

It is important that these runs be done at a comfortable aerobic pace, which means you should be doing them at a pace that allows you to "run within your breath." You should be moving fast enough to get a workout, but not so fast that you are unnecessarily stressing your body. Your heart rate should be elevated and your breathing deep but comfortable. These are those "conversation-paced" runs that are most pleasant when done with a group or partner. Don't be fooled by the easy and enjoyable nature of these runs. They are providing the foundation you need to handle the other more strenuous workouts in the program. Don't be tempted to go too fast. These are the runs that should make you smile and be glad you are a runner.

Long runs: For marathon training, this is a key component. Long runs are designed to help your body make the physical adaptations needed to cover the distance. It also trains you mentally to deal with the rigors of the longer race distances.  A typical marathon program will have these either once a week, or when the mileage gets higher, will have the long runs every other week, with a medium length run in between. This is because the long runs are strenuous.  It is important to allow ample recovery time between them. If the schedule calls for a step down week, do not decide that you don't "need" the easy week and keep pushing.

There are a variety of physiological changes that take place during a long run. Besides the obvious benefits to your heart and lungs, your body learns to store more glycogen so that your muscles will have more available for fuel on race day. It also teaches your body to burn fat more efficiently for fuel. These are the more common changes that most have heard of, but there are also deeper physiological changes that go on, such as increase in the number of capillaries that take blood to your muscles and increases in the number of mitochondria in your cells, which helps with energy production on the cellular level. 

Also, for those who have not run long before, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your legs develop the necessary strength and flexibility to meet the demands of running these longer distances.

These workouts also help the runner develop mentally. We learn to persevere even when it is uncomfortable. We learn that yes we can go that one more mile. We learn that if we hang in there through the rough patch that it often actually gets better after a while.

The long run should be done at an easy aerobic pace, just like those shorter easy aerobic runs, possibly a bit slower. The goal here is to cover the distance comfortably. As the distances get longer, do not be afraid to walk occasionally. In fact, some beginning marathon programs, such as those promoted by Jeff Galloway, plan walking breaks into these runs. (Yes, you are still a "real" runner if you walk during the long runs and marathon!) I did my first marathon training using a run/walk plan, and I still walk through the aids stations in my marathons. 

For the marathon, the long run is a key workout that must be respected and which should not be neglected. It is the most important workout in your schedule, and if you miss one, you should try to make it up on a following day if possible. If you miss too many, you seriously reduce the chances of completing your marathon.

Recovery days: Recovery days are days in the program that are meant to give your body a break and to allow it to repair itself and grow. These are especially important for beginning runners who may not be used to the impact forces related to running.

There are two main types of recovery "workouts" that might be included in a beginner program. One type is total rest, where no other type of exercise is done, except possibly some stretching or yoga. These days are most important the day after a long run. For new marathoners, those long runs are very stressful. A complete rest from exercise the day after a long run is one of the most important things you can do to help assure that you will get to the starting line in good shape.

The second type of recovery day is a cross training day. This can include a variety of activities, including biking, swimming, weight training, yoga, rowing, walking, or just about any other type of light physical activity you enjoy. The important thing to remember about these is that they are "RECOVERY."  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the activity that we are doing that we end up doing a harder workout than we intended to, so it leaves us tired for our next running workout. I have been guilty of this many times myself.

However, the key day to remember NOT to do overdo it is if you are doing a cross training day the day before a long run. It is very important not to go into your long run with a tired body or tired legs. The long runs are hard enough without any added stress, especially when they start being over two hours in length. Be extremely cautious with recovery the days before and after your long runs. A strenuous weight workout the day before a long run could be the thing that pushes your legs over the brink and put you at risk for an injury that will put an end to your marathon dreams.

Many beginning marathon programs are made up exclusively of aerobic runs and long runs, along with recovery days.  This is a good plan for beginners at the marathon distance, especially beginners who are new to fitness, running, and/or who may be overweight. This type of program gives your body a chance to adapt to the stresses related to the act of running itself and running long distances before stressing it further by worrying about speed. These types of plans are smart for a beginner to choose if you want to enjoy your first marathon and be injury free. Do not worry if you hear other more experienced runners talk about various types of speed workouts, or if you read an article somewhere that mentions them. For your first time, just worry about covering the distance. That is enough. There is time later to do it faster.

Some beginner marathon programs include workouts related to developing strength and/or speed. The two most typical types of workouts included in these programs in a beginner marathon plan are hill runs and "fartleks." 

Hill runs: Hill runs are often included in beginner programs. There are a few reasons for this. Running on hills helps develop strength in the legs. It also helps develop running efficiency. Finally, it prepares you for running hills in your marathon.

These hill workouts can be informal, such as doing an aerobic run on a hilly course, or they can be more formal with a specified number of repeats and a specified type of hill. These workouts are more strenuous, both aerobically and muscularly. You do not have to run these workouts insanely hard to benefit. Try to run these at a pace where you know that you are giving a comfortably hard effort, but not run so hard that you feel that you are exhausting yourself or over-stressing your legs.You should be sure to take a recovery day after a hill workout. Most schedules will give plenty of space between a hill workout and a long run. If you miss a hill workout and want to make it up, be careful not to do that too close to your long run. While hill workouts do build strength, they also increase your chances of injury if you overdo it. 

Fartleks: Most beginning marathon programs do not recommend formal speed work for beginning runners. However, many programs will include "fartlek" runs. "Fartlek" is a Swedish word that means "speed play." These are typically aerobic runs in which a runner picks up the pace and runs faster occasionally. This can be done in a variety of ways. One can do faster running using landmarks, as in speeding up to a particular sign, tree, or other landmark, or perhaps for one block. One can do it by time, speeding up for say 30 seconds or a minute every five minutes. I have even done fartleks based on music on my MP3, speeding up at the chorus of a song or for an entire song. These workouts should be fun. You should enjoy the faster bursts as a way to introduce yourself to thinking about running faster in a fun and non-stressful way. 

(Occasionally a beginner program may include either tempo runs or speed work of some type. If you have that type of beginner program, please see Part 2 of this post for information on those types of workouts.)

These are typical workouts for a basic beginner program. For some runners, a more challenging program may be more appropriate. Who might be a good candidate for a more advanced marathon training program? The more advanced marathon programs work well for someone who has completed their first marathon successfully and is ready to start thinking about a time goal. Another type of runner that might begin with a more advanced program is one who has raced for a year or more at shorter distances, 5k to half marathon, and is now ready to move up to the full marathon distance. These runners won't be challenged enough with a basic marathon program. A third type of runner might be an athlete who has a strong background in an aerobic sport which develops leg muscles, such as biking or soccer.

All of these type of athletes might look for a marathon program that includes workouts related to developing speed, which include the remaining two types of workouts: tempo runs and speed work.  These two types of workouts, and some programs that include them, will be discussed in Part 2