Sunday, August 26, 2012

CIM Training Week One and America's Cup Sailing

This week was an exciting one! 

Kuani (in background on right) watching the racing
On one hand, I began training for the California International Marathon. On the other, we took passengers out to see America's Cup racing on the Bay aboard Kuani. I had to rearrange my training a little bit to accommodate the charters, but they were worth it! Seeing cutting edge catamarans up close and underway was (up until now) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They return in October, but Bizz Johnson is that week, so we will have to wait until next year, when the America's Cup racing is expected to last two months, to get out there and provide a spectator platform for what is sure to be an exciting summer.

And, the weekend long runs continue. Twelve miles today, increasing as the marathon approaches. The weekend before Bizz Johnson I will be up to 18 miles. People look at me funny when I say "I usually hate the first mile, but 6-10 are awesome", but I really feel that way. After warming up, that middle third of any run is when I come closest to what may be the elusive "runner's high", although I think I will have a better idea of what exactly that is when I get out there and stick with it for more than four hours.

Another new addition to my training is weekly A.R.T. sessions. Active Release Technique is effective at removing lactic acid buildup and scar tissue from overworked muscles. I hope that this therapy can mitigate my left Achilles pain and help me avoid injury. I also plan to utilize full body sports massage in the weeks prior to and post-Bizz Johnson.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Race Report: 2012 Kellerman Batwa Challenge 10K

Spent, after a brutal Kellerman 10K in Nevada City
Today's Gold Country Grand Prix race was held in Nevada City, my home town. The Kellerman Batwa Challenge 5K/10K is a fundraiser for the Kellerman Foundation, a non-profit organized to benefit the Batwa Pygmy Community in Uganda. Dr. Kellerman and his wife spend considerable time in Uganda helping build medical facilities and shelter for the Batwa tribe.

This was the second annual event, but its first year as part of the Grand Prix series. The course is a 5K loop, which is repeated for the 10K. Those who had run the inaugural event in 2011 warned about the elevation change on the course, including a steep downhill on a paved section. As a result, the stars aligned and I saw an opportunity to get an age group win in the 10K, as my main competition was either injured and not participating, or running the 5K to avoid running the brutal course twice. The ten points for first place would vault me from fifth place to the top three in the Men 40-49 category, one point ahead of Kevin, whose back I seemed to be looking at approaching every finish line until the Bear River 5K two weeks ago.

Being between training programs, this race was actually a "C" race on my schedule. My training over the last two weeks has been mellow; about 20 miles a week, with a ten mile long run on the weekends. I wanted to start my marathon program (which begins tomorrow) with fresh legs. So, despite the opportunity for a win in this 10K, I did not do any speedwork or tapering in preparation. I did, however, acquire the Hoka One One Stinson Evo trail running shoes, with an extraordinary 36 millimeters of the most comfortable foam you've ever stepped foot on! That's about three times as much as your typical daily trainer. Combine that with a 4mm drop, and I was sold. I wanted to get them for the 50Ks and longer races, trying to save these old legs from too much brutality, and given the nature of this course, they worked like a charm. Of course, Twirly (my wife) sings the melody to "Puttin' on the Ritz" when she sees me in them, prompting my best Peter Boyle impersonation.

The race began and ended at the Nevada County Sportsman's Club, and had some logistical stumbles, as is expected in a young race. They advertised separate starts for the 10K and 5K races (8:00 and 8:10, respectively), which I thought would be cool, knowing who I was racing, and not having all the 5K speed demons take me out too fast, but they corralled all the runners up and turned us loose as one bunch. Not the end of the world, but going out at 7:00/mile for 10K was a bad idea...

The loop began on paved road and went up a short but steep hill before turning to gravel and diving down over 100 feet into a wooded valley. We ran through a gate, into a private claim held by a mining company, and began the long climb back up to about the starting elevation, where we joined the paved road which held the steep downhill most participants were concerned about. After the steep section, the course continued a rolling descent to Pioneer Park in Nevada City, having lost about 250 feet by the bottom of the course.

My heart rate was never in control, exceeding 170 for most of the first half of the loop. At this point, I decided to let go of what little connection I had with the 5K runners and Phil, a 50-59 age group 10K runner who had kept up a pace very close to mine in the previous race. The pack had become strung out at this point, and I knew we had to regain the elevation back to the end of the loop, so I slowed down and focused on breathing and form, kinda zoning out for the last mile of the loop. Coming through the finish line, I could hardly believe I had to do it all over again. "Age Groups will make you do some pretty strange things", a fellow Grand Prix runner told me after the race.


By the time I was back on the gravel road, I felt I had my age group position locked up. A few 20-39 year old's were chasing me, and as I missed a turn in the woods and had to backtrack 10-15 yards, they caught and passed me as we began the climb again. I got chicked by the first and second women at this point, but who the hell cared? At least I knew they weren't going to affect my finishing points. I practiced my run/walk/run transitioning (read: I walked most of the uphill this time around) until reaching the paved section for the second time.

Handmade by the Pygmies. Coolest. Medal. Ever.
So, I bombed down that hill again (LOVE the Hokas!) and settled into a good rhythm, focusing on breathing and form again, and rolled into the finishing chute at 51:31. I had run the second loop 2 minutes slower than the first, but still managed to get those ten points for Age Group first place! Twelfth place overall, and enough points to get me into that coveted top three for the Grand Prix. Four races to go, and another goal is within reach. I also checked off the goal of winning two age group races, so despite the pain, it was a day full of accomplishment for yours truly. To celebrate, I tacked on a four mile cool down to get in the long run weekend miles that are to be my MO for the next 8 months. Four miles on tired legs never felt so delicious!

Here is my Garmin Connect data for the race. Click "view details" to (wait for it)... view the details...

UPDATE: Once again, I failed to acknowledge the organizers and volunteers for their time and effort! This race was the senior project of local student Jacque Day. Jacque and all the volunteers did an excellent job marking the course and cheering on the runners. The snafu's with starting and scoring notwithstanding, the crew was much appreciated. Now, about that course...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

2012 - Year to Date

Me and David at the American Canyon 15K

Achieving a new level of running each year is a great motivator. Setting sights on longer distances or faster times (or both) provides both incentive to train consistently and motivation to continue living a healthy lifestyle. Having completed a 10K in February of 2011, I signed up for the 2012 American Canyon 15K, held on my 40th birthday (February 11th). Up to this point in my running career, I had mostly run alone, except for a couple of trail runs with a colleague. By posting my runs to Facebook, I had managed to inspire some people to remark that they "felt like they should consider taking up running", but I'm not certain that any of them ever did. One person I am sure my enthusiasm had an effect on was my friend David. Upon hearing about my birthday plans at another friend's wedding, he committed to running the 15K with me, despite not actively running at the time. I assumed it was the champagne talking, and did not think much of it until he messaged me that he had signed up, and was interested in training plans that could get him ready in the 9 weeks until the race. He joined me for a track workout in Grass Valley a couple of times, and battled the usual start-up niggles, but joined me on the starting line and took first place in his age group, finishing within ten minutes of my second place overall. He was hooked, and ready to start upping the ante! I had signed up for the April 8th US Half Marathon 2 in San Francisco, and David eagerly threw his hat into that race as well.

The US Half Marathon course is an out and back which crosses the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco to Sausalito, then turns around and crosses the bridge again on the return trip. I enjoyed this race so much, I am running it again in November. I ran the first half at a leisurely pace, about 9:00/mile. By the time I was coming off the bridge the second time, I felt invincible and had upped my pace to 7:30/mile, finishing in 1:48:51 (8:19/mile). David and I reunited at the finish line, at which point he told me he had found a race he wanted to do at the beginning of autumn, the Bizz Johnson 50K in Susanville. Despite planning to be a third of the way into my marathon training program, I took his challenge, and signed up for my first 50K. I would be running an ultra before I ever started a regular marathon!

After the US Half, I began training for the Gold Country Grand Prix races. I missed the first race, the Daffodil Run 5K/10K, but intend to participate in the remaining ten races of the series. The point totals are based on the ten best races, with the lowest race dropped from the calculation. I focused on the first five races in the series, working on speed, form and leg turnover. The first half of the year paid dividends as I set 5K PR's in two races in a row (the Freedom Run and Bear River). Now I turn my attention to distance running. My marathon training program begins next week and builds slowly to peak at almost 60 miles a week in November. In the interim, I am running the Giant's Half Marathon in September, the Bizz Johnson 50K in October, and the US Half in November. The fall is full of races and long runs; I look forward to bringing them to these pages.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Transitioning: Rest and Therapy

This is a transition week in my annual training program, which means I can run if I want, but only short easy runs. I have chosen not to run, but bike to work to maintain my fitness. My left Achilles is still sore to the touch, and I want to begin the fall training cycle with healthy legs. On Friday, I will perform a tempo time trial (TTT): a fifteen minute warm up followed by a one mile interval keeping my heart rate between 142 - 144. I have performed the TTT three times this year, and have brought my time from about 8:22 down to 8:11. It is a good measure of how my cardio fitness is responding to training. I hope to break 8 minutes by the end of the year.

Hoka One One Stinson Evo
Restlessness and anxiety crop up for me every time I take a break from training, be it because of injury or a transition. Usually, I partake in some retail therapy and invest in some new gear, and this go around is no different. I stopped in the Sacramento Fleet Feet store to try on the Hoka One One trail shoe last weekend, and I was really surprised at how comfortable they were! I'm looking for a cushioned trail shoe with minimal drop for the Bizz Johnson 50K in October, and nothing has come close to the feel of these super cushioned shoes. The mid-sole is so thick, no rock plate is necessary; the sole absorbs all of the uneven surfaces on the trail. I'd bet a princess couldn't feel a pea in them!

Saucony Peregrine 2
I did not acquire the Hokas, but opted for the Saucony Peregrine 2, which I thought could be a better all around trail shoe. The Peregrine 2 has the same slipper-like feel of the NB M110, but feels a little beefier with more cushion. I also picked up a massage tool called "Trigger Point", which is comprised of a dumbbell-shaped roller about calf width, and a ball for pressure point work. Working with these for ten minutes, twice a day, has my calf and Achilles feeling MUCH better. I think daily sessions with the Trigger Point and monthly sports massage will be part of a successful marathon training program this fall. The Sauconys, however, will not be staying. They do offer more cushion than my New Balance M110's and Mizuno Wave Ascends, but not much. Looking forward to the American River 50 Mile, I am leaning towards the Hokas. So, I plan to exchange them before the Kellerman 10K, which has a steep, paved downhill section which will be a good test of the "time to fly" Hoka motto.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Race Report: 2012 Bear River 5K

The 2012 Bear River Fun Run 5K, held on August 4th at Bear River High School in Auburn, was my second "A" race of the 2012 season. The Bear River Fun Run is the sixth race of the Gold Country Grand Prix and is a 5K only. The course combines two laps on the school track (the start and finish) with some pavement/asphalt stretches, and the middle mile explores a cross country trail that is paved with gravel at some points. 

I made the 5K an "A" race because it is the race where I set a 5K PR in 2011, and I wanted to best that mark before settling into the fall training cycle, during which I am focusing on distance instead of speed. So, this race has been my focus for the entire summer. Twice a week speed workouts and weekly hilly trail runs had me in great shape at the Freedom Run 5K in July, at which I set a new PR, much to my surprise. Unfortunately, the new mark (21:56) made my goal of setting a new PR at Bear River somewhat daunting, which led to more difficult speed workouts over the last three weeks. My training leading up to the race was lackluster. A niggle in my left Achilles tendon had me gun-shy to do too much mileage. Race simulation repeats at sea level were difficult, and I labored to keep my pace up for an entire workout. My new goal of breaking 21 minutes would require a 6:46/mile pace, and I lacked confidence that I could keep that up for 3.1 miles.

I stood at fifth place in the Grand Prix standings when I toed the line on the dirt track. My main competition in the men 40-49 age group, Kevin, stood next to me. Kevin has been second place to my third in three Grand Prix races thus far, and I came within 30 seconds of beating him at the Freedom Run 5K. If I couldn't break 21 minutes, beating Kevin was my "B" goal. While we waited for the start, Kevin let me know he was injured and likely would not be able to challenge the 21 minute mark. He has a habit of getting far enough in front of me that I cannot catch up, so I took his admission with a grain of salt!

The starter decided to test the starting gun prior to the actual start, "so that everyone knows what it sounds like". Even though he warned us, it was difficult to suppress the rush of adrenaline that accompanied the sound of the pistol. After some nervous laughter from the racers,  the RD got the race started.

I intended, as always, to negative split the race; running 6:50/6:45/6:40 miles would have been ideal, allowing me to kick to a sub-21 minute finish if I had anything left in the tank. Of course, as the field entered the first turn, I found myself behind Kevin, who was out of the gate at about 5:45/mile. I checked my heart rate, which was above my goal of 165, and decided to let him go until we left the track. I stayed within 3-5 meters of him until we got to the first mile split in 6:32, much faster than I had intended to start.

In the middle mile there were a few rises in the trail. I felt strong climbing, and made some key passes which brought me to Kevin's shoulder. As I pulled alongside him, Kevin welcomed me and gave me some encouragement as I pulled ahead on the next hill. I backed off a bit on the gravel, and ran the second mile in 7 flat.

The third mile was spent trying to stay relaxed and open my stride to stay ahead of those I had passed. My pace was faltering a bit, and once I felt confident I had put Kevin behind me, I pretty much talked myself out of sub-21. I needed to push harder to get there, but I had nothing left for a kick. I clocked a 6:53 mile as I entered the track for the last lap. A couple of runners passed me on the track, but it did not change the points I received; one was in the 50-59 age group, and the other ended up winning the 20-29 age group.

My final time of 21:27 is a new PR for the 5K, so I accomplished my primary goal. Sub-21 minutes will have to wait until next year. My third place finish for men 40-49 puts me in fifth place again, but I am only 9 points out of second place (Kevin), and I hope to have a good showing at the Kellerman 10K in two weeks. I look forward to a week off before transitioning to my marathon training program, focused on the California International Marathon in Sacramento, December 2nd.

UPDATE: I overlooked one of the most important aspects of a race report - acknowledging the race organizers and volunteers! The course was well-marked, there were TWO aid stations, and the Bear River XC team did a great job of putting the event together. Thanks to all who gave their time, it resulted in a wonderful morning.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run

This morning I bit the bullet and signed up for my first real ultra-marathon, the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. Some of you might point out that the Bizz Johnson 50K in October qualifies as an ultra, and it does. Technically, any race which is longer than 26.2 miles is an ultra, and I have no problem with that definition. However, adding 5 miles to the marathon distance does not result in a significantly different experience. Training for the two distances is very similar, and the 50K is actually an easier feat in most comparisons, as the 50K participant is likely going to incorporate tactics not seen in the marathon distance. For example, walking in a marathon is seen as a sign of failure, while walking in a 50K is seen as a smart strategy to ensure the runner has enough gas in the tank to finish. In addition, the pace for a 50K is slower and finishing times are not as much of a primary goal or focus.

The course profile for the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run

So, while I hope to have at least two 50K races under my belt by next April (three if I am so lucky as to survive the lottery system in the Way Too Cool 50K), this race will be my first real ultra. People are beginning to ask me why I am so intrigued by distance running, and my gut reaction is to recall my history of backpacking and hiking. Spending time moving through wild country has been an important pursuit in my life, providing much needed recreation during college and some of the most memorable experiences of my youth. My graduate research took me through a 40+ mile slot canyon in three days. I hiked rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon in one trip. I spent three weeks in the Sierra Nevada as a teenager on an Outward Bound trip, which included a two day solo (to this date the longest stretch of time I have gone without seeing or hearing another human being). All of these experiences come bounding out of my memory when I consider why I am drawn to this activity. Ultra trail running brings me back to these times of wonder and awe which I find myself yearning to recreate. Moving relentlessly forward, with minimal gear and rest, over and through beautiful terrain with vistas of oceans, alpine peaks, lakes, and wooded valleys, has provided me with a new meditation, which I can apply in that most wonderful of all temples, nature.