Tag Archives: marathon

Preparing for the Invasion, Marathon-Style

The Martians invade Michigan on Saturday. This is NOT a rumor – I have evidence!

Martian spirit - 2

My strategy?

Run!

Martian Course BJ - 0896 - reduced

26.2 miles, to be exact.

Hard to believe that this will be my first road marathon in four years. I’ve run thousands of miles since 2012, at every distance from 5K to 100K, except for the marathon. Mainly because at distances over the half (13.1 miles) I much prefer trail running. So why am I running a road marathon this weekend, and with a specific goal time in mind?

Boston Marathon - Bing Images - free to share

Yes, the Boston bug finally bit me, and a finish time of under 3:40 (3 hours, 40 minutes) at Martian will qualify me for the 2017 race. My personal goal is for a 3:30 or better, which is what I think I’m capable of given my training.

The hardest part of all this, somewhat ironically, is these final few days before the race. With the training load cut way back and extra time to think about the race, I have that twitchy feeling of, “There must be something left to do!” Well, let’s check the three main components of racing readiness and see what I stand.

Physical: My body is as ready as it can be. The strength workouts, distance runs, and speedwork have done their job. Cutting back on the training load allows my body to heal and reduces the chance of an overuse injury. So this week has been about slow runs and light workouts, “keeping the edge sharp” for Saturday morning.

Tuesday night, for example, I went out with PR Fitness for a 5-6 mile run. I kept my heart rate under 145, which meant after a mile I was by myself. But instead of trying to keep up with them, I enjoyed the relaxed pace and did some gear checks (see below).

Mental: As an experienced ultrarunner, I have no worries about the distance. Rather, the challenge will be holding it together at a much faster pace than my ultras. How will I respond when things start hurting late in the race, and there’s a strong temptation to slow down? Fortunately, I have my experience at the Richmond half marathon to boost my confidence. No guarantees, but I have the motivation to run strong and push past the pain.

Logistical: Just as important to a successful race are my choices in clothing, gear, fueling and hydration, and pace (course strategy). This is where I learned the most from Tuesday night’s run. The weather was nearly identical to the forecast for race morning – sunny and chilly, with some winds. This allowed me to dress in my expected race day outfit. I learned that my layering strategy was just fine, but the wrap I was using as a hat would not suffice.

For hydration, I want to carry at least one water bottle so I can consume salt tablets and Gu when I want to, and not have to wait for an aid station or deal with those tiny cups. I originally planned to clip a bottle onto my belt but it bounced too much when full, and caused the belt to slip. So another solution was needed. I could carry the bottle (and did for most of Tuesday’s run) but that’s a strain on the arms over a long run.

Fortunately, the local running shop was close by and still open, and I settled on this little number – the “Trail Mix Plus” from Nathan.

Nathan race belt with bottles

It cinches more snugly than my other belt, and the bottles won’t jiggle. I may look like a bit of a dork wearing this, but what else is new? And if it gets me across the finish line five minutes faster, bring it on! Heck, I’d wear head-to-toe pink if it made me faster (underwear, too). And a sports bra (although I’d insist on a sub-3 hour guarantee).

So I’d say all systems are go. Or so I thought, until my daughter posted this helpful comic from The Oatmeal on how to run a marathon. Click the image for a very humorous take on the marathon from someone who’s been there.

The Oatmeal - Marathon Running - from Facebook page

Alas, it’s too late to drop what I’ve done and follow his suggestions. Maybe next time!

Advertisements

You Gotta Have Heart (Rate)

My first marathon this season is just ahead, and it’s taper time! Cutting back on distance and speedwork a bit allows my body to rest and heal up, so I’ll be at peak form on race day. The nasty cold I’ve just gotten over helped enforce that rest, at least. Not that I appreciated it.

One temptation tapering runners have is to use the extra time and energy to try something new and different. Hey, I could start those judo lessons, or try out the Eskimo Diet (mmmm….seal meat). Well, you’re not supposed to do this. Stick to the familiar. And as a serious runner (well, as someone who takes running seriously), I rigorously follow this advice.

Except when I don’t.

This week I tried something new (gasp) in my running – usually a no-no right before a race. On the other hand, this change just might win the approval of my coach. Because it involved me running slower.

I'll believe it when I see it!

I’ll believe it when I see it!

First, allow me just a little history to set the context.

Last Saturday, I went out for my first group run since I’d caught that cold. Coach put me down for 14 miles at an 8:20 pace. I felt well enough but told her (and myself) I would run easy and only so long as I felt (reasonably) comfortable.

The first seven miles went fine. I felt a bit winded but chalked it up to the hills on the route. I started the route back – and heard three women coming up behind me.

Cue my stupid male instinct. Easy training run? Recovering from an illness? Screw it – no way I was gonna get chicked! So I stepped it up – for a few miles, anyway. At the final water stop I graciously let them go ahead. I’d made my point. Yeah.

Gwen here won the Kalamazoo Marathon last year. I'll let her chick me. Mainly because I have no choice in the matter.

PR Fitness runner Gwen won the Kalamazoo Marathon last year. I’ll let her chick me. Mainly because I have no choice in the matter.

It wasn’t until I checked my splits afterward that I found out what I’d really been doing. 8:20 pace? Not exactly. I’d ended up running mostly under 8:00, and during my push I’d been doing 7:30 – uphill. Well, pushing the pace is fairly routine for me, and I have to admit to taking some perverse pride in it. No harm, right? Doesn’t it show how fit I am?

And yet there are those articles that say runners often do their slow runs too fast. And for five years now Coach has been trying to get this into my thick head. But what, exactly, is “too fast”? And why is a faster pace so bad?

Well, my recent fitness tests, as well as a couple of books I’ve been reading, have finally given me something quantitative to work with. And this means adding a tool to my training that I’ve had for years, but never really figured out how to use.

Heart Rate Chest Strap Monitor

The heart rate monitor.

Heart rate training is popular among elite cyclists, and to some extent among runners. Instead of running at a specific pace, you run at a specific heart rate, or in a heart rate zone. The advantage is that you can tell when you are running aerobically vs. anaerobically. The threshold is known as the Maximum Aerobic Heart Rate, or MAHR.

Why is this important? Because of the differences in how the body produces energy. When running anaerobically (above MAHR), the body uses carbohydrates for fuel, of which there is a limited supply. Eventually, fuel runs low and the runner has to slow down, or bonks.

Running aerobically (at or below MAHR), by contrast, mainly burns fat, of which the body has a much larger supply available. The longer the run, the more important this source of energy is. So ultrarunners (ahem) should really be interested in running aerobically as much as possible.

Dr. Phil Maffetone, one of the pioneers of heart rate-based training, has a method for estimating one’s MAHR. Doing the math, I came up with 131 beats per minute (BPM) as my MAHR. So for me to run aerobically, I need a pace where my heart rate stays at, or just below, 131 BPM.

What is that pace? There was just one way to find out. I strapped on the monitor, set my Garmin to display heart rate, and out I went for a six-mile run. I though I might have trouble holding a particular heart rate, but it turned out to be pretty easy.

Pace too fast 2

I held 131 BPM for two miles, with splits of 9:33 and 9:43. Just for fun, I also ran one mile at 135 BPM, clocking 8:55. People often find their MAHR pace is annoyingly slow at first, but for me it was okay – very comfortable, not snail-like. Maybe over 10 miles or more it will get annoying. Just one way to find out! More to come as I continue to experiment with this.

Peak Experiences

The last few weeks have been peak training time for my spring marathons and ultras. And let’s just say I’m feeling it.

So what does “peak training” mean? Extra miles per week, longer “long runs,” and heavier weights and additional sets at strength training. And with hill-loving Coach Rob setting the routes, PR Fitness group runs make sure my legs and lungs get some good work in.

If you think this is a viable option for long runs, you can stop reading now. You don't get it.

For long runs? Thanks, I’ll take the snow and hills, please.

The extra physical effort is just part of the experience, however. It being late winter in Michigan (*), conditions have varied. This morning I ran 18 miles with a big, enthusiastic PR Fitness group in shorts and single top layer, bright sunshine, and clear, clean roads. It was easy to feel good out there, even with tired legs.

But just a couple of weeks ago, I ran 20 miles by myself on a cold, gray, blustery day on snowy roads. With no one to pace with or keep me motivated, it was hard to remain focused. I had problems with my shoes, I needed several biological breaks (too much coffee), and with sweaty clothes it was a struggle to stay warm.

Along the 20-mile route that day.

Along the 20-mile route that day.

With five miles to go I stopped at a cafe for a snack and water and took stock. I would be on a busy road at rush hour, going uphill, and it was getting dark fast. It would have been easy, perhaps even sensible, to call a cab (**) for a warm ride home. Instead, I took a deep breath, stepped outside, and slogged out those final miles.

Good question.

Good question!

Would missing those five miles hurt my time at my upcoming marathon? Not likely. The 15 miles I’d already run were probably equal to at least 20 miles on a good day. And I might get hurt during the last stretch due to the weather and road conditions. Physically speaking, there was no reason to finish the run.

But Coach Marie understood why I did. She’s had many of those herself. “It makes you mentally stronger,” she said. And when things go wrong, or the unexpected happens, or you “hit the wall” five miles from the finish line, it’s the mental toughness that gets you across it.

Great weather and a happy body are treasured by runners when they occur, but they provide a very limited view of what we’re truly capable of. This morning’s run was wonderful, but the one two weeks ago did more for me. The miles in the snow, or rain, or mud, or 90-degree heat (with precautions, of course) tell me far more about what I’m really capable of, and give me confidence that I can accomplish my goals.

Building character.

Building character.

Not that I want one like that every week.

And “peak training” is nearly over! Soon I will begin tapering – easing back on mileage to recover and be at peak condition on race day. Sounds great, doesn’t it? In fact, extra rest can be as challenging as peak training, in a different way. I think I’ll find a way to get through it.

===============================

(*) Actually, conditions are never predictable in Michigan. It’s part of the appeal of living here.

(**) I don’t really buy into this Uber thing yet. Call me old-fashioned.

Back to the Marathon!

WELL, THE BUG FINALLY BIT ME.

The Boston Marathon bug, that is.

Now wait a minute, I hear you say. Isn’t the Boston Marathon the ultimate goal of every runner? How can you not have run it by now?

Yes, it may be hard to believe, but up until now I had no desire to run Boston. There are plenty of other races that I enjoy very much, and many more that I am considering doing some day. Besides, I’m much more of a trail guy. I’ve now run 12 ultras (50K or longer) with more to come, but only two marathons to date.

The 2015 PR Fitness Boston Marathoners.

The 2015 PR Fitness Boston Marathoners.

Now, running Boston is very popular in the PR Fitness running group. Every year 25 or more of us end up going. This included 2013, the year of the bombing. Fortunately, no one in our group was among those killed or injured. Nor did it scare any of them away from running it again. I proudly participated in a large “Boston Unity Run” in our area later that year (see this post) but still didn’t feel the desire to join the big dance.

The 2013 Boston Unity Run. Boston Strong!

The 2013 Boston Unity Run. Boston Strong!

So what changed my mind? I’m not really sure, but a couple of things helped.

In December 2016 I turn 55 and join a new age group, and I thought it would be a fun birthday present to myself to run Boston in 2017. And I also think it would be fun to be part of the whole experience – the tradition, the history, the crowds, to tackle Heartbreak Hill and cross that finish line. And I’d get to wear that cool Boston Marathon Finisher jacket.

And exactly the right colors, too!

And exactly the right colors, too!

So, for one more time at least, I will be stepping off the trail for a bit, and running one of those short races – the road marathon.

Actually, make that at least two marathons. To get into Boston, you need a qualifying time based on your age group, in a marathon that has been certified as a Boston qualifier. The Martian Invasion of Races in Dearborn next April will be where I attempt to qualify. I’ve signed up, and my training has already started.

For my age group in 2017 (55-59) I will need to beat 3:40. And the faster my time, the better the chance I have of getting a spot. But if I don’t qualify then, I have until next September to try again.

What are my chances? Hard to say at present; my Chicago time (first marathon) was 4:12. My second (Ann Arbor 2012) was 3:55, but I ran that one casually and took photos. But based on my half marathon time, I should be able to run a 3:30 or better. I guess I’ll find out. It’s going to be an interesting winter!