Tag Archives: planning

No BHARG This Year? What’s Wrong with Me?

I have a confession to make. For the first time in four years, I have no BHARG.

It’s February, and I ought to be at the peak of my winter training, working my buttinsky off at Body Specs and prepping for my spring ultras, culminating in a Big Hairy-Ass Running Goal in late May or early June. It’s worked like a charm for the Kettle Moraine 100 (2016), Lighthouse 100 (2017), and Veterans Memorial 150 (2018), with lesser sufferfests along the way, including 50-milers in the rain, 12 hours of trail looping, and the Boston Marathon. And it’s been an absolute blast.

Crossing the finish line at the Kettle Moraine 100, 2016.

Dirty German 50, 2017.

Third place (54.5 miles) at the Dogwood 12-Hour, 2018

Well, this year is different. I haven’t chosen a BHARG, and my strength training has been hampered due to lingering back stiffness. Had this been any of the previous three years, I’d be frustrated with the wrench tossed into my carefully laid plans. This year? Not so much. And I’m cool with it.

So what happened?

My attitude toward staying fit and challenging myself is as strong as ever. And there’s no shortage of races that look fun and suitably punishing. I just didn’t have the same enthusiasm to pursue the usual program this time. After wondering why for a while, I decided to stop worrying and just go with it. Perhaps my subconscious was telling me it was time to change things up.

For instance, I’ve been wanting to improve shorter distance times. I’m pretty sure I can still improve on my 19:38 5K PR and half marathon best of 1:32:40. But I’ve kept putting it off. After the BHARG races I’ve spent most of the summers in recovery, and then been too busy working Zero Waste at the fall events to focus on my own races.

And 2018 was going to be a difficult act to follow anyway. After running 150 miles in 90 degree weather, earning two podium finishes at the ultra distance, riding naked through a major city, and running a 50K and practicing Vulcan martial arts in the Nevada desert with 70,000 self-expressers, what am I supposed to do for an encore?

WNBR Portland, June 2018.

Burning Man, August 2018.

With all this in mind, I met with my running coach yesterday. We had coffee and kicked around some ideas, and out of that came a basic plan for the year, with a focus on improving my shorter distance event times. I signed up for two events right there and then, and added a couple more today. The enthusiasm is back, folks!

In my next post I’ll share my training plan and which races I’ve signed up for. And I’ve already started on the plan for 2020, which will definitely include a BHARG. Watch this space for developments!

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P.S. And by the way, I haven’t been idle while I worked all this out. At the end of December I ran a “Fat Ass” event with some equally trail-crazy folks. I enjoyed it a lot; a dusting of snow brightened up the woods, and an “aid station” of brownies and a shot of cinnamon schnapps provided the energy to carry me 21 miles.

And last month, like I have since 2014, I strapped on the snowshoes and ran the Bigfoot 5K up in Traverse City. It was colder than usual, but trail conditions were excellent, and I finished in the top 10 for the first time!

Sprinting to a 7th place finish!

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“Half” Measures

As a competitive runner, there are two main factors I consider when planning a race: speed and endurance. Which one takes precedence depends on the distance. When I run a 5K race (3.1 miles), I don’t worry if I will finish, only how fast. I set a target pace for the first mile, then go all out for the rest. My 10K strategy is only slightly different – a target pace for the first half of the race, then everything I have left for the second half.

For marathon length (26.2 miles) and beyond, by contrast, my main goal is to cross the finish line upright. I set a target pace slower than even many of my “easy pace” training runs. While starting out too fast in a short race could hurt my finish time, doing so in a marathon could mean I don’t finish at all. “Hitting the wall” around the 20-mile mark is a well-known problem that has caused many a runner to DNF.

Unless you’re a world-class runner like Scott Jurek, who regularly wins 100-mile races, there is a particular race distance that represents the balancing point – where speed and endurance must receive equal consideration. For me, this is the half marathon. Perhaps that’s one reason it’s one of my favorite races (at least when I’m not actually running them).

My times in the half have steadily improved each year, and as I start to crack the top tier of my age group, I am naturally interested in running it fast. However, I need to rest properly beforehand, eat carefully to be properly fueled, and not push the pace too hard during the race. If I slip up on any of these, I won’t run my best. The distance guarantees that. So of all my races, this one needs the most careful planning.

For example, here is how I planned out a few races from last year or this year.

Holiday Hustle 5K, December 2012
Time goal: 19:59 or better

Holiday Hustle Starting Line 2012Lead up: 4:00 p.m. start, so sleep in. Light activity during the day.
Pre-race routine: 1 mile easy warmup, followed by light stretching and a few short sprints.
Fuel: Lunch 2 hours before start. One Gu at start. Skip water stop.
Pace plan: 6:20 first mile, run like hell for the rest.
Result: 19:48. Followed plan, but it would have been difficult not to.

Ann Arbor Marathon, June 2012
Time goal: 3:59:59 or better

Mile 19 - State Street - croppedLead up: Easy week before. Get enough sleep.
Pre-race routine: Get out of bed and to the starting line before the 6:30 a.m. start.
Fuel: Eat CliffBar on way to race. At every water station after mile 4, walk and drink. When sick of tepid water and Gatorade (mile 20) drink it anyway. Eat a Gu every 5 miles or so.
Pace plan: All miles around 9:00. Do NOT run faster than 8:30 pace.
Result: 3:54. Kept to planned pace (mostly). Good thing – it was hot and humid, and I probably wouldn’t have finished otherwise.

Martian Invasion of Races, Half Marathon, April 2013
Time goal: Beat previous half marathon PR of 1:36:59

Martian Finish - croppedLead up: No hard running for 3 days before race day. Carbo-load starting two days before. Get enough sleep.
Pre-race routine: 1 mile easy warmup, followed by light stretching and a few short sprints (but not too fast, just enough to get the heart rate up).
Fuel: Banana and Cliff bar 1 hour before start. Don’t drink much because I will only have to use the porta-potty (again). Get water or Gatorade at every second water stop. Have a Gu at miles 6 and 9, and at mile 11 if needed.
Pace plan: First mile 7:30. Second mile 7:15. Miles 3-10 around 7:05. Try to speed up for final 3.1, or hold pace if unable to. Final mile: push up the short steep climb, then go all out to the finish (downhill).
Result: 1:33:48, and so “on plan” it was scary.

And then there was this morning’s (Sunday) Dexter-Ann Arbor half. While it was by no means a disaster, and even was somewhat of a success, it didn’t go according to plan. I’ll share the lessons learned later, after I figure out what they are.