Tag Archives: tapering

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?


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!

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.

What’s Wrong With Me?

THE BEST I CAN SAY about the past few days is that my body has been efficient. If I had to get hurt and sick, at least they happened together. Dual-purpose recovery!

And yet there is something very odd going on during this recovery.

Last Thursday after working out my right knee was a bit tender, so I put off my scheduled five-mile run for a day. On Friday while warming up for the run, I found that a deep knee bend caused a sharp pain in that knee. It didn’t hurt otherwise so I (carefully) completed the run, but my knee did not loosen up.

I Iz No Run - Bing ImagesI emailed my coach and told her I was cancelling my Saturday long run. She agreed; it was time to start tapering anyway. No sense in risking an injury this close to my upcoming races. Just as well, since over the weekend, I came down with my first full-blown cold in years. So Monday’s strength workout and Tuesday’s run were out, too.

The good news is that I’m on the mend; the knee pain is gone, and I’m getting over the cold. So I’ll be back on the road soon, and should be good to go for the April races.

These things happen, and we exercise freaks get through them as best we can. Fellow blogger Sam writes here about a week with no exercise, and blogger eloisedu talks here about a nagging hip injury that is sidelining her for four weeks. They express their frustration but know they will be back. I was going to post on their blogs that I “felt their pain” so to speak, but then came to a stunning realization:

I haven’t missed training at all. In fact – umm – I’ve been enjoying the break.



What’s wrong with me? I should be bouncing off the walls right now, frothing at the mouth, gazing longingly out my front window at the nice weather and the healthy, unhurt runners gliding by. Nope. I’m just resting and going through the other things I have to do each day.

Fortunately, I believe I know what’s going on. My training is not what you would call “elite level” but for the past few months it’s been at the highest intensity and volume in my life. It’s been tough, and despite signs that my body was finally adapting and getting stronger, I’ve had to put up with continual low-level soreness throughout my body and fatigue from all the activity.

So don’t get me wrong – being sick has really sucked, and comes with its own issues –  poor sleep, stuffy head, and achy feeling. But my muscles are feeling better than they have in quite a while, and my energy level is rising, too.

But what about my upcoming races? Is all this (relative) inactivity going to sabotage my goals of qualifying for Boston or finishing my upcoming ultras? I doubt it. I’ve trained year-round for a long time, and with the increased effort over this winter, I’ve got the base I need. I’m not going to forget how to run by easing off for a week or two.

This is the classic dilemma runners face when they taper. We’re so used to our training routine that when we cut it down before a race, we feel like we’re slacking off and hurting our chances. But to be in peak form on race day, letting the body heal and rebuild beforehand is the best thing we can do. Running, or any athletic endeavor for that matter, requires mental discipline as much as the physical!

And when April gets here, with three races in four weeks, I get the feeling I’ll be grateful for this enforced rest here in March. And yes, I am still looking forward to the races – very much so. That’s the best sign of all.

Won't be down for long - the trails beckon!

Won’t be down for long – the trails beckon!

Going Long, Going Dark, Going Easy

THE BIG EVENT at Run Woodstock is one week away, and I’m gearing up for it by gearing it down a little. Yes, it’s the hardest training period of any distance runner – taper time!

So I will be doing my very best to work out less, rest more, and eat more. I’ll get through it somehow. Actually, I’m looking forward to a little break from Body Specs. Today’s workout at 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity had me streaming sweat, leaving puddles on the mat at each station. But it’s been that kind of summer.

Stop doing this for a whole week? Oh, man!

Stop doing this for a whole week? Oh, man!

I’ve been wondering about a few things that happened to me this past week. Perhaps some of you could provide some insights or similar experiences.

  1. What’s going on with my bike rides? Last month I rode from Ann Arbor to the Crim race in Flint (see my previous post on that experience). Twice during that ride my quads were screaming so badly I pulled over to stretch and massage them. Last weekend I rode to White Lake. It was about the same distance, at the same time of day, but after running 17 miles on the trails in Pinckney, and I felt fine the entire way. Not complaining, but it seems kind of bass-ackward to me.
Maybe this was the difference?

Maybe this was the difference?

BTW, the I-275 Metro Trail from 5 Mile Road to Meadowbrook Road is a handy way to go north on a bike but I wouldn’t recommend it as a pleasure ride. As I was advised by another trail runner, it’s variable in pavement quality and the noise from the freeway is incredible. Perhaps it’s amplified by the retaining walls on the west side. The good news is that multi-purpose paths continue to head north for several more miles.

  1. On that same ride, I took one of several wrong turns and asked a gas station attendant for directions. He printed a map and showed me the road I wanted. I told him I was riding to White Lake.

“That’s a hell of a long way on a bike,” he said.

“Not really,” I said, reflexibly. My destination was about 7 miles away. As the entire ride was over 50 miles, I was pleased I only had that little bit left. But what makes a ride or run “long” depends on one’s point of view, after all. In track and field a 5K is considered a “middle distance” and 10K is “long distance.” By contrast, in the world of ultrarunning the “short run” is the 50K, and no one even talks about shorter races.

What is this "sub-marathon" distance you speak of.

What is this “marathon” distance you speak of.

It reminded me of my trip to Chicago in 2011, where the train station attendants said I might want to take a bus for the “long” 8-block trip to the convention center. When I told them I was there for the marathon, they agreed I “could walk it.” (BTW, the walk inside the convention center to get my race bib was longer than the walk to the center.)

  1. And on the same subject of perception: last night I went out for 6 miles at sunset to get used to running in the dark. The first half still had some daylight in it and passed uneventfully. I returned along the exact same route, but in darkness, and it felt longer – a lot longer. The road ahead of me just seemed to stretch on and on. I half expected Rod Serling to step into view: A man goes out for a run on a dark, deserted road…and ends up in…the Twilight Zone.

Trail - Saturday morning

Why does this happen? I’m guessing it’s due to the reduced field of view. When all you can see is what’s illuminated by your headlamp, even familiar territory can seem like the middle of nowhere. And the noises change, too, from the man-made to the animal. Between the near-total darkness, gnats in my eyes, and crickets and frogs echoing all around, it really did feel like a different world from the same path I’d taken just a half hour earlier.

And just think – a week from now, I get to run all night long. The race begins at 4:00 p.m. Friday, and with luck I will be finishing sometime around sunrise Saturday morning, just as the 50K and 50-milers toe the starting line. (Yeah, those “short distance” guys.)

Stay tuned – I’ll let you know after Labor Day how my weekend “training” went. (Isn’t that kind of ironic, that “Labor Day” is celebrated as a day off?)