Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Work Done and Polar

This morning, just before and after sunrise, I completed my last pre-marathon workout. The long runs are also behind me now. I would not go as far as to say that I am in a taper, because a 28-mile-per-week program does not need - cannot afford - to be reduced. I am officially resting though. The work is done.

As I indicated in previous posts, the training I am referring to did not go according to the plan. Such is life. I am not surprised by the divergence nearly as much as I am amazed by the fact that I actually made it to this point. Never before have I encountered so many obstacles while in a race build up. The job, with the extra duties like the freebie class, meetings, coaching, and writing letters of recommendation, presented new detours each week. My back coerced my right piriformis and hamstring into hobbling me for an annoyingly consistent and prolonged time period. That, in turn, caused a series of related aches and pains in my hips and knees. And my vision seemed to deteriorate. I am not sure how that last one worked against the plan but I am convinced it was part of the full-body conspiracy. Damned aging, anyway . . .

So, I've got ten days to back off in a manner that will give my body time to reach an equilibrium that will favor a solid marathon performance. My reliable and undeniable ability to make questionable decisions led me to go ahead and enter the full marathon. Actually, I have three more days to "downgrade" my entry to the half, but I do not intend to do so. Instead, I will pour my energies into doing all of the little things that might add up to a positive performance in Indy: stretching, heating, standing(!), massaging, and, of course, easing up on the throttle a bit.

Review of my log indicates that I have averaged 28.3 mpw for nine weeks. This is an interesting number - to me. The plan called for me to follow my ultra program for long runs, but the back rejected that notion. That would have resulted in an astounding 33 mpw average! Runs longer than 13 miles during the build-up can be counted on one hand, with the longest being a tad under 20 miles.

I must reveal that the 28.3 mpw gives me a jolt of confidence, though, because the most I have ever averaged while training for a marathon is 26 mpw. The result? A 2:52 effort at the Huntsville, Alabama Rocket City Marathon in Dec. 2009. (I have a knack for running 2:51-53 at the RCM.)

A more thorough analysis reveals that I also ran 53 miles at a sub-6:15 pace during that nine week period. That, folks, is solid and significant for a 28 mpw program! The piriformis/ham/disc gang only cost me one day of pace work.

What can I run after this build-up? That is any one's guess, really. There is simply no margin for error with such a low mileage plan. A fast half marathon is certainly within my grasp, but I feel this primal urge to suffer. If all goes well, I will run low-2:50 or just under 6:30 per mile. I would like to go faster, but the dice have been tossed.  I am not complaining. In fact, I am elated about being healthy enough to run a marathon.

It is the pain that accompanies road marathons off of low mileage that I must avoid thinking about for ten days.  Then, on November 5th, I will do as I always do in marathons. I will run my pace until the wheels come off. At that point I will keep moving in a Quasimodo fashion until I reach the finish line. Luckily, Jeremy has agreed to drag me to the cheeseless pizza and beer. Hehehe . . .

On another more sane note, I have recently become an Official Polar Ambassador. I will continue to tout the benefits of using Polar HRMs. Anyone who has seen me race or train over the last two decades has seen that familiar black strap around my torso. And those who have listened to me speak about my training philosophies have heard me talk of intensities, paces, and economies in terms of heart rate. Many people have then gone out and purchased their own heart rate computers. I will continue to provide information about training and racing with HRMs. The primary difference, I guess, is that the people of Polar are now aware of my long-standing ambassadorship.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

YMCA Half Marathon Report

Jeremy and I at seven miles
Because this event took place four weeks before my planned goal race weekend, I decided long ago to run the area's largest event (aside from the Race for the Cure) at a moderate pace in order to use it as training for the future. In fact, this is the fourth year in a row for me to run our local race in this manner. It is not that I consider the Y-Half to be less important. I am simply trying to run a variety of races and distances in locations other than my home town.

With the temperature in the low-50's, still air, and clear skies, it was a near perfect morning for a half marathon.  I lined up that morning with about two-thousand other people on a hill overlooking the Ohio River knowing that hamstring tightness resulting from the piriformis pinch might cause me to stop. The hamstring had been tight when I ran the day before, but I had worked it loose before I went to bed.

The original plan called for me to run the half at about 6:05 pace, but I decided to run it with friends, including Jeremy, and we settled on a 6:20 pace. After we climbed over the only big hill on the course and reached mile three at 6:06 pace the plan began to change. We were very consistent, reaching each mile thereafter in just over six minutes. despite a couple of course layout discrepancies that I was aware of because I measured the new course.

As the mile markers passed we each agreed that we were comfortable. Each passing mile also took us closer to the front of the field as we held our pace while others slowed, some a significant 15-20 seconds per mile.

We reached twelve miles in just under 73 minutes. I knew then that we would finish in lest than 80 minutes. It was while we were running on the Greenway next to the museum midway through mile thirteen that we picked up the pace a little. That 5:57 last mile gave me a 1:19:39 finishing time. Jeremy, sly enough to be a couple of rows behind me at the start, was a second faster in the end. His even-paced run allowed him to smash his PR.

My post-event analysis gave me a boost in confidence. The steady effort allowed my heart rate to remain below my tempo zone for about seven miles. The final average HR of 165 (85%) was less than what I have averaged for entire marathons and less than what I averaged for the first two hours of the Silver Rush 50 back in July. I am excited about the fact that this HR occurred while I averaged 6:05 per mile because it indicates that my running economy quite high.

Now I must rid myself of this sciatic pinch so that I can fully enjoy this fitness in Indy next month and in the mountains soon after that.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Muncie Powerman Race Report

This is what happens when that carefully made training plan is anything but reality. I entered this race at the last minute for several reasons, but the one I'll discuss in this post is that I needed to get in some pace work.

A couple of months ago I outlined a training plan that would prepare me for the Indy Monumental Half/Full Marathon weekend of November 5th. Unfortunately, I have dealt with another bout of sciatic pinch for the last month. This is my second prolonged sciatic problem this year, so I am fully weary of the pain and tightness that comes with it. Just last spring the sciatic pinch added significant time to two half marathons. I have dealt with back problems since an accident in 1998, but I rarely experience more than one serious bout in a year. Interestingly enough, the pain almost always comes after I sit too much. Sitting is BAD!

Last Monday morning before the sun came up I completed a hilly 19-mile run at 7 minute pace. This run, the longest since the Silver Rush 50 in July, was fun and it came far too easily. When I finished it, however, I knew that I would run my pace work on Thursday or Friday. Old runners learn to project the soreness of a good run onto a week - or at least several days. 

On Tuesday I sat at a computer too long and the sciatic pinch tapped the nerve beyond my sore arse (piriformis), through my tightened hamstring, and all the way down to my quivering foot.  What followed was the normal protocol of stretching and strengthening maneuvers I use to reduce the pinch and pain.

Wednesday's run went well, with only a slight tightness in the hamstring. More importantly, the restricted muscle did not tighten up after the run. This meant that I did not strain it while running. By Wednesday evening I decided to go ahead and take a couple of days off of running while concentrating on healing the back. Sometime before bed I came across the Muncie Powerman website and decided that I would use it to get my pace work in for the week. The 15K of running would suffice, but only if I could limit my effort on the bike enough to run the last 5K at the right pace.

When I lined up for the race just before 10 am last Saturday, I felt zero pain in my back and my hamstring seemed to as flexible as normal.  This is important to note, because I had already decided that I would not race, despite 9 hours of driving to and from the race, if I felt any pain or tightness before the race.

So, along with several hundred other athletes entered in the six different multisport events going on that morning, I launched myself onto the course under ominous skies and in unseasonably frigid air. At race time it was 39 degrees and the wind was blowing 20-30 mph.

I wore my Purdue Tri Suit, but finished the winter ensemble with gloves, a long sleeve tech shirt, tights, and training shoes. After briefly considering the removal of the tights, a glance up at the black skies convinced me to leave them on.

In perfect harmony with the spirit of Powerman Duathlons, the cold weather was accompanied by a tough course.  Tough because it was hilly and because several miles of the 12.9-mile looping road surface bore many scars. A myriad of potholes and arterial cracks had been thoughtfully covered with patches and lines of tar. Bumpy for a car's tires, but brutal for the narrow tires of a bike. Beastly for a bad back!

I kept to the plan throughout the out-and-back 10K. This rolling course used the same roads around the Prairie Creek Reservoir that would also be used by both the cycling and 5K legs. I hit most of the miles at just under six minute pace, but slowed while keeping the same effort (HR) on the two most hilly miles that were, conveniently, going into the wind on the return leg.

T1 went off without a hitch and I soon found myself passing many of the weaving triathletes who had reached the bike course first after the shortened swim. I'd say that 3-5 minutes in that cold water would have been more than enough.  These people probably couldn't feel their hands or feet!

I was entered in the International or Olympic (yeah, right) distance of 10K - 41K - 5K, so I had to circumnavigate the 12.9-mile bike course twice. For one and a half of those loops I glanced back on the turns to gauge the gap back to the guy I believed to be just behind me. This was supposed to be a running workout, so I did not want to kill my legs on the bike.  Three times I picked up the pace to slowly open up a gap.

Eight miles into loop two on the bike I managed to aim Faith directly at one of the biggest potholes on the roadway. Score! Pain shot down my pack and my right foot felt like a hand would after a solid "funny bone" strike. Later, while reviewing my Garmin data, it occurred to me that someone might guess that I simply pulled over and stood next to Faith at that point. My HR dropped 30-40 bpm during the last four miles despite those big hills going into that gnarly wind. Interestingly enough, it was during those last few cycling miles that the clouds dispersed to temper the somber aura. 


Without planning to do so, I sat down in T2 and began to take off the tights.  They hung on the timing chip wrapped around my left ankle. Because it was right in front of me, I saw more than 40 seconds tick off before I finally stood up and put my running shoes back on. And "that guy," Courtney Galyan, ran by me with his bike just before I stood up.  Dang! 

Luckily, the back pain had not progressed into the hamstring, so I started the 5K cautiously optimistic. It was at the turn-around of the 5K that I timed my lead at 22 seconds. Too close! I possess the kick of a turtle with a bum knee, so I decided to get moving right away. 

After plowing up and down those hills into that wind all way to the line, I finished 1:40 ahead of Galyan. It wasn't a fast race for me or for the field, but it was a race. And I happened to be the fastest one lined up to go that distance on that day.

I will remember the experience fondly due to the fact that I was able to talk to old friends and make new friends. There are a lot of competitors out there who are supportive, kind, and respectful. Because of my gabby nature, I tend to make friends with people everywhere I go.  Despite the cold wind, I was able to have conversations with several people, including Bruce, Mark, Anna, Greg, and Brian. Everyone seemed pleased with their efforts. Not one of us mentioned the questionable mental state of people who race in such awful conditions.

Muncie Multisport put on a great morning. The many volunteers were cheery and helpful. A freshly mowed transition area was well organized and manned for safety. The course volunteers provided instructive gestures that helped guide us in the windy conditions. Improvements could be made regarding the rough road surface and the group of adult volunteers who filled the air with cigarette smoke at the 10K turn-around/aid station.

The sciatic pinch caused me to stop four times during the trip home. If you have had the problem, you know what I mean.  The piriformis locked up and evenually pulled painfully on the hamstring each time I had to press on a pedal. Forty miles of construction on I-70 did not help my situation.

I am once again focusing on the rehab tactics that have always worked for me. Perhaps I'll have surgery some day if the problem persists. Perhaps. I am, for now, avoiding the blade because I can still enjoy doing the things I love doing most of the time.

Running and riding are keeping me healthy and mobile enough to exercise my Ricky Bobby complex and, more importantly, to seek adventures in all of those mountains out there.  ST