Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Review

While technically not my best year of the 5 years I've been running, there were a lot of positives to take away in 2013, along with some negatives. I believe looking back on the year will give me a good start on 2014.

Racing: I ran 6 races in 2013, down from 9 in 2012. I just wasn't motivated enough to sign up for as many races as I used to. I did set 4 PR's, all in my final 4 races on my schedule (see the sidebar for my results). I was most pleased with the 1:28:15 I ran at the Army Ten Miler in October. I never thought I had it in me to run that fast (relatively, for me) for that far of a distance.

Training: Not my best training year, either. I logged 1,333 miles this year, down from 1,500 last year. That's still an average of 111 miles per month, but I ran much longer distances last year while training for Marine Corps Marathon. Advice from some trusted running coaches determined that I was running some of my "easy" runs too far in marathon training last year. Couple that with the fact that I didn't do as many 18+ mile runs in 2013, and it explains my mileage drop.

Injury: I stayed relatively injury-free this year, save for a few bouts of severe calf cramping (of which at one point I suspected could have been an Achilles issue). I attribute this to a combination of better hydration, better form, and not overtraining and staying withiin my plan.

Looking to 2014: As it stands right now, I'm going to again focus on 6-7 races in 2014. Looking at a couple of 10-Milers and a couple of half marathons, with some shorter races (8-10K)thrown in. I'd like to get my 5K time under 25 minutes (25:03 PR), my 10K time under 52 minutes (52:35 PR), and my half-marathon pace to under a 9:00/mile (currently my best is 9:05).

Training-wise, I'd like to average about 30 miles per week, which would give me over 1,500 miles for the year. But I don't want to throw miles in just to reach a number - I'd like to make those miles all mean something, and by that I mean more speedwork.

Also, I'll be taking the RRCA Coaching Certification course in 2 weeks - hopefully this can help me improve myself in areas where I am lacking.

I've come a long way in the 5+ years I've been running, and as I approach age 50, I'd like to keep improving - because pretty soon, age is gonna slow me down. But I want to keep enjoying feet hitting asphalt 4-5 days a week, and meeting great running peeps along the way.

Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things

Inspired by my buddy "Tai Fung"'s list, I decided to go head to toe and let you know what I've tried and what I like (or don't like) gear-wise. But being the contrarian I am, I'll start from the top.

La cabeza: I almost always run with a head covering of some sort. In the winter, I have a black Saucony Dry-Lete Skull Cap that I got for $20 at Potomac River Running Store. During the day, I use a Brooks hat that I picked up from the MCM Expo last year - I'm assuming that it's this one. Occasionally, I'll go the headband route in extremely hot weather - to allow the heat to escape through the top of my noggin. In these instances, I use the Halo II headband, which is superior for keeping the sweat out of my eyes.

Headlamp: I do a lot of running in the dark in the early mornings, and I have found that my favorite headlamp for running is the Tikka2 by Petzl. The only issue I have is that using it 4 times a week for 45 minutes to an hour sat a time, I have to change the batteries once a month.

Shirts: I accumulate a good number of race shirts, so I don't have to buy many. But when I do, I have found that the C9 gear found at Target works as well as most shirts you get from races. And for about $14-16 a shirt, they're economical, too.

Shorts: Again, very fond of the C9 shorts, although the drawback is that they don't have any outside pockets, and only a hidden waistband pocket large enough to hold a house or car key. But I don't experience the chafing in "those areas" that I got with Nike shorts.

Socks: Like Tai Fung, I am also a big fan of Feetures. I am especially fond of the Elite Light Cushion sock with the No Show Tab. These socks have a left and right foot design, and provide great arch support. I make it routine to buy a new pair each time I buy a new pair of shoes. They're that good.

Shoes: OK, here goes. I have been brand-loyal to Brooks for years. After I suffered from a strained calf in 2009 because of a bad shoe recommendation, I was steered towards the Brooks Adrenaline GTS stability running shoe. For someone with an extra-wide foot (4EEE width), my selection is limited, but these worked for me. And for 4 years, from the GTS 9 to the GTS 13, these shoes were problem-free. But this year, Brooks made a change to the GTS 14 shoe, and I had to steer myself away from the Adrenalines. After just 3 runs, my feet hurt, I was getting blisters on the bottom of my left foot, and, frankly, the shoe wasn't comfortable. I have since started stocking up on GTS 13's before they're all gone, but in the meantime, I am using the Nike Zoom Structure 16. The Nike's are doing the job, but I'm not enamored with them.

My shoes wouldn't be complete without LockLaces. I was forever suffering from untied, over-tight, or too-loose shoe laces on my runs. Since switching to LockLaces, my shoes are a consistent fit each time I step out the door.

Accessories: Like many runners, I will NOT leave my house without my RoadID. Simple as that. For $20, it's peace of mind. Buy one.

Staying with the "peace of mind" theme, I also use a SpiBelt to carry my iPhone with me when I run. I place the pouch under my shirt and on my hip when I run, and I barely know it's there. Very comfortable.

I also run with a Garmin Forerunner 110 that I purchased in 2010, and that is still going strong. It's not clunky like other running watches, and it does what I need it do do.

Lastly, hydration: I am a big believer in the power of Nuun nydration tabs (Kona Cola is my favorite) and GU Energy gels (Vanilla Bean). When I'm on a long run, I can take GU and wash it down with Nuun and not get the stomach distress that would come with mixing a gel with a sports drink like Gatorade.

So there you have it, no raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but this is what I stick with when I put feet to the asphalt 5 times a week. I hope that my recommendations help you if you're looking to change or help your running adventures.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon

Well, it's over.

This past Saturday, I ran my second marathon, the 6th Annual Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon in Rehoboth Beach, DE. Rehoboth is our family's default vacation spot each summer - my in-laws have had a beach house down there for over 25 years, and I've developed quite a fondness for the area in the 22+ years I've vacationed there. So I was especially looking forward to this.

The trip down on Friday, though, was pure hell. A trip that generally takes around 2 hours, 45 minutes on a good day took over 5 hours this time. Massive traffic delays, along with bad weather here in Virginia and sporadic backups until we reached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in Maryland was the culprit. My wife, in her infinite wisdom, offered to do the driving, since she knew I'd be a raging idiot if I were behind the wheel (and she would be correct).

Our late arrival meant I missed packet pickup on Friday night and would have to do the duty nice and early on Saturday before the race. As it was, I was the first person in line at 5:30 AM on Saturday, which gave me time to go back to my hotel (.3 mile from the start and right at the finish line) and stay warm before the gun. It was 29 degrees with a light rain both at 5:30 and at the 7 AM start.

Being such a small race (just under 1,000 for the marathon and about 1,300 for the half), the course wasn't too congested as the race started. No matter, because the race band that I ordered from Races2Remember had me at a 10:02 pace for the first mile, which I easily achieved (I actually ran 9:59). As a matter of fact, I was hitting all of my goal paces on the band, and running quite comfortably as we entered Cape Henlopen State Park at about the 13.1 mile mat. At this point, I was at 2:04:00 on the dot, and my goal for halfway was 2:04:14 - so I was only 14 seconds faster over 13 miles than planned. No problem, right?


There was a timing mat just before mile 15 that the race director announced, before the race, was at the top of a hill, and you had to hit it to avoid being DQ'd. As it was, it was at an overlook of the Atlantic Ocean where you could see Cape May, NJ in the distance. It was also an annoying circle around a small parking lot just to hit the mat. It was at this point, after climbing the hill, that my race went "downhill", so to speak.

Coming back down Route 9 at about mile 16.5, I pretty much hit the wall. My left quad started cramping, and my feet were really bothering me. This was the same left quad problem I had at Marine Corps Marathon in 2012, and almost at the same mile marker (18 in MCM). I attributed my cramp at MCM due to poor fueling, but in this race, I was fueling properly, so I was baffled. As for my feet, I'll get to that later.

I slowed considerably by now, and made it to mile marker 20 before I decided that the rest of the race would have to be run-walk. My Garmin was .1 mile ahead of the mile markers, so when my Garmin beeped on the mile (by my watch), I walked until reaching the actual mile marker, then jogged until the next beep. My splits from here to the end roughly put me at a 12:00 pace per mile. In short, it was an epic struggle.

As I got to mile 26, and could see the finish line, I started searching for my wife and son, who had accompanied me this weekend. After 41 races, this was the first time they had been at the finish line for me. As I rounded the curve to the finish, I saw my son pointing and jumping up and down, cheering. I am going to readily admit: I was so happy to see him that I teared up as I crossed the finish line and got my medal. After the struggles I had over the last 10 or so miles, it put it all in perspective - he didn't care that my performance wasn't what I expected - his Daddy just finished a marathon!!

I finished in 4:30:42, and the silver lining in this is that is was a 5-second improvement over my MCM time, so, yeah, a new PR.

My struggles can be traced back to my training. I only completed one 20-miler in this training cycle, and only one other long run of 18 miles. Everything else, long-run wise, was 16 miles or less. And 16 was where I crashed. Coincidence? I don't know.

As for my feet - about 2 weeks ago, I put a pair of sneakers (Brooks Adrenaline 13) in a box and marked them "Marathon Shoes". They only had 200 miles on them, so they would be the ones. Nice and broken in. Well, apparently TOO broken in. I should have inspected them before this, because when I took them off after the race, the entire big toe area on my right foot was worn away, and a hole was forming in the toe box. In short, these shoes were dead a few weeks ago, and I should have used fresher ones. Not saying this would have allowed me to run my 4:10, but it could have contributed some to my leg fatigue (which was really a result of my poor training).

I had already decided weeks before this race that this would be my last marathon, and my struggles only solidified that decision. I really don't care to train in the manner necessary to run the race I want to run. For those of you who run marathons, and run them well, I applaud you. Marathoning is quite an achievement, and I wish I enjoyed it more. The whole spectacle of a marathon is an awesome experience. But I find that I much more enjoy running 10-Milers and Half-marathons (and the training for both) than I do the marathon.

As for the Rehoboth Beach race, if you're looking for a nice, small marathon, with good crowd support and a nice, flat route, I whole-heartily endorse it. I will very much consider coming back again for the half-marathon. But this was my 26.2 swan song.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Marathon Week

It's Tuesday, so that means it's only 4 days until my next (and final) marathon, the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon in Delaware. I'm currently in taper mode, trying to ignore all of the phantom aches and pains that are mysteriously showing up this week.

This past Thursday, I ran the Inside Out Sports Turkey Trot 8K in Cary, NC. It was sunny and 21 degrees at the start, and for those of you who haven't had the pleasure of running in the Raleigh-Durham area, it's hilly. My goal going into this race was to A) stay injury-free, and B) try to hit a 42:30 time. Everything went swimmingly, and I escaped injury-free with a new PR of 42:08 (an 8:28 pace).

Now the focus is on Rehoboth, and constantly thinking about my race pace. In an earlier post, I determined that from past performances I could run about a 4:08 marathon. I ordered pace bands from Races to Remember, and since they only do paces on the zeros, 5's & 10's, I settled on the 4:10 band. But further study is showing that this may be conservative, or at least confusing to me.

Looking at the Jack Daniels Calculator, and entering recent race times, I found something rather startling. When I entered my Army Ten Miler time of 1:28:15, I came up with a projected marathon equivalent pace of 4:03:11, below my 4:10 goal. And while it doesn't show a projected 8K time, I can average the 5K and 10K equivalents and come up with roughly 8:24 for an 8K, which is very close to my 8K pace last week. So that seems surprisingly accurate.

OK, so I went back to the calculator and entered my 8K time of 42:08 - and got 4:04:14 as a marathon equivalent. So 2 races in the past month, and the difference in marathon equivalents for both is 63 seconds. Average the 2 together, and Mr. Daniels formula spits out a 4:03:42 equivalent marathon time.

Considering my training hasn't exactly been stalwart for this race, I'm really not sure if I have it in me to break off a 4:03 in the marathon. Heck, I'm still wary about trying for a 4:10. But I'm going to stick with the 4:10, with the caveat that if I feel good at 20 (and if I'm still on track for a 4:10), I may just ditch the pace band and go for that 4:03, or something close to it.

Time to focus now.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Lone Wolf

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

I follow a lot of runners on teh Twitterz, and I can’t help but notice how much joy so many of them get from finishing a key distance, setting a new PR, or simply getting it done on the road.

I have none of that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very pleased with myself when I achieve something as a runner, but I don’t have nearly the emotions that most runners do when it happens. I think the most emotion I’ve ever showed in a race was when I raised my arms in triumph as I crossed the finish line at the Marine Corps Marathon last year.

Maybe it’s because I’m a running loner. I train by myself, I’ve never had a “running partner”, I rarely go to a race with someone (not even my wife and son), and I’m always looking to do better. Maybe it’s because I’m socially awkward, and really dread the thought of being “the new guy” in a large running club, so I do it all alone.

Here’s an example: I go to a race, and run it well. I break my PR, but you wouldn’t know it when I cross the line. I get my water, bagel, and banana, eat it, then get in my car (or get on the Metro) & go home. All the while, focusing on my next training run, my next race, my next goal.

As a “lone wolf”, I train at my paces, and at my distances; everything works for me. I was briefly in a running group last year, and suffered because of my attempt to keep up with a group of much faster runners going distances that weren’t in my training plan. I didn’t want to slow anyone down. I’m sure all of that partially explains my aversion to running clubs and the desire to train on my own.

But sometimes, I just wonder what it’s like to cross the finish line, see a familiar face, and let out a big “Yeahhh!!!” as I crush another PR.

So enjoy it, everyone; bask in it!! Keep celebrating!! One day I hope to join you.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Thinking About My Marathon

With 5 weeks to go before the 2013 Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon, I saw a tweet today posted by the Runner’s World editors that made me ponder my race strategy:

@runnersworld: Don't cling to a race goal you set 6 months ago. Instead, adjust them to match your fitness, your health, and the weather. #runningtips

Back in May, when I signed up for this race, my goal was to run it somewhere around 4 hours, 20 minutes, which would be a 10-minute improvement from my time at Marine Corps Marathon in 2012. But my current training, along with race results since signing up for the marathon, is making me reconsider that time goal.

First, I ran a 1:59:23 at the Alexandria Running Festival half-marathon on Memorial Day weekend. Plugging that time into the McMillan Running Calculator shows that I could reasonably expect to run a full marathon in 4:11:15 (9:35 pace). I ran a good race there, but missed a PR by 14 seconds.

Next, in the Anthem Great Pumpkin 5K on October 12th, I ran a PR of 25:03. Again, using McMillan, a reasonable marathon time extrapolates out to 4:04:05 (9:19 pace). I don’t see much use in using a 5K time to estimate a marathon time, especially one that would be almost a 30-minute improvement on last year. But still, I’ll take it into consideration in my valuation.

Last, I ran 1:28:15 at the Army Ten Miler 12 days ago, another PR. McMillan calculates a marathon time of 4:07:44 (9:27 pace) based off of that result. But even though I thought I ran a great race there, McMillan calculates that I should run a 25:25 in the 5K, which is 22 seconds slower than I ran a week prior. So I’m valuing that 5K estimation a little more now.

If I average those 3 estimations together, I come up with 4:07:04 as a reasonable marathon time, which is a 9:26 pace. I then averaged my last 6 double-digit long run paces, and came up with a 9:53 average. Again, working off McMillan and those 3 races, my long run paces should run between 9:22 and 10:33. The midpoint of those 2 numbers is a 9:58 long run pace, 5 seconds slower than the average of my last 6 runs.

Being the numbers geek that I am, I am very much inclined to adjust my goal time for the marathon to 4:08:00, a 9:28 pace. That would represent almost a 23-minute improvement on my marathon time. But with the relatively flat course in Rehoboth, and likelihood of cool weather on December 7th (although last year was mild & humid), I’m not terribly afraid of that goal. The key for me will be to log negative splits, and to start off slow and finish strong.

And even though I’m “retiring” from the marathon after this event, a 4:08 would make it very intriguing to try for a sub-4:00 sometime later.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thoughts Heading Towards The End of 2013

2013 has been an atypical year for me, running-wise. I haven't entered that many races this year (although I do have 2 more remaining), and my training has been average at best. So as we start the 4th quarter of 2013, heading towards 2014, I figure it's time for me to assess what I've done so far and get a quick look forward to next year.

The good: In the 4 races I've done so far, I racked up 2 PR's (a 5K on October 19th, and the Army Ten Miler a week later). In my other 2 races, I missed PR's literally by seconds: a 63-second miss at the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, and a 15-second miss at the Alexandria Running Festival Half Marathon. So race-wise, it's been pretty good.

The bad: My miles have been down significantly this year, 1,037 miles this year vs. 1,236 on this date in 2012. Much of that can be attributed to training for the Marine Corps Marathon last year, but I'm currently in training for a marathon the first week in December, so I shouldn't be off by 200 miles.

The good: I've learned to slow down my paces somewhat on long runs, in the hopes that this will translate into stronger legs in the final miles of the marathon. If Army Ten Miler is any indication, I'm running stronger and more consistently over the shorter long distances than I have been. I had lots left in the tank at the finish on Sunday.

The bad: I just don't have the motivation to do a 20-mile training run this cycle. I did 2 last year, and I have only one scheduled for this training cycle. I'm still contemplating if I can get away with topping out at 18 miles for my longest run.

The good: I've decided that I love the Ten Mile race distance, and I'm going to focus on running more of those in the future.

The bad: After the Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon on December 7, I don't think I'm going to do another marathon. I just don't have the interest to train for such a grueling task.

The good: I've met a TON of great running peeps on teh Twitterz this year; lots of people with whom I'd love to run a few miles or simply hang out.

The bad: None of them live within running distance of my house, so it continues to be solo runs every time. Running clubs just don't do it for me, for some reason. Social awkwardness seems to be the main culprit.

That's just a few things I've been thinking about recently. I suppose I could consider this as the springboard for me to set my 2014 goals.