Wednesday, July 23, 2008

There's too much confusion...(I can't get no relief)

I have been wondering lately if training (for a marathon) has become severely overcomplicated. Or was it always that way? How does one proceed when it comes to the journey of the marathon?

If you do a search for "marathon training," you will find that there is no shortage of training programs. Higdon and Galloway are perhaps the most prominent, but there are a plethora of others that have popped onto the scene in recent years. In addition, many popular marathons offer training programs right on their websites. If that isn't enough, Runner's World won't leave you hanging. Even one of our very own Flyers has a piece of the action (password protected, sorry).

If you look at any one of these programs, you will notice that they claim to cater to beginners, as well as intermediate, advanced, and competitive runners, and everyone in between. One thing they all have in common is the long run. It makes sense that you must prepare to run a long way by practicing. The other thing you will most certainly find on any program is the "rest day." You might also find hill workouts, tempo runs, intervals, recovery runs (or easy runs), cross training, and more. They all promise to help you reach your goal, whether it is to finish the marathon or finish the marathon in a particular time.

It really does sound simple. But marathon training can get quite complicated. After you familiarize yourself with the laundry list of new vocabulary so you can translate accordingly (VO2 max, say what?), you must pick from these extensive workouts and integrate them into your already-packed daily schedule. The "rest day" part is the easiest. It involves very little agenda manipulation. But the others take some real leg work to pull off (pun intended).

Even if you manage to schedule time to do a hill workout, where do you do it? You might be lucky enough to have rolling terrain in your neighborhood, or maybe a treadmill with incline adjustment. But how steep should the hill be? How long should it be? How fast should you run it? What about recovery?

Then there is speedwork, another seemingly necessary component. But there are so many types. Tempo runs? Intervals? Repeats? How far? How many? At what speed? Recovery? In my opinion, the answers to these questions depend on many variables. The first is the runner herself; her previous experience, her work/life commitments, her fitness level, her available time devoted to a workout, her goals (short term and long term), the weather, her injury status, whether she prefers wearing shorts or a skirt--I kid ;) The list goes on. Then there is the particular marathon being trained for. When does it take place--spring, summer, fall, winter? Where is it--hill country, the plains, Antarctica? Urban or rural? Domestic or international? Big or small? You get the picture.

And then there is the vast web of running-related accouterments (if you will) that accompany the training program. There is the "basic" gear--footwear, apparel, socks, underwear, sunglasses, visors, watches, garmins, ipods, sunscreen, body glide, fuel belts, ID bracelets, heart-rate monitors, etc. Then there is nutrition--food!, water!, gels, blocks, shots, beans, bars, sports drinks, caffeine, decaf, high glycemic, low glycemic, electrolytes, etc. Rounding out the list is injury prevention and treatment paraphernalia--knee braces, ankle braces, insert-body-part-here braces, orthotics, inserts, bandaids, foam rollers, thera-bands, cold packs, heat packs, omg these lists are eternal!

And everybody's got an opinion. Stretch before. No, stretch after. Stretch before and after. Drink plenty of water. Don't drink too much water. Drink before you run. Drink during your run. Drink after your run. Drink sports drink. Eat carbs. Eat protein. Eat carbs and protein. Get enough sleep (what does "enough" mean?!?) Run hard. Push yourself. Don't overtrain. Take it easy. Run one twenty miler. Run more than one twenty miler. Run at least three twenty milers. Train for sixteen weeks. Train for eighteen weeks. Only run three days a week. Calculate your runs in terms of miles. Calculate your runs in terms of minutes. Time your runs. Leave the watch at home. Monitor your heartrate. Run on the roads. Run on trails. Run on grass. Run on the treadmill. Vary the terrain (to avoid injury). Stick to one type of terrain (to avoid injury). Run easy. Run happy. Run (don't jog!). Just do it.

You get the idea. None of my observations about the intricacies of the marathon training phenomenon are complete (or even, arguably, accurate). It's tip of the iceberg, folks. I don't have the time or the desire (or a publishing contract) to go that deep. But how is it that marathon running got so complicated for the amateur runner? (Elites are a whole different story...) Perhaps it is because complication can sometimes give the illusion of authority and expertise, which makes something seem impressive and worthy of high regard. By this reasoning, the more complicated the program--preferably littered with lots of technical jargon--the better the results. Or something like that.

All of these musings originated from my Yasso 800 workout this morning. Before I set out to run them, I read a few (conflicting) articles about the workout. There were basically three schools of thought: those who support them (Bart and co.), those who question them, and those who are confused about their value when it comes to marathon training. I think these three reactions can be applied to any workout designed to be a part of marathon training. It's up to the individual runner to pick the ones that will suit his/her purposes. That's the hard part. Once you've chosen, it becomes simple, right?

Obviously, there is no sure-fire way to predict a marathon finishing time. There are soooooooooooo many variables that affect a runner's performance on race day (I'd list 'em, but they can mostly be found above). And I really don't do Yasso 800s because I think they will lead to a sub-four hour marathon. I do them because they work for me. And while I realize that there might be "better" workouts out there, I also wonder what"better" means anyway. Better than what? Better for whom? When it all comes down to it, successful marathon running is somewhat of a crap shoot. The simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other has become so complicated that nobody really knows anything anymore. I believe there are decent guidelines out there for runners; after all somebody did a lot of research to come up with all those workouts, methods, and programs. But if you let yourself get all caught up in the theories, philosophies, rhetoric, trends, etc. surrounding marathon training, you are likely to find yourself more confused than ever. Keeping it simple might be the most complicated thing possible. But that's what I am setting out to do.

And training will continue to serve as a springboard for self-determined desired outcomes. Yes, I want to run a marathon in under four hours. But only to the extent that doing so will keep the pros ahead of the cons. Perhaps I am kidding myself by thinking that I can enjoy myself and improve. But the simplest thing I can do is try.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

There's a green one, and a pink one, and a blue one, and a YELLOW one...

Talking about bibs, yo. So many colors. And I ended up with a yellow one for today's Run for Central Park. Yellow is a step above green; third behind blue and red. Again, it was totally unnecessary for a bib of such high caliber...

Here's a bit of background on how I came to run the worst 4 miler ever. It started with the decision to combine my long run with today's points race. This totally jives with my multi-tasking mentality. You know, the integrated curriculum. The unfortunate thing is that today was a hot one. At 6:30 this morning, temps were already near 80. But I headed out anyway with my plan to frontload with 11 miles.

Running along the Hudson before sunup was pretty cool (not literally). Only a few dog-walkers and cyclists dotted the path, and I had an unobstructed view of the boats. The first 6-7 miles were without incident. Then the thirst began. I carried a half-bottle of Gatorade, but the sun warmed it to an unappealing temperature. There's a reason Gatorade is meant to be served chilled. Also, I made a slight error while executing my route; I missed my designated turn-around due to a late check-out from la-la land and had to tack on some additional distance. In the end it wasn't much, but it was enough to make me worry about a punctual arrival to the "race" I would essentially have no energy to run afterward.

After running for an hour and forty-three minutes, I arrived at the start. The farthest thing from my mind was actually running more miles. I mostly wanted an ice bath and some watermelon. But, I deliriously reasoned with myself, what's four more miles? The answer to that question depends on how many miles are run beforehand. Four miles following eleven is a bit more taxing than when they stand alone. Though after 22.2 miles, four miles seem even longer. (Reminds me of another math activity I did with the fourthers... Question: When is "four miles" a long way? Answer: ummm, today)

Here are some sad splits:
Mile One: 9:27
Mile Two: 9:38 (walking and wall hittage)
Mile Three: 12:08 (had to walk some more)
Mile Four: 10:02 (slugging my way to the finish)

After the race, let's just say many things hurt. Walking upright in a straight line was a bit of a challenge. A cane would have been nice. It's amazing how crappy I felt after the 15 miler. Last week's 14 were tiring but not downright draining.

On the bright side, I think I may have found a perfect post-long run summer treat (besides watermelon): chocolate soy milk . This key is to pour it over ice in a cup with a lid and drink out of a straw. Tonight, I think I'll have something a little stronger...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Hills

I questioned my sanity when my alarm went off this morning in the sixes. After all, it is summer, and I can get up when I please. But, after all, it is summer, and the heat waits for no one. This morning's plan was to try the workout from Tuesday's speedwork, which I did not attend but heard about. It involved three repeats of Harlem Hill. Starting on the east transverse, run counter-clockwise to the west transverse. Rest three minutes. Run back clockwise. Rest three minutes. Run back for the last time. Stop on the west transverse. Rejoice.

Despite how short it sounds, each hill repeat is about 1.15 miles. The terrain is rolling, so there is some downhill, but the uphills are intense. I tried to run hard, but the remnants of last night's Nyquil nightcap were slowing my motions. This, in addition to the heat and humidity, made for heavy legs and difficult breathing. From transverse to transverse, here are my splits:

1. 8:48 (about 7:40/mile)
2. 9:39 (about 8:23/mile)
3. 9:23 (about 8:09/mile)

Supposedly, going clockwise--the second one-- is harder; the downhill is flanked by two uphills. And my excuse for the third one was fatigue. But it's over now. And I celebrated with a soy latte.

Earlier this week I did some cycling; 18 miles in the park. There was also a gym visit to strengthen/stretch and all that hoopla. And a seven mile filler on Tuesday.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The best laid plans...

...are typically damned to hell if they, in any way, involve the MTA...

Case in point: Yesterday was to be my first real long run. And I was to run it with some Flyers up in VC park. To get there, I needed to take a subway train. Just the one. No evil transfers or anything. How easy is that? So I waited on the platform, watching the workers improve the conditions of the other track until the train came...25 minutes later. I hopped on, realizing that I'd probably be late to meet the group. And then the train did something that we've all come to know and hate. It announced the next stop (good, good) and then it went all express on me. It took me to a spot that would have required backtracking (ie. going back to square one) or a long walk (up a hill, no less) to get to the nearest stop on the local track. Neither option would get me there in time. So I cut my losses and started on my long run solo.

In retrospect, this was probably the best thing that could've happened. I've been sick since Tuesday--I blame the airplane--and my constant coughing interferes with quality conversation. Also, frequent farmer's blows necessary to keep my airway clear could potentially be seen as offensive (or at very least, unappealing). The 14 miler went well. My conservative pace provided reassurance and allowed me to leisurely gaze at boats on the Hudson (there are so many boats!!) There was a heat factor, but not a huge, nasty one. Just a moderate one with a breeze.

The best part of this first long run was the absence of irregular pain; nothing other than the usual fatigue that sets in during the last 2-3 miles of a long run. In other words, the knee cooperated. But I will return to my mantra of this year's marathon training: one run at a time. I refuse to think ahead to future training runs or rejoice too much over this minor accomplishment. The knee has been known to stir up trouble just when I least expect it (and also when I totally expect it). So it is not to be trusted...

In addition to long runs, I like to pepper my training regime with yasso 800s. I've explained 'em before, but the gist is this: If you want to run a 3:56 marathon (I do! I do!), you would run each 800 in 3 minutes and 56 seconds. Then recovery jog for the same amount of time (3 minutes, 56 seconds) and do another 800. Eventually, you will do up to 12 of these, which is a very fun workout (the time I did 12 yassos precedes my blog, so I have no link to illustrate just how fun this can be...). Mostly, it's a mental challenge, just like the marathon. But it also provides a pretty solid physical workout. Thursday, I did six of them at 3:56. With the warm up and cool down, plus all the recovery distance, the run ended up being 6.5 miles.

Marathon Training Week One: 25.5 miles (Let it be known that the previous week came to 33.)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Wild Wild West

Marathon Training has officially begun! I kicked it off in the state of California over the Fourth of July weekend. Here are the gory details.

My first training run took place the morning of the fourth. Being on west coast time gave me the luxury of sleeping in, drinking my first of many fabulous lattes, and indulging in a gourmet breakfast. Pictured below is the hopeful group: my friend, L, my brother-in-law, RC, and Peanut, a (Siberian) Pharaoh Hound*
Statistics and Things to Know about Run Number One:
  • Set in Almaden Lake Park, this run consisted of gentle trails and flat terrain
  • Peanut set the pace
  • The sun was in full force but the air was dry (imagine that! in July!) and the cool breeze was refreshing
  • Four miles or so into this run, one party (ahem) experienced crippling stomach issues enough to kill a perfectly decent run
  • Forced to walk, we headed back toward the park
  • Eventually, the stomach issues subsided and the run continued
  • Total distance: 5 miles
  • Total time: 46 minutes
  • I'd prefer to think of this run as a formality; a ceremonial run signifying the shift from recreational runner to marathon trainee

Statistics and Things to Know about the events taking place after Run Number One:
  1. We did drink their twenty-something year old scotch (and sampled Johnny Walker Blue, Drambuie, French Schnapps, and some other tasty concoctions, names of which escape me--oh, and a jello shot).
  2. We have yet to swim in their pool and eat their pizza.
  3. Watch out for wolf scat. Apparently, it's prevalent in the hills.
  4. "Fire in the Hills"
  5. I had a wine glass in my hand about 80% of the time.
Now normally, it is not recommended to go wine tasting the day before a long run. But then again, I do not always do what is recommended. So the day after sampling some (a lot of) superior California wines (capped off with a couple bottles of wine, naturally), I embarked on Long Run number uno.

Statistics and Things to Know about Long Run Number One:
  • Set in Rancho San Antonio Park; specifically the PG&E trail
  • Participating runners: my friend, L, and yours truly (Peanut stayed home and was most likely napping)
  • I had been briefed on the hills, ("It's hilly," said L) but I did not expect precipitous mountains...
  • Though I have yet to find accurate statistics on this trail, L says it was a 1000 foot climb, and I've seen statements saying that this trail is a total of 2400 feet in elevation
  • Either way, the first part of this run put the Goal Trail to shame--the Goat Trail might have been comparable to the warm up
  • The run originated in the parking lot, and we ran about 2 miles to the trail head
  • The next 4-5 miles were the most challenging EVER--it was one long, intense, STEEP climb after another--a visual does not do it justice but here is a taste:
(It helps if you understand that when you reach the top of the hill, it turns and there is another one of them--only longer and steeper. And, no, I am not kidding. And this happens four or five times throughout the PG&E trail.)

  • Undeniably humbled, I walked quite a bit--bent at a 45 degree angle to keep from tumbling down the hills (a la Jill), but ran as much as I could
  • Once at the top, (about 50 excruciating minutes later), we were treated to a view of the entire state of California (I exaggerate some)

  • Let it be known that not one single person we passed on that ascent was running; everyone else was hiking
  • The second part was a welcome downhill--all the way back to the parking lot. My quads were toast at this point and my lower back was screaming for mercy.
  • Total mileage: 10 miles
    Total time: 1hr50 (includes time spent walking)

And just what compensation did I get for completing this wicked first long run? In addition to a stack of wheat germ pancakes (ironically, this was deemed a "pancake run," meaning a run that warrants a pancake breakfast due to its length, difficulty, or combination of both), Peanut welcomed me home and endorsed my accomplishments.

Quads are still a bit of a mess today, but I ironed them out on a five miler today to the gym. After some lifting and stretching, they are still slightly on the mend. Let the training continue!

* There is no evidence supporting or refuting Peanut's classification as a Pharaoh Hound.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Tomorrow marks the end of a year full of injury-free running! Last year on July 4, I was given the go-ahead to take my knee and all its glory out on the roads again. I've spent the past twelve months trying to get back to a respectable runner status. This has included (but was not limited to) stretching, strengthening, icing, resting, pill-popping (umm, vitamin I), and strict adherence to the 10% rule (well, maybe not strict adherence--more like when the mathematics worked out). And now I am flirting with a 30 mile week and killer hip flexors.

Tomorrow is also my official start of marathon training--nyc '08! July fourth, known to Americans as Independence Day, also commemorates my independence from sidelining knee injuries. It doesn't matter that tomorrow is a Friday; the day of the week is irrelevant for my purposes.

To close out the pre-season, I ran eight miles last night with the Flyers. Thanks for the company! Tuesday was a 12 mile bike ride (love that bike!) and yoga. And today was a gym visit for lots of stretching, PT exercises, and some lifting.

Since I will be watching the fireworks out west, my first two training runs will be on unfamiliar California roads (and trails!) As a bonus, I will get to run them with a member of TS, my college running group, who is also training for nyc. Can't wait!

Happy Fourth!

*Skylight--had to borrow your tagline. Hope you don't mind....course you will probably threaten to sue, in which case I will have to contact my lawyer... ;)