Friday, October 31, 2008

When ya gotta go

As a part of its series of articles leading up to the NYC marathon that talk about all things tangential to the actual race, emphasizing the odd customs and traditions of marathoners, the New York Times has published an article today on porta johns. Of course the main purpose of this article is to provide an opportunity to a NYT reporter to draw upon his ability to bring poetry to any topic - as in "Their mismatched colors create a snaking kaleidoscope through the parking lots and roadways of leafy Fort Wadsworth." It also provides an opportunity to remind readers that not only do these marathoners run themselves until they almost collapse - but, they are so focused on this challenge that normal rules of polite society in regards to relieving one's self in public are thrown out the window (or pissed off the bridge - depending on the prevailing winds).

For most experienced runners it's a tradition - my college coach used to call it "shaking the dew off the lilly pad." My friend and high school teammate Todd had a very nervous bladder. There were several times where he would be MIA minutes before a big race. The closest he came to missing a race was an indoor meet at Eastern Michigan our senior year. Todd had won three individual state championships by that time. The starter was Kermit Ambrose, a legend in michigan high school coaching - the meet was actually named after him. By the time we were in high school Kermit was 90+ and didn't seem to care much what people thought. He called Todd's name to line up - and when I said he was in the bathroom and that i'd check on him - annoyed, he said, "tell him if he shakes it more than twice he's doing something else."

At big races like NYC there is a certain strategy involved to finding the shortest lines. Runners are unexpectedly lazy. Sometimes you just need to venture out a few blocks to find a public restroom that is shockingly vacant. You also need to know the lay of the land - usually there is a clump of trees/bushes where you might be somewhat "exposed" - but, people usually look the other way.

As we were waiting for our friends to pass by at the Marine Corps marathon last weekend we witnessed a woman using the bushes method - the weird thing was that there was a row of unoccupied porta john's just on the other side of the road. Apparently some people just prefer nature.

The article brought up an instance where Paula Radcliffe popped a squat right to the side of the course en route to a victory at London. The article calls it "the most memorable moment in that race's history" - I hope the author isn't serious, but then again, it isn't all that often that you get to see someone drop their pants on live TV without paying for it.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

quote - running and sanity

"If any psychologist will take the trouble to trace out the history of each of our prominent pedestrians (long distance runners/walkers back in the day) he will discover that a very large proportion of them have been subject to some form of madness."
Sir Adolphe Abrahams (1961)

I had to look this up, but Abrahams was a doctor for the British Olympic team for several decades.

On the twss blog (the group I run with) someone posted a New York Times story that made training for a marathon look like more of a challenge for co-workers and spouses than for the runner. Now, they did manage to find some especially crazy runners, who I don't think qualify as the "typical" runner. One guy seemed to think it was more important to buy a $900 gadget to help him recover from long runs than to keep his family on a budget. The same guy (i think) also took his finishing medal to work the week after the race to show his already annoyed co-workers. A female runner used her commute as her training run - and then didn't shower for work.

So, are runners crazier than the average person? If so, is it because crazy people are attracted to running or is it because running develops a slightly eccentric perspective - or both? Most of the comments on the twss blog denied that runners were more self centered, selfish, or crazy than the general public. Most people thought that the crazy people the Times found were that way before they were runners - and would have been the same way regardless of whether they ever took up running. Another point made on the blog was that runners are just like any person who is obsessive about a sport or hobby. That's possible - but, I'm not sure it's healthy to be obsessed about anything.

Here is what I think based on my own experiences. Generally, I feel much better psychologically when I'm training for something. Part of it is probably the endorphins, part pride in accomplishing something unique, part of it is setting aside a part of my day for myself, part of it is the social connections through running (they might be crazy, but they're my kind of crazy), and part of it is just the positive feeling of being in shape.

But, there are traps that I fall into - sometimes my pride or competitiveness turn me into a bit of jerk. Many times I expect family and friends to modify their schedules to fit my training - luckily my wife seems to understand that it's important to me and so she doesn't take offense - but, that doesn't mean that it's a reasonable expectation. I can be very irratable and cranky before a big race - and sometimes after if things don't go well.

That being said - all in all - i think running is a very positive thing in my life. But, I know that balance is important. That's why I was a little ambivalent about starting this blog - I'm a little afraid that it's the "dark" side of running that's leading me to write it. So far, it's been fun and helped me to focus on what I want to do this winter - so, until i feel something different, I'll keep it up.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The beginning of modern training: Arthur Newton

A book I've mentioned before, Lore of Running, dedicates an entire chapter to the contributions of Arthur Newton, who raced in the 1920's and 30's. Newton was what we would call today an ultra-marathoner. He ran a large number of races between 60-100 miles - but, his ideas helped to modernize training for all distance runners. In Lore of Running, Tim Noakes identifies 9 "rules" of Newton's training that have have become "common sense" in long distance training.

1) Train frequently year-round: Before Newton most world class runners trained only part of the year - and not very strenuously by today's standards. In fact many books of the time suggested walking as good training.

2) Start Gradually and Train Gently: Since many runners didn't train all year long - they tried to get back into training too quickly. Newton praised the benefits of what we would now call long slow distance (LSD). Which Noakes defines as 20-25% slower than race pace.

3) Train first for distance (only later for speed): I would say that's the major feature of my training for Boston. I'll be doing quite a bit of distance before I ever hit the track.

4) Don't set a daily schedule: Well, I've kind of messed up on this one. My days are scheduled for the next 25 weeks. However, I know I need to be flexible. If something comes up or I'm too tired or the weather is crazy on a "quality" day - I have no problem postponing the workout.

5) Don't race when you are training, and run time trials and races longer than 16 km only infrequently: This basically relates to the idea of "periodization" discussed earlier. Set aside a good chunk of time that's just for training - not racing. Now, his idea of "infrequently" is a little different than mine. He suggested that marathoners should not race more frequently than every two months - running a marathon about every 2 years is enough for me!

6) Specialize: Noakes interprets this as make sure that you train for a specific distance. Training for a 5k is very different than training for a marathon. Another way to think about it is to concentrate on the distance that you are most talented at - although, i'll admit that if that was the case I'd never run a marathon.

7) Don't overtrain: This is a pretty simple one - of course it's sometimes hard to tell when you've crossed the line. Marathon training is so difficult that simply being tired might not be a sign to ease up your training. But, on the other hand, you can't ignore what you're body is telling you. If your pace is way off in workouts - or you're getting sick constantly you should probably back off.

8) Train the mind: People probably don't appreciate the importance of training your mind to overcome pain. Many runners who don't start until they are adults train at the same pace that they race. Of course, part of that is they are not necessarily competing - but, another part of it is that their minds are used to pushing their bodies as hard as someone who has been competing since they were a kid.

9) Rest before the race: As I said before, the taper is very important. Noakes argues that no other running writer seems to have said anything about tapering before Newton. In fact, many would run time trials just days before big competitions.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Recovery week 3 of 3

First of all - congrats to Jeff, Kris, David, and Alyssa! Everybody did a great job today in the Marine Corps Marathon. Watching all the people come in at mile 25 though reminded me of the pain of the marathon. With all the aches, cramps, etc you basically feel sick - and you just want it to stop.

This week is a slight increase in mileage as I'm still in my "recovery" phase of training. I'm going to try to get in at least two sessions of yoga and two weight sessions this week as well.

Last week
Monday: 6 miles
Tuesday: 0 miles
Wednesday: 5 miles
Thursday: 0 miles
Friday: 10 miles
Saturday: 5 miles
Sunday: 4 miles
Total: 30 miles

This week
Monday: 6 miles
Tuesday: 0 miles
Wednesday: 6 miles
Thursday: 0 miles
Friday: 8 miles
Saturday: 6 miles
Sunday: 10 miles
Total: 36 miles

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Periodization by mesocycles

Don’t fall off your seats folks - I know this sounds exciting. Periodization is basically the concept that to run our best we need to have different types of training throughout the year (including rest). Both Pfitzinger (Advanced Marathoning) and Daniels (Daniels’ Running Formula) prefer 24 week “macro cycles” to best prepare for a goal race. Both authors break the 24 weeks down into 4 training mesocycles (Pfitzinger’s term) or phases (Daniels’ term). This is not completely ground breaking - everyone who has run on a track or cross country team has trained using some version of these cycles. I’m going to quickly summarize each of these cycles today - at some later date I’ll go into each one in more depth.

Phase one is simply running “easy” mileage to build an aerobic base. This base building is important so that you can increase mileage without increasing intensity. There are many benefits to easy running on the cardiovascular system and even a cellular level. I might do some strides during this phase as well, which helps with running economy.

Phase two introduces some quality training - but not too much and not too intense. Along with some threshold workouts, I’ll include strides after an easy run and hills.

Phase three is the most intense phase. It includes both intervals and threshold runs - as well as more marathon pace runs (if that’s your goal race). The goal is to stress the systems that will be tested in your goal race enough to strengthen them - without getting injured or burned out. It is this thin line that you have to play with - you have to really listen to your body and focus on hydration and nutrition to ensure that you are replacing the liquids, carbs, protein, and vitamins/minerals that your body is using at a high rate. There might be some racing during this phase as well.

Phase four is the last phase of quality training. You want this to be as specific to the event as possible. If your goal race is hilly than you want to train over hills - if it’s going to be warm then you want to train in the heat. This phase also includes the taper in the few weeks before the race. This is critical because your body is able to recover from the training without losing much fitness. Tapering is a tricky balance as well - but, usually it’s best to error on the side of too much rest. My PR marathon came after I hurt my knee a month before the marathon and mostly used a stationary bike for training. Rest is much more important that most people realize.

Speaking of rest - there is a rest phase, which I’m in the middle of right now. Rest doesn’t have to mean no running whatsoever - but, it does mean a major reduction in mileage and no hard running. The transition between my rest phase and phase one will be gradual - but, the basic length of each phase is as follows:

Rest phase: 4 weeks
Phase one: 4 weeks
Phase two: 5 weeks
Phase three: 9 weeks
Phase four: 5 weeks

So, it’s basically a 27 week plan with 23 weeks for the four main phases.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Recovery week 2 of 3

Last week was the lowest weekly total I have planned until after Boston. It's good to have some time off - but, I feel a little rudderless. I guess I just need to enjoy it and let my body rest.

Last week:
Monday: 0 miles
Tuesday: 0 miles
Wednesday: 4 miles
Thursday: 0 miles
Friday: 5 miles
Saturday: 0 miles
Sunday: 7 miles
Total: 16 miles

This week:
Monday: 6 miles
Tuesday: 0 miles
Wednesday: 5 miles
Thursday: 0 miles
Friday: 5 miles
Saturday: 4 miles
Sunday: 10 miles
Total: 30 miles


If you would have asked me a few years ago about yoga - I would have said that it was a fad workout for people who don't want to "really" work out. Well - I was wrong. Kendra started me on yoga while we were dating - although I didn't start going regularly until this summer.

Here are the reasons that it's good for a runner to do yoga.

1) It's a full body workout. There are plenty of muscles that are not used while running. Overtime that can make you more susceptible to injuries. During a challenging yoga session you work pretty much every muscle group in your body.

2) It's a balance of strength and stretching. Heavy miles can make muscles shorter and less elastic. Yoga helps to keep muscles flexible - which again can help to prevent injuries.

3) Yoga helps the body rid itself of toxins. I'm not an expert here - but, some of the poses are supposed to help to force toxins out of your organs and muscles. "Hot" versions of yoga help with this even more because you are sweating constantly.

4) Focus on posture and breathing. When I'm running my best my mind usually flows between two thoughts - making sure that my breathing is full and relaxed - and making sure that my body is relaxed, upright, and that my stride is in a good rhythm (not too short or too long). Yoga is the same way - making sure that you are breathing correctly and that the postures are strong, but relaxed.

5) Being in the moment. Yoga helps to train the mind to focus on the moment rather than what happened earlier in the day or last week - or what you have to do tomorrow. It's hard to race well if you're stressing about something else.

6) It doesn't disrupt training. I've done 90 minute hot yoga sessions the same day as 2 hour runs. It's challenging, but you can still do the yoga - and it helps to flush out all the bad stuff you built up during the run.

Well - I'd write more - but, I gotta get running to the sunday night community yoga class at Charm City!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Quote - Zatopek

"We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon." Emil Zatopek

Zatopek was one who liked experiences and winning. In the 1952 Olympics he won both the 5,000 and 10,000m golds - and at the last minute he decided to run his first marathon as well. He got the gold medal in that too. As great as Bekele is - there is no way he could have won all three in Beijing. Part of that is how competitive all these races are these days - but, part of it is how incredible an accomplishment it was by Zatopek.

I'm not sure I completely trust his quote - because most of us who competed on any level ran long distance because we weren't fast enough for a more "sane" distance. But, the quote does illustrate why you have thousands of people lining up to run marathons - not 100 meter sprints. We are all looking for a unique experience. Something that is challenging and maybe even a little dangerous.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My first marathon

I was two weeks short of my 25th birthday on a bright March day in Los Angeles when I ran my first marathon. I was long in confidence and short in experience. I thought that running 25 laps in college on the track meant that I was tough enough for anything. I was wrong.

The first hitch wasn't really my fault. Somebody called in a bomb threat - so, I stood around with 20,000+ people as the sun steadily warmed the air for 45 minutes. I probably should have taken that as a sign that someone was telling me to reconsider my plans for the race - that maybe I should take it easy, given that I hadn't really run over 16 miles during training.

Once the gun went off I felt the exhilaration of running with thousands of people. I was only a few years out of college - and I hadn't really run a race with this many people. There is a release of energy that occurs at the start of a race this large - unfortunately I would need that energy later.

In the first few miles I just floated along - we started to enter South Central LA and I can remember slapping hands with kids - thinking how easy it was. Then I saw the lead female pack - I moved up to them pretty easily and then stayed in the pack for a little while. It was fun to think I might be on TV. Then for some reason I decided they were going too slowly - so, I opened up a gap on them. This was at about 10 miles and I still felt great.

Things changed soon - at around 14 miles I remember coming up over a rise from a bridge. I spit to my left only to realize that I had spit on the lead woman - who was overtaking me. I mumbled an apology - but, all I was thinking about is "I'm starting to hurt and I still have 12 miles to go - crap."

The wheels really started coming off around mile 16. I was completely overheated. The temp was around 70 degrees and the California sun was relentless. I don't remember what my water stop strategy was - but, I think it was probably the potentially life threatening "drink when you're thirsty."

I remember finally seeing a water stop like an oasis in the desert around mile 17. I was so thirsty that I stopped completely - I drank water and poured it all over myself for several minutes. I heard sirens in the distance - I was sure they were coming for me.

When I started up again I realized that stopping probably wasn't the best idea. Most of the muscles that I need for forward locomotion were completely cramped up. It was like learning to run all over again. My brain knew what my legs should do - but, they had other ideas.

There was one thought that kept spooling around in my head - "I really want to quit - but, I don't know how else to get to the finish line."

A few other memories stand out in my head - trying and failing to catch a guy who looked like he was pushing 200lbs; saluting an American flag (which was rather uncharacteristic of me); and generally cursing my own existence. It's amazing how quickly one can go from slapping hands with strangers - to feeling like a cripple. That's what the marathon does to you.

I finally did finish. Thank goodness that my parents were there - my mom had agreed to drive me back to San Diego. I'm glad she did - because I was in the back seat curled up in the fetal position for the 2 hours back to SD.

So, again - why am I doing this?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Recovery week 1 of 3

As I was watching the Chicago marathon online this morning - there was a small part of me that thought maybe it might be "fun" to jump in the Marine Corps marathon in a few weeks. Falls Road has at least one free race number. But, I quickly regained my senses - the next few weeks should be all about rest. Soon enough I'll be running long miles - and putting in a marathon - no matter what the pace is not a good idea right now.

The Baltimore half was a little brutal yesterday. I placed well (4th dude) - but, it was a little slower than I had hoped (1:14:44). But, those hills are no joke - and I was basically alone (other than passing marathoners) for 11 of 13 miles. I'm not too sore today - but, I'm glad that next week will be basically off. I'm ready for the break mentally and physically. I'm going to do some more weight training and yoga in the next few weeks - so, even if I'm not running much I'll have some physical activity.

Last Week
Monday: 8 miles
Tuesday: 4 miles morning; 2 mi warmup 4X1200 ~4:00 per - 8 miles
Wednesday: 0 miles
Thursday: 7 miles 8X100
Friday: 4 miles
Saturday: Baltimore half-marathon 1:14:44; 15 miles total
Sunday: 0 miles
Total: 46 miles

This week
Monday: 0 miles
Tuesday: 0 miles
Wednesday: 4 miles
Thursday: 0 miles
Friday: 5 miles
Saturday: 0 miles
Sunday: 7 miles
Total: 16 miles

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The cruel hand (foot) of fate

I was in my hometown of Ann Arbor this last weekend. I don’t get home much other than the holidays or a wedding/funeral - and then usually not for long. So, I tried to see as many people as possible. One friend who I was looking forward to seeing was my old high school friend Todd Snyder - not only because of his new six-week old girl, or because we don’t talk to each other as regularly as we should - but, because he was going to run the Chicago marathon next week - and I’d heard through the grapevine that his training with the Hanson’s was going incredibly well. The rumor was that he had been training for a 2:13 marathon. That’s pretty much within spitting distance of the Olympic team.

So, after making the obligatory comment on his new born (actually she is very cute of course) I asked him about whether the rumors were true. He said that training had been going great until last week - when he some pain that had been developing in his foot got so bad he couldn’t run. They hadn’t done a bone scan yet - but the doctor thought that it was a stress fracture of one of the bones in his foot. Todd was his usual positive self - saying that the training had given him a lot of confidence about what he could do in the future, but it had to hurt - to get so fit and then not be able to show it.

I have to admit that at first my disappointment was more about the fact that I was going to have to wait awhile before he was anointed as the next Brian Sell - and I got to brag about beating him in middle school. But, then it made me think how dedicated these Hanson guys are to run 130-140 miles a week - giving up their lives for several years to chase down a dream where so many things can go wrong. But, I guess the seemingly random cruelty of the marathon is, in a perverse way, what makes it alluring.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Last week of Baltimore Half-Marathon training

For the next 27 weeks I'm planning on posting a review of my training for the previous week and a preview for the coming week. Next Saturday I'm running the Baltimore Half-Marathon, which is my last race of the "season" - so, my mileage was down a little bit last week and will be even lower this week. I had one hard day last week (4X1600) - it was the first time I've run a sub-5:00 in a workout in awhile - so, that felt good.

Last Week
Monday: 9 miles
Tuesday: 4 miles morning
9 miles workout evening 4X1600 5:11; 5:04; 4:59; 4:55
Wednesday: 6 miles
Thursday: 4 miles (sick)
Friday: 8.5 miles
Saturday: 16 miles
Sunday: 0 miles
Total: 56.5 miles

Next Week
Monday: 7 miles
Tuesday 4 miles morning
8 miles workout evening 4-5X1200
Wednesday: 0 miles
Thursday: 8 miles 9X100
Friday: 4 miles
Saturday: Baltimore half-marathon; 17 miles with w-up & w-down
Sunday: 0 miles
Total: 48 miles

Friday, October 3, 2008

gods and mortals

Like Pheidippedes, most early distance runners were messengers. They were so important that even a god of Greek mythology, Hermes, was given the role of messenger. The need for messengers was mostly related to how bad the roads were in most parts of Europe. As any competitive person can imagine, races between messengers probably started with bragging by one or the other about their exploits. By the end of the 18th century the occupation of foot messenger had pretty much died out - but, foot races - especially in Britain went on.

The first races, in the 17th and 18th centuries, were usually sponsored by pubs. Like boxing, gambling, was the main draw for spectators. Also like boxing - the men who raced were mostly from the lower classes. However, by the mid-19th century schools as like Oxford and Cambridge were fielding cross-country teams - making it a "respectable" sport. However, there was a distinction between pro's who ran for money and amateurs who ran it for fun. This split is why the Olympics was only for amateurs at the beginning - they wanted the event to have a more "noble" atmosphere than could be found at most professional races. Given the doping issues that track has now - maybe they were on to something.

Most of this historical information I took from Lore of Running, by Tim Noakes, MD. At over 700 pages, it is the text book of running - as in, you wouldn't want to read the whole thing unless you were going to be tested on it.