Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Quote of the day

"If at first you don't suceed, you can always become an ultramarathoner" Bruce Fordyce

Apologies to Alyssa - but, that one was too funny to pass up. Fordyce is one of the most decorated ultramarathoners - having won the famous Comrades Marathon (90 km) 8 years in a row.

It made me think about how one becomes a distance runner in general. I was cut from my middle school baseball team in 7th grade - a friend of mine convinced me to run on the track team. Baseball was my favorite sport to watch - the Detroit Tigers won the World Series when I was seven years old - at that age it leaves an impression. But, I couldn't hit a baseball - that seventh grade year was when reality finally hit me.

I played soccer throughout grade school - I think I was actually pretty good - but, I wasn't into it enough to stand out. In basketball I just barely made the "A" team my 8th grade year - I also played volleyball and wrestled my 8th grade year. I was marginally good in all those sports except for wrestling - where I sucked. But, in 8th grade I ended up winning the mile in the Ann Arbor city wide meet in 5:08. That success pretty much sealed what I would do in high school and college.

In college I found that I needed to go all the way up to running 10k on the track (26 laps) before I could win anything. The odd thing about post-collegiate running is that the marathon is king - and it's not my race. Using my 10k time from college I should be able to run about 16 minutes faster than my PR in the marathon. Even if I had started training for the marathon right after college at 22 years old - I don't think I could have run that fast. My body just isn't made for it. So, what am I doing training this hard for something that's not really "my thing"?

For one - the major marathons are incredible events. People from all walks of life want to be a part of them - people will scream their heads of for hours on end for complete strangers. It can be transformative for people who never thought of themselves as athletes and yet find the way to finish one. As a runner, you are used to racing in front of family and friends - but, the New York or Boston marathon gives you the chance to be a part of a major sporting event. You can find 10k's or half-marathons with thousands of people - but, it's not the same.

After a few more marathons I'll probably focus more on 5k's to half-marathon's because that's where I could probably be the most successful. But, while I'm still at an age that I can run a decent marathon - I want to see what I can do. I'll never run a 5k or 10k faster than what I did in college - but, I can easily PR in the marathon. The question is how much?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Phase Two: Week 4 of 5

I had a few rough patches this week - but, I'm feeling pretty good overall. I'm feeling strong at the end of my long runs - and I'm recovering well off of my easy days. Since I ran my long run on Sunday last week and Saturday this week I actually had a 7-day stretch where I reached 92 miles. At 88 miles next week will be my longest "standard" week since the fall of 2007. Since more than half of those miles will be in Key West I'm actually looking forward to it : )

Last week
Monday: 7.5 miles
Tuesday Morning: 10 miles- 4 mi warmup 4 miles threshold pace 22:20 5:43 (might have pushed mile marker out too far) 5:26 5:35 5:35 2 mi warmdown
Tuesday Evening: 4 mi easy
Wednesday: 13.5 miles
Thursday: 7 miles
Friday: 12 miles hills
Saturday: 19.5 miles
Sunday: 7.5 miles
Total: 81 miles

This week
Monday morning: 4 miles
Monday evening: 10 miles
Tuesday: 8 miles
Wednesday morning: 4 miles
Wednesday evening: 10 miles with 5 mi @ T pace (~5:35)
Thursday: 10 miles
Friday: 14 miles 10X100
Saturday: 7 miles
Sunday: 21 miles
Total: 88 miles

Friday, December 26, 2008

The seven deadly sins and running

As I was questioning why I was leaving my warm bed this morning at 6:20am for the icy roads of Ann Arbor, I decided to snap a picture of my parents' street to put on the blog. As soon as I had taken the shot the answer came; pride. I have to admit that's a major reason why I put myself through what many people would describe as torture. Although I wasn't raised Catholic, like my wife, I did have a fare amount of German Lutheran guilt as a child. I decided to think about what other of the seven deadly sins might be important factors in motivating me to run well in some way.

Sloth - This might seem the antithesis of most type-A runners. But, I think that a certain sloth like personality when you're away from running is important. If you have the go-go-go mentality then you'll probably not get the proper rest that you need.

Envy - Come on, admit it. If you're a runner there is another runner who you envy in terms of their pure talent or work ethic or ability to recover. Although we might say "running is a competition against the clock" there is always somebody who we'd love to knock down a level because we envy what they can do.

Glutonny - For the most part I think you need to have the appetite of rabbit to be a good runner. As Frank Shorter would say "the hungry wolf leads the pack" - but, from time to time it's good to be a glutton as a runner. Romans who visted the vomitoriums would not be uncomfortable at the pre-race pasta meal.

Lust - As with music many people get into sports to impress members of the opposite sex. Even as a married guy, lust plays a part in motivating my running. There are enough things that I screw-up on that it's good to have something that Kendra thinks is impressive about me. Like power - doing something well can be a great aphrodesiac.

Greed - For most runners this doesn't apply directly to money - but rather place. Wanting first place all for one's self might be thought as a type of greed - for some it is the most important sin to have in terms of being a good runner.

Wrath - This is probably the least connected to running - but, I guess it can be thought of as a certain form of the competitive mind-set. This is probably related to greed and envy - as it's usually better runners who usually beat me for whom I reserve my wrath.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I don't want this blog to be a constant stream of whining and complaining. But, I think it is worthwhile to note when I've reached a red line and how my body is reacting to training now vs a few months from now. I had a hard time getting in my easy four miler last night and an even harder time with my medium long run this morning. My legs aren't completely trashed - but, they're feeling "dead". My whole body feels fatigued - and I just feel "out of it".

I think it's from a combination of factors. This will be my first week over 80 miles in awhile. I notice that I can recover pretty well at about 75 miles per week - but, anything above that my body seems to protest. Also, I ran my tempo run yesterday a little too fast - especially when it was just two days after a 19 mile run. Tomorrow will be easy - but, Friday I'm planning to do a hill workout in Ann Arbor with my old running group and a long run on Saturday. I don't know how in shape they all are - but, I'm sure someone will push the pace.

Although next week will be another high-mileage week - I will get three easy days in a row on Sunday, Monday, & Tuesday. Plus I'm hoping that a few days of warmth in FLA will make running outside feel like not such a chore.

But, the number one thing I need to do is focus on recovery activities - including elavating my legs and cold whirlpools. And of course nutrition - but, realistically that probably won't get better until after the holidays.

Monday, December 22, 2008

First Loser

Here is an interesting project by a photographer named Sandy Nicholson. It's called 2nd:The Face of Defeat. It is a collection of photographs of people moments after they got second place in competitions from spelling bees to pillow fights to rock/paper/scissors.

Quote of the Day

One of my favorite books is River Horse, by William Least Heat-Moon. It recounts the author's trip from New York City to the mouth of the Columbia River in the Pacific Ocean - all by boat. He does have a few dozen miles of portage - but, most of the time he travels the rivers, lakes, and canals of America - which gives him plenty of time to talk about history, geography, and ecology. I think what interests me most about the book is how a voyage like this is a very strong metaphor for life - especially a voyage on such a flowing and ever-changing thing as a river.

This quote is from a part of the book where he is on the Missouri River in South Dakota.

"I thought how far I was from where and when this journey began, how I was so distant from that fellow passing for me twenty months ago, the one so eager to learn the secrets of river passage. Could he - the me of that moment - and I sit down together, he would want to know what I knew and absorb what I had experienced, and he would regard me enviously, just as I do those men who have returned from the moon. But there would be forever a difference between him and me: I went and he did not. He set the voyage in motion, but he could not take it. Just as I, who lay on the Dakota hill, could not know whether Nikawa would reach the Pacific, he could never see the outcome of his preparations, unless somewhere, on some far other side, time permits us to meet our past selves, all those we have been. Our physical components change every seven years, so our brains are continuously passing along memories to a stranger; who we have been is only a ghostly fellow traveler. As for me, what might I learn from him who laid out the voyage or from all those others I once was." . . .
"What a report I might deliver to them about where they have sent me! And how they could remind me of first kisses and death, the Haitian mountains at sunset and the Ozark hills at night. They could redraw the faded lines of the long map of my journey here, point out clearly where it was I took a road other than the one they intended, and they could tell me whether they liked that divagation or not, whether they found it a good one or rankly stupid. Were human memory total and perfect, perhaps I'd be only one person from start to finish, but forgetfulness cuts me off from who I've been so that hourly I am reborn. To twist Santyana's words, I who cannot fully remember my past am condemned to proceed without it."

The last sentence seems to say that our imperfect memory is somehow a limitation - but, he's really saying that the fading of memories allow us to change - which is not only positive, but it's necessary if we are to adapt and thrive in a world that is ever-changing.

To outsiders it might seem that running is about routine and familiarity. But, for me, running is addictive because it's about transformation. Whether it's a six-month marathon training cycle or an easy four miler - I run because I expect that the experience will change me - if not from who I am, than from who I might become. Thankfully, the painful memories of past marathons are only good enough to help me to change my methods - but, not so perfect to stop me from doing another one.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Phase Two: week 3 of 5

I changed up the titles for my weekly "This week and last week" posts. The numbering system didn't mean anything other than how many weeks I had been writing the blog - so, I'm using the phase and week of that phase for the titles. As a reminder, I'm using a five phase approach to train for Boston - with each phase lasting five weeks - except for the last phase which will last four weeks. For those of you wondering how this relates to Pfitzinger's or Daniels' four phase/mesocycle approach - my 3rd phase is basically the transition from phase/mesocycle two to three. Each of my phases is made up of four weeks of building up mileage/intensity and one week of "recovery" level mileage. For example the mileage progression for my current phase is 73, 77, 81, 88, 66.

Last week wasn't a perfect week. Although I made it out to the track on Tuesday for a decent workout - I didn't do hills on Friday because it was miserable outside and I was weak. The long run went pretty well today. The next few weeks will test my legs - 81 miles next week and 88 the week after. I'll also be running in some very different conditions. We're heading to Ann Arbor for Christmas where they just had 9 inches of snow - then we are headed to Key West on New Years Day where it should be in at least the mid-70's most days. Rough - I know.

Last week
Monday: 7 miles
Tuesday Morning: 9 miles- 5X1200 3:50-3:54 3 min rest
Tuesday Evening: 4 mi easy
Wednesday: 13 miles
Thursday: 8.5 miles
Friday: 10 miles
Saturday: 6.5 miles
Sunday: 19 miles
Total: 77 miles

This week
Monday: 7.5 miles
Tuesday Morning: 10 miles- 4 miles threshold pace (~5:35 per mile)
Tuesday Evening: 4 mi easy
Wednesday: 14 miles
Thursday: 7 miles
Friday: 12 miles hills
Saturday: 6.5 miles
Sunday: 20 miles
Total: 81 miles

Friday, December 19, 2008

Clarence DeMar - "Mr. de Marathon"

I might be wrong - but, I'm guessing that no one reading this blog has heard of "Mr. de Marathon" before. The only reason I know anything about him is that he is in Noakes' book "Lore of Running." But, he won the Boston marathon a record 7 times and ran it 33 times - the last time at the age of 65. Some of the years he won had some soft times, but he ran a 2:18 in 1922 - no easy jog. DeMar only won the Boston marathon once during the ages of 22-33 because he had been told he had a heart problem and that as a strict Baptist he believed that the desire for "selfish victory" was immoral. So, maybe there is some hope for us "old men."
The one quote I found for him was "Run like hell and get the agony over with."
His training doesn't seem to have consisted of much quality work - it was mostly 100 mile weeks with 20 mile runs as his main run for the week. Speed work mostly came from 10 mile races.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My second marathon (Frankfurt), post-race in Milan and pumpkin bread recipe

A few weeks ago I posted some pictures of my time in Europe leading up to the Frankfurt Marathon in 2002. I did actually do some training in the last month - but, it was mostly on a stationary bike because I messed up my knee falling off a motor scooter in Italy. I had put in quite a bit of training that summer - and it was the same year as my first marathon in LA. So, I had some "hay in the barn." However, I felt some fear on the starting line. I worried about finishing more than getting a PR.

But, there were about 6-8 of my fellow exchange students who had taken the 45 minute train ride from Mannheim to watch (more support than I was used to at home) - so, the pressure was on to not completely embarrass myself. The weather was on my side - it was in the 50's and about mid-way through the race started to gently rain. The course was pancake flat. And as the miles started to flow by, my knee didn't hurt, I started passing people and gained confidence. I did look at my watch - but, I was much more focused on how my body felt, my breathing, and going after runners in front of me. The result? A better than six minute PR which still stands today.

The next day we got on a plane for Milan. Most of my friends were Norwegian - and their Rosenberg team was playing Inter-Milano in a Champions League game. They all had a good laugh as I had to walk downstairs backwards - but, it was worth it to see one of the great stadiums in European football. I knew that European soccer fans were rabid - but, I didn't quite understand until I arrived in the visitors section at San Siro.

All the visitors were forced to sit behind one of the goals (pic above with my friend Kjetil - pronounced like it's spelled). On either side of us were 20 foot high fences - so that the Inter fans couldn't get at us should Rosenberg actually have the balls to attempt to win the game.
After Inter's first goal (luckily for us they scored a lot that day) I saw what looked like small fires breaking out in the stadium. Apparently the fans wave road flares in celebration. Also, as the game went on there was a growing presence of police dressed in riot gear in our section. I was ready to get out of there when the game ended. But, they forced us to stay in our seats for 30 minutes until the entire stadium was empty. They walked us back to the buses and we got a police escort back to our hotel. Yankees/Sox ain't nothin'.
As a reward for all those who read through my ramblings below is my family recipe for pumpkin bread, which was a success at Arjun, Melissa, and Brennan's Thanksgiving on Saturday.
3 cups white granulated sugar
4 eggs
2/3 c. water
3 1/3 c. flour
1 c. cooking oil
2 c. pumpkin
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix as add ingredients. You'll need a fairly large mixing bowl.

Grease baking pans heavily. Makes enough for two loaves. Fill each pan about half way. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes until cooked through the center (use toothpicks to test for doneness).

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Phase Two: week 2 of 5

Way back in one of the first posts in this blog I said how important it was going to be to have a decent base and rest leading up to this last week. Well, I stayed on track and therefore my body handled the higher mileage and greater intensity pretty well this week. The long run was my hardest day - but, my legs actually felt decent on the run today. I'm headed to yoga tonight to push out all those toxins my body has been collecting all week. Next week I'll probably have my first track session - but, otherwise it will be pretty much a copy of last week.

Last week
Monday: 7 miles
Tuesday Morning: 10 miles- 3 mi easy 4 mi LT run (~5:35 pace) 3 mi easy
Tuesday Evening: 4 mi easy
Wednesday: 13 miles
Thursday: 4 miles
Friday: 9.5 miles hills
Saturday: 18 miles
Sunday: 8 miles
Total: 73.5 miles

This week
Monday: 6 miles
Tuesday Morning: 10 miles- 6X1200 ~3:50
Tuesday Evening: 4 mi easy
Wednesday: 13 miles
Thursday: 8 miles
Friday: 10 miles hills
Saturday: 7 miles
Sunday: 19 miles
Total: 77 miles

Friday, December 12, 2008


Hill workouts mean different things to different people. Pfitzinger writes about them in his section about resistence/weight training. He views hills as a way to strengthen the legs without using weights. Daniels agrees with this view to a point - but he also views hills as a rep workout in that it can greatly increase your heart rate over a shorter distance/slower speed than on a track.

For most people who have been on XC/track teams hills mean pain. Usually the name of the street where your coach had you do hill workouts can bring a chill to the spine many years later. At my high school we had "5th street." Our coach marked out 400 meter and 800 meter "options". University of Michigan has Harvard Street - which is shorter, but steeper. At Loyola in Chicago we were forced to go to a sledding hill in Evanston that had once been a dump - it was too short - so we did a LOT of them.

The worst thing about hill workouts is the last 25 meters when it feels like you're standing still, and yet your legs are burning and you feel like you might hyperventilate. But, they make you stronger.
In preperation for Boston I'm going to do hills on most weeks when I have just one other "hard" workout. I may even do some downhill training as I've heard that the Boston downhills near the end are more challenging on dead legs than you might think.
This morning was my first hill workout in Druid Hill Park (pic above). I tried to take it a little easy on myself - but, I still got a good burn going.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

LT workout, first double, and six words you don't want to hear on a run alone, at night, in Baltimore

I'm not going to detail every hard workout between now and Boston - but, I'll probably write at least one post on every type of run - how the experts suggest approaching it and how it worked out for me.

As I wrote in a post last week - lactate threshold is somewhat of a misnomer, but I'm going to use it for these kinds of workouts because everybody else does. Regardless of what you call it the point of these runs is to increase the percent of V02 max, and more importantly the pace, at which bad stuff like acidosis and reduced muscle contraction takes place. To do this most experts suggest running at 15k-half-marathon pace for 20-40 minutes. You can also do LT repeats (usually 1-2 miles) with short rest.

Daniels has a more exact way of determining LT pace by what he calls your V-DOT score (I'll get into that in another post). Using Daniels method and what I thought I was capable of currently running for a half-marathon, I thought 5:35 pace would be about right. But, LT runs you want to do more on feel than anything - it should be "comfortably hard" and you shouldn't have much muscle soreness during or after. You're not looking to smash the wall with a sledge hammer, but rather use the Andy Dufrain principle of "pressure and time."

Luckily I was able to find some other members of TWSS who didn't mind running a difficult workout at 7am this morning. Arjun, Brennan, Zero, and Eileen showed up on time and ready to go - unfortunately, I didn't leave myself enough time - so I was late. They were about a quarter mile into the run when we passed each other. So, I ran it alone - which wasn't really all that bad.

There isn't a whole lot to say about the workout. I may have run a little too fast in sections and too slow in others - but I ended up at 22:30 (~5:37 pace). So, not so bad.

Today was also my first double in awhile. I try to limit doubles - but, when you get around 70 miles a week it's hard to avoid them. I prefer to run doubles on days when I have a hard run - it helps to warm up the muscles and gives you a chance to run less miles on recovery days. Although usually I run easy in the morning and hard in the evening -but, today we ran hard in the morning to get a little daylight. I'm not going to kid you - it was tough getting out the door tonight. But, after about 10 minutes I felt a little less of the aches & pains. I think that it will overall help me recover from this morning.

As I was trying to pry myself off the couch - I made a choice about which 4 mile route I'd take. My "usual" 4 mile route goes north-west through Mt. Vernon to Bolton Hill to Reservoir Hill(between North Ave and Druid Hill Park) and back - my other route is down to Riverside Park in Fed Hill and back. I had never run my usual route at night - and Reservoir Hill is a little sketchy - but, I had run in Fed Hill this morning. Plus I reasoned that I always run on Monument between Johns Hopkins Hospital and the JFX expressway at night, which has a bad reputation, and never have any problems. Well, the difference is that Monument is very well traveled, exposed, and you see cops pretty frequently.

About 2 blocks north of North Ave. on Park Ave. I passed some kids on who were on the other side of the street. There was some commotion and I didn't really pay attention until I heard a kid clearly say "shoot the dumbass in the back." Now, he could have been talking about some other dumbass - but, I was the only dumbass in their immediate vicinity. Going to college in Chicago I have some street smarts (although obviously not enough to stay out of this neighborhood at night) which told me I should just keep looking ahead and run at the same pace. Look back and they might think you're confronting them - run away fast and they might think you have a reason to run. The point is to communicate "I'm just a guy going about my business - I'm not going to cause any trouble." They most definitely could have been screwing with me. But, I'm guessing that they were doing something illegal, didn't want to get caught, and so one of the kids said something they thought would scare me off. It worked and next time I need to run 4 miles at night I'll be running down to the Inner Harbor and Fed Hill.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Phase Two: week 1 of 5

Time to put some logs on the fire.

The last five weeks I've averaged 54 miles per week - the next five weeks I'm planning to average 77.5 miles per week. Plus, I'll be adding a LT workout and a hills workout each week. So, it will be a relatively major change to what my body has been handling lately. The basic structure of the next 5 weeks will be 4 relatively difficult days (LT workout, 90+ min run, Hills, 2+ hour run) and three recovery days (6-8 miles). My next day off will be January 8th. The good news is that my legs feel pretty lively and other than the normal aches and pains I'm pretty healthy.

This is a good a time to look at the overall structure of my plan for the next 19 weeks leading up to Boston. The next 15 weeks will be split into three 5-week cycles - 4 weeks of building mileage and/or intensity and one week of "recovery." The next cycle, starting on January 12th, I plan on averaging 86.5 miles per week adding some marathon paced runs and higher intensity LT runs. The last intense cycle, starting on February 16th, I'll run 90 miles per week with a tune-up half marathon at the end of that cycle. The last four-week cycle will include LT, marathon pace training and strides - with a significant taper the last two weeks.

Last week
Monday: 9 miles
Tuesday: 7 miles 8X150m strides
Wednesday: 11 miles
Thursday: 0 miles
Friday: 6 miles
Saturday: 17 miles
Sunday: 6 miles
Total: 56 miles

This week
Monday: 6 miles
Tuesday Morning: 10 miles- 3 mi easy 4 mi LT run (~5:35 pace) 3 mi easy
Tuesday Evening: 4 mi easy
Wednesday: 13 miles
Thursday: 6 miles
Friday: 11 miles hills
Saturday: 7 miles
Sunday: 18 miles
Total: 75 miles

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Quote for the day #2

I feel a little bad for that other quote, and I started volunteering one-on-one at a literacy center today - which made me think of an inspriational quote that actually does mean a lot to me. It's from Pema Chodron - a Shambala Buddhist monk/nun who has written some great books on being fully awake and living a compassionate life. This is one of those quotes that you need to read several times - and try to think of how it applies to your own life before it rings true.

"We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement. All these trips that we lay on ourselves-the heavy-duty fearing that we're bad and hoping that we're good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds-never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake." Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are

First, I think there is a lot to the idea that we are all Dorothy, wearing red shoes that can always get us home. That doesn't mean that we don't need to take some long trips to discover that fact - but, we already have everything we need within us right now. Also, I like the idea that we don't only cling to good feelings about ourselves - but, that many times we cling even more fevorishly to negative feelings about ourselves - because it somehow feels "comfortable."

We grow used to putting ourselve down in someway - and it's easier to maintain that view than to look at ourselves in a more positive way. Addictions aren't just to drugs - but more often feelings. And finally that all this negativity that we surround ourselves with is imperminent. It is as permiable as clouds - only the light of the sun is permenant and we only have to let the clouds disappate to experience the light that we all have within ourselves.

What does this have to do with running? Everything and nothing.


"Hopes and dreams are just hopes and dreams until you learn how to achieve them and grant yourself permission to aggresively implement what you've learned." - Marshall Burt

To read more of this thought leader's knowledge droppings go to this link.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lactate Threshold: What does it mean? Does it even exist?

Very early on in most runner's careers they hear how the build up of lactic acid causes them to run slower and feel sore. Well, it turns out that lactic acid isn't produced in exercise and that lactate, which is produced during exercise, doesn't cause any pain or soreness in our muscles (Noakes). In fact, lactate might be a good thing for us - we just don't know. That should show you how insanely complex our bodies are when you consider that in 2008 we don't entirely understand what happens when we propell ourselves forward.

However, both Daniels and Pfitzinger talk about lactate threshold as if it still means something. Why? Well, for one we seem to be able to predict race times most reliably based on the pace at which lactate starts accumilating more rapidly in the blood. Lactate accumilation is correlated with the build-up of hydrogen ions which lowers pH (acidosis). Hydrogen ions can also block the uptake of calcium - which restricts muscle contraction.

So, what does all this mean? Running around the "lactate threshold" (LT) point (usually 75-80% of V02 max or 15k-20k race pace) does seem to improve running ability. And runners with lactate thresholds at a higher percentage of V02 max race faster. The most popular LT workout is to run at LT pace for 20-40 minutes. Another LT workout is to run mile repeats at LT pace with 1-2 minutes rest.

So, a week from today when I run my first LT workout - I'll try to not confuse myself with the details and just run controlled and strong - because that's what I want to do on 4/20.