Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: The Year in Reverse

By virtue of our use of a Gregorian calendar, we've reached an arbitrary point in time which causes countless people and organization to publish lists reviewing everything significant and not-so-significant since the last arbitrary point in time.  You know, things like "Top 10 Uses of Canned Foods in 2010", or "The 10 Worst Ways to Stub Your Toe in 2010".  I don't have a "Top 10" of anything, well, unless it's "Top 10 Ways to Almost Drown".  What I do have, however, is too much time on my hands the desire to look at 2010 in reverse.

Before doing that, however, I want to say that one of the biggest things to happen this year has been the discovery of the running community in Minnesota.  In 2009, I was on my own.  This year, via blogs, Dailymile, Facebook, Twitter, etc..., I've found so many great people that just get out and run.  It's been great running/racing with you.  Sometimes it's really nice to have someone to run with.  And to all the people who have read my blog over the past year, thanks--I hope you'll stick around for another year!


Running: 940.9 miles
Swimming: 12.2 miles
Biking: 146.1 miles

(I started keeping a log in March, although Jan-March mileage was fairly insignificant.  It is possible, though, that I ran enough in those months to break the 1000 mile barrier.)

Mileage for the year was really good, and I got in a lot more cross training this year (I swam 34 times!).  Not only did I get in the miles this year, but I varied my training a lot more compared to 2009.  I consistently included repeats, hills, tempo runs, fartleks, LSDs, and easy runs.  Not only did this improve my running ability, but it kept me from getting bored!


Mileage: 56.4 miles

December was mostly defined by a return to running.  After Runner's Knee issues in November, I eased back into running in December.  Mother Nature didn't help, though, and gave us a lot of this:

So. Much. Snow.


Mileage: 26.9 miles

November was my lowest mileage month of the year.  I started with high hopes of some 5ks and a 10 mile after recovering from the marathon, but my knee had other ideas.  I sorta did a 5k (which I won), and a 6.23k race in the snow.  After realizing that my knee wasn't getting any better, I took up competitive TV watching imposed a 2 week rest period on myself.  The rest period helped my knee heal up, and I was back in business.


Mileage: 91.8 miles

The highlight of October was a major PR at the Twin Cities Marathon.  My goal time was 3:45, and I finished in 3:42:01.  With everything combined--the weather, pacing, fueling, the course, spectators--I decided that I couldn't have asked for a better race.  Months of training paid off in spades, and it managed to put the Boston bug in me.  I raced, then I analyzed, and figured out that in the next two years, I'm going to get faster--much faster.


Mileage: 156.8

In September, I tapered, but also logged my 2nd highest mileage month of the year.  I also joined the first TCiM Flash Run, which helped us find our 15 seconds of fame on the news.  Another highlight of the year was a trip to Boston for a conference, and I got to run around the city and see some exciting things:


Mileage: 193.4 miles

August was, in many ways, the pinnacle of my training.  It was my highest mileage month of all time.  I did 2 of the 3 twenty milers in August.  Oh, and I didn't drown.  Yes, August was my first (and, to date, only) triathlon.  Lakefront Days was a fun experience, and while my swimming and cycling legs were pretty slow, my run was great.  Doing the race with friends made it even more fun.


Mileage: 139 miles

More new things in July.  After a quick trip to Baltimore where I learned that the best way to see a new city is via a good, long run, I ran my first ever half-marathon, Pikermi, Fun-Size Marathon.  I ran the inaugural Red, White, and Boom! TC Half Marathon on Independence Day.  It was hot, humid, and wet.  Really wet.  And, as a friend remarked, "Who knew Minneapolis had a mountain?".  My time was slower than what I was capable of, but with all the conditions as they were, I'm ok with that.  Katie and I also check out the local pro-triathlon scene at the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon.

Uh, yeah, that's not me.  I'm much, much faster...


Mileage: 100 miles

June was a hot month.  I celebrated by beginning my marathon training, yet I didn't expire.  I did perspire though.  Probably aspired too.  Maybe even inspired.  Beyond some open water swimming, I was involved with Katie's first triathlon of the season: Croixathlon.  I volunteered as a parking lot attendant and course marshal and found myself drenched in sweat and sunscreen.  I really got into the the course marshaling part and was maybe a bit too over-exuberant with my "Turn Left".  I had a great time--so much so that I'm considering doing Croixathlon this year as a participant.  I'm also pretty intrigued by this beach path...

Me at Cleary Lake pretending not to hear Katie


Mileage: 60 miles

Three big things happened in May: I set a 5k PR, I swam, and I raced with Katie at the Falls Duathlon.  The month began with the Duathlon, and Katie got the short end of the stick by having to ride her bike in gale-force winds.  I just ran.  We did good, and we're probably going to do the race again in 2011 (maybe not as a team, though).  

I added a new discipline to my training--swimming.  I was awful at it, and still am.  But I didn't drown.  I worked with a coach, and that helped a lot.  I'm still convinced that humans weren't meant to swim, but it's a skill I semi-possess now.  Later in the month, Katie and I had a pretty tough workout trying on wetsuits at Gear West, but emerged victorious and tried them out in a lake.  This was my first OWS, and while there's no chance of me being mistaken for a fish, I didn't drown and I count that as a victory.  (If you haven't noticed, "not drowning" has been a theme for the year).  The month ended with a great race at the Brian Kraft 5k.  I PR'd, and even managed some nice blisters.

Katie at the Duathlon

Me at the Duathlon

One of Katie's fantastically awkward photos of me


Mileage: 70 miles

I was in "spring training mode" in April, acted like my normal self dressed in a semi-ridiculous manner to win a contest, and decided to put myself in danger of drowning by signing up for a triathlon.  Over at Steve in a Speedo's blog, Katie entered me into a "worst dressed" contest, and I came in third place with my overly-geeky entry:

I'm running at the speed of light.  No, really--I'm blue-shifted.

I also "Ran the Valley" and put up a respectable 5k time:

Serious heel-strikeage going on there


Mileage: 45 miles

In March, I sold my soul to Hal.  I started his Spring Training plan, which would lead into his Marathon Training Plan in June, meaning that from March to October, I would be training under Hal's direction.  I was ok with that.


Mileage: unknown

After waffling for a few months, I did what everyone was expecting and signed up for Twin Cities again.  At that early stage, I decided to shoot for a sub 4 hour time.  I'm glad that changed  :)


Mileage: unknown

Dome Running!  I discovered that the best way to spend a dollar in Minnesota is to save up for a ticket to a warmer climate was to run at the Metrodome.  In January, I started going every Thursday night, and David even joined me a few times.  With the Dome deflated now, I've learned to cherish the ability to run in such an ugly building while I can.

It's been a super 2010, see you all after the arbitrary time division that is a product of the Gregorian calendar!  (And remember, "Knee High by the Fourth of July" doesn't make any sense in a non-Gregorian calendar.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Same Great Taste, 50% Less Winter

Minnesota can be...trying during the winter.  Lately, I've dealt with this:

and this:

and this:

and, putting a damper on Dome Running, this:

So, when it came time to head to Michigan for the holidays, I wasn't exactly going to miss Minnesota weather.  Now, I'm not saying that Michigan is like Florida, but at least Michigan doesn't have so much snow that it doesn't know where to put it.

This past summer, my folks moved.  Instead of driving to Lake St. Clair to run, I can just go right from their house.  There aren't many trails and parks in Metro Detroit that are good for running, but there is one right in front of my parents' house--the Metro Parkway Bike Path:

It's a little tough to see, but I took this photo from the front door of the house.  There's a snow covered path/bike trail just 20 feet from the mailbox.  If you go left, you'll eventually get to Freedom Hill.  If you go right, you'll get to Metro Beach.  Not a bad place for running.

There was a dusting of snow, so Yaktrax were necessary

Snow, but not so bad as Minnesota

The bridge going over Groesbeck was a bit more snowy because they don't plow it.  Nice "hill" though.

It started to melt by the time I headed back

A sad thing is that in my 6ish miles, I saw one other runner.  In Minnesota, no matter how bad the conditions, you'll see other crazy people out running.  Oh well, at least it was a good run.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Video of My Marathon Story

I've always said that I've sold my soul to Google.  Here's more proof.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

(S)Now I'm Running!

I'm now ready to deem my 2 weeks sans running a success.  I eased back into running this week making sure I didn't do any speedwork.  I was a little scared the first few runs thinking that any weird feeling in my knee was the return of Runner's Knee.  On Thursday morning, I did a run in some pretty cold temps on one of my extra hilly routes.  It was good.  I was planning a 40-50 minute run for Friday, put with the impending snowstorm, I moved that run to Thursday evening so I could return to one of my favorite winter running events…

Dome Running!*

I ran two laps, then ran into Steve and Pharmie.  I did two laps with Steve, then ran the rest of the time with Pharmie and we were joined later by Steve Q.  Even though I had planned to run for 40 minutes, we were having a wonderful conversation and next thing I know, it's been and hour.  And I'm ok with that because I ran for an hour on the hard surface with no knee pain!  Victory!

Then winter came.  Again.

Last night it snowed, and my normal 20 minute commute took 1.5 hours in part because my bus was 40 minutes late.  This morning, I awoke and it was sunny with 4-5 inches of fresh, fluffy snow—perfect time for a run.  So I strapped on my Yaktrax and grabbed my camera and off I went.

My foot with Yaktrax.

The first few block were pretty treacherous, but once I got to the golf course near the river, the paths were cleared:

The sidewalk you see in this photo is new.  It used to be a wonderful tree lined, grassy, trail-like path heading down to the river.  Then the city decided that no one was allowed to have fun anymore and they took out a bunch of trees and put this concrete in.

The path was already cleared along the river in St. Paul...

…and in Minneapolis

A magnificent view from the Franklin Ave bridge 

Me, afterwards.  It looks like there is a spear going through my head.

So, take that, winter!  Between Yaktrax and Dome Running, there's no reason to forego running in the winter.

*Every Tuesday and Thursday from 5-8pm, the Metrodome is open for runners on the upper concourse.  It only costs $1, and parking is free in the lot on the east side of the Dome.  Go here for more details.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Yeah, I Can Eat Anything (uh, sorta)

One of the beautiful things about being a runner is the ability to eat anything.  I can eat nonstop, yet still lose weight when I'm at the peak of training.  So, my question is this:

While on a running hiatus, should I feel guilty about eating lots of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, carrots, rolls, and pumpkin pie today?

I think not.

Friday, November 19, 2010

No Running!

Uh, yeah, I'm still here.  After my race last weekend, I learned 2 things.  The first is that I was able to run the race faster than expected.  The second is that I NEED to take it easy on my knee.  So, to remedy this second point, I'm giving myself a two week break from running.  I had planned on doing the Detroit Turkey Trot when I go home for Thanksgiving, but I'm going to cancel that.  There will be other races, and I really want this knee to get better.  I'll try and race in December, or use December to rebuild my base, but there won't be any running until November 28th.


In the meantime, though, official results are up from the 623 Run:

(click to zoom)

Some thoughts…
There must have been some discrepancy between my watch and the official clock because this shows me running it 13 seconds faster for a pace of 6'45"/mile.

Yes, 6'45"/mile.  In the snow.  With a bum knee.  And after a few weeks of slacking of training due to bum knee.  I'll take it.

I placed 14th overall and was the 13th male finisher.  It's tough to judge how I could have done if it were in ideal conditions and if my knee was in good shape, but I'm pretty confident I could have cracked the top 10.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Roseville 623 Run Race Report

Or, "I Should Have Brought My Yaktrax"

Or, "How I Raced My Department Chair"

I raced today.  I decided to do the 623 Run for Roseville Schools.  Yes, the 6.23k race.  This turned out to be rather fortuitous, since I had to deal with this:

Yes.  Snow.  Lot's of it.  In fact, we're on track for this to be the biggest pre-Thanksgiving snow since 1991.  Since the race was a crazy non-standard distance, I wouldn't be trying to hit certain pace goals, and that would be good for running in slippery conditions.

I dropped Katie off at the airport, then made the slow commute to Roseville.  I decided to park at the start (it was a point-to-point course), and afterwards I would run back to the start as a cool down.  It was a pretty popular race since it raised money for Roseville Schools.  Even Minnesota running legend Rick Recker was there.

Well, it kept snowing.  And snowing.  And snowing.  They managed to plow the whole course, but that only lasted a little while before it was covered again.  If I had worn my Yaktrax, I would have had a HUGE advantage.  But I didn't.

I lined up at the start, and we were off.  I settled into about 12th place for the first mile or so.  Over the next mile, I passed 2 people.


My knee started to give me issues around 2.5 miles.  By "issues", I mean it felt like it was on fire.  The course left the roads and went to paths/trails.  I was passed by 2 people in this stretch.

In the final mile, there was a decent uphill, followed by a downhill.  In this last bit, I was passed by the first place female.

I finished in 26'20", which is a 6'51" pace.  I'm pretty pleased with that considering my knee and the weather.  I'd guess that I placed 12th or 13th for men, but I'll wait for the results before making that official.

Afterwards, we gathered in the Roseville High School cafeteria, and they had pie.  Apple Pie!  It was absolutely delicious!  I also won a door prize (I think 50% of the people there won door prizes, and the other 50% won slightly lesser door prizes).

As I was waiting for the bus to head back to my car (I had given up on the "cool down run" because of the weather and my knee), I noticed someone familiar—the Chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department at the U (aka, my advisor's boss).  We chatted a bit (he was running with his wife and kids).

I rode the bus back, and cleared a few inches of snow off my car, and drove home.  It took a while to get home.

This was also the first time I've raced in my Brooks Launch.  Overall, they worked good, although it was tough to judge because I was concerned with traction more than shoe weight.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I Need to Find a Race

After last weekend's wildly successful slightly disappointing "5k", I still want to get a real race in.  If that's going to happen, I need to find one for this weekend, November 13/14.  I'd do one the next weekend, but that's getting close to the Detroit Turkey Trot that I'm semi-planning on doing, so the 13/14 is my best shot.

I've found one race, the Roseville 623 Run/Walk, that fits my criteria:

  1. It exists.
  2. It's nearby.
  3. It's on November 13.
The major downside is that it's a 6.23k race.  Yes, 6.23k.  So, I'd be guaranteed a PR, but it's a less-than-standard distance, and I was hoping to find a 5k or 10k.

So, here's where I throw it out to you, the blogging world.  Do you know of any races this weekend?  Remember, it must fit these criteria:
  1. It must exist.
  2. It's in/near the Twin Cities (although if you know of a good race in Cancun, I'd certainly accept you flying me to Cancun for the race…)
  3. It's on November 13/14.
  4. It's distance in kilometers and/or miles should be evenly divisible by an integer.  (Not critical, but always nice)

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Tesfa 5k: 1st Place Male

The Tesfa 5k is one of my favorite races because (a) it's at Fort Snelling State Park, and (b) it's small.  Well, today, it was really small.  When Katie and I arrived, there were only a few others there:

2 deer (of about 6) in this photo.  The second one is to the left of the silver car.

Yeah, there were deer.  Just deer.  No people.  Katie and I wondered if they had moved the starting line to someplace else in the park, so we went to the front office and asked.  The lady there said "they cancelled that race a long time ago."  Nevermind, of course, that it's still listed on and


Since we were both still in running clothes, we said "why not run it anyway?"  So we did.  And, since the competition was pretty weak, we took it easy.

Katie was the first place female.

I was the first place male.

Our time?  31'09"

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Objects at rest...

Having an injury—no matter how minor it may be—allows one to reflect on their running.  I haven't been running much since my knee started acting up—maybe 2 or 3 times a week.  It's given me time to think.  Time to meditate on a running season that, by many measures, was a resounding success.

In truth, I've needed to make a special effort to listen to my own advice.  Whether it was helping someone figure out a training plan, or giving advice to someone who has an injury, I had one piece of advice: listen to your body.  Well, I've been listening, and it's been saying "take it easy, Matt.  A few weeks of taking it easy will not ruin your running life."  So it goes.

Beyond making the effort to not run (yes, not running requires more effort than running), I've been able to look back at how I've grown as a runner.  How I've become more dedicated, smarter, and in some ways, faster.  To explain this, I'm going to look back into my past a bit.

As a kid, I didn't run.  I played soccer when I was a child, but mostly because it was fun and my parents thought it would be good for me.  I stopped sometime around 1st or 2nd grade.  I did nothing for many years.  I did the mile in gradeschool, and was super happy when I could get into the 10:xx range.  My gradeschool did the mile by running a big rectangle in our parking lot.  10 laps to a mile.  My strategy was to run the short sides of the rectangle and walk the long sides.  I was thrilled when they made the rectangle longer so that it would be 8 laps to a mile (meaning the long sides were even longer).

I was an awkward kid.  Sports weren't my thing because I sucked at them.  All the way through high school, I could count the number of baskets I made in basketball as less than 20.  And we played basketball a lot.  My PE teacher was also the b-ball coach, so he would throw in a token dodgeball game, or weightlifting day, but 90% of what we did was basketball.  I hated it.

This changed my sophomore year.  I was going to join the soccer team.  But, in a school of ~100 students, the soccer team was cancelled that year due to lack of interest.  Dejected I was, but a seed had been planted.  A few days later, Mr. Sprow, my chemistry/advanced algebra/physics/calculus teacher wanted to know if I'd join the cross country team.  I had absolutely no clue what a cross country team was, but said ok.

I was in for a rude awakening.  My second day of practice involved a 6 mile run.  I just about expired.  I was slow that season.  First 5k time was 34:30, second was 38:40.  I was last on my team, and usually last in all the meets.  It was a great day the first time I didn't come in last, and I managed to break 30 minutes that season.  I was just as slow during track season, and it was more embarrassing because one can't hide in the woods and walk.

I got a little faster my junior year, but in my senior year, things changed.  The fast people on my team graduated, so I just needed to run faster than one of my teammates to be the fastest on the team.  It took a few meets, but I assumed that mantle, and didn't look back.  That was the season I almost broke 20, and was 2 places shy of being named all-conference.  In track that year, I even earned points on my own for the first time.  I had a great year of running.

Then I stopped running.  I had every intent of keeping it going in college, but I would run maybe 2 or 3 times a month, and then it stopped altogether.  I was a runner without a team, and only then did I realize how much the team was a part of me.  If I were ever to become a runner again, I would need to learn how to run as my own team.  I would have to carry the sport that I loved on my own.

Stay tuned for how these experiences shaped my 2nd running life.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It Lives!

I'm sure you know that I'm not a running gadget type of guy.  No GPS.  No iPod.  No heart rate monitor.  But, I do use one gadget—my trusty running watch.  Well, many running watches, actually.  I tend to go through them quickly.  I don't know why.  I just do.

I prefer Timex watches.  I've always had the Timex Ironman Triathlon watches—even back when I confused Ironman with Iditarod.  They do what I need them to do, and they look decent enough to use as my everyday watch.

Two weeks ago, the indiglo light died.  When would press the indiglo button, the screen would go completely dark.  I found this ironic.  On Monday, the whole watch died.  I wept.  Uncontrollably.  For days.

Then I took it apart.  While a Timex isn't a Rolex, it isn't cheap.  So, I wanted to see if I could convince some poor schlub to buy my dead watch on eBay replace the battery.  Here's the result:

Hooray!  I did it!  And I didn't lose any of the world's tiniest screws in the process!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Days Off

It seems as though my PR-busting performance in the Twin Cities Marathon has finally caught up with me.    During a set of 400s last Tuesday, my right knee began to develop a little bit of pain on the front-inside part of the kneecap.  I'm 95% sure it's "Runner's Knee".  So, I've cut back pretty drastically on my miles since then.  I swam on Friday, and did an easy 10 mile run on Saturday.  The long run wasn't problematic, but if I went any faster than 9 min/mile, my knee would hurt.  So, bottom line, it wasn't better, I just wasn't aggravating it.

Between icing my knee and rest, I've been going crazy.  I may try an easy 4 or 5 miles tomorrow just to see how things are going.  It's rather frustrating because it's been a few weeks since the marathon, and I was doing really good building back up.  On top of that, I've developed this strange twitching phenomenon in my left bicep, and it's migrated a bit to my left quad.

But…  I know it's good to take the time off and heal up.  A few missed days of running won't destroy all my fitness, and I'd rather get this knee healed up than let it drag on for weeks and months.

So, here's to rest and recovery—may it be fruitful.

P.S.: Another Flash Run this week.  Wear a costume!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The iPod Has Ruined Running

Running is a strange sport.  In some ways it's an individual sport.  All it takes is for a person to head out the door and run.  But, running is very much a community sport.  There's this deep bond between people who run.  Some run fast.  Some run slow.  Yet we have this connection that transcends speed and distance.  It's hard to explain, yes, but running as a sport wouldn't exist without it.

I get the need for "alone time" while running.  Some of my best runs happen when I'm the only person at the track, hours before the sun rises.  Just me, the track, and the sound of my feet striking the ground.  I get that.  I understand running for miles and miles on your own—through the woods, down the beach, around the neighborhood.  I get that.

This morning was not one of those mornings for me.  I had some extra time, so I drove to the lakes and put 10 miles in going around Calhoun, Harriet, and Lake of the Isles.  If you've never ran at the lakes on a Saturday morning, know that it is THE place to run.  On a Saturday in the summer, the trails are so crowded that it's tough to pass people.  Today, it wasn't quite that crowded, but in my hour and a half of running, I passed hundreds of runners.

And 95% of them had music players in their ears.

Never have I run with so many people, yet felt so alone.

I wore my 2010 marathon shirt, and each time I would see someone wearing the same shirt (at least 5 or 6 other people), I wanted to say to them "Nice shirt!" or something that exemplifies this connection that we, as runners, share.  But I didn't say anything because they were in their own, electronically enhance world.  Too absorbed to even make eye contact.  No desire to offer a wave, or a smile.  Nothing.  Alone.

I ran with an iPod for a while last year, but hated it.  It wasn't that the music messed up my pace—which it did.  It wasn't that it was a hassle to always worry about the iPod—though that was part of it.  It's that I couldn't stand being isolated from the very sport that I love.  I hated not hearing the sounds of traffic.  I hated not noticing the birds, or the planes overhead.  I hated that I was running outside, but could have just as easily been on a treadmill, and the experience would have been the same.

It happened in the marathon, too.  I would see something funny or exciting, and when I made a comment about it to the people around me, no one responded.  No one even heard me.

I can't change this.  It's a reality that as more and more people take up this great sport, more and more people will do it with music players.  I think that's sad.  But, I guess I have to get used to running—while undergoing phenomenal growth—becoming a more individual sport than it ever has been.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Official Photos from the Twin Cities Marathon

It's no secret that good race photos of me are hard to come by.  Exhibit A from the Red, White and Boom! Half Marathon:

Yup, that's me having a seizure while crossing the line

So, imagine my surprise when I check out the official photos from the Twin Cities Marathon, and most of them are actually pretty good.

Not a great shot of me, but I remember the guy in front of me.  He kept spitting, and it kept getting blown into me.  I eventually made a decisive pass to end this situation.

I like this one, and I look surprisingly good being about 0.2 miles from the finish.

I'm hurting a bit more here (maybe near Lake Street?), but still strong.

Exciting finishing photo

Ok, here's where things get crazy.  Here is this awesome photo of me giving a fist pump into the air crossing the finish line.  I love this photo so much that it's my Facebook profile photo.

And…moments later, here I am regretting that fist pump/jump in the air.  No really, that's the face of serious PAIN.

And just to prove that I can still take awful photos while displaying that yes, I am in Minnesota and thus super-pale.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Flash Run Coming Up!

Remember all the excitement from a few weeks ago?  You know, when we mourned the last day of summer at Twin Cities in Motion's first Flash Run?  No?  Well, read my post on it, then come back here.

Why am I bringing this up again?  They're doing another one! You can find all the details on Twin Cities in Motion's Facebook Page or their Twitter Account.  The exciting part about this Flash Run is that their doing it in St. Paul, so it's in my neck of the woods.  If you're too lazy busy to check out the details on their Facebook/Twitter pages, here are the first two clues:
Flash Run Clue 1: Monday marks the anniversary of when the US took control of Alaska from Russia back in 1867. Plan to meet at Moscow on the Hill, St. Paul.
Flash Run Clue 2: Run out some "I just sat in traffic" frustration. Be there at 5:45pm.
So, be there, and I promise you'll have a great time meeting other runners from the Twin Cities!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Well, Now What?

It's typical to get the "post-marathon blues".  With the main training goal firmly in the rearview mirror, no one would fault a marathoner for being a little...lost.  Well, I'm not lost.  (As I always tell Katie, I have an impeccable sense of direction, and that I'm remarkably modest.)

Some of it may be that I'm still on a high from the marathon—even a week and a half later.  Maybe I'm setting myself up for an eventual letdown, but the 2010 Twin Cities Marathon is one of those races that I'll remember for a lifetime along with the first race I didn't come in last, and the first race I finished first on my team.

But I've also set some short term goals for myself racing-wise, and I'm still trying to assemble the long term goals.  Here's what I've got going on:

Short Term

  • Tesfa 5k:  This is a great race that Katie and I did last year.  It's really small, and it's on a beautiful course down in Ft. Snelling State Park.  I've set this as my "post-marathon recovery race".  I'm following Higdon's advanced post-marathon plan, and this 5k will be the flourish at the end.  I considered doing the Monster Dash 10 Mile a week earlier than the Tesfa 5k, but decided against it.  It think it might be too soon to race a 10 Mile, and I'm not going to pay 50 bucks just to do an easy 10 mile run.  If I enter a race, I'm going to race it!
  • Turkey Trot:  Katie and I are still working on our Thanksgiving plans, but I'd like to do some sort of a Turkey Trot wherever we end up going.  Of particular interest is the Turkey Trot put on by The Parade Company in Detroit just before the best Thanksgiving Day parade in the country.  There's a 5k and a 10k (plus the Mashed Potato Mile), so I'd have plenty of options.  If we stay in MN, I need to do some searching.

  • Indoor Triathlon:  Once things got ramped up for the marathon, cross-training went by the wayside.  I'm going to try and get back in the pool, and maybe plan some sort of indoor triathlon for the winter.  They seem like fun events, and the playing field is much more level because everyone uses the same equipment.
  • Winter Carnival Half Marathon:  Not too sure on this one.  Katie is interested in doing this race, and it looks intriguing (and cold!).  I don't know if I could put in the training necessary to do well here with the Christmas holiday and all, but we'll see.

  • St. Patrick's Day 10 Mile:  I'm considering making this my next "A Race".  It has good timing, and I've never raced a 10 mile before.  The training for the race would give me incentive to keep my base mileage up, which will help immensely with my plans for the summer.
Long-Term, Summer 2011

  • I've been informally referring to Summer 2011 as my "Summer of Speed".  I'm going to take a year off of marathoning to focus on shorter distances.  In particular, I'd like to see how low I can take my 5k PR, with the big goal being finally breaking the 20 minute barrier.
  • A PR-Buster 5k: I need to pick a race that I'll focus on for really working on that 5k PR.  The Brian Kraft PR is appealing because it's a really fast field and a flat course, but it's so early in the season that I may not be really ready for it.
  • 2 or 3 Triathlons:  I enjoyed my triathlon experience this past summer, and I'd like to try my luck at a couple of them next summer.  I don't know which ones I would choose, but I do know that I'd like to do more of them.
  • Red, White, and Boom! Half Marathon:  I enjoyed this race last summer (even in the humidity).  I'd train hard for this and maybe shoot for some ungodly fast time like 1:30.  If I could do that, it would set me up pretty well for my next goal…
Super Long-Term, 2012

  • BQ:  If you had asked me after the 2009 TCM if a BQ was on my radar, I would have told you "Sure, when I turn 75 and the qualifying time is 4:45".  Things are different now.  Running a 3:42 marathon puts a BQ within reach—at least mentally.  A 31 minute drop in time is no small feat, but neither was a 67 minute one.  If I did make a run at BQ, it would certainly be at the Twin Cities Marathon.

  • Boston Marathon:  Well, this just follows from the previous one… ;-)

These plans are still in a state of flux (except the Tesfa 5k, which I'm 100% sure that I'll do).  Got any suggestions of races or goals?  I'm open to pretty much anything at this point.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

How I Took 67 Minutes Off My Marathon PR

...Or we can blaze! Become legends in our own time, strike fear in the heart of mediocre talent everywhere! We can scald dogs, put records out of reach! Make the stands gasp as we blow into an unearthly kick from three hundred yards out! We can become God's own messengers delivering the dreaded scrolls! We can race black Satan himself till he wheezes fiery cinders down the back straightaway....They'll speak our names in hushed tones, 'those guys are animals' they'll say! We can lay it on the line, bust a gut, show them a clean pair of heels. We can sprint the turn on a spring breeze and feel the winter leave our feet! We can, by God, let our demons loose and just wail on!  ~Quenton Cassidy from "Once a Runner"
As the soreness has been vanishing from my legs the past few days, I've had some time to take a hard look at the race, and in doing that, I've tried to figure out how I ended up doing what I did.  There isn't one thing that made it all happen, or a big running secret that people will beg me to share.  In reality, there are two things that made it all happen—training, and strategy.  I hope this post will shed some light on this, and that you might be able to take something helpful away from reading this and apply it to your next race.

Before I do that, though, I just want to put this in perspective.  Taking 67 minutes off a marathon PR is big, yes.  But the amount of room for improvement when you start at almost 5 hours, versus 4 hours or 3 hours, is much larger.  So, I'll say that I'm not expecting to ever make a jump like this again—if I kept taking an hour off my PR, I'd be in danger of getting Olympic Gold!

Returning to our narrative, success in the marathon is by no means guaranteed.  When reading through this post, and contemplating the reasons that I give for my performance, note that some of it is colored by the drive that I had when I signed up for the 2010 TCM.  Based on many metrics (my 5k times, my half marathon time, my marathoning experience, etc.), I should have shot for a 4 hour marathon—maybe even a 4:15 marathon.  That wasn't enough for me, though.  I took a big chance by setting such a lofty goal, and I could have crashed and burned in a spectacular manner.  I understood this risk.  When it comes to running, though, I tend to approach it as described in the leading quote.  So, that being said, here is my analysis:

Weekly Mileage Increase

One of the most obvious sources of improvement was that I just ran more.  I was able to put in significantly more miles per week than I did last year, and more miles generally equals better fitness (not always true, but it is one important indicator).  I peaked at around 60 miles per week instead of the 40 miles per week that I peaked at last year.  With this higher mileage, my long runs were now 33% of my weekly mileage instead of half.  Why is this important?  The quality of the long runs improve.  I was able to do each of my 20 mile runs at a targeted pace (10'00", 9'30", and 9'15") without overstressing myself. Unlike last year where my 20 mile run left me out of commission for a few days, I was back on my feet and feeling great the day of each 20 mile run this year.  This helped indirectly with my TCM performance by allowing me to accept three 20 mile runs, which is the next topic.

First though, here is a chart showing my weekly mileage since April.  Remember, it's not one workout that makes the difference, but a steady progression in distance.

Weekly Mileage Chart.  Marathon training officially began the first week of June.  You'll notice the steady increase in distance punctuated by stepback weeks to avoid overtraining.

Number of Long Runs

When I said that one workout isn't critical, I lied—sorta.  It's not a specific workout that's critical, but there is a type of run that is critical—the long run.  A little theory first.  We hit "The Wall" because we use up all the available glycogen in our muscles.  Glycogen is easy for your muscles to process, and running is pretty easy when fueled by it.  Once it's gone, though, your body has to burn fat, which is considerably tougher to process.  When you're burning fat, you're body feels very, very fatigued because it has to work so hard for even a little bit of energy.  So, avoiding The Wall means using your glycogen stores efficiently enough such that it can carry you 26.2 miles instead of 18 or 20 miles.  That's where the long run helps.

Long runs should be done much slower than marathon pace.  It's all about time on your feet, and not about speed.  Running 20 miles trains your body to use glycogen more efficiently—including knowing when to burn fat.  From the start of the marathon, your body knows that it has to maximize it's glycogen resources, so it will burn some glycogen and some fat instead of just glycogen.  As long as your pace isn't too fast (another huge point, and I'll address that later), you can get by using a combo of glycogen and fat.  It's the 20 mile runs that train your body to operate this way.

So, by doing those three 20 mile runs, my body was conditioned to operate as efficiently as it could as long as I didn't screw it up by going out too fast.

Starting Slow

Continuing from the previous topic, starting the race too fast can really ruin your race.  You run the first 20 miles of a marathon not to achieve your goal time, but rather to make the last 6 miles bearable enough so you can achieve your goal where it counts—the finish line.

I started slow.  I didn't get caught up in the excitement such that I was busting out 7'30" miles from the start (the 7'30" mile would come later…).  My body was able to cruise pretty easily at the beginning, turning miles 1-7ish into warm-up miles.  I didn't even try pushing the pace until mile 15.  So, when I got to mile 20, I still had plenty of fuel.

Negative Splitting

The fastest way to run a marathon is with perfectly even splits.  You should start at the goal pace such that you run out of energy entirely the second you cross the finish line.

I can't do that.  In fact, most elites can't run perfectly even splits at their threshold pace.  So, negative splitting is the next best thing.

The dashed black line is the trendline.

Starting slow, I increased my average pace over the course of the race (see chart above).  I had some outliers caused by aid stations, hills, etc., but the trend is most definitely downward.

This strategy helped me in two ways.  First, it conserved glycogen early in the race, leaving me with the ability to keep pushing at the end.

Second, it provided a mental boost as I was able to pass people in the later stages of the race.  The timing company that TCM used for this race, MTEC, is absolutely fantastic.  The data that they provide is unlike anything I've ever seen, and they even provide quick access to your own personal finish video.  But it's the data that I'm interested in right now, and specifically the number of people that I passed.

A bit of explanation is needed here.  Each runner wears a transponder chip on their shoe.  It has a unique number that is tied to each runner.  At the start of the race, the runners cross the timing mats, and the system records that.  At the next set of timing mats, it does that again.  MTEC then looks at the order of the runners at each mat and determines how many people you passed and how many people passed you. An example:  4 runners, A, B, C, and D, start a race.  At the start, they cross the line in the order A-B-C-D.  At the next set of timing mats, they cross in the order D-B-A-C.  So, Runner D passed 3 people and was passed by zero people.  Runner B passed 2 runners (A and C), but was passed by 1 runner (D).  This is exactly how MTEC's system worked for all 8000+ marathon runners.  Here are my specific results:

Early in the race, I let people pass me a lot more than I was passed.  That's exactly how I planned it.  But look at my results starting at the halfway point—I took command.  I was getting faster, and everyone else was slowing down.  In the last segment—the hardest—I still passed 489 people!  It is a HUGE psychological boost if you're passing people.  I picked out someone ahead of me, then passed them.  I repeated this over and over, and I got faster and faster because of it.  This is how negative splitting helps you do well in the marathon.

Intervals and Hills

Beyond the number of long runs I did, the biggest change that I incorporated into my training this year was speedwork.  Each week, I would do either 800 repeats, hill repeats, or a tempo run.  The 800s and hills were particularly helpful.  Why?  I mean, I'm not going to be running at my 5k pace marathon ever, so why run that fast in training?

Speedwork and hills are really dynamic strength exercises.  Running hills helps you run hills, yes, but hills benefit everyone—including the flat-landers—because it strengthens your leg muscles.  Speedwork and hills also force you to run with better form, thus teaching your body how to run more efficiently.

In 2009, from about Mile 18 onwards, I shuffled.  My feet barely left the ground, and my speed dropped accordingly.  Not only did I hit the wall, but I couldn't even find a slower stride.  I shuffled.  Take a look at these photos from the marathon this year:

Katie took these photos of me at mile 21, just before heading up the last hill.  I was tired and starting to hurt a bit, but my stride was still very strong.  I was moving as efficiently as I could even at this late stage of the race.  With about 0.4 miles to go, Steve snapped this photo of me, and there's no shuffling to be found:

In fact, I'm looking pretty good here

That's what speedwork and hills do.  I strengthened my legs quite a bit, so that even when I was tired, I could still keep my form strong.  When we shuffle, we're less efficient, and we get tired even faster.

One last anecdote on speedwork and form.  I stopped at the first two aid stations on Summit (mile 22 and mile 23) for Powerade.  I walked through each of these aid stations.  Whenever I started walking last year on Summit, I would tell myself that I would walk to the next corner, then start running.  Well, the next corner then became the corner after that, and the corner after that, and I did more walking than running.  This year, I drank the Powerade, then started running right away.  There was no coaxing needed to get myself moving again—I just did it.  And that, my friends, is the benefit of speedwork and good form.


Quite honestly, I don't have much to say on this.  My nutrition strategy worked.  I drank adequately.  I didn't drop any Gu packets.  I wasn't hyponatremic.  My nutrition strategy helped by not screwing the rest of my strategy up.


I don't have anything in the way of plots or photos to support this one, but my outlook on the race helped.  I was going to get 3:45.  I was going to blaze.  Sure, I said that I would be happy with a sub-4 hour finish, but in all honesty, it was 3:45 or bust.  When I hit Summit Avenue and knew my goal was within reach, nothing was going to stop me.  I didn't care how much it hurt, I was going to keep running.


So, those are my secrets.  Nothing groundbreaking.  I hope that you can take something away from this if you're planning on running a marathon.  Just remember, there is no wall.

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