Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tomorrow I earn the shirt

Do the clothes make the man?
My friend Brian, who has run his share of races, sent me a note regarding tomorrow's half marathon. He said: "Remember to Take in the Moment. 1/4 or 1/2 way through the run you'll be saying to yourself...."I'm really doing this."

I thought that was a really good perspective. I've run many races at this point but a half marathon represents important new ground. I'll admit that I liked collecting my race number last night at the Expo and receiving the dark orange technical race shirt that the marathoners and half marathoners get. But picking up the racing shirt is one thing, earning it on the race course is another. It was a nice surprise to also receive an LI Marathon racing hat and some excellent running socks.

Tomorrow morning I'll line up to run my longest distance to date. That means that once the gun sounds I'll spend the next two-plus hours racing along a 13.1 mile course. By now I've thought through my pacing strategy, my race day hydration, nutrition plan and fueling. My knee feels much better than it did a week ago but it's still a little tender. I finally feel ready to take this on. At least as ready as I can be. After six weeks of training, with a focus on building my base, I'll face my biggest racing challenge yet. You only get one first experience at every distance. I will definitely follow Brian's advice tomorrow and take in the moment as often as I can.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The value of a single workout

Today's workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

What is the value of a single workout? Can one exercise session make a difference? As I wait for Sunday, holding off from my daily runs to protect my knee, I'm thinking about the marginal value of a workout. Whether I ran Mon-Wed this week as planned or rested (as I did), it's unclear which choice would have prepared me best for my race.

My knee is still sore but the pain is abstract. It doesn't hurt to put pressure on my leg but there's enough soreness to remind me that recent damage was done. Earlier in the week I ran through some core exercises to keep active even if I couldn't run. Those sessions were useful but they didn't provide the same satisfaction that I get after a hard workout.

This morning I decided that I'd waited long enough. I spent 25 minutes on the elliptical using one of the lowest resistance settings but I worked up a good sweat and reinforced my aerobic conditioning. Today's session probably did little in terms of helping my fitness but psychologically it was a highly effective workout.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Resting is as hard as running

Tapering for this race has been tough. My knee is still exhibiting some soreness but I know I still have 3+ days of recovery prior to the half marathon. I wanted to get in one more run before Sunday but decided that protecting my injury is a far better strategy. I know that I shouldn't lose much conditioning after holding off from running for eight consecutive days but I'm struggling with the idea that I might. This lack of aerobic exercise is making me grouchy. I suppose it's better to have a negative response to rest than to embrace the sedentary lifestyle.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Getting strategic

This is my fourth consecutive day without a run. It's probably the longest I've gone without running since recovering from pneumonia over a year ago. My knee has responded well to the icing and compression and is much improved today. If it wasn't so close to race day I would have tried an easy run this morning. I felt like I needed to do some type of workout when I got up so I did a series of core exercises that included push ups and sit-ups. I'm not sure how much benefit I got from all that but I did work up a sweat.

I'm thinking a lot right now about my strategy for hydration and nutrition during the race. I'll carry electrolyte drink in a hand bottle and also rely on the water stations to supplement my supply. I've used GU Espresso Love and Roctane gels and I like them both. Per discussions with friend FS, I'll plan to take one 30 minutes prior to the start, another at around 4 or 5 miles and the last one at the 10 mile mark. My friend and accomplished marathoner CMc stressed that I should start slow and work up my pace as I go. Sound advice on all counts.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Marginal improvement

I've been holding off on activity since Friday because my knee is still tender and I don't want to do anything to aggravate it further. Yesterday afternoon I'd had enough of sedentary living so I ran through a series of core exercises and added some sit ups and push ups to the mix. I wouldn't call it a hard workout but at least it was something.

I've returned to work and have been wearing a flexible knee brace most of the day. There is still noticeable soreness in my leg and the pain seems to be primarily located just above the medial side of the meniscus. The pain has lessened but I still feel some occasional twinges when I move my leg laterally. I'm becoming more optimistic that I'll have sufficent recovery by the weekend. It is disappointing to have an injury so close to an important race but that's the way it goes sometimes.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The RICE stuff

The good news is that I seem to be doing everything right in terms of treating my knee injury. The bad news is that I seem to actually have an injury. I had hoped the pain was just soreness caused by a couple of longer than average runs this week but I obviously aggravated the tendons around my knee. Most of Friday's run happened on dirt trails and I would have expected that surface to cushion the pounding but the previous day we'd hiked a good distance and the day before that I spent 35 minutes on the elliptical using its highest setting. I'm a little nervous that I won't sufficiently recover for the LI half marathon that takes place one week from today.

I'm resting today and if my knee doesn't feel perfect on Monday I'll rest again tomorrow. If my recovery requires a hiatus from all workouts between now and next Sunday I'm prepared to do that. Besides, at this point I don't think additional short distance running will build any more conditioning. On race week a taper helps maintain fitness and rest is already part of that strategy. I've been practicing RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation and I'm definitely noticing some improvement. I'll continue to follow that process and hope for the best.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Taper plan & knee pain

Ice me!
I know I've pushed a little harder than normal over the past week, including two 8+ mile training runs, but I was surprised to wake up with a sore knee this morning. I'm not even sure if it's my knee or the muscles surrounding it, but it's clear that after ten days of runs and workouts I need to take a day to recover.

As predicted, the rain is coming down hard this morning. I'm actually happy about that. Nothing to tempt me to step out for a few miles. Rest is both prescribed and necessary. I'm using the Active Wrap cold packs to ice my knee and the areas directly above and below it. I'm not sure whether to run tomorrow (if the weather gets better) or if I should give my legs another day of rest.

I'm being more conservative about this taper than usual. Right now I'm thinking that I'll hold off this weekend and do easy runs on Monday and Wednesday, with a tempo run on Tuesday. I'll then rest on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and limit my activities on those days to walking or core work. I'm hoping that additional rest days will pay off. Eight days to go and counting...

Finally, I'm excited that my running buddy Brian will be joining me at the LI Half Marathon. He ran it last year and carried a video camera, documenting what turned out to be a difficult race. I'm thinking he'll have a better time of it this year. I'm hoping that I'll be able to keep up with Brian and another friend, TC, who just ran the Hook Half Marathon in under two hours.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A last long run before the half

Trail head to Southards Pond
Today's run (Belmont Lake State Park): 8.35 miles

After yesterday's tough hike (on top of a truncated morning speed session) I really wanted to give myself a day to recover. The weather for Saturday is not promising. It's supposed to rain the first half of the day and I wanted to get in one more long run before I tapered for my upcoming race. I decided to run the trails along Southards Pond and Belmont Lake in Babylon. These trails make up the Dirty Sock 10K course, one of my favorite places to run and a perfect spot for a training run.

I started at the trail head that serves as the exit to the Dirty Sock finish line and as I ran I thought about how two of my four hardest races were run on this course. Part of that related to the late August dates of the Dirty Sock race and the heat and humidity that comes with that. Today it was cool (42° F) and dry, so I had little concern that the weather would affect my performance.

I reached Southards Pond quickly and soon connected to the main trail that took me under the RT 27 trestle where a flutist was playing the Hollies' song "Bus Stop" (Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say / Please share my umbrella). It's not the first time I've run through there accompanied by flute music but it was still an unexpected pleasure.

The path winds quite a bit from there and eventually goes under the Southern State Parkway that sits just south of Belmont Lake. I ran around the lake taking in the water view, trees, ducks, swans and geese. I was feeling good so I ran a second time around the lake before heading south on the trail. When I reached 4 miles I took my first sip of Gatorade G2 and continued to do that every half mile from then on. I've discovered that this technique works well for me and I plan to do this during the half marathon.

My run back to the trail head was unremarkable and I felt that my conditioning was adequate for 13 miles. The only concern I had today was with my feet -- my small toes got mashed in my Kinvaras and I worried about how they'd do if I had to run another 5 miles. I plan to run in the Mirages during the race which will help in terms of support and structure but I need to figure out a way of protecting my toes.

Now it's time to step down the rigor and prepare for the 13.1 miles that lay ahead on May 1st.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Quad pain? How about a 5 mile hike!

My daughter takes the lead as we head toward the water
Today's workout (track intervals + hike)

I had hoped to repeat the experience of Monday's interval training and headed to the track with family in tow and stopwatch in hand. After a short warm-up around the track my daughter and I ran a few timed sprints. Before long my left quad began to protest loudly. It didn't feel so much like an injury as it did a warning and I quickly backed off. I circled the track again a couple of times at an extremely easy pace and then called it quits. My wife completed her workout on the track and we headed back home.

After lunch (and icing my quad) we headed to Caumsett State Park for a hike. Caumsett, which is located on 1,750 acres in Lloyd Neck, sits directly below Long Island Sound. It's only about 15 minutes from our house yet we'd never been there. The Empire Passport certainly makes it easy to explore new venues since there's no admission fees to dissuade you from visiting. We were amazed by the white-capped waves and ocean spray as we made our approach to the park entrance. We began our hike after looking at the map and headed north along one of the main paved trails.

Due to its adjacency to the Sound, the winds were strong and a little chilly, but that didn't bother us much. At the 1.5 mile mark we reached a mansion that is the former home of Marshall Field III. Directly behind this building are rolling grounds that flow sharply down to a pond that's circled by a dirt and sand path. Directly north of the pond is the beach line of the Sound. The kids played a little on the water but the winds were fierce so we headed back to the pond trail and followed it to another main trail that eventually took us back to our starting point.

We covered about five miles and about a third of that was on hills. It was a great workout for everyone and I had ideas about returning for a long run tomorrow morning. I will admit that the idea of doing a long run with those hills and that wind is a bit daunting. I'll see how I feel tomorrow when I get up. I'd actually prefer a rest day on Friday but with bad weather predicted for Saturday and Sunday, Friday may be my last opportunity to run a measurable distance before the LI Half.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

For the record I did not eat cat

Misfortune cookies
Today's workout (elliptical): 35 minutes

Last night my family took me out to a local Chinese restaurant for my birthday and we had a great meal and a great time. We kept things going when we got home with ice cream and fortune cookies that were ostensibly packaged up with our dinner's leftovers. They gave me the honor of opening the first fortune cookie and it read "You just ate cat." There were a number of other questionable fortunes in the other cookies that were actually purchased online by my family. I found it all very amusing.

My plan today was either to rest or return to the track for some speed work. Yesterday we'd stopped by Sports Authority and I bought a stopwatch to help me with speed drills. The stopwatches on my iPhone and Garmin work fine but they are not easy to use when you do both the running and the timing. The unit I bought was $15 and it will be easy to carry as I run intervals.

When my wife started her daily treadmill run this morning I decided to join her on the elliptical to focus on some under-worked muscles. Anticipating a short session I set the elliptical to its highest resistance setting and figured I'd go for about 10 minutes. At the ten minute mark I chose to continue and worked the machine in reverse which was very difficult.

Reversing the direction was toughest on my upper body and my arms were aching five minutes in. I switched back to forward motion and continued for another 20 minutes, still at the highest resistance level. I finished feeling like I'd made some good progress in my conditioning.

I'm thinking about speed work tomorrow though I'm due for a rest day soon. There's only a few more days left for hard workouts before my half marathon taper. I need to make every one count.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It happens every year

I thought you were supposed to have fun on birthdays
Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 8.25 miles

It's my birthday today, an event that used to coincide with Patriot's Day, a Massachusetts holiday that was best known as the day they ran the Boston Marathon. Growing up in Massachusetts, I enjoyed the fact that I never had to go to school on my birthday, first because it was a holiday and later because we always had our spring break that week. It wasn't until college that I had to attend classes on my birthday. I may have chosen not to go on those days just to maintain the tradition. Well that was my story anyway.

We went to a large family dinner last night and near the end I was presented with a birthday cake. It was very nice of my wife's family to do this. The cake was selected by my brother-in-law who is a dedicated vegan. The cake was pleasant enough. I have no idea what it was made of but it tasted like a bran muffin with white non-dairy frosting. Yummy! Fortunately (or unfortunately) there were a number of un-vegan desserts available.

This morning I decided to celebrate my birthday with an 8.25 mile run on the Bethpage bike-paths. I bought an Empire Passport on Saturday and was looking forward to being waved through for my generous contribution to the park service but no one was in attendance. Oh well. I brought along my Amphipod hand water bottle and set out with a target of 8 miles. It's been a while since I've done a run exceeding 6 miles but I expected it to go well since my aim was to run it easy.

Useful GU
I consumed a GU Roctane in vanilla orange flavor about 30 minutes before my run and I think it helped get me moving at the beginning. The skies were gray with some very light rain and the temperature was a cool 50 degrees. At around the 3 mile mark I grew concerned about my stamina on this hilly course but I decided that I'd simply throttle my speed below my lactic threshold level (English: slow down but not stop) if I grew too tired. I recovered some energy by mile 5 but I struggled with the last long hill at the end that I always dread.

It was a good run overall. I maintained a pace in the high 9:00 range despite the tougher sections. I'll probably go even longer on a run before I return to work next Monday and begin my taper. I'm a bit sore from this run and yesterday's speed work. Add a day of recovery and the result is improved conditioning. Happy birthday indeed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Karhu Fast 2's live up to their name

Today's run (track intervals)

You know those movies where the mousy librarian takes off her glasses and the leading man suddenly notices how beautiful she is? That was akin to my experience today with the Karhu Fast 2's that I'd damned with (very) faint praise in my recent review. In testing these shoes I thought I'd done an adequate job of assessing their capabilities, both on long runs as well as short speed bursts and tempos. What I didn't do - and shame on me for that - was put them to the test on the Tartan track. This morning, along with my daughter (who served as my running partner and coach), I used these Karhus in their natural environment.

Our plan was to run multiple short intervals to help build fast twitch muscles and anaerobic base. After a trip around the track at a moderate pace we headed to a side track that had sand pits on either end. That gave us about 45 meters of useful track length for our short, fast sprints. My daughter and I took turns running on this track beside some high school boys who were practicing their long jumps. We did multiple runs, going in both directions and were pleased with our speeds. My daughter (age 12) was able to match me or come within a second of many of my times.

We followed that first set of runs with another lap around the track and then ran additional sprints on the main oval. Again our speeds were good and I was happy that most of my running (besides the recovery jogs) stayed well below a 6 minute pace. The Karhus really shined today. I finally got the "Fulcrum" concept and ran on my forefoot, practically on my toes, bringing my knees up higher than I would on an aerobic run. The Karhu Fast 2 will be my speed shoe going forward and it even felt good at a sedate pace today. I'm still committed to a lower profile shoe like the Saucony Mirage and Kinvara as a daily trainer but the Karhu is a true sprinter. That made for a great practice today with my favorite running coach and partner.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bethpage trails on a sunny day -- but I didn't love the run

Today's run (Bethpage State Park trails) 3.5 miles

By now I have a sense of how a run will go long before I take my first step. When I prepare my gear the night before my 4:00 AM runs I usually know how I'll feel when my alarm goes off in the morning. On weekends, when I run longer and later in the morning, I've come to expect a tougher time once 10:00 AM comes and goes.

That was the case today. I was up early but I didn't get out until almost noon. I wasn't feeling the drive to run and I even considered talking the day to rest. As the weather grew sunnier through the morning I decided to go for it. I knew that we'd see rainy weather for the next couple of days and I didn't want to waste a good day. I didn't feel it today but I knew I had to get out there.

I went to Bethpage to run the trails and started at the beginning of the bike path. I followed that for about half a mile before reaching an opening to the dirt trail that runs north. That trail eventually wrapped east and opened to numerous other paths. I followed the wider, better groomed, trail before deciding to switch to a single-track that first took me north but then bent right and eventually reversed direction. I continued through these trails, switching paths every so often and gauging my position by the direction of the sun.

I wasn't fatigued but my running lacked an energetic punch. In truth, it wasn't a very good run. I never got that free-wheeling feeling of roller coaster running that I often experience on the trails. After three miles I decided to pay attention to what my body was telling me and I wrapped it up after covering 3.5 miles overall. I still have a cold that I'm hoping will be over soon. A rest day tomorrow will be nice and long distance run is the plan for Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on weather.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spring vacation kickoff run

Today's run (street): 3.6 miles

My spring vacation starts today and with weather reports calling for afternoon rain I thought it best to go out early. I woke up after a decent night's sleep with a mild cough. It's just another phase in this annoying cold that I've been suffering since Monday. Knowing that I had busy days ahead, including some travel, I decided early on to ignore this cold as much as I could. I worked long days, went out at night and ran or elliptical-ed every morning. This seems to have worked. After a cup of coffee my cough seemed to recede and I made my way outside.

It's still cold for mid-April and I dressed for my run appropriately. I've noticed that over the last few weeks my Saturday runs have been so-so but my Sunday runs have been good. I'm not sure why but anticipating that this morning I aimed low - three or four miles tops. I wore the new Mirages that continue to feel great. In terms of comfort I still prefer the Kinvaras but I like the way these new shoes move with my foot and land me ahead of my arch. Without really trying I maintained a mid-9 pace that felt easy and fluid. I'm hoping I'll have a window on Sunday to cover 8 or more miles but the rain may interfere with that plan. Since I'm on vacation I'll have numerous opportunities to run long distances. The half marathon looms large -- two weeks and a day from now.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Massachusetts Institute of (Running) Technology

Today's workout (elliptical): 23 minutes

I'm back in NY so last night I thought I'd do a morning run in my neighborhood. When I got up I considered my mild cold and decided to do an indoor workout instead. It had been over a week since I'd cross trained so I did a shorter than normal elliptical session that generated a good sweat. If the weather is clear this weekend I'll try for a long base run as I train for the half marathon that's happening in three Sundays from now.

My visit to the Media Lab was enlightening as usual and I came upon a couple of interesting activity related projects. The Cardio Cam, from the Affective Computing Lab, is a mirror with a webcam mounted at the top. You position yourself so that your face is centered in a frame that's superimposed on the mirror. After a couple of seconds, large numbers appear on the lower right that show your heart rate. It's as simple as that. The webcam images your face and the algorithm calculates your heart rate based on a spectral analysis of your image samples -- or as they put it "Non-contact, automated cardiac pulse measurements using video imaging and blind source separation." The display showed my pulse just a bit under 60, which would be right for me under normal conditions.

A project that came out of the Speech & Mobility group used location tracking on a smartphone that feeds a narrative that plays while a person runs. In the demo, a runner plays an adventure game by listening to instructions that tell him where to run and turn to perform steps in the game. The app was written by a grad student who was bored running the same old streets of his neighborhood. Sounds familiar. I wanted to try it but it's Android only. Another reason to dump the iPhone!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Running once again along the mighty Charles

Long live Red Sox Nation!
Today's run (Charles River, Cambridge & Boston): 4 miles

After all the rain on Wednesday I was wondering what conditions we would see this morning. Despite the weather it's been a good trip. I was able to meet my brother for dinner last night near his Cambridge office after a useful and interesting day at the Media Lab. My hope this morning was to run my favorite Cambridge to Boston loop before heading over to MIT for today's activities. I got up early and saw that the skies had cleared but I waited for sunrise before I headed out.

It was 43 degrees and breezy outside when I started. I wore my lightweight half zip shirt with shorts and felt comfortable, especially after leaving shady Kendall Square for the sunny path along Memorial Drive. Like last time I ran this route, I noticed that many runners followed a clockwise direction, opposite to the way I go. It occurred to me today that  those runners probably started their run from the Boston side and came north across the Harvard Bridge.

There were quite a few fast runners this morning. I suspect that some of them were training for Monday's Boston Marathon. In any case I got passed so many times that I stopped counting. I've been feeling slow lately and this didn't help. I maintained a steady stride and crossed the Harvard Bridge toward Boston, chuckling at the measurements in "smoots" as I observed the scull teams practicing on the water. I ran along the southern edge of the river and regretted not having sunglasses for this eastern stretch. I saw a steady stream of runners, one of whom lapped me twice (from the opposite direction) since I'd come over to the Boston side. That meant he was probably running in the 5 minute per mile range.

I crossed the Longfellow Bridge back into Cambridge and followed Main Street back to Kendall Square to complete my run. In all it was only four miles but the city views and the river made it feel like a trip. Two runs while travling ths week and over seven miles covered. I always miss Boston when I visit - it's so great seeing family and it's fun seeing Red Sox merchandise everywhere instead of the ubiquitous Yankee logo.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Charles River run washout

Gloom and doom in Cambridge this morning
Today's run (treadmill): 3.25 miles

My hope for a morning run along the Charles River was dashed when I looked outside to see dark skies, pelting rain and heavy winds. Instead I walked down the hall to the fitness center that was conveniently located on my floor. More often than not, the treadmills are taken when I get there but at 5:30 AM I had my choice of machines. Although I'm no fan of treadmills I do appreciate the high end models, in this case LifeFitness, that provide some entertainment while you run along, going nowhere.

It's been two days since my last run (Sunday's race) so I felt good at the start. I chose an interactive map of a trail course and I watched my progress along that route. There was nothing trail-like about the experience but it was nice to see something other than the usual track oval that we have on our treadmill at home. Per my usual method, I stepped up the speed every five minutes and finished with a pace under 9:00. Given my still present cold I thought I did well on the run. I'm optimistic that the bad weather will move out by tomorrow morning, providing better conditions for a Charles River run.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Feeling low but anticipating Cambridge running

Perhaps due to my hard running during Sunday's race I'm suffering some fatigue as well as a bad sore throat. I get annoyed when I come down with a cold because I do so much to stay healthy. The timing for being sick is never good and today it's especially bad. I co-led an all day industry working group and am now heading up to the MIT Media Lab for a couple of days. I'll rely on ibuprofen and caffeine to get me through the rest of this week.

Despite the way I feel, I've optimistically packed two sets of running clothes along with my Kinvaras. As I've mentioned in prior posts, the loop along the Charles from Cambridge to Boston and back is one of my favorite running experiences. With a late night tonight and an early start tomorrow it may too much to take on, especially if my cold gets worse. I'll just have to see how it goes. Next week we're on vacation so I'll get to put in some sorely needed training for my half marathon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thoughts on my race day performance

It's easy to dismiss a 5K as an easy race. The distance of 3.1 miles is only 20% longer than my average weekday run. But yesterday's race was far more challenging than my standard 4:00 AM run. For one thing, I'm not performance focused at that hour and hardly ever break 9:00 per mile during the week. I might get there near the end but these morning runs are more about movement and maintenance. A 5K is about speed.

It had  been eleven days since I donated a pint of blood at work and I'm wondering if that was still affecting me as I raced along the course. I made some mistakes in my preparation -- I probably ingested too much caffeine and not enough water -- but I didn't suffer from oxygen debt throughout the race. My energy level was good but not optimal. There was a point in the race where I was moving along, probably at around an 8:20 pace, and a small group of runners passed me together. I thought at that moment "Why are they moving faster than me?" My legs were cranking but my cadence was probably slower. I tried to increase turnover but it didn't make much of a difference.

I'm sure that if I had done speed work in the last month I'd have been more competitive on Sunday. My focus on base runs surely helped me because I felt solid even though I was running at paces that were close to a minute faster than on my training runs. Overall, I managed to beat 71% of those in my age division and 66% of the field so even on the day after the race I'm still pleased with my performance.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Race report: 2011 Marcie Mazzola 5k

Rounding the corner -- finish line ahead
Today's run (Marcie Mazzola 5K): 27:33 (8:52 pace)

This morning I ran the Marcie Mazzola Foundation race for the third time. My family and I have a sentimental attachment to this event because the 2009 race was my very first competition. I ran well today though I didn't come close to a PR nor did I match last year's time. The important thing is that I did fine and had a great time running this race.

It was cold this morning and I was glad to have worn insulated sweat pants and two jacket layers to keep me warm prior to the start. Having my family at the race helps tremendously because I can wear the warmer layers and then hand them off to my wife before the start. This race is always well organized and today was no different. However, the usual on-time start was delayed 11 minutes to accommodate last minute adjustments related to routing car traffic around the race. I was chilly in my short sleeves and running shorts but not uncomfortable. I looked forward to the start so I could generate a little body heat.

Off to a good start - the big hill was still to come
The congestion at the beginning prevented a fast start but that didn't bother me because I've learned to take the first mile of this race slow and steady. While it isn't as steep or onerous as Cow Harbor's Widow Hill, there is a steep incline that runners reach about a quarter mile in that goes on for a while. I took it a little faster than planned but still came though mile 1 with a split time of 9:36. I was alarmed at that but I figured I could make up some time on the flat and downhill portions of the race. It's been a while since I've run at a sub-9:00 pace but I was ready to do that today.

I wore my new Saucony Mirages and liked them a lot. They gave me no trouble on their maiden flight and moved me along well. I wondered briefly at one point whether I should have run with the Kinvaras because they are a little more flexible but in the end I don't think that mattered. I suspect the Mirages will loosen up a little after I put on more mileage. 

I came through the second mile at 17:58 so I'd already made up 37 seconds by then. That put my overall pace under 9 minutes. I was running well but wished I had drank a little more water prior to the start. I thought only of preserving the pace I was running and concentrated on holding off other runners that tried to pass me. I was only partially successful there. Before long we were crossing Main Street on our way to circling Heckscher Park. I knew we were near the end but the last half mile is always tough on a 5K. I took a half cup of water which I sorely needed and it helped.

I knew the last hill was coming and when I saw it my heart sank because I felt my tank emptying and dreaded a bonk just an eighth of a mile from the finish. I decided to take the hill fast, passing a few runners in the process, and suddenly I was on the last patch of road before entering the grounds near the finish. The final leg was routed up an incline with a dogleg turn to the finish line. I saw my family cheering me at that turn and my wife snapped the picture at the top of this post. I came over the line in a sprint and noted my end time. Not my greatest effort on a 5K but comfortably under 9:00/mi which was my goal today.

Post race awards and Mr. Softy near the back
During the cool down we enjoyed the generous variety of recovery foods -- fruit, energy bars, bagels, cookies and chips, administered by the always helpful and cheery volunteers. It's a really nice race with a nice small town feel. This year the race organizers had three Mr. Softy trucks parked at the race grounds who were handing out free cones to anyone with a race bib. Our big surprise was when we ran into one of my daughter's favorite teachers who had left her school last year. Ms. M had run the race with her mother and another friend. Their reunion was sweet and it characterized the feeling we always get from this event.

I'm now setting my sights on the LI Half Marathon that's less than a month away. I'm going back to my long base runs and thinking about strategy for the longest race I'll run to date. But today it's about enjoying the feeling that comes from a good run on a good day. Another Marcie Mazzola race has been run. Can't wait for next year.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Breaking the rules on race day?

Mirage, Kinvara, Fast 2 - decisions, decisions
I really want to go for a run today but one must rest before race day. I cheated a little this morning and put on my Karhu Fast 2's that AG and I are reviewing on Runner's Tech Review. I wanted to reinforce my impressions by doing a few fast strides on the treadmill. We'll be posting the review next week and I wanted one final impression. I also wanted to compare the shoe with the new Saucony Mirages. I'll reserve comment on the Karhu's for now.

I couldn't resist following my Karhu sprint with a similar session with the Mirages. I think I'm in love. While I appreciated the feel of the Mirages out of the box it wasn't until I stepped on the treadmill and hit the 8 MPH button that I totally understood what Saucony did with the design of these shoes. I love the Kinvaras but the Mirage is an improvement on that platform. I'll stop the effusive praise for now as I still haven't put the shoe to pavement, but I'm feeling optimistic about its potential.

This morning's experience has me rethinking which shoe I should wear on race day. On one hand, it would be a great opportunity to try the Karhu's in competition and determine if the Fast 2 lives up to its name.  I've assumed to this point that I'd wear the venerable Kinvaras that I consider the finest running shoes I've ever worn. Despite the unwritten rule that you should never compete in new shoes I'm seriously tempted to race the Marie Mazzola 5K in the Mirages. It's a short enough distance that it probably doesn't matter. Smart money is on the Mirages but we'll see what makes sense tomorrow morning.

Finally - I'm rooting for my friend FS who is racing tomorrow morning in the NYRR Scotland 10K in Central Park. With luck we'll both have decent weather as we line up for our respective starts.

Friday, April 8, 2011

First look: Saucony ProGrid Mirage

I noticed a box sitting on the front steps when I got home last night and was excited to see my review pair of Saucony Mirages had arrived. I brought them inside and opened the package, not really knowing what to expect. The Mirage is Saucony's most minimal stability trainer and a close relation to my beloved Kinvaras.

The shoes, in jet black with bright red mid-soles, were far different from the Kinvara in look and feel. While the Kinvara is a super light shoe with a very minimal upper, the Mirage feels beefier with a more conventional upper and more structure on the medial side for stability. This combination adds weight to the shoe (7.7 oz for Kinvara vs 9.6 oz for the Mirage). Still, this shoe is under 10 oz making it almost 1 oz  lighter than the ASICS DS Trainer 16 that is considered the standard for light stability shoes.

After trying on the Mirage and comparing it to the Kinvara, I noticed a significant difference in the way the Mirage held my foot. The new shoe felt more substantial, less minimal, with gentle upward bend at the front that provided a feel of forward motion and a natural mid-foot fall. I have not run in these shoes so I don't have a sense of them in action but the initial reaction is promising. I'm not going to wear the Mirages on my race on Sunday but I will plan to use them for my half marathon.

A full review of the Mirages will be posted on Runner's Tech Review after I've had a chance to evaluate them. In the meantime, Check Runner's Tech Review next week to see our evaluation of the new Karhu Fast 2_Rides.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Taper-ending tempo -- now the rest begins

Today's run (treadmill): 2.6 miles

I finished my taper this morning with a progressive tempo run on the treadmill. I would have liked my last training run to happen outdoors but the wet weather kept me inside. In a way it worked out well. My original plan for an outdoor run was to cover a mile as quickly as possible and nothing more. On taper week you want quality miles even if it means running less of them. Since I was on the treadmill I changed my plan and did my run starting at an easy pace and increased speed every two minutes so that by the end I was running 25% faster than when I began.

My overall pace wasn't impressive but I thought the exercise was beneficial. Over the past couple of months my strategy has been to finish my runs faster than I'd begun. It would be great to achieve negative splits during Sunday's 5K. I'm looking forward to a couple of days rest and hoping for the best on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Effort gap between perception and reality

Today's run (street): 2.5 miles

Yesterday's treadmill run was a welcomed improvement over my prior three runs. This morning I got outside and ran in weather that seemed far colder than the 39 degrees that had been reported on the news. I didn't look once at my Garmin during my run as I worked to maintain a brisk pace. With the paces I've been running lately I wanted to avoid further demotivation by seeing my actual speed. I hoped that my perceived effort matched my performance and in the end I guess that was true.

At first I was disappointed that I'd averaged only 9:13/mi though I felt like I was running at 10K race pace. The important thing I realized was that late last week I was running a minute-plus slower per mile, due to the effects of giving blood. With one more run followed by two days of rest, I'm hoping that I will be close to race day potential by Sunday.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A step in the right direction

Today's run (treadmill) 2.45 miles

I had to make the call last night whether I'd need indoor or outdoor gear for the morning. News 12 Long Island's weather report last night predicted rain overnight so I prepared for a treadmill run. The skies seemed clear when I got up but since I hadn't laid out the proper gear for the street I did my run indoors.

Yesterday I did some research on performance related to blood donation and there's ample evidence that my difficult workouts since last Wednesday are directly related to giving blood. I rested on Monday and anticipated tough going this morning but my run wasn't as hard as I'd expected it to be. After starting at a pace that matched my best efforts from the weekend, I increased speed throughout the run and finished up running close to 9:00 per mile. My overall pace was in the high 9:00's but I was fine with that. I felt much more like my old self by the end. I have two more runs planned before I finish my taper. I'm hoping to get at least one more run on the road before the race and to maintain a speed that's close to my 5K race pace.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Turning my attention to Sunday's 5K

I thought about doing an out-of-schedule run this morning because I'll be tapering this week for Sunday's Marcie Mazzola 5K race. As usual for a Sunday race, I plan to rest two days prior so a run today would have provided four days of running before hiatus. Although yesterday's trail run was difficult, I believe it was a step forward in terms of strength building and I didn't want to mess that up today by over-training. I'll run Tue-Thu, swapping my usual cross-training day for an additional running workout.

I'm curious to see how I do on Sunday. I haven't competed since February's Snowflake Race and most of my road training since then has focused on base and form. I have fallen short in my intention to run intervals to activate my fast twitch fibers so I'm probably not in the best shape for a speedy race. I think my long base runs will support me well during the 5K but you never really know until you're out there. I'm going to try to throw in some "speed play" segments over the next three runs. It's not a substitute for intervals but it's the best I can do at this point.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Stillwell Woods roller coaster torture ride

Red Cross registration frenzy in the tent
Today's run (Stillwell Woods): 4.5 miles

Saturday was a day of volunteering for the Emerging Runner family. It was the Long Island Red Cross's annual fund-raising walk that took place on the grounds of Nassau Coliseum. My wife volunteers at the local chapter and the whole family gets involved for this event. The kids worked hard to hand out T-shirts to pre-registered participants while my wife attended to other functions. After that we did the 2 mile walk that went a few times around the Coliseum followed by a nice BBQ courtesy of local restaurants. After that we attended the NY Islanders game with tickets that were donated to everyone who participated in the Red Cross event. We had a great time for a great cause.

Objects on ice were closer than they appear
This morning I headed to Stillwell instead of taking on an extended run at Bethpage that may not have gone well since I'm apparently still rebuilding my red blood cell count after last week's donation. I figured that the trails might be a kinder surface than pavement for my legs that have felt unresponsive since last week.

I started by following the Black trail and after chickening out at the first "Most Difficult/Easier" trail split I tucked into a "More Difficult" path I came upon a few minutes later. I wasn't moving very quickly but I don't care about pace when I run trails. After navigating some narrow channels that were cut to facilitate mountain bikers (of which the woods were filled today) I came upon the tough stuff -- scree, sand and rocky hills that required both steep ascents and sharp descents. When I'm at full strength these obstacles seem fun, like riding a roller coaster, but today they wore me out for a time. I decided to make my way back to the flatter sections before I grew too fatigued and was able to find my way using the sun and the MotionX compass on my iPhone.

I finished my run with a westbound tack along the southern path of the open field. The wind from the west was stiff and freezing and I almost laughed at the difficulty I had making my way to the trail head. After being voluntarily tortured for almost 50 minutes I was glad to bring the run to an end. Very soon after I'd finished I felt the legendary "runner's high" that confirmed a good job well done. Well, a hard job anyway.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Is the Saucony Mirage for real?

Today's run (street): 3.1 miles

My experience with running in a more minimal shoe has been good and I credit the Saucony Kinvaras for that. When I started wearing these shoes I had concerns that a less constructed neutral running shoe would cause me some problems. Before the Kinvaras I had been running in the Brooks Adrenalins as a daily trainer and I didn't expect that to change. As it happened, the Kinvaras caused no issues with their lack of stability features and as a low arch pronator I'm questioning the need for stability control. The need for guidance support may come with runs longer than mine that top out at around 11 miles.

I'm still keenly interested in minimal running shoes so I asked the folks at Saucony whether I could review the new Hattori, a super light, zero drop minimal racer/trainer. There are a limited supply of these shoes for testing so Saucony graciously offered a pair of the new Mirages, the fraternal twin to the Kinvara. The Mirage has some stability features and a little more structured upper. If the fit of the Mirage is close to the Kinvara I will wear the Mirages during my half marathon. It might be a perfect combination for the 13.1 mile distance. I'll document my experience and review it on Runner's Tech Review.

Men's ProGrid Mirage
Quick summary of the Mirage (per Saucony):
  • The perfect light trainer for a slight overpronator
  • Lightweight with great responsiveness
  • Allows the foot to move through the gait cycle unrestricted
  • Hydrator collar lining
  • Memory Foam Heel Pods
  • EVA Sockliner
  • HRC Strobel Board
  • Heel ProGrid LITE
  • High Abrasion EVA (EVA+)
  • Supportive Arc
  • Blown rubber
  • XT-900™
Men: 8.9 oz
Women: 7.9 oz

I'm not going to comment too much about my run this morning except to say that it was difficult and my performance was terrible. A friend on the running blogsphere (and a person who ran the Dirty Sock 10K in about half the time as me) commented that blood donation can have a real effect on performance for two weeks after the donation. I'll accept that at face value and not dwell on today's workout. I'm hoping for significant improvement tomorrow but I'll settle for a mediocre run.

Friday, April 1, 2011

I blame the burger

Today's run (treadmill): 2.3 miles

I'm a little more than a week away from my next race. It's a 5K, a distance I've raced a number of times over the last couple of years. I've come to prefer 10K's for their combination of speed and distance but the Marcie Mazzola Memorial Run is special to me because it was my very first race as "The Emerging Runner." That year the race was 4 miles in length and it has since been shortened to a 5K to increase participation. I know the course fairly well having run it a couple of times. I have great respect for the big hill that runners encounter just minutes after the start. I haven't been training for speed or hills but my base runs at Bethpage have brought up my level of conditioning. Perhaps some speed work is in order for this weekend.

You were no help
I used the treadmill today even though the great storm predicted to pass through this morning turned out to be more April Fools than April showers. Yesterday's elliptical session was uncharacteristically difficult, due perhaps to my blood donation on Wednesday. I thought I was back to full strength and even had a burger at lunch with an old friend yesterday to top off my iron level (sure - that's why!) so I thought I'd have a fairly easy time today. I can't complain specifically about the way I felt, only that the effort felt hard even at the beginning when I was pacing around 6 MPH. The effort didn't get easier but not noticeably more difficult as I blipped up the speed throughout my workout. I ended up with a respectable (albeit short) run and afterward felt like I'd expended some good effort. Besides the speed work I'm aiming to get back to the 8+ base runs I've been doing on the weekends. I'm hoping that those April showers keep holding off until next week.

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