Saturday, August 31, 2013

I really should have thought this through

Accidental self portrait after the run
I was trying to get this shot of the new gates and info kiosk
Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 7.4 miles

As I made my way along today's Bethpage route, I came up with various titles for this post. At the two mile mark, it was something like, "Great base run at Bethpage." By the time I'd reached my turnaround point it was, "Oh the humidity!" By the time I reached the end of my run, the above title popped into my head.

Today was a base building run to help prepare me for Cow Harbor. With all the focus I've been putting on speed, I didn't want to neglect the fact that the Cow Harbor course is 6.2 miles and hilly. I thought that Bethpage's bike trail would be a great place to duplicate those properties. Cow Harbor's race day weather can be oppressively hot and humid, so today I hit the trifecta for simulating conditions.

I didn't plan a particular distance this morning, although I knew I'd run at least six miles. Once I arrived at the park, I decided to run a mile on the north trail before changing directions so I could do the bulk of my distance on the older, somewhat more challenging section. I had little trouble getting through this first part. It was cloudy and 73 degrees, so despite the 89% humidity, it didn't seem so bad.

My new-found speed allowed me to pass numerous runners. This was gratifying since I'm often passed by club runners who populate this trail on weekends. My pace for the first couple of miles was on par with what I've been running lately, and I felt encouraged. By the time I reached mile three, I started to feel the effort, especially as I took on a couple of tough hills that come before the Plainview Road roundabout.

Despite growing evidence that my smooth base run was about to get rougher, I tried to maintain a brisk pace. The trail between miles three and four trends slightly down, so I was able to keep going without a lot of extra effort. By the time I passed four miles, it became clear that my glycogen level was depleted. I did my best to hold on while my body figured out what to do next.

Between a lack of fuel and the overwhelming humidity, I was hurting. Why, after seeing the weather report showing close to 100% humidity today, did I forget to bring a water bottle? My pace had slowed 90 seconds per mile compared to the start, and I switched to a more mechanical stride in an effort to just keep going. I nearly bonked at mile six, but instead slowed my pace even more. I needed to prepare for the dreaded hills that make up most of the last mile leading to the trail head.

By the time I reached the biggest and longest hill, I was moving slowly. But I was moving. I even passed a woman on a bike who was struggling to get up the hill. About 4/5ths of the way to the top, my energy began to return and I stepped up my pace enough to put me back into target range. I was thrilled to run the final section of trail leading to the lot. Stopping never felt so good.

It was a very tough workout and I'm still feeling the effects seven hours later (although I did participate this afternoon in our family's annual obstacle race - a summer tradition). I don't know if today's experience was due to fitness gaps or if it was more about the weather. Last weekend I ran almost the same distance and performed much better, so it probably had more to do with conditions than conditioning. Next time I'll think about going out so fast on a base run and I'll definitely remember to bring along water.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Work versus run, guess which won.

Timed out
I needed to complete a big project this morning, so I couldn't go out for my early morning run as planned. I realized that finishing that work would interfere with my run, because I needed to leave the house before 10:00 for another obligation. I decided that I'd go for a late afternoon run instead. Well, that didn't happen, and I decided instead to give my legs a break from a week of fairly hard running.

Tomorrow I'm planning another base run that will include hills. I'm not sure about speed, but no matter what, I'll keep it more intense than normal for a run of this type. I have high expectations for this workout, so I'm hoping that taking the day off today will help make things go smoothly tomorrow.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Great progress, suddenly

Surprising results
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

I think my training program is working. I've been encouraged by the improving paces I'm seeing after taking a more performance-oriented approach to my training runs. Overall, my average pace has dropped about 5% since I started training for Cow Harbor. The trend line was getting me closer to 9:00 per mile, but I hadn't yet reached that goal. That is, until this morning, when I blew right past it.

I wasted no time getting out today, hitting the road about 7:00 AM under very cloudy skies. Going out fast is becoming easier now, although I still suffer through the first few minutes while I hit my aerobic stride. The visual I keep in mind these days is putting my foot on the gas with no letup. Just like in a race, I know that to run faster, I have to think about running fast. Complacency only leads to slow results.

Like yesterday, I used my heart rate as a guide and saw that I was pretty much where I wanted to be. I considered breaking out of my 3 to 3.5 distance range that I typically follow on weekdays. I decided that while I'm developing my speed technique, I'll take a careful approach to adding weekday distance.

When I reached the last few streets that lead me back home, I decided to step it up even more. No reason to reserve more energy than what was necessary to get me to my driveway. After reviewing the metrics, I saw that I'd covered the last half mile at 5K pace. After mapping the run, I calculated that I'd paced 8:50 overall for the run. That was the fastest training run (excluding speed sessions) I've done since early February.

I was both surprised and pleased to have cracked the 9:00 threshold and encouraged that I surpassed my target. Tomorrow may be a good time to start working in a little more mileage while I try to hold the gains. I'm not expecting to repeat today's performance, but hey, you never know.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One of these routes is not like the other

Post run relaxing
Today's run (street): 3.36 or 3.41 miles

It was another mid-high intensity run this morning. My heart rate (the only performance metric I'll view while on a run) was close to target, and I knew I'd be happy with my finish time. A quick look at the Garmin confirmed that I'd managed another good run. I cooled down by the pool when I finished and tried mapping my route using the Gmaps web app on my phone

I was pleased to see that the Android OS was finally supporting Gmap's functionality. That allowed me to record my distance and calculate my true pace. I liked what I saw: 9:05. Although I worked for it, getting there didn't feel as hard as I thought it would be. Looking a gift horse in the mouth, I mapped the run on my laptop after I'd finish showering and discovered a surprising disparity in distance.

Distance: Android version
Web version, same route
For some reason, the route on my laptop registered 5/100ths of a mile shorter than the exact same map on my phone. Weird and disappointing, because that small disparity meant my average pace was actually 9:12. Not bad, but not what I wanted to see. I remapped the route to see if I'd somehow missed a street, but the distance came up the same each time.

So what if the phone mapping is actually the correct measurement? That would be nice. But I use the web version as the standard, so I'll have to go with that. In the end, the difference is measurement is minimal. Unfortunately, the difference in pace is not.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Alarming morning affects my run

Rude awakening
Today's run (street): 3.2 miles

This morning's fun started early. It was 2:39 AM to be exact. That was when we were woken up by an incessant beeping. It turned out that our alarm system was signaling that the backup battery was low. Apparently our street had lost power some time earlier. After a bleary-eyed call to LIPA's outrage line (that was a typo but I'm leaving it in), we went back to sleep, only to be awoken around 5:00 AM when the power came back and reactivated the alarm.

We had overnight guests down the hall and thankfully they slept through the craziness. Since I was up early, I decided to go out for my run sooner than I normally would. The skies were overcast, but there didn't appear to be any rainclouds in sight. I went out fairly fast (at least it felt that way) and hoped I could carry that urgency through my full distance.

My effort seemed moderately high and I tried to maintain a steady cadence. A check of my heart rate around mile 2 showed that I was 8 BPM below where I wanted to be. I hoped that was due to improved conditioning, but it was probably a case of perceived effort not matching actual effort. In the end I completed the run both pleased and disappointed. Pleased, because my time was better than average, but disappointed because I was still 15 seconds per mile slower than my last weekday run.

I'm aiming to improve on that tomorrow. Perhaps the disrupted sleep affected my performance. Yes, let's go with that.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Full contact running on the Bethpage bike trail

Today's run had its ups and downs
Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 7.25 
1,600th Emerging Runner Post!

Speed is one thing and endurance is another. I've made progress on my pacing over the past week, but that was with distances ranging from 3.1 to 3.4 miles. Doubling that distance reveals opportunities for improvement. This morning's workout confirmed my need to focus on base mileage. The good news is that I'm not as far off from my target as I thought.

Bethpage at 7:30 AM is usually a quiet place, but when I arrived, the parking lot was 3/4 full. Judging from the streams of people with stadium chairs and kids walking with soccer balls, I assumed there was a tournament or clinic happening at the athletic fields. It didn't look like they were charging for parking, so I was lucky to get there before the whole lot filled up.

According to News 12 Long Island, the temperature was 64 degrees and, at that hour, the bike trail was mostly in shadow. I wore my new Virratas for the first time on pavement (yesterday's run was on the track), and they felt very good. I had none of the problems I'd experienced with the Kinvara 3's (when new) during my half marathon training. Then again, those issues could have been with my feet, not with the shoes.

My first half mile was a little rough, and I wondered if I was pushing myself too much following three consecutive hard workouts. I decided to ignore the discomfort because the transition from anaerobic to aerobic breathing is sometimes difficult. Once I hit the first mile, I knew I would be able to manage the planned distance.

Bethpage's bike trail is rolling, and the north trail is predominantly uphill, all the way to the end. Me and my friend KWL ran it all the way to Woodbury a couple of months ago, and that was brutal. Today, I viewed the hills differently, because I knew all the elevation I was experiencing on the way up would come back as downhills on my return. Yet there were times when the trail seemed to run uphill in both directions. While that was true, I had few troubles along the route.

My plan was to run as far as Washington Ave, turn around and come back, a distance of about 7.25 miles. I had the path more or less to myself on the way north, except there were some reckless riders zooming along without helmets. That's a dangerous decision when you're exceeding 20 MPH on downhills. By the time I changed direction for the return leg, there were numerous other runners, walkers and even more cyclists.

At around the five mile point, where the path is only wide enough for three people, I saw a man and two women running in my direction. They were running three across. As they came closer, I decided we had a math problem. I kept expecting the woman on the left (who was lined up with me) to drop back or move up to her right. But fifteen feet away, they were still spread out across the trail.

I moved as far to the right as I could go without spilling onto the shoulder, so I stood my ground. The woman tried to squeeze by, but she miscalculated the space and her arm caught the point of my elbow. I have very hard bones so I'm sure that hurt, although I didn't feel a thing except contact. It was too bad that we'd bumped, but she saw me coming for at least 30 seconds.

The remainder of the run was contact-free and I felt like I was moving well throughout every section. I focused on shorter strides on the two final hills, and tried to maintain my normal cadence. In the end, It was my longest run of the year. I barely squeaked in under 10 min/mile but this run wasn't done for performance. This week has been about speed, distance and a few hills. I'll need to keep it up this coming week. After all, you're only as good as your last run.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Fast track to performance gains

Flow of the workout
Today's workout (track): 1 mile tempo, 12 x 100M, 1.25 mile cool-down = 3.1 miles

This morning I headed out early to the local track to run intervals and tempos. I took the Virratas out for their first run, and thought they responded well to fast pacing. My plan was to run one mile at 5K race pace, which I'd follow with intervals and a cool-down run.

The track had a few walkers and a couple of runners when I arrived. I got started quickly on my tempo warm up and found a pace that felt hard, but sustainable. I locked into that pace for four laps, guided by perceived effort. Along the way, I passed everyone including the other two runners on track. After last Sunday's low point of the race, when I was being passed left and right around mile five, it felt good to be the one who was doing the passing. I averaged 8:18 for the mile.

Next, I ran a set of 100 meter repeats, averaging 6:40 per mile. I was surprised when I later looked at heart rate data and saw that I'd averaged between 74-80% of MAX. Knowing that, I can probably get my pace down to 6:25, while still staying under 90% MAX. However, I'll probably keep it to 8 x 100's for that session.

I finished the workout with a 1.25 mile cool down, run at a moderate (9:21) pace. In total, it wasn't a lot of distance, but the intensity made up for that. I'm planning a long run tomorrow, either on the Bethpage path, or another route that will facilitate a 6+ mile distance better than my neighborhood roads. My performance has improved greatly for runs between 3-3.5 miles. It will be interesting to see how my pacing holds up, when I double that length tomorrow.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Elite sale yields bargain Virrata

New running shoe day. Guess which ones are mine.
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

So far so good on the training front. This morning I went out with expectations of matching my recent pace range and I managed to do that. When I first entered time and distance into the pace calculator, I thought I'd missed the mark. I quickly realized I'd entered the time incorrectly, adding in an extra minute. It turned out that I'd actually exceeded my target and ran today's distance four seconds per mile faster than yesterday's.

I assign two factors to these recent gains: a constant focus on pace (via perceived effort, not watching the Garmin's display) and the continued recruitment of fast twitch fibers in my leg muscles. In other words, I'm thinking about running fast and building fitness. Runners come closest to their potential when racing and an active focus on speed while training does the same thing, to a lesser degree. That's why I'm not yet achieving sub-9 training runs, but I'm getting closer.

The family went out for a "Next to the last Friday before school starts" lunch and afterward we swung by the Gallery at Westbury Plaza. I wanted to check out Sports Authority's new SA Elite store that only sells adult size sports apparel and running shoes. I had no intention of buying anything, but they were having a sale, so I checked out the deals.

I've been looking for a lightweight running raincoat for a while. My venerable ASICS rain jacket committed zippercide last year and I've been on a quest to replace it. SA Elite was light on raincoat options, but they had some genuine bargains in their shoe section.

The store was running a sale, and this was no bottom of the barrel clearance. I did a double-take when I saw a pair of Saucony Virratas priced at $79 with a label next to it saying 20% off as marked. The best price I've seen on the web for these shoes has been $78 plus shipping. I asked for a pair in hi-viz yellow, but they only had my size in black. I was disappointed, but I tried them on the treadmill and liked the way they fit.

At the same time, my wife found a pair of ASICS Nimbus-14's that fit her well and were priced amazingly low with the included discount. I've been on her to replace her GEL-2160's that probably have more than 2,000 running miles on them. I'm serious, you should see them.

I'm thinking about doing a long base run this weekend and a shorter speed workout on the other day. I'm pleased with my progress and excited to be runnning in shoes with less than 500 miles on them. I hope the Virratas feel as good on the road as they did on the treadmill today.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Today's good run becomes tomorrow's expectation

The daily burden
Today's run (street): 3.5 miles

I was a little sore this morning, possibly because my last three runs were done at high effort (though perhaps not at high speed). I haven't put up any sub-9 runs yet, but I'm moving in that direction. My saving grace today was the need to have an early call to Asia. That allowed me an extra hour to loosen up my leg muscles before my run.

Have you ever thought about how great everything seems after you've completed a fast run? You can point to it with pride and feel good about what you've accomplished. But as they say in Hollywood, you're only as good as your last movie. And when training for a race, you're only as good as the last time you ran. Time for resting on your laurels = 1 day. And that day ended for me this morning at 8:00 AM.

I started to prepare for my run after completing my call. Wednesday's good experience had now become today's burden. I knew I couldn't default to my easy running pace and, while I wasn't planning to go all-out, I had mentally set my target. I was determined not to come up short. 

A slight soreness in my legs threw me off on the first half mile. I willed myself to run faster, but I'm not sure the effort fully translated. I do know that when I'm actively thinking about performance, my speed will usually move into the acceptable range. My goal today was to do better than that, so I kept up the mental pressure and hoped that would yield a good result.

I was pleased to see that I ran 5 seconds per mile faster than yesterday. It was great to repeat a good performance and I feel I'm heading in the intended direction. I have the rest of the night to enjoy today's gains. Tomorrow morning, expectations return.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I think, therefore I pace

Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

Okay, now we're talking. After two days off from running, I went out this morning for the first time since the Dirty Sock race. I recognized the need to keep my focus on speed, despite having come off a fairly hard run. It's always a lot easier to do that if you're energized from the start. I was pleased that my legs responded to the challenge.

Everyone has a different default running pace. By that I mean the speed that you'd run if you didn't care about performance. It's probably what people think of as their easy pace. For some, "easy" is 8 minutes a mile. For me, it's much slower than that. When I need to run faster, I know I need to think about running fast. No zoning out and letting my legs carry me along. I've read that running performance is largely mental and my experience supports that.

Today I put priority on cadence and form. I focused on holding a faster pace than my body naturally wished to run. At times, my mind would drift and I'd detect a little deceleration. I dialed back up to "urgent" and tried to reengage my focus. This was not running at 10K race pace, but it was much faster than I've been averaging.

For all that work, I'm still worrying about my readiness to sustain that pace for 6.2 miles in Northport next month. With James Street, Waterside Ave. and Pumpernickel Hill in the mix, I'll have to do a lot more than I did today. But it was a start.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

To whom the Cowbell tolls

Pointing out James Street after last year's race
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. After some high mileage training weeks leading up to last weekend's Dirty Sock race, I haven't run a step. Mondays are my usual rest day, which works out great when I race on Sundays. Today started early because I had to get into the city for some morning meetings. I went to bed thinking I might run today, but I slept until 5:15 AM, which didn't give me enough time.

Even without running, I still managed to meet my daily requirement of Fitbit steps. Between my backpack and sports jacket, combined with 81% humidity, I worked up quite a sweat. So it was sort of like a workout, but I really missed the part where I get to shower.

Tomorrow I'll officially start my Cow Harbor training. The good news is that I'll be starting on two days rest. My plan right now is to go out early enough to minimize the heat. If I'm training for this race, I'll need to start pushing the pace right away. As for the hill training, that can wait another day. But not too long, James Street looms large.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Race report: 2013 Dirty Sock 10K

Final charge to the finish line
Today's race (Dirty Sock 10K): 6.2 miles (clock time 1:02:57)

This morning I ran the Dirty Sock 10K trail run for the fourth time since 2009 (I skipped it last year). Results have been posted, but they seem to be clock, not net times. Either way, it was the slowest time I've ever run this race. But in a race like this, experience is more important than time. As usual, the experience was great.

Team Emerging Runner arrived about 35 minutes before the start under overcast skies and fairly cool temperatures. Far better than in 2010, when the heat, humidity and occasional rain created sauna conditions on the course. After getting my bib number, along with the traditional pair of "Dirty Sock" sweat socks and race shirt, I regrouped with my family. Shortly after that, I ran into my friend Mike who was running the race with his brother Paul.

Paul, Mike and me
We walked together toward the western trail head, and told my wife and kids, "See you at the finish line." Mike, Paul and I continued toward the starting line and found a place to wait. At 7:55, I turned on my Garmin, thinking five minutes would be enough time to acquire a signal. I was wrong, and it took about 23 minutes for the signal to lock in. My hope of capturing full race data was lost, but I was getting my heart rate in real time and the watch came in unexpectedly handy near the end of the race.

A video on the Dirty Sock Facebook page confirms that it took about a minute for me to cross the starting line after the horn. I'm hoping they post the net times, because this would make a difference in my overall time, bringing my pace into the 9:00 range (if only by 5/100th of a second!). I felt good at that point (although frustrated by my Garmin's signal failure), and moved through the crowd of runners until I found a spot where I could open up my stride.

The first two miles went by fast, and I was beginning to think I might do well today. Like other times when I've run this race, the lead runners (winner set a course record of 32:48) were coming back after circling the lake, just as I prepared to turn right toward the Southern State underpass. It was a psychologically positive moment that confirmed my performance was on track. The transition from trail to pavement felt jarring, and I struggled a little as the course rose to the path that goes around Belmont Lake.

The three mile point comes about halfway around the lake and the clock showed that 29 minutes had passed. Thinking that we'd be measured by net time, I was feeling encouraged. But soon after that, I began to feel depleted. I took a sip from my gel flask where I'd mixed some Roctane with water. That helped a little, but I needed to adjust to a more sustainable pace. As we crossed under the low viaduct that leads back to the dirt trail, I thought about what I needed to do to get through the rest of the miles.

Without my GPS to tell me where I was in my progress, I tried to remember landmarks that I'd seen on the way up. I wanted to know how much trail I had left to cover. I started to get passed, indicating that I was running slower than I'd hoped. I finished the Roctane and soon saw the five mile clock that showed 50:40. I put everything I had into it, but still couldn't generate the speed I needed. Not long after that, my Garmin beeped that a new mile had started. Although it didn't correlate to the course, I used it as a rough estimate for the remaining distance.

Knowing that I only had a mile left put me in a state of hope. When I passed Southards Pond, I knew I was about to turn right for the final kilometer of the race. Halfway along that section of trail, my Garmin showed I had a half mile to go. I prepared for that, but when I saw a familiar landmark I realized the watch distance was off (compared to the course). I was really much closer. I put everything into my effort and soon heard the race announcer's voice. I only had a few hundred feet to go, so I accelerated once the finish line (and my wife and kids) were in sight.

Cool-down with Dave
I was fully depleted when I finished and my kids quickly brought water and bananas to aid my recovery. I was wishing for some electrolyte drink, but there wasn't any available. Although my heart rate dropped quickly to normal, it took about 30 minutes before I was feeling like my old self. Mike and Paul finished just a few minutes after me, and I was happy to run into Dave, who ran the course in the mid-50 minute range.

Award ceremony
We waited around and watched the award ceremony which was followed by an endless raffle where a hundred or more people won prizes. By then it was raining, but we hung in because my daughter was convinced I'd win the large screen TV (sadly, I didn't). One of the other big prizes was a $2,500 gift certificate from a hair graft surgeon. That was won by a high school-aged girl, who accepted it with good humor.

Although I would have liked to run today's race a few minutes faster, I was completely satisfied with today's effort. My first half performance compared to the second indicates that I need to work on my base, especially if I expect to be competitive at Cow Harbor in September. Five weeks should be more than enough time to prepare for that course, but I'll need to do plenty of hill, speed and distance training to get where I need to be.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Stepping it up for race day

Getting there
Flower power
If you use a Fitbit, then you know that the currency is steps. It also measures distance traveled, staircases climbed, calories burned and "energy" (expressed in the form of a flower). But between me and my wife, steps are a shorthand for daily activity. My daily goal is 10M steps, with typical variance of 2,500 steps. On days when I do a long run, that number can go in the 20M range.

Without a run on the schedule, I was facing a big challenge towards reaching my daily goal. By noon, my total was still under 2,000 and I wasn't happy with that. I decided to pick up some steps by walking around the pool area and the yard. It took little time to reach the 5M mark. At that point, I decided to do a series of short strides. Although I ran these briskly, they were not intervals. But it was enough to work up a sweat, so my next stop was to join my kids in the pool.

Through all that, I passed 7,000 steps and I'm almost to eight by now. I think I achieved a good balance between motion and rest today. It's about twelve hours to the start of the Dirty Sock. I hope today's activities will help, and not hurt, my performance tomorrow.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Father, son and the Bethpage trails

Take a hike!
Today's workout (Bethpage State Park): Hike - 60 minutes

Without a daily run to start my morning, I had little excuse but to get directly to work. I can't say that I used my time very productively, but I appreciated having a guilt-free break. The weather has been decent, so my son and I decided to go for an early afternoon hike.

We typically go to Trailview State Park or Stillwell Woods for our hikes, because these parks are located very close to our home. Just for a change, we headed over Bethpage to hike the dirt trails. It was fun seeing my friend who mans the entrance booth at Bethpage. We usually have a brief, but highly spirited conversation when I show up early on weekend mornings. He was surprised to see me there on a weekday.

Our hike went by surprisingly fast and, before we knew it, an hour had passed. I thought we'd stay on the main paths and circumnavigate the woods, but my son was having none of that. At each trail intersection he insisted that we follow the more challenging route. That was fine with me, and though we took a number of different paths, we somehow avoided the sand trap.

I had some business calls scheduled for the afternoon, so we steadily worked our way back to the trail head. Overall, today was more play than work. That's okay. There's only so many Fridays left before summer ends.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Redemption run gives hope for Dirty Sock

The Garmin doesn't lie
Today's run (street): 3.25 miles

With the Dirty Sock trail race happening on Sunday, I had one more run to go before I finished my taper. Yesterday's run was disappointing and Tuesday's was similarly mediocre. I've recently committed to pushing harder on training runs and that paid off last week with a few decent runs. When I say decent, I mean closer to last year's average pace. Certainly not as fast as the paces I used to hit while training for a race.

The Dirty Sock is a tough course. The terrain isn't especially bad for trails, but the steamy weather conditions and muddy paths make the last miles difficult. My time expectation for this race is about 59 minutes, which is five minutes slower than my 10K PR. I'm usually happy to run it in under an hour. Actually, the way I've been running, I'm concerned about breaking 62 minutes.

Hope came this morning with a run that redeemed my spirit. The difference today was that I kept a steady focus on speed. It wasn't an impressive pace for many readers of this blog, but it was almost a minute per mile faster than what I "achieved" yesterday. I'm not going into Sunday's race with a string of fast runs under my belt, but at least I ended training on a good note.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My Garmin speaks the ugly truth

It's a match
Today's run (street): 3.25 miles

I'm incredibly annoyed with my Garmin today. I did this morning's run and, as always, recorded my distance using GPS. I always assume the watch will under-count my distance, so I wasn't upset to see the indicated time and pace. Usually, after Gmapping my route, I'll need to add about 3% more mileage to the calculation. That often makes the difference between a good and mediocre pace. Today, both the Garmin and Gmaps said exactly the same thing, and what they said wasn't good. I missed my targeted pace by 23 seconds per mile.

There's no reason why I ran this slowly today. I'd tried to focus on form and turnover. The weather was perfect, so heat and humidity were not a factor. Perceived effort was on par with my better runs and I even ran the last quarter in a semi-sprint. But in the end, my performance did not match up to expectations. Tomorrow is my last run before Sunday's race, so I need to make it count.

Zeotrope concept (left), example (right)
I took most of the day to be with the family and we spent it at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. The experience was great, and I even got to play with a nineteenth century zeotrope of a man running. But instead of marveling at this 100 year old wonder of technology, I was watching his form and thinking how he should shorten his stride.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Memories of a rainy run

Soggy and humid morning, or so I remember
Today's run (street): 3.1 miles

This morning's run seems so long ago that I'm thinking about it like it was yesterday. I wanted to go out very early to beat the rain, but my stalling worked against me. I walked outside and felt a few light drops. The sky was uniformly gray and I didn't see any dark clouds that might drench me. Despite my aversion to running in rain because it distorts my vision,  I couldn't face a treadmill workout today.

My weekend of hard running has taken its toll. Even with a rest day on Monday, my leg muscles felt tight. Although I had no issues with either anaerobic or aerobic energy levels, I couldn't generate the speed I was hoping to maintain. Exactly one mile into the run, I felt a pebble that had landed in my shoe. I tried to ignore the problem, but I finally gave in and stopped to clear it. By then, the light rain had become steadier and I wondered how bad conditions would get.

I had the opportunity to head directly to my house at that point, the loop I was on took me within a block. Instead, I decided to run my route regardless. I hoped that the rain would lessen, or at the very least, that it wouldn't turn into a thunderstorm. Lightning is scary when you're out running on the street, miles away from shelter.

The rain did get worse, but the thunder held off until I got home. The rest of the day was spent either on the phone or staring at my laptop. I'm glad I got out today, but I didn't get through the conditioning run I'd originally planned. On the bright side, the humidity was extreme and that provided some good preparation for next Sunday's race.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The night of shooting stars (so I'm told)

My rendition of last night's sky
In terms of hours, yesterday was the longest day I've had this year. I was up at 5:30 AM on Sunday and I didn't get to bed until 1:30 AM this morning. I did get 6 1/2 hours sleep last night, so my internal clock is now reset.

Our late night was due to the Perseid meteor shower that peaks between Saturday and 1:00 AM tomorrow. We headed out to Sunken Meadow State Park last night, so we could watch this celestial display play out adjacent to the Long Island Sound - ostensibly without the distractions of civilization.

We arrived at Sunken Meadow around 11:00 PM and parked among groups of people who'd set up stadium chairs in the lot. There was no public lighting and as we looked for a spot, our headlights would suddenly reflect on people sitting in the pathway of our car. Just like the geniuses who put themselves in harm's way when they walk or run in the street, these people were oblivious to the danger.

We found a spot on the grass and set up a tarp with a couple of smaller camp mats. Unfortunately, by this time, the sky was almost completely covered by clouds. We all thought we saw flashes of shooting stars in the small openings of sky, but it was hard to be certain. After about an hour, it became clear that things were not going to clear up. By then I'd become fed up with deep bass rumblings emanating from a nearby car, on top of the smell of cigarettes and the constant beams coming from car headlights moving around the lot. We decided to take our leave and see if there were less clouds near where we live.

So much for escaping from civilization. Although I described the experience critically, we actually had a lot of fun. We may go out again tonight, but only as far as the local middle school. That is, if the current low ceiling gives way to clearer skies. I'm hoping the weather cooperates tomorrow morning as I go out for a short taper run. Whether we get some meteor viewing isn't known at this point. What I do know is that I won't be staying up past 1:00 AM again.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A taper run in multiple parts

Finding hills all over
Today's run (street): 6.3 miles

Taper time has begun, and I kicked it off with my last mid-length training run, before focusing the next week on core, speed and rest. Although the Dirty Sock course isn't especially hilly, it can feel that way over the last few miles. I wanted to cover at least six miles today, along with some hill practice. The temperature was a cool 66 degrees, so conditions couldn't have been much better.

The route I'd planned took me first through the local business park where I did one clockwise loop so I could take on all the elevation at once. I heard a couple of runners behind me as I made my way up the steepest part of the hill, and I was determined to hold them off. I was successful, but concerned that I'd expended too much energy that early. I was soon headed downhill, so I figured I could reset and recover from that.

The next part of my run took me around neighborhood #3, where the roads are fairly flat. That helped me get back to a steady stride before reaching Woodbury Road and the start of the bike path. This paved trail is still under construction, so I needed to navigate around some temporary barricades and cross over three short, unpaved and rocky sections. From that point, the path begins to rise at about a 3% grade that becomes more challenging and steeper near the top. I focused attention on maintaining my cadence and shortening my stride.

Once I reached my turnaround point, it was downhill for about a kilometer before I leveled out. I followed the bike path back to its starting point and crossed Woodbury Road into the neighborhood. It was less than a mile to my house and I ran the last quarter mile at 10K race pace. I don't know if it was an ideal conditioning workout, but I felt strong throughout the run and far more ready than I did the weekend before my last race.

The day got busy after that, with an afternoon get-together and other activities. We're now preparing for a late night, where we plan to watch the Perseid meteor shower on the beach. With so much happening today, I hope I'll be able to stay awake to enjoy it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bethpage rudely corrects an assumption

Scenes from today's Bethpage run
Yesterday's run (treadmill): 3.1 miles
Today's run (Bethpage State Park trails): 3.4 miles

At the exact moment that I was thinking how Bethpage's wooded trails are less tricky and technical than Stillwell's, my foot caught a root and I came very close to tumbling down a very steep hill. That moment captured the dichotomous nature of Bethpage's dirt trails. The main paths through these woods are beautifully groomed, but watch out for the network of challenging side-trails that connect throughout the preserve. Along a given mile, you can find cushioned (almost too cushioned) loam, followed by sand, gravel, packed dirt, rocky ledges, knotty roots, sharp rises and deep drops.

Thankfully, I didn't hit the ground after connecting with that root. It was a good reminder that complacency during a trail run can easily lead to injury. I continued with caution and made my way up a twisty rise that led to what I call the "sand trap." I don't care to run on sand, and when you reach this section you really have no choice - unless you turn around and head back the other way. My ego wouldn't let me do that, so I toughed it out for the next quarter mile, when I was able to switch to another path.

I had lots of company on the trails today. There were numerous groups of cross country teams doing summer conditioning. I saw a group of boys practicing drills across the field adjacent to the trail head and groups of high school age girls at various times running on the paths. I was very glad that I didn't have to keep up with anyone today, because I was still recovering from a late workout on Friday.

Yesterday's schedule made a morning run impossible, so I aimed for a mid-afternoon neighborhood run. Things got unexpectedly busy and I ended up pushing my run to 5:00 PM. By that time, the humidity was unbearable, so I opted for an indoor treadmill session with the AC on and the fan set to high. It was still hot and humid, but far better than outdoors. I set a fast pace and got through the run, although I'll admit I watched the clock like I was in high school math class.

Tomorrow I plan to go out for a base run that will kick off my taper for the Dirty Sock. I expect to go for 6 to 7 miles and hope to get an early start to minimize the heat and sun. I had originally planned to run the Dirty Sock course today, but I'll need to wait another week to see that course again on race day. And when I do, I'll be sure to scan the path for roots.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Sharing Stillwell with a friend

Tough trails on the northern route
Thursday's run (Stillwell Woods): 3.4 miles

Yesterday brought good news on a few fronts. First, my headache finally went away. Second, I made some good business progress during the day (although it interfered with my ability to generate a Thursday post). And third, I had a great run with my friend Chris at Stillwell Woods.

I'm definitely a morning runner, so the idea of going for a high energy run at 4 PM concerned me. The weather had looked threatening all day and thunderstorms were predicted for later. When Chris arrived, we decided to head to Stillwell rather than Bethpage, because Stillwell is closer and has excellent tree cover. I was glad to be going to Stillwell and happy to show off the trail running paradise that's located five minutes from my house.

Before we headed over to Stillwell, Chris gave me another good piece of news. He's going to be running Cow Harbor this year for the first time. Chris lives in Westchester and does races up there, but he's never raced on LI. I filled him in on the Cow Harbor experience and he's excited. He's not intimidated by the James Street hill either. But I won't be running alongside him that day. Chris runs the NY Marathon faster than 3:30 and will probably finish Cow Harbor ten minutes before I do.

But on the trails I can can keep up with him, at least for a while. We followed my usual route until peeling off onto the "Most Difficult" trail. Chris was amazed to see such tough terrain and said that if he lived here, he'd run Stillwell every day. We stayed on this steeply climbing and dropping trail until I redirected us back to my usual, but less challenging loop.

With Chris pacing, I was able to run faster than I probably would have gone if I was running alone. We did an extended loop and then another smaller loop before we reached the main trail. Just as I was feeling relived to be close to the end, Chris innocently asked, "Do you want to go around again?" I answered, "I'm done, race you to the car!"

Although yesterday was mostly good news, I was disappointed to hear that my friend Mike won't be able to run the Dirty Sock course with me on Saturday because he's been delayed traveling back to LI. I'm debating whether to run it alone, or go over to Bethpage and run the wooded trails there. It's always helpful to practice on the course that you are racing, but I might get some extra hill work done if I go to Bethpage.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A good run to start but then came the pressure

Cold-triggered annoyance
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

This day started great, with a nice early run in conditions that were close to yesterday's. I've been running hard lately, so I backed off in terms of intensity. I had a deadline to meet, so I knew I couldn't go out too slowly. Just before I hit mile three, I saw that my time was out of acceptable range. I decided to turn up the jets and ran the last half mile like I was finishing a race.

Things got a little tough after that. We did a family activity at the Cradle of Aviation museum and the building temperature must have been set to the mid-50's. This triggered one of my pressure headaches and, in the course of about 90 minutes, I went from feeling great to needing to lie down. I got home and took a decongestant before settling into a recovery nap.

Sleep minimized my headache but it was still there in the background. That made for a very long afternoon of work. Spending so much time in front of my laptop didn't help the situation and my headache, though better, is still there. I hope a good night's sleep will help knock it out completely. I have a tough trail run planned for tomorrow afternoon and I want to be at my best for it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

When pacing average is better than average

Today's run (street): 3.5 miles

I spent most of the day in the city, but I managed to get out for a run around 6:30 AM. I always walk down the driveway to get the paper while my Garmin acquires its signal. This morning I was struck by the pleasant coolness in the air and the soft light from the sun that would feel much hotter in an hour. The difference between running at 6:30, versus 7:30 AM, when I usually go out on weekdays, is measurable.

It was probably due to the speed work I did on Sunday that I took off with an energy that I haven't felt in many weeks. My stride was smooth and I felt the sensation of moving. That might sound funny, but my runs can sometimes feel static and plodding. I guess that happens when you run faster. I should probably do it more often.

My overall performance was right around my average training pace. My 2012 average, that is. This year I've been averaging 15 seconds slower than that. But that's about to change. I don't know why my focus on speed tends to drift over time, because I generally enjoy running fast tempos and intervals. I guess I should try to remember that more often.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Speed work, if you can call it that

Running in circles makes me lose my tempo
Today's run (track): 3.1 mile tempo, plus 5 x 100m - total: 3.4 miles

This morning I headed to the local track to run intervals. I was not looking forward to the workout, but if I wanted to improve my speed, I needed to do my homework. Conditions were good, 66° with indirect sun, so I had little excuse to take it easy. I decided to start with a few warm up laps before taking on intervals. I ended up doing a three mile tempo run, followed by 5 x 100 meter strides, run two minutes/mile faster than 10K race pace.

I was concerned that I'd be dealing with some leg fatigue after yesterday's run. Once I got going, I became confident that I'd be okay, although I was frustrated with my limited ability to hit my targeted pace. By the second mile, I was running faster. There were others on the track during the time I was there, but it never got crowded. I appreciated having the first lane to myself, with no need to shift around any walkers or slower runners.


1. I'm still running pretty slow these days. My goal was to break 27 minutes, but I didn't succeed. However, I did run negative splits, with a 9% improvement between miles 1 and 3.

2. I was able to meet my speed target on the intervals. While these runs felt faster than the 6:54 average I recorded, the last time that I did speed work, I averaged under 6:30. Like I said, I'm still slow.

Overall, I'm pleased with this weekend's training. With a couple of tough workouts coming up this week, I feel like I'm setting up well for the competition on the 18th.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Perpetual motion running at Bethpage

Perpetual force plus PureDrift
Today's run (Bethpage State Park): 6.1 miles

Not that running six miles is particularly challenging, but when you add Bethpage's rolling bike path, the going can get tough. With a 10K race looming, I felt that I needed to break out of my 3 to 4 mile run habit and push my base closer to race distance. I expected today's run on the Bethpage trail to be difficult, but it wasn't. In fact, I could have easily added a couple of more miles when I got to the end.

Things didn't start out well this morning. I dressed for my run before noticing a steady rain outside. The weather reports indicated that things would clear up in an hour so I waited. It was drizzling when I left my house and the intensity of the rain increased along the way. When I arrived at the park, it was back to a drizzle and I was fine with that. I decided to follow the older path south - three miles out and three back.

I had trouble generating speed as I took on the first hill after the trail head. Even during the long downhill section that followed, I felt constrained. But shortly before the one mile point, I literally "hit my stride", taking on the rolling hills with little trouble. I wasn't moving that fast, but the activity felt friction-less. I remembered that Adventure Girl called this "perpetual motion running."

I kept waiting for my energy to drain as I burned off glycogen, anticipating the struggles that would come when my system turned to alternative sources of fuel. It began to rain at the same time that I started to tire. Perhaps it was the practical need to get out of the rain that changed my energy, but I stepped it up and returned to the perpetual motion stride.

The last mile of this route has a few short steep hills and one long one. I focused on shortening my stride length and maintaining my cadence. I wouldn't say it was easy, but after 5.5 miles I still felt strong getting through the last section. Once I crested the dreaded last hill, I realized that I was feeling strong enough to keep going.

I ended up turning left to return to my starting point. I'd cover my planned distance and confirmed that my conditioning was on track. My trail run with Chris will happen on Thursday and Mike and I are doing a Dirty Sock course practice on Saturday. Those workouts will help fine-tune my race readiness. I hope that perpetual motion stride will return when I need it.

Friday, August 2, 2013

DNA extraction and the dog that didn't bite

My morning encounter
Today's run (street): 3.4 miles

For some reason I had it in my head that yesterday was Friday. When I got up this morning I started thinking about where I'd go for my first weekend run. The rain had moved out, and it looked like nice weather to be outside. I started going through my options for running venues when I realized that it wasn't Saturday and I had to get some work done.

My business schedule is less structured than when I worked in an office in NYC. I can now start my day with a run after the sun has come up, or work for a while and run later in the morning. My schedule also gives me the flexibility to do things I used to miss because I'd be in the city. Today I was able to attend my son's presentation on gene extraction methodologies at the Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center. The most impressive thing I ever did at summer camp was make a lanyard.

Saying goodbye to his Beijing camp mates
Before all of that, I went for a run. Since I didn't have the time to cover much distance, I stuck to the neighborhood and followed one of my usual routes. A few minutes into the run I was accosted by an unleashed dog whose owner called to me, "He's only going to follow you to the end of the street." This annoyed me. Recently, I read a quote by Peter Magill, a Running Times columnist, who said, "Every dog that has bitten me was a dog that didn't bite."

The dog kept its distance and it stopped as the owner had predicted. I was soon past my first mile, enjoying cooler conditions than I'd expected. I tried to carry over the intensity of yesterday afternoon's treadmill workout into today and was only partially successful. I ended up pacing in the acceptable range. If the weather holds tomorrow I'll probably return to Bethpage and do a hybrid run on both the dirt and the bike trails. I need to build my base in preparation for the upcoming 10K that happens in just two weeks.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rain disrupts my plans, but not my running

Weather fit for neither beast nor trail runner
Today's run (treadmill): 3.1 miles

I ended up skipping yesterday's workout altogether, choosing to wait until this afternoon to run the trails with my friend. The early morning's weather was perfect, but unfortunately, it was the only good weather we had today. I glanced outside throughout the day and watched the sky grow increasingly darker. It would either clear up, or I'd be looking at rainy and muddy conditions at 4:00 PM.

Around 3:00 PM, my friend Chris called to check in. He was on Long Island for business and preparing to finish a meeting, before heading to my house. The rain was coming down in buckets and any hopes that it would taper off were gone. We decided to postpone our trail run until next week.

With my afternoon freed up, I refocused on a business project. I knew I had the option of running on the treadmill so, by 4:15, I'd decided to do that. In keeping with my plan to train at faster paces, I started on the edge of comfort and increased my speed periodically throughout the run.

Some people find treadmill running easier than outdoor running, but I have the opposite experience. 6.6 MPH (9:00/mile) on my Sole F63 feels like 5K race pace. I was determined get through the run, despite increasing discomfort. I bumped up the pace with a quarter mile to go and held it until I'd "covered" my planned distance.

It was definitely one of the hardest runs I've done in the last four weeks and I was glad that I didn't back off on my speed, even as the run got tougher. I need to maintain that mindset as I go through my Dirty Sock training. Even without Chris to push me or the challenges at Stillwell, I think made some good conditioning progress today.

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