Monday, March 23, 2015

Run Like a Hobbit

I get asked more and more these days to share my training secrets. There really isn't anything fancy to my methods. I just run "there and back again", many, many times. All hobbit tales aside, it is and isn't that simple. I became a student of running and applied what I had learned and let time and hard work do the rest. It's become a wild ride to see all the progress made.

The first step into becoming a better runner is to become more consistent. There are no gains to be made if you spend every other week sitting out with an injury. Sure there are cross training exercises you could do, but nothing fully replaces the gains made by running more frequently. Your body adapts to stress so you need to apply that stress at regular intervals in order to keep receiving gains. I took things to the extreme by decided to run every single day no matter what, but you should stick to your own plan whether that is 3 days a week or 7.

Learn about yourself and your limits. We are trying to push you to new limits here, but it isn't going to help if you go off the edge on every workout. In order to run everyday I learned that I needed to slow my training pace down. I started running with a heart rate monitor and did a little guesswork on the heart rate zones to get myself down to a manageable pace. Everyone's ticker is a bit different and so my heart may beat faster than yours. General rule of thumb is you should be able to easily carry on a conversation.

To get better you also need to sprinkle in some speed work. You don't want to over do things though. The rule of thumb is that 20% of your weekly mileage should be at a faster pace. If you're only running 20 miles a week, this means only 4 of those miles should be faster than conversational pace. This includes tempo runs, intervals, repeats, and fartleks. My personal favorite workout is to head to the track and run 800m repeats with a 400m jog for recovery. It strikes a good balance between developing speed for shorter races like 5Ks while still providing benefit for an endurance event like the marathon. There are so many different workouts out there that you shouldn't have trouble finding one you like on Google. Just make sure to change things up a little bit to give your body a new challenge.

After consistency and proper pacing you should really work on increasing volume. By getting out to run on a consistent basis and making sure I wasn't over-taxing my body with pace I was able to reach new levels of weekly mileage. Getting into the 40-50 mile per week range is where I really started to see tremendous gains in speed and endurance. The key is to not build up too fast and to also take a cut back week every 3rd or 4th week to allow your body a bit of recovery to adapt. It can be tough to find the time to run this much, but if you're like me and run every day then that's just 7 miles a day. I tend to vary that up a bit and have a longer run on the weekend though.

Don't forget the basics of running. Make sure you continue to have fun or the hard work really will become hard work. You should also do enough cross training to keep your body in check. I'm prone to muscle imbalances caused by a desk job and therefore have to work out my hips and glutes a couple times a week. I also tend to develop a sore right calf caused by repetitive stress and over pronation. It helps to learn how to massage out sore muscles. Make sure you have proper shoes too.

Keep it up and you too can find yourself celebrating new PRs and finding yourself able to do things you didn't think were possible before.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Road Trippin

My weekend adventures included a road trip in addition to my  marathon. I was up bright and early Friday morning to hit the road. I was joined by Natali on this journey. It was smooth sailing as we hit the roads before the morning rush. We stopped for a late breakfast in BFE Illinois when we stopped for gas. I think a road trips and late night drunken munchies are probably the only time it is acceptable to go to Denny's.

We continued on our journey and made a slight detour on our way down to Little Rock. We decided we wanted to get some good food and stopped off in Memphis for a late lunch. We went to a place called Charlie Vergos Rendezvous which was located in the basement of a building with an entrance in an alley. The looks didn't matter because you could smell the food a block away. We had some amazing ribs. They were served with just a dry rub on them and no sauce. They had so much flavor the sauce wasn't needed. There was some sauce on the table which I used sparingly just to kick up the flavor a bit more. After being stuffed silly we finished the trek to Little Rock.

I stayed on my own in Little Rock while Natali joined her friends who flew down. While my hotel was on the "wrong side" of I30 it was still a short walk to the main entertainment district. I wandered around a bit after visiting the expo, but it wasn't large so it didn't take long which helped spare the legs a bit. I had to check out Gus's World Famous Chicken after checking out Yelp. The fried chicken definitely lived up to the hype. It had the right crispness to it as well as a slight heat to the breading. They also had a tasty slaw on the side.

After getting cleaned up after the race on Sunday I headed to the local watering hole that everyone had recommended. The Flying Saucer featured a number of fine craft beers on tap and in bottle. The special was pints of local beer for $3.50. I quenched my thirst on a few Arkansas beers. I also met a fellow Maniac and discussed various races.

On the way back to Chicago we stopped off at a Waffle House knockoff called Huddle House. Service was a big slow but the food was ok. This time our detour was into St. Louis where we headed to Pappy's Smokehouse. I guess we lucked out since there was no line when we got in there, but a long one formed shortly after. Once again the ribs were amazing. I could only eat half a slab but they had carry out boxes so I brought the rest home for dinner. The BBQ stops nearly made the road trip worth it. The rush hour traffic when we got back to Chicago made things miserable.

On Tuesday I woke to realize that I should never spend 13 hours on a road trip the day after a marathon. I've never been in as bad of shape as I was post race. I was waddling around the office. I'm glad I was able to get some good BBQ, but I think the next time I have to go somewhere that far away I'll just book the flight.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Little Rock Marathon Recap

On March 1st, 2015 I ran in the 13th annual Little Rock Marathon. The weekend was very eventful, but I want to limit this post to everything race related.

The Little Rock Marathon is notorious for it's ever changing theme and giant bling. This year's event was to be pirate themed. Unfortunately the plate size medals were stuck on a ship that was being tied up due to the longshore strike on the west coast. The race directors did get advance notice out to runners about the situation. It was concerning given that last year's event was a partial disaster with the is it, isn't it canceled fiasco. The directors pulled through and were able to secure smaller place holder medals until our real ones could be shipped out. Disappointing to not get the real medal when we finished, but still nice to have something.

The expo was held at the State Convention Center. The pick up was quick and easy. The shirts were a hideous hunter orange. There was a small amount of race gear on sale including bandanas and doubloons. There were about 50 vendors there selling their wares. I took a quick walk through and left with a new pair of shoes.

Race day was cold and wet. The temperature hovered in the mid 30s and it would go from slow drizzle to steady rain and back. I headed out early to meet with the Marathon Maniacs for a group picture.It was supposed to be at 7:15, but they were already taking pictures as I approached the area at 7:13. I raced in to try and make it into a picture or 2. After I headed over to drop off my gear check bag and used the facilities. A short while later I lined up in Corral C near the 3:55 pace group and prepared to run.

Mile 1: There was no wave start, we all went off at the gun. A half mile in there were 2 firetrucks backed up to each side of an intersection with ladders extended over the road and an American flag hanging between them. A fireman was making his way up the ladder to to wave to runners. Pretty cool to run past. Time : 9:09

Mile 2: The first mile didn't feel the greatest and I though running sub 4:00 might be a bit of a challenge for the day, but I kept trucking. I ran by perceived effort instead of HR since my monitor wasn't working well. I never display my pace on my watch. Surprised to finish this mile in 8:16.

Mile 3: I did this one in 8:02 and fear I'm running to fast.

Mile 4: 7:49 WTF?!? I also feel the urge to pee.

Mile 5: I can't hold out and stop at the restroom. 8:30 with a minute stop, that's crazy.

7:48, 7:30, 7:33, 7:35, 7:28 - is this real life?

Mile 11: This was a decent downhill stretch that I hit in 7:13. I finally decide that I'm going to ride the wave and see what happens. I'm totally expecting complete meltdown later on, especially with the upcoming hills.

Mile 12: This one is bumpy but I'm still hanging in there 7:31.

Miles 13 and 14: Twin 8:01 splits for mostly uphill miles. There's nothing like this anywhere in Chicago. I just grit the teeth and keep running.

Mile 15 was bumpy but not completely uphill 7:35

Mile 16: This stretch looked like some backwoods and winded steeply downhill. I let gravity do it's job and tried not to slip as I blazed my way down. 6:52 and a yip and a skip when I saw my split time.

Mile 17: I passed the 3:30 pace group shortly after mile 16 and realized I was doing the unthinkable. 7:29

Miles 18-21 7:59, 7:48, 7:52, and 7:57. I was starting to feel the effects of the hills, but hung on.

I finally got fatigued during the 22nd mile but didn't give in. I strained a bit to hold on, but pacing slipped a bit. 8:15

8:27, 8:16, 8:34. There was one last steep hill that I finally gave in and partially walked. I decided saving the legs for one last push was the better idea. The 3:30 group passed by me, well I should say the pacer and 2 stragglers ran by representing all that was left of the group. I kept them in site the best I could.

Mile 26 I found some late willpower and did my damnedest to close the gap between me and the 3:30 pacer. I knew I had some ground to give since I started way behind him, but what fun is settling? 7:38

26.44 - I coasted in with what energy I had left and felt relieved when my watch was still showing a time beginning with 3:28 as I neared the end. Final time 3:28:42 and a whopping 21 minute PR over my Chicago 2014 time.

I was completely elated at the finish and floated through the athlete's village grabbing an apple, animal crackers, and chocolate milk. I skipped out on the piss water, I mean Michelob Ultra. Thankfully I grabbed a space blanket since I found a long line for gear check. It turns out they just threw the bags in a truck and didn't organize them. This means it took 90 minutes for me to finally get my jacket and pants. I was a frozen wet rat at this point and started shivering uncontrollably on the walk back to the hotel. After a long warm shower to thaw out I put on dry clothes and headed back to meet with my friends who finished after I did.

I didn't set out to run Little Rock as a goal race, but the stars aligned. I had actually run 50 miles in each of the 3 weeks before the race and another 24 the week of the race so there was no taper. I drove down to Little Rock which is a 10 hour trip. I then proceeded to eat and drink my way through town. All signs pointed to meh and then the awesome happened. My half splits were 1:44:09 and 1:44:33 meaning I had only a 24 second positive split which isn't terrible at all. They would also have been my 2nd and 3rd fastest half marathons if run separately. I also would of recorded my fastest half if you took the 13.1 mile stretch from mile 5 to mile 18.1. Now I'll be left dreaming of what could of been had I actually came into the race fresh and ate properly and ran a flat course.

Little Rock was fun, but wasn't free of issues. In addition to the gear check problems, they used a new timing system that didn't seem to log times properly. Many of people are missing splits, including me, and many more don't have a finish time. I initially finished 97th based on gun time. Once the results were cleaned up for people missing too many checkpoints and or dropped to the half I'm showing up as the 59th finisher. The race directors wouldn't do anything more than tell people to email the timing people. You would hope they would step up to address concerns, but they haven't. No mention apology was made for the gear check mess either. I wouldn't rule out this race in the future, but I'm going to check out some other races first.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

In a Hole in the Ground There Lived a Hobbit

I know it's been awhile since my last blog update, but I haven't been feeling all that chatty. My thoughts have been all over the place lately and I've been trying to get traction in one direction or another. The running certainly has not stopped and I'm on day 269 of the streak. I've averaged 5.46 miles per day this year. If you extrapolate that over the course of the year it would be 1992.5 miles which leaves me slightly short of 2015, but keep in mind we are no where near peak summer running yet.

Most of my running this year has been indoors on the dreaded treadmill. Other than while down in Florida, I have completed just 3 outdoor runs in Chicago. The first was at the inaugural Mikkeller Running Club event put on by Xaarlin. Next was the Cupid Dash at Fleet Feet where I got a green safety light to signal my singleness. Finally I hit the lakefront today in spite of a windchill of 2 and fresh snow. I wore my trail shoes, bundled up, and had a bit of fun with it. I brought my GoPro and snapped a few pictures before it got too dark to get decent pictures.

As for the wandering thoughts that need a little traction? I'm debating moving. My neighbors are frat brah wannabes who party and smoke weed all the time and it's interfering with my sleep. I also face a busy street. While I love my neighborhood and how close I am to everything, I'm beginning to turn into the crotchety old man yelling at everyone to get off his lawn. I've also bounced around the idea of buying somewhere, but don't know where I'd want to settle down. There is also the problem of down payment. While I'm very successful now, I had a rough patch a few years back to wipe out my savings. The neighbors are supposedly moving at the end of the month. If not, my lease is up May 1st.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Losing the Fear

Running your first race of any distance is a scary proposition. Doubts will creep into your head as the big day approaches. You'll wonder if you trained enough. Did you get enough miles in? Did you run at proper pacing? Did I get enough sleep? Did I eat properly?

Toeing the line those thoughts can be louder than the starter pistol. Some may be answered before you even get to that point. Maybe you didn't even get to the line because of an injury. Maybe you were still using the facilities with an upset stomach. Each race is a lesson and a chance to learn for the next one. There will be another opportunity after to correct the mistakes made and be better for the race.

Race day jitters still occur from time to time for me.Despite running 67 races in my lifetime I'll still occasionally panic a bit on my way to the start. I am most fearful during the actual race though. I'm afraid I'm not running hard enough and to the best of my abilities. I'm afraid I'm running too hard and will bonk before I reach the finish line. I'm afraid that something will happen and I'll have to drop out of the race. I'm afraid of quitting.

The only way to overcome the fear is to trust in yourself and trust in your training. You know yourself better than anyone and hopefully did enough in training to let you know what you are capable of. It also helps to know that humans are amazing creatures and can endure much more than we realize. We can go through a lot of discomfort and trauma before our bodies will shut down and you're likely not pushing that hard in a race.

Each time I try to tackle a new and longer distance there are new fears that pop up. I feigned confidence before my first half marathon. I missed my goal, but did really well considering the weather was much warmer than ideal. I grew from the experience and dropped my time by a lot the next race. I continued to learn and improve at the half marathon distance and then decided to run a marathon. I had a new distance to fear and similar experience to my first half marathon. I came back the next year and trained harder and smarter. In the process the half marathon distance seemed insignificant. I ran difficult half courses on back to back days without much trouble. The fear of the half was finally gone and I was comfortable letting loose with my next half marathon and once again made huge improvements in my time.

This past fall I wound up running 3 marathons in a 5 week stretch and 4 in 3 months. I learned a lot during those races about what I could endure and what I was capable of. I became better at pacing. I ran the 4th of those marathons on trashed legs that most people would considering running on and if they did they would go for a light jog. It was the slowest of the 4 marathons by me, but only by 30 seconds. I know now that I have new limits. I know I can pace better. I know I can run longer than a marathon so I can push myself harder during the race.

My fear of the marathon is now gone and I'm excited to see where that will take me this year. I have a lot of marathons on the schedule this year so they won't all be for time, but I can pick 1 or 2 of them and see what new limits I can reach without holding back. I do have a new fear though. I will be running a 50 miler on the Des Plaines River Trail in October. I've never run an ultra and have my work cut out for me. I plan on tackling this like I have other distances and hopefully come October I will no longer fear 50 mile runs. If not I'll do another while correcting my mistakes.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Dopey Challenge Final Thoughts

I've already been writing individual race recaps which you can find here:

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4

I wanted to take some time to give my thoughts on the experience looking back at things a couple of weeks later. The Dopey Challenge was a Beast of a challenge and took some time to recover from and properly reflect on.

RunDisney: The organization is world class. The races are not cheap by any means. The challenge cost over $500 to do, but you get what you pay for. The challenge comes with 6 shirts and you get 6 pieces of bling for finishing. Everything is well designed and of the highest quality. The races are so well organized between the logistics and entertainment. Everything was like clockwork. There were plentiful and well stocked aid stations full of energetic volunteers. The best was crossing the finish and having free reign to grab whatever water or powerade you wanted as well as having prepared snack boxes available for ALL the races. The boxes and tortilla chips, protein bars, sport drink mix, goldfish, and several other treats. There was music to pump you up everywhere including a lot of music from the movies I grew up on which I spent the week after humming to myself. Having photo opportunities with the characters was great even though I didn't take advantage. They even did a good job of varying the courses despite having basically the same start and finish for all 4 races.

GoPro: I bought a GoPro Hero 3+ during a Black Friday sale. I knew I had more ambitious running plans and wanted to become better about documenting it. I knew I'd definitely want photos or more from the Disney experience. I went in with barely testing out the camera. I did enough to learn how to use the camera and get my head strap and chest mounts to fit properly. I had not recorded more than a minute of video and that was done on the treadmill. I was just winging it when I got there. I learned some things and got enough footage to feel good about it. The camera takes much better video and photos than I could have ever imagined. I now need to teach myself how to edit the videos.

Taking a "Runcation": Taking a full vacation along with the running made everything that much more difficult. We were getting up at 3AM for the races and then still hitting the parks afterwards. We hit all the things we wanted to see and do and ate way more junk than we had any business eating. It was brutal. We were in Florida for a week and probably logged a good 60-70 miles walking on top of the 48.6 miles of running. To say I was spent by the time I got home was an understatement. I'm glad I took an extra day off work just to collect myself. It took a good week to get back to a normal schedule.

Disney: We decided early on that we would stay on resort to simplify things. It may have cost a little more but made everything much simpler later on. It was so nice just being able to go on the Disneyworld Website and having everything at your fingertips. I was able to get a package with the room, park tickets, and even a meal plan all baked into 1 price that I had until 60 days before arrival to pay off. The other perk of staying onsite was having the Disney Express do pick up and drop off for the airport. If we had arrived earlier in the day they would of even collected our luggage at the airport and brought it to our room for us. Leaving we dropped off our bags with the service guys and didn't have to worry about it until we collected out luggage at Midway. Disney offers several meal plans, but we went with the regular one which included 1 sit down restaurant, 1 cafeteria style meal, and 1 snack per day. Snacks could be coffee, fruit, bottle of water, cupcake, Mickey ice cream bar, etc. All the lunches and dinners came with dessert. If fully utilized it can be a great value. We found that it was just too much food for us. We wound up not using a few of the cafeteria style meals. It also didn't help that Vijay couldn't comprehend how meals worked and instead grabbed stuff that counted as snacks at meal time. We were almost never hungry for snacks so we didn't miss them, but you can get bags of candy or other treats to bring home with you on the last day for unused snacks. You can't take home unused meals. We'd probably skip the meal plan next time, but it gave us the change to try a lot of places and dishes and not worry about price.

My Birthday: So my birthday happened during the trip. I was a little distracted by having to do the whole marathon thing, but still managed to have a good time. Once we got to the park I got a button announcing to the world that it was my birthday. I heard congratulations and happy birthday everywhere all day long. We had our best meals on this day as well. For lunch I had snagged fast passes for the hottest restaurant at the Magic Kingdom - Be Our Guest. The restaurant was modeled to look like the interior of the castle from Beauty and the Beast. You walk in and order from touchscreens made to look like scrolls and then find seats. Servers roll around carts and bring the food to you using the RFID tag in the MagicBand to find you. I had a croque monsieur which was basically a grilled ham and cheese, but this one tasted spectacular. For dessert I had a chocolate sponge cupcake with "grey stuff" frosting. I didn't need to ask the dishes, it was delicious. Dinner was over at the Polynesian where we ate at 'Ohana. It was Hawaiian inspired food served family style. There was so much and it was so good. I need to figure out how to make the big skewers of meat like they do because they were amazing. I also got lei'd for my birthday. I would eat at this place again in a heartbeat. It would probably be better if I wasn't so exhausted.

Conclusion: Would I run the Dopey Challenge again? I think I would. It's not something I would do every year, but it was a great experience. I got to push myself to new levels running and see what I was really made of. I also got to be a big kid and have all sorts of fun. Who didn't grow up watching Disney movies? I kind of want to earn their coast to coast challenge now which is running at least a half marathon at both Disneyworld and Disneyland. It's not in the picture for this year, but next year I'd love to run the Star Wars Rebel Challenge in January at Disneyland and then hit the Wine and Dine Half Marathon at Disneyworld in November. There's even a marathon in Anaheim the weekend before Star Wars so that if I got in the weekend before I could knock California off the marathon list. It's unfortunate that after the one and only Disneyland Marathon they signed a non-compete agreement with the LA Marathon. The property there isn't quite as big as in Florida so the logistics are harder as well. M-I_C - see you real soon, K-E-Y - Why? Because we like you - M-O-U-S-E

Monday, January 19, 2015

RunDisney Dopey Challenge Part 4: The Marathon

Following the filling of our bellies at brunch we headed back to the hotel to get some rest. That didn't last too long as Jennifer and I decided to head to Downtown Disney to get some shopping in. She filled shopping bags and I walked way more than I probably should have the day before a marathon. After a less than great dinner we headed back to the hotel for an early bedtime.

Sunday morning was another early wake up call. After the close call at the half marathon we got on the bus to head to the race slightly earlier. I still headed straight to gear check and to my corral. This time the lines at the bathrooms near the corrals were a lot longer. I didn't have time to wait and so followed some other runners into the woods behind the bathrooms to take care of business. I once again managed to get into the corral just as the national anthem was starting.

After some brief technical difficulties with the start we were sent off to the largest firework display yet. Considering each corral up to P got the same fireworks they might have launched more than Chicago saw on the 4th of July. It was a little unsettling the first time to be off and running and hearing all the booming behind you as the next corral starts. The race followed familiar territory as we wound down the same roads and towards the magic kingdom. I'm not going to sugar coat things, the first mile was uncomfortable. The 2nd mile was a little bit better and I slowly loosened up from there I settled into a steady pace slightly slower than I ran for the half.

After the Magic Kingdom we were sent into and around the motor speedway. A local car club had brought out their cars for a display around the track turning it into a moving car show. There was even a stock car revving its engine for the runners. I soon realized I has quite the groove going on and if I kept it up I would come close to running my best marathon yet. This wouldn't last long as I faded a bit between mile 10 and the halfway point while also stopping to use the bathroom. I was still only 30 seconds off pace at the half.

The course next took us through a segment of the Animal Kingdom which brought it some new scenery. We ran right past Expedition Everest which I heard that many runners will stop and ride, but I was going through before the park opened and before the ride was open for the day. I wouldn't ride anyways since me and roller coasters don't get along.

The next stop after the Animal Kingdom was the ESPN Sports complex full of all sorts of athletic fields that we wound our way through. Sometime shortly after the halfway point I found myself with the 3:45 pace group. This proved fortunate as I was able to re-establish a rhythm and settle back into pace. Mind you 3:45 is faster than my marathon PR so I'm not sure what I was thinking. I hung with them and ran 8:3x pace for the next 4.5 miles which including winding around a track and the baseball diamond that the Atlanta Braves use for their spring training games. With about 10K to go I could no longer keep up with the pace group.

I really wanted to grit things out but didn't have anything left. The temperature had risen to around 60 and with 90% humidity which was sweltering compared to the low 40s of the prior 3 days. I had hit the 20 mile mark in 2:55:32 which meant I could practically coast the rest of the way and still hit a respectable sub 4:00 time. The next stop was Hollywood Studios. There were volunteers handing out chocolate which was a welcome boost of energy. It wasn't enough though as I started taking extended walking breaks through the water stations and any incline.

After Hollywood Studios it wasn't long before we returned to the Boardwalk and back into Epcot. This time we ran the World Showcase in reverse. They had high energy music blaring from the loudspeakers. I pulled myself together to try and finish strong. The home stretch was both familiar and alien as this was my first time running through the park in daylight. I finally reach the end and did indeed cross in under 4 hours. My time was only about 30 seconds slower than my NYC Marathon time which is saying a lot given how beat up I was from 3 previous days of racing and non-stop walking.

The Dopey Challenge was finally done. I did better than I could have ever imagined. I finished the 48.6 miles in just over 7 hours and 15 minutes and a pace of 8:58 min/mile. I had gone in fantasizing that I could run a 4:00 marathon pace which is 9:09 min/mile and wound up shattering that. After cleaning up it was back to the parks. I had gotten lunch reservations for us at Be Our Guest which has been all the rage since it opened and I did not want to miss it. It was our best counter service meal of the trip by far. Even better than some of the sit down meals. Eventually we dragged our tired bodies over to the Polynesian for a late (for us) dinner at 7PM. The place was 'Ohana and was like a Hawaiian version of a Brazilian steakhouse. We were brought family style lettuce wraps, pork potstickers, honey coriander chicken wings, stir fry noodles, and some sort of noodles. These were all pretty good, but then came the skewers. The pork was first and the best of the bunch. The marinade used was absolutely fantastic. The steak was next and good, but not quite up to par with the pork. Finally we passed on the shrimp. I did get a second helping of pork though. I didn't have much room for dessert but did have a few bites of ice cream. Vijay somehow had room for the bread pudding. We crashed hard once we got home.

Did I mention that this all happened on my birthday? I guess you could say I went all out celebrating.

Final Bling