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.

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.

Reflecting on a mediocre race

The gloom of a dark, rainy Monday matches my mood perfectly this morning. One more weekend day would have been nice, even with this wet weather. Despite an hour’s nap on Sunday, I think I need a recharge. I’m fairly certain that yesterday’s race-day struggles relate to either a lack of sleep or fighting off a virus. I’m not sure there’s anything in my training or preparation that I would have done differently.

While I am disappointed to have missed a PR by a large margin, I’m not down about my performance. One bad race is no longer enough for me to worry about my fitness or potential. I’ve been fortunate to experience most of my bad runs during training sessions, with the 2011 half marathon being a key exception. But yesterday felt like a really bad run.

I’m wondering if I should plan to go out tomorrow morning or take another day’s rest before resuming my training schedule. At this point I’m not sure whether I’m better off getting back on the horse, or letting the horse rest a little longer.

My perception was better than my reality

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

Getting up and out the door before 4:00 AM this morning wasn’t as hard as I expected it would be. I even got up before my alarm and made it outside five minutes earlier than normal. That’s always a bonus because it means that I get an extra five minutes to relax and recover before moving on with my morning routine.

My unexpected energy carried through to the road and I felt as though everything was working great. With the exception of some strong breezes that hit sporadically, conditions were pleasant. My stride felt balanced and my cadence felt quick. I didn’t look at my Garmin because I wanted to be surprised by my pace when I completed the run.

I was surprised at the end to see how I performed, but not in the way I hoped. This run felt fast, but it took me almost 90 seconds more to complete than normal. I didn’t get it and I still don’t really understand how a run that felt so good resulted in such a mediocre time. I can usually predict my pace fairly accurately but I was far off today. No matter though. I enjoyed the run and I’ll take experience over speed any day (except race day!).

My definition of victory

Victorious

Today’s workout (elliptical): 25 minutes

I had lunch yesterday with one of my running mentors, a man who has competed for decades. I told him about Saturday’s race and we laughed about my sprint to the end, where I beat out another runner by a second. That made me think about why I race and what I expect from the experience.

I know that there are many runners who line up at the start of a race expecting to win, or to place high in their age division. I know a few of those people, some of whom read this blog. I admire and envy them but I know that I’m never going to be a front of pack finisher. I’m not conceding that I’ll never have another age-place win, but I usually come in right in the middle of overall finish order.

Despite the fact that I’m barely competitive in my own age category, I do get a lot out of competition. Every time I pass a person in a race, I feel like a real competitor. This past weekend, when I held my own on the hills while many started walking halfway up, I felt like my training had paid off. And yes, as I sprinted toward the finish and held off a young runner who may have thought he’d blow right by me, I felt like I’d won my own mini race.

I’ve often thought about racing while out on a training run and tried to imagine other people around me, pulling me along. That never resulted in a noticeably faster performance and I think that’s because only real competition brings out the best in us. There are few things in life that feel better than crossing the line to see that you’ve beaten your targeted finish time. I don’t worry about those who finished long before me in races, because I define victory many different ways.

Running difficulty? It’s mostly in your head

I reached a point in both my runs this weekend where I thought “Gee, this is hard.” But when I thought about it I couldn’t really identify the thing that was making my run feel difficult. I wasn’t having trouble with my breathing or my knee. My legs were beginning to lose energy but they weren’t painful. I realized that the run felt hard because I had covered a certain distance and assumed that’s how I should be feeling.

The mild discomfort I felt after four miles of steady pacing was nothing compared to the “I just want it to stop!!” feeling I’d experienced during last Sunday’s half marathon. I tried to think about how I’d felt four miles into that 13.1 mile race. Four miles represented only 30% of the distance I’d prepared to cover, while on Sunday it represented my full distance. Had I previously decided to run five miles instead of four would my discomfort have started later? It’s clear to me that the hardest part of running (until you reach your physical limits) is preventing a perception of difficulty from undermining a good run.

Which friend do you want to be?

Today’s run (street): 2.6 miles

I know a person who runs about 40 minutes every few days. The time is arbitrary because he doesn’t wear a watch. He thinks that he runs about four miles each time he goes out but he’s not really sure. My friend has little idea of his pace but guesses he runs around 10 minutes per mile. I know another person who cycles through a weekly regimen of training: intervals on the track, tempo runs, strides, Fartleks and distance runs. He knows his paces for all these activities. He usually hits his desired numbers. These two people enjoy running, but the way they engage is very different.

I’m somewhere in the middle in terms of activity and expectations. I do care about my distance and pace but I don’t devote much time to the core training activities that help make one faster or better prepared for tough conditions. I view my running satisfaction against two criteria — performance and experience. Performance is defined for me very specifically: a pace as far below 9:00 per mile as possible or covering a challenging distance. Experience is much more arbitrary. That’s defined by how I feel. Some runs are relatively slow but feel great. That’s a successful experience. Other runs hit the mark on performance but the price paid is pain and/or injury. Not so successful. As a recreational runner I look for equilibrium between these two criteria. When that balance is reached I am a happy runner.

Today I was not a happy runner. I took my usual rest day on Monday and by last night I was feeling ready to run. We had kinetic storms overnight with wind, thunder and lightning and I feared I’d be stuck on the treadmill today. It was slightly rainy when I got up at 3:45 and I decided to go for it. From my first few steps off my driveway I could tell that I would have trouble on this run. I couldn’t generate the leg turnover I needed to get to my desired speed and I felt a bit tired. I hoped that initial fatigue would give way to a boost of energy after a few minutes and while things did improve, it wasn’t by much. I ended up running for 25 minutes and only covering 2.6 miles in total. Sub-par performance against my expectations and a fairly miserable experience in the process. On one hand I did go out under rainy skies and did my workout long before most of the world was thinking about waking. If I was friend #2 I’d be furious about my poor performance. If I was friend #1 I’d probably think “That wasn’t as much fun as usual, maybe next time I’ll feel better.” I think friend #1 makes the better point.

Unexpectedly positive run

Today’s run (street): 2.64 miles at 9:09 per mile

I was ambivalent about going for a run today. Tuesday and Wednesday’s runs were tough and I questioned whether I was pushing myself too hard. The last two times I went out it seemed like I just couldn’t get myself out of second gear and I wasn’t looking to repeat that experience today. With the temperatures approaching 80 degrees by 6:00 AM and the dew point rising, I considered cranking the AC and jumping on the elliptical. I decided to run but to keep my pace moderately slow. I targeted a top end range on my HRM and I used that as a guide for my level of exertion. Wearing my Kinvaras I took off at a comfortable pace and I was surprised to find the effort was less than anticipated.

Although I had a little more time than usual this morning (I took the day off for my son’s graduation) I wasn’t planning to go out for more than 25 minutes. The tightness of my upper hamstring was hardly noticeable and, unlike yesterday’s run, I had no pain in my right knee. After about five minutes I knew that it would be a good run regardless of my overall pace. Mile one seemed to come when I expected it and I hoped that last night’s calibration had finally restored the Garmin’s accuracy. I didn’t feel like I was moving along very quickly but I refused to look at my watch because I didn’t want to feel pressure to speed up. The second mile came faster that I expected it and I was farther from my house than I thought I’d be when I hit that mark. I finished the run with 2.64 miles recorded and thought that the Garmin was way off. My heart rate never climbed to a level of high exertion so I expected my true distance was far less than indicated. When I got inside I Gmapped my route and it came to 2.64 miles so not only is the Garmin accurate but I hit 9:09 on a brutally hot morning.

It was a great feeling knowing I was back running closer to 9 minutes per mile. My son’s graduation followed and was also great. He was a host for the day so I got to see him up on the podium a number of times introducing speakers and talking about the school year. A great day with a great start. In terms of my runs, I’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Hard to be fast when you’re lazy

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles at 9:35 per mile

Things felt a little off today as I began my run. I had no complaints about the weather and I didn’t feel particularly tired. I just didn’t feel in rhythm with the process, either physically or mentally. Although this was my first run after a rest day my legs felt inflexible and heavy. It was almost as if  I was wearing ankle weights. The other analogy that fits is the feeling of being tethered to a weight that inhibited my speed. I tried to up my pace a couple of times but overall I defaulted to the rate I could sustain. Fortunately I’ve had enough experience running by now to know that unsatisfying runs sometimes happen and that bad runs are often followed by good runs. I’m hoping that will be the case tomorrow.

After a few weeks of very good performance that followed my receipt of two pair of lightweight Sauconys I have definitely moved back to averaging mid-9 minute paces. I want to break nine minutes consistently so I have to decide how serious I’m willing to get to add some performance training to my routine. Although I’m dedicated to my schedule I’m actually a lazy runner. It’s rare that I push my speed during my training runs. It works for me because I almost always enjoy myself when I run but I also get frustrated with my lack of progress on speed. I read an article on Active.com this morning about using track work to gain speed that can be applied to distance running. I need to decide how serious I am about making a focused effort to improve. The only practical time to do that is on the weekend and I’m reluctant to give up a slot I reserve for longer runs. Perhaps I can do 20-30 minutes of running and then switch to speed work as the article suggests. Sounds worth a try.

Pace perception, pace reality

I think I may have a distorted idea about what constitutes my “normal” running pace. In my mind I consider myself a 9:00 miler but in truth I’m not. Garmin Connect provides reporting tools that allow you to analyze your history and this helps me compare where I am today against previous periods. Sifting through the data and applying the appropriate filters allows me to see what paces I was doing last year on the treadmill, the road, the track and the trails. My overall pace, current or historical, means very little because it’s a blend of those running types. Comparing or just reviewing anecdotal data, I see that my normal road pace is about 9:15. There is a margin of error because this data comes from my Garmin which has an over/under tolerance of about 3%, depending on its state of calibration. I often move the footpod from pair to pair depending on the type of running that I’m doing. When calibrate accuracy to .01 mile on my Adrenalines and then move the footpod to my New Balance trail shoes I’ll get a different result. It’s an inexact method but it’s good for measuring trends over time.

Prior to last Sunday’s race I had focused primarily on building up my running legs with less concern about pace. In the first two post-race runs this week I kept the speed dialed down in consideration of recovery. Today I decided to start faster and maintain a pace that was on the edge of discomfort. About halfway through I increased the speed a bit more and at the end I expected to see that I’d run the type of pace I do for road races (8:19-8:40). I was surprised to see the Garmin readout say I’d covered my distance at 9:00 per mile. It sure seemed faster than that. It’s possible that the Garmin under-counted because of calibration variance and I was on the treadmill and not on the road. Next week we’ll have our new treadmill that will provide a readout that I can compare to the Garmin’s. It was nice to run my “normal” pace today, despite my delusions of grandeur.