New taper strategy – easy runs

In recent weeks I’ve heard a lot about how volume training can be more important than speed work. People I know advocate running longer distances 2-3 minutes slower than race pace. I’ve started adding more length to my weekend runs because I have more available time on those days. With this change, my weekly average has exceeded 20 miles since August. I only have enough time to run about 2.5 miles during my weekday 4:00 AM workouts so almost 2/3 of my distance is achieved over the weekend. I try to get in 8+ mile runs whenever possible. An article in the current issue of Trailrunner Magazine says that “Runners often perform workouts at speeds that are too fast to obtain the desired result.” They advocate slow running saying “Remember that it is the volume of aerobic running, not the speed, that represents major stimulus for adaptation.”

I know I enjoy a run more when I am able to hold a conversation or observe the sights, sounds and smells of fall running without constantly peeking at my Garmin to ensure that my pace is on track. I’m planning a lunchtime run with JQ today. The timing is perfect because we’ll run at a comfortable pace that will work for my taper. In the past I’ve focused on more intense running for the workouts leading to a weekend race. I’m going the other way this week and hoping that these easy runs will provide a race day benefit that’s greater than what I get from speed workouts.

Running your own race

Watching the NYC Marathon yesterday got me thinking about the 10K I’ll be running next Sunday. Many of those marathoners who went out in the later waves probably hadn’t reached the 5K mark by the time the women and men’s winners had crossed the finish line. To the outside world, the race ended with the elites but for the 45,000 others on the course the race ended hours later. When you’re pounding away for position among the crowded field the only race that matters is the one you’re in. Every race provides an opportunity for success: completion, a PR or just participating in the experience provides a great reason to do it. I can’t wait to hear from FS on her experience.

I’m not sure how I’ll do next Sunday. The 10K distance has never yielded great times for me in competition. My hope is to come in under an hour and, ideally, pace below 9:20. I’ll probably finish my taper with runs on Tuesday and Wednesday at very easy paces and I’ll complete my pre-race activity on Thursday with an elliptical session. I plan to run the best race I can without concern for those who cross the line in half the time it takes me to finish.

I stand corrected

Today’s run (street) 2.4 miles

Yesterday I wrote how fitness and performance levels tend to decline in middle age. I believed that to be true and, absent proper training, it probably is true. Out of curiosity I looked back on my running history on Garmin Connect and compared my performance (street runs only) between April 1 and October 31 to the same period last year. Some things surprised me. It was almost uncanny that the number of runs, year over year, were virtually identical: 119 in 2009 and 118 in 2010. However, it was the differences that caused my surprise.

Gains for the period 4/1 to 10/31 (2009 vs. 2010)

  • 12.4% more distance overall, average distance per run was up 12.5%.
  • Cumulative running time was 9% overall, average run was 9% longer.
  • Average pace was 4.6% faster.
  • Average cadence was 3.6% greater.
  • Median distance per run was up 11.5%

The only thing that declined year over year was average heart rate, dropping 1.4% this year. I use the HRM intermittently so that one comparison isn’t statistically valid.

So despite what I’d read I have seen some real improvement. Emerging Runner friend and contributor James suggested that I focus more on building a base with comfortably paced runs and using that conditioning to improve my speed. James is an accomplished and dedicated runner who structures his training well. I’ve already started doing what he’s suggesting by focusing more on distance and less on performance. In addition, almost weekly, I’m running with a friend in the city where we pace minutes slower than my current goal rate. This weekend Dave and I are planning an LSD run in preparation of our first (of two) 10K’s that we’re running this month. If running slow and comfortably will help me on race day I’m all for that.

Deconstructing the Cow Harbor course



Moo-ve along runners!

I’m done with my taper and now on my second day of rest from running. This is my standard methodology when preparing for a race. I assume that a marginal day of recovery is more beneficial than a marginal day of conditioning. Anyway, that’s the plan. Since I’m not running today I feel especially energetic. It’s psychological of course. At least I think so. It would be disappointing to reach my peak on the day before a big race.

I’ve reread BJS’s notes on his practice runs along with an article from a local newspaper that broke down the race mile by mile. Cow Harbor seems like a series of mini races aggregated into a 10K distance. Mile one is more downhill than up – a trap for those who look to bank time early by ripping through the streets at maximum speed. Mile 2 is the infamous Widow Hill where those who came out too fast quickly regret that decision. Mile 3 is for recovery and I need to be careful not to push too hard knowing the worst hill is behind me. Mile 4 provides an opportunity to gain time lost early on the hill and mile 5 is more challenging because it’s a slight incline along Waterside Ave. that can wear you down by the end. Mile 6 has another hill but compared to earlier, it’s more about annoyance than intimidation. After the hill it’s a toboggan run to Main Street and then the finish line. This last part is where I hope to have enough left in the tank to keep my goal time on track.

I’m planning to do my race number pickup tonight to save a little time tomorrow morning. I’m excited for this race and looking forward to the experience. I’ll need to set up the DVR tonight so I can watch myself cross the finish line on the News 12 broadcast. See you at the finish!

The taper begins

I went to bed last night feeling ambivalent about running this morning. Though I usually run on Fridays I thought that resting prior to the weekend might be a better way to prepare for some long runs. Over the past few weekends I’ve driven up my distance running and I’m feeling stronger at the 6+ mile mark than I have in a long time. Last Sunday’s run in Northport helped me understand my limits and after running the Great Cow Harbor course (supplemented by BJS’s notes) I think I’m mentally prepared for the race.

My plan for this weekend, as I begin my taper, is to reinforce my stamina so I can sustain my goal pace throughout the 10K. Besides compiling lots of quality miles I’m going to need to do hill repeats. There aren’t too many hills in my area that can stand in as training resources for the James Street challenge but I have some ideas. It may be worth paying the entrance fee at Bethpage State Park to run the hilly bike trail. That trail is long enough to allow me an 8+ mile out-and-back run that culminates with a large hill right before the exit to the trail head. I always dread that hill, especially because it often comes after an hour of running in the heat. This weekend I will embrace the hill knowing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Or in this case, a ton of prevention for a megaton of cure.

The incremental distance conundrum

I covered more than 20 miles last week, putting me about three miles ahead of my normal weekly total. The long run on Saturday accounted for almost a third of my week’s distance and it really underscored the fact that while I run often, I usually don’t run that far. I’ve concluded that the progress I’ve made on speed has not helped to increase my stamina. I really need to improve my endurance if I want to run well at my next race. Looking at my history on Garmin Connect I see that my average run length is about 3.5 miles but my median distance is slightly less than three. This is no surprise because many of my runs happen in the early morning hours when I hit the streets at 4:00 AM and have no more than 25 minutes to get in a run. Best case, were I to push my speed to 8:30 (a reasonably fast pace at 4AM) I would only cover 2.94 miles within that time. I do want to increase mileage and I think it will take some combination of the following:

– Earlier rising to get out sooner, providing more time to run.
– Sleeping in my running clothes to reduce amount of prep time before I run.
– Running faster.
– Giving up some post-run recovery time in favor of more run time.
– Running on my rest day (Monday).
– Running on my cross-training day (Thursday).
– Doing no less than 5 miles on my weekend runs.
– Focusing on adding a mile every week from my prior week’s total.

I’m sure doing these things will help increase my weekly distance total but not every option is practical. In reality, it’s not adding the incremental fractions of a mile that will make a difference, it’s increasing the frequency and distance of my longer runs. My friend FS said that a focus on time running, rather than specific distance or speed, may be the key. That’s good advice. I’m hoping to get three 50+ minute runs in this week. It’s a start.

Smartening up for Sunday’s race

Today’s workout: Rest day

It was a beautiful morning today in Washington DC, the temperature was 65 when I woke up at 4:00. I looked out the window just as the sun was coming up to see two runners making their way along D Street. How I wished to join them! Unfortunately my schedule was too tight today to do any running, but next time I return I plan to do a few loops around the National Mall. I’ve reconciled my missed opportunity by acknowledging that I usually rest on Mondays anyway. Technically I’m tapering for an 8K I’m planning to run this coming Sunday.

I’m excited to be racing again for the first time since early April. I blew it on my last race, arriving the day after the event. This time I’m pretty sure it’s on the 13th and since I’ve pre-registered and pre-paid I’m going to pay a little more attention to the details. Last year I ran the New Hyde Park 8K with no understanding or expectations of the course. I started fast and did about 8:25 for mile one and went downhill from there. The course isn’t challenging in terms of hills but there are a few elevated sections. I recall the moment I knew I had overstepped my conditioning, I was on a section of road heading east when I started getting passed by other runners. I can remember the sound of approaching steps as one, two, three and more runners ran by and though I tried to speed up to hold them off I just couldn’t sustain it. The fifth mile was brutal although I did manage to put enough energy into a final sprint that kept me under nine minutes for pace. Barely under: 8:59.

I have not run too strongly in the last week and my pace numbers reflect this. I had been hitting 8:40 fairly often and I’m almost a minute behind that of late. The good news is I don’t really care. I’m judging the value of my runs by my level of satisfaction rather than purely by performance. However, I do want to beat last year’s pace on Sunday and finish feeling stronger. I guess I’ll need to run smarter as well.

Strategic thinking for Sunday’s 5K

Today’s workout: Resting for 4/11 race

My new PDO armband

What a difference a week makes in terms of running gear. I now have a fully functional running watch (Garmin FR60) that’s a real improvement over the 50 that it replaced. I bought a new PDO iPhone armband that seems much more durable than the iLUV model that fell apart after only being used a few dozen times. Most importantly, our Sole treadmill belt slip issue has been fixed so I can now run at faster speeds without worrying about straying too far right on the belt tread. Ironically, I’ll need to wait until after Sunday to try out the repaired machine because I’m not planning on doing any running until 8:30 AM on Sunday.

I’ve been thinking about my racing strategy and I looked to my post about last year’s event to help prepare me for the conditions. The thing I worry about most is THE BIG HILL. It took me by surprise last year and I clearly had not done the right amount of training to prepare me for the length of this monster (1/2 mile). I’ve done a fair number of hill runs over the last month and I’m hoping this conditioning has prepared me for what’s to come. In the six races I have have run since last year’s Marcie Mazzola race I have learned to moderate my pace for the first mile and not get sucked into the stream of fast moving early starters. I expect to be fatigued somewhat from the hill so I’ll conserve more energy than the last time I did this race. This year the race distance is 5K, not 4 miles, so I’m hoping to push the speed a little more near the end. I anticipate that temperatures will be in the high 40’s to low 50’s at start time so I’m planning to run in short sleeves and racing shorts. Heat is my (and most people’s) kryptonite so I’ll do everything I can to minimize that issue.

Am I over thinking my strategy? Should I just get out there and run and figure it out as I go? It’s hard to say whether a defined strategy makes big difference. I know that in business, when I do a public presentation, the work I do to prepare always pays off and things sometimes go badly when I wing it. I’ve had more negative racing experiences when I failed to think through the the various elements: weather, course, pacing, etc. I prefer to error on the side of over-strategizing and I’ll know soon enough whether it made a difference.

Thoughts on my upcoming 5K

I’m working from my home today and due to my schedule I was not able to run this morning. So far this week, even including Sunday, I’ve run less than ten miles. I don’t know if I’ll have a chance to get out today so this will likely be a low mileage week. That may be a good thing since I spent most of last week feeling tired during my runs. I’d really like to go out for a long trail run this weekend for a change of pace but I also feel like this is the last chance I’ll have to train for my 5K. I looked up the layout of the course and saw that it’s relatively flat but there are a couple of good hills along the way. It may be a good idea for me to try some hill training at the industrial park at some point. I also plan to get home early on Wednesday so perhaps that’s the time to do that as a last hard workout prior to the race.

Saturday will be the last time I race in 2009 and it will be the 6th time I’ve participated in an organized race this year. Saturday’s 5K will be the second time I’ve raced that distance this year so I have an opportunity for a new PR. The last time I raced a 5K I did it at 8:33 and won 2nd place in my age division (it clearly wasn’t a competitive field) so I’d really like to beat that time if I could. On the other hand it might be fine to go out and just have fun and enjoy a race close to home with my family there to cheer me on. Right now my competitive spirit is winning so I think I’ll do that hill training. I need to look at the race calendar to see what’s happening in early 2010.

Halloween weekend running – no tricks, just treats

Compared to my usual weekly distance, I’ve covered a lot of miles this week including over 11 this weekend. I’m thinking that between now until the 28th (the date of my next race) that mileage will be less important than speed conditioning and leg strength. If I want to make a 5K PR I’ll need to do better than I did yesterday. This might also be a good time to return to core exercise to strengthen my glutes and work on my right quad that tends to cramp on runs that exceed five miles.

It was a very fun Halloween weekend for the family and I was happy to relax and watch the NY Marathon coverage on DVR between other Sunday activities. At around 4:30 my daughter asked me to go for a run and despite the fact that I was psychologically finished with running until Tuesday I could not say no. We did our usual loop of 1.25 miles at a ten-something pace. Perfect for me because I could run at that speed without breaking a sweat in the 50 degree weather. As usual, we had a ball, the running was fun and the conversation was great. For the rest of the month I’ll concentrate on speed instead of extra miles – unless the miles include other opportunities to run with my daughter.