Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Race Report - University of Oregon Twilight Meet - OTC Masters Exhibition 3000m

It was once again time for my annual masters racing pilgrimage to American track and field's mecca, Hayward Field. I have managed to run a race that finished on the track at Hayward Field every year I've been competing as a masters runner and this year was no exception. Thanks to the great masters exhibition races arranged and put on by Craig Godwin and the Oregon Track Club Masters at a couple of the University of Oregon meets each us old guys and gals get to enjoy a little bit of the excitement of spiking up on a track that is otherwise off limits.

The last two years I ran the masters exhibition mile at the U of O Pepsi Invitational and in 2012 I ran this same race, the masters exhibition 3000 meters at the U of O Twilight Invitational. Both scheduling conflicts and the place I was at in my season's training and racing made opting for the 3k this year the wisest decision. The plan for this track season culminates in what for me is a once in a lifetime event, racing the 1500 meters at the World Master Athletics World Championships in August in Lyon, France. So, even though the track racing season is getting into full swing, I'm still coming out of the end of the base phase in my training for the year and a competitive 3000 meters on the track was just what I needed.

Originally the field was going to be rather large with nearly twenty entrants in the race, with four guys listing fantastically fast seed times of under nine minutes. I knew I'd be letting those guys go and see what other races might develop back in the pack where I expected to be settling in. Unfortunately, many of the entrants had to scratch a day or two before the race and we lost a few of the fast guys up front.

I listed my seed time as 9:53 when I submitted my entry back in January, basing that time on what I actually ran for 3000 meters last year and not what I thought I could run at this race. In fact, I had already run faster than 9:53 this spring, clocking a 9:44.67 at the Club Northwest Spring Break Open in Seattle in late March and my training has been going well. So, I knew I was ready for a good day.

It is always cool to see your name on a bib from a meet at Hayward Field.

However, more than simply chasing a fast time, and Hayward Field is a great track for running fast, hopping in these masters exhibition races for me is all about racing and facing the competition. I know it is going to be a rare day that I actually win a race on this track, but as long as I have a chance to come out and play where the big kids do their stuff, then it's all about racing.

With that in mind, I was happy to see a few other guys on the start list with seed times in my ballpark, both a bit faster and a bit slower. Most notable was my friend Thomas Kreuzpeinter from Eugene who runs for OTC. I always know that Thomas means business when he races, regardless of his fitness and so far in my masters racing career it has always put me in a position to be looking at his back as he crossed the finish line in front of me. Close enough to see him, but never close enough to beat him.  Last year in the masters mile at the U of O Pepsi Invitational, I tried my darndest to stay with Thomas, but he pulled away for the win to my second place finish. My plan this year was to stick to Thomas like glue. I was not yet speed sharp, but I was as strong and fit as I have ever been. I also knew that Thomas might not be at his best fitness having recently returned from a multi-week trip to his home country of Germany. Not wishing him any ill-will, but this racing and it was probably my only chance against him!

Josh Gordon leads Mike Blackmore through the first
200 meters as the rest of the field quickly strings out behind.

Originally this was to be a mixed race with both men and women, but one casualty of the late scratches was that the few women on the entry list all dropped out ahead of time, making it an all guys race. Ten of us toed the line and after hearing each of our names introduced on the PA system, took off at the gun. As expected, speed machines Josh Gordon and Mike Blackmore quickly assumed their place at the front. They were going to have their own race. Behind them, Thomas, I and John Clifford got off to a nice pace, until we hit the back stretch and felt the brunt of a pretty good head wind.  I tucked in behind Thomas and John behind me.  At first it wasn't my plan to just draft off of Thomas, but as we clicked off a few more laps, we were still roughly on a pace that would have us finishing around 9:40, and the strength of the back stretch wind seemed to increase, I thought, why not sit here as long as I can.

Thomas Leading the charge on the
home stretch with me in tow around lap two or three.

John Clifford right behind me, doing his best to stay with our pace.

To many watching it probably seemed pretty rude of me to let Thomas do all the work, and the truth is, if he had moved aside at some point and waved me up to share the work in the wind, I really would have done it. But he didn't so I just sat tight. As we clicked off a few more laps I could no longer hear the footsteps and breathing of John Clifford behind me, so I knew it was going to just be me and Thomas for as long as I can hold on. Having been the one in the chasing position on this very track a year before, I had no idea how this one was going to end, only that I had to stay close.  We went through 1600 meters in about 5:09 which was a tad bit slower than I thought we might hit for that split, but still moving along nicely.

Me in my usual racing form with my head down in
concentration, both on the race and the feet of the runner in front of me.

With laps five and six, our breathing was getting pretty hard but I was happy that my legs were not feeling heavy and I was doing my best to maintain good form and stay on my toes. With two laps to go, I knew I had a little left to pick it up and thought about going around Thomas on the home stretch, but said to myself, no, be patient, wait, there is time and you'll have to take the head wind. So I waited. With 450 meters to go I made my move and did my best to pass Thomas quickly and open up a gap by the time we hit the bell.  I kept pushing on the curve and striding hard on the back stretch.

Feeling like a star on the finishing stretch at Hayward Field.

Rounding the curve I did my best to find another gear fully expecting Thomas to come striding up on my shoulder and showing me his superior speed. Unfortunately, it was not Thomas' day and he didn't have enough left to come after me. My legs never got heavy and I opened up my stride and pumped my arms as best I could to finish hard for third place, well behind Josh Gordon and Mike Blackmore.

I like this snip from the video of the race because it shows
me pumping my arms well and opening up my stride as I finish strong.

Thomas hung on for fourth, while Kerry Griffin moved into fifth and John Clifford dropped back to sixth. Originally I thought my time of 9:42.41 was a new personal best, but in fact it was.02 slower than I ran at this race in 2012, a race won by Thomas Kreuzpeintner in 9:15.70. Personal best or not, I was very happy with the time and even more happy with how I raced and finished and how my legs felt. Going into the track racing season this year and with my plans to race in the men's 45-49 division at the World Masters Association Championships, it won't be so much about chasing fast times as it will be preparing myself to race smart and finding a couple more gears at the end to finish hard.

Running through the line for third place.

Results for the 2015 masters men's exhibition 3000 meters.

It is races and venues like this that make training hard as a masters runner all the more enjoyable, but even more so it is toeing the line with fellow competitors and friends like Thomas that really make these days memorable. As Thomas, Mike Blackmore, Josh Gordon and I were on a cool down together afterwards the post race banter was light but truthful. Thomas congratulated me on a hard earned win but make it clear, next time he's coming for me. Moreover, he's moving up to the 50's age group later this year and is making plans to step up his training in anticipation of the 2016 season. I expect nothing less and look forward to it. After all, that is what this is all about.

Thanks to Craig Godwin and the Oregon Track Club Masters for taking the photos included in this blog.  All credits go to them. For more photos of the race go to this link at the Oregon Track Club Masters website. Our friends at Runnerspace.com have also kindly posted the video of the race.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Reflections on 2013 - Moving Ahead to 2014 and Beyond

Upon reflection, this was what I would describe as my first down year as a competitive masters runner.  There were some positive moments and races this year, but by and large I feel that I under-performed and did not train as hard or as consistently as I have in the recent past.  Some of this was by design, some a result of circumstance.

A year ago in this blog, I laid out a number of time related goals for my 2013 racing, none of which I was able to meet this year.  Therefore, with all of these goals left unrealized, I will consider those to be my same goals for 2014.

From a performance point of view, there were three especially positive memorable experiences during 2013.  First off was dragging my butt around two laps of the track as fast as I could and somehow managing to finish in 2:10.73 at the Club Northwest Spring Break Open in March.  I had not really trained for that kind of fast racing for a few years and the race itself was an incredible shock to my system, but I hung on and even caught one other masters runner on the straightaway.  Hoping, but not really believing, I could run 2:10 at that time off of the training I had been doing, and then actually doing it was an enormous confidence booster for my next memorable race of the year just a week later in Eugene.

I don’t really have a bucket list for running, such as certain races I’d like to run or trails to train on or that sort of thing, but if I did, I think winning a mile race at Hayward Field at a college meet in front of a crowd would have been something that was bucket-list worthy.  Fortunately for me, I actually did it!  The 2013 Pepsi Invite at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field is one of those very special college meets that also has a couple of exhibition races for masters runners.  This year the mile was one of those races and I leapt at the chance to be in the race.  Entry was first come first served so we had a mixed group of men and women of different ages (all over 40) and different relative abilities.  I registered for the race expecting some pretty fast guys to be in the field and was looking to get dragged to a fast time, something in the mid 4:40s.  Unfortunately, none of the real masters speedsters from the area capable of 4:20s and 4:30s in the mile could race that day.  That meant a complete change in my perspective from chasing a fast time to the crazy idea that I could maybe win the race.

At the Bell in the Masters Mile at the 2103 University of Oregon Pepsi Invite.

To spare you all the gory race details, it came down to a two-person race between my friend and fellow miler Kevin Paulk, and myself, in which I pulled out the win in 4:51.46.  It was not a slow tactical race by any means, and I pushed the pace from the gun to the line, but I do feel like on that day if there had been faster runners ahead of me I could have been pulled to an even quicker time.

The other racing highlight of the year was running a new personal best for 5k on the roads.  I blogged about this race previously as one in which I set a new 5k PR but really did not because the runners were incorrectly mis-routed in the race and we actually race 3.5 miles rather than the correct 3.1 miles.  Based on a number of online conversion programs that calculate/estimate equivalent times that one should be able to run for other distances, I arguably ran in the neighborhood of 16:35 for 3.1 miles or 5k at this year’s Fourth of July Yankee Doodle Dash in Everett.  Whether or not I really would have, we’ll never know.  I do know I finished third overall and was happy with how I raced and how hard I ran.  Now I just need to go and do better for 5k next year to erase the asterisk by this PR in my personal record book.  However, I can say this, I won’t be returning to the Yankee Doodle Dash to chase that PR.

Another positive result in this year’s running log was racing in The Hood to Coast Relay with the Leapin’ Lizards.  One again we raced very well, finishing second in our mixed-submasters division to our rivals the Slug Hunters (yet again).  We ran as fast as we ever have as a team, within spitting distance of breaking 20 hours, and my performance in my three legs was decent.  In the first two legs I was slightly over my predicted time and in my last leg I was under.  That is in comparison to the previous year in which I was well under my predicted times on all three legs in spite of using the same 10k time each year as a basis for my predicted times.  In spite of the adrenaline rush and team support, I just never felt as strong and fast this year as I did the previous two years.  I still had a blast and enjoyed the craziness with my teammates immensely.  Sadly, this was the last year for the Leapin’ Lizards in this division, at least we went out fighting for the division victory.

Leapin' Lizards 2013 Hood to Coast Team at the Finish in Seaside, OR.

A couple of other fun memories for the year were getting featured in a Northwest Runner magazine article and two different guys-only weekend running get-aways.  The first one was to my friend Woody Harris’ Whidbey Island retreat and the other to my friend Matt Farley’s High Elevation Running Camp at the base of Mount Rainier. 

A low point of the year was my less than impressive performance at the Missoula Half Marathon where I clocked a 19th place finish in 1:22:26 after experiencing stomach cramps pretty early in the race.  Going in to the race I was sure I could run 1:18 or better and had just come off a pretty good 5k at the Yankee Doodle Dash a week and a half before.  

Nearing the Finish Line at the Missoula Half Marathon in July 2013.

Oh well, I should probably consider myself pretty lucky in that this was the first really disappointing race I have had since moving into the masters age category.  In spite of the underwhelming performance, I still kept alive my over 40 racing streak of placing in the top three in my age group in non-USTAF championship races.

This all leads me to my reflection on the year and years past and what I learned from it.  Taking a moment to really ask myself where I have best performed, on the road or on the track, I needed some tool to compare my past performances.  The age-grading calculator allows me to compare both different ages and different events on the roads and the track, so I listed all my best performances over the last four years.

Age graded PRs
Event                                        Time                     Year                    Age Grade %
800 (age 40)                             2:07.07                 2010                    83.71
800 (age 43)                             2:10.73                 2013                    83.60
1500 (age 40)                           4:28.26                 2010                    81.81
Mile (age 42)                            4:50.54                 2012                    82.29
Mile (age 43)                            4:51.46                 2013                    82.66
3000m (age 42)                        9:42.39                 2012                    81.15
5k (age 42)                               16:38                    2012                    83.30
5k (age 43)                               16:35                    2013                    84.19
10k (age 41)                             34:56                    2011                    81:94
10 miles (age 42)                       58:31                    2012                    80.73
Half Marathon (age 41)             1:16:33                  2011                    81.22
Marathon (age 41)                    2:46:38                  2011                    77.45

Here’s what this tells me.  I consistently age-graded in the 81 to 83% range, with my marathon PR as my only low outlier.  My best overall age graded performance regardless of event was my 5k "PR" in 2013 and three of the top five age-graded performances were in 2013.  Those were surprises, but are both factors of still being pretty fit and the benefit of getting older in the age-grading formula.  However, in spite of thinking I had an off year, I did not do too badly in the shorter distances.  Taking this thinking to the next logical conclusion, if middle distances are arguably where I am best running right now, what would be the biggest thing I could do in that arena?  Since the marathon is not my strength even though there are a lot of great destination marathons out there to run, what would be a bucket list kind of event for an old duffer in the middle distances on the track?  Well, it does not get much bigger or exotic than wearing the team USA uniform at the World Masters Athletics Championships. 

Like the elite track and field World Championship, the World Masters Athletics Championships are not held every year, so where and when are the next championships?  I was pleased to see that they will be in Lyon, France in August of 2015.  That would make a great trip for my wife and I to plan for and it give me a nice long window to train and work to be in the very best shape I can be for my first international competition.  Plus, in 2015 I will have turned 45 years old so I will be the youngster in a new 45-49 age group.  The cool thing about masters championship, be they national or world championships is that one does not have to qualify, everyone is welcome, one simply has to sign up and pay your own way to the event.

So, that is the plan, Lyon 2015.  In the meantime, in addition to staying healthy, I have some pounds to shed, some serious conditioning to undertake, and some hard training and harder racing to endure.  Look for me on the track and the roads for the next couple of years, just don’t expect to see me racing on the trails or in a marathon, that kind or racing will have to wait a little longer.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The 5k PR That Wasn’t

I recently raced to a new personal record for five kilometers in Everett’s fourth of July Yankee Doodle Dash, except I really didn’t.  How is that you ask, well, it sort of went like this.  The Yankee Doodle Dash 5k is a certified course race that is run every year on July fourth.   I ran this race last year finishing in 17:08. 

Not seeing anything to indicate otherwise, I and other runners expected the race to follow the same course as previous years, as stated in the course map on the race website. 

The start of the Yankee Doodle Dash 5k.  That's me in the middle under the "S".

Surveying the field at the start I could tell I would probably be one of the top ten finishers, and might even sneak into the top five like last year.  Accordingly, I lined up near the front of the start line and got off to a good position in the first one hundred meters.   In this race the start is all uphill for two blocks before turning right onto a relatively flat stretch.  At least, that’s how it is supposed to be run.  Unfortunately this year a volunteer on the course steered the lead motorcycle to the left after one block against the vocal protests of many of us runners near the front of the race who knew better.  The motorcycle kept going and the very front runners followed and the rest of us said “aw shit, I guess we’re committed”.    In hindsight it is understandable how the mistake was made, as the volunteer sent the lead cycle to the left just as he had correctly done for the 10k race that started fifteen minutes earlier and was supposed to go left at that corner. 

Lead runners after having just made the incorrect left turn early in the race.

With the new, unmapped addition, we were soon routed back onto the correct course and followed the known route as expected back to the finish line.  Unfortunately this resulted in a course that was surely longer than 3.1 mile or five kilometers.  Overall, I was pretty happy with how I ran, dropping a number of folks over the first two miles and reeling in a couple more in the last mile.  Effort-wise and fitness-wise I knew I was in the ballpark for a sub 17 minute effort and the weather was perfect for 5k racing.  Because of the early race snafu, I was not able to get an accurate mile or two mile split so I never really had a good idea of where I was in the race as far as pace goes, but I ran hard and finished strong, sporting my ever-so-patriotic USA flag split shorts.

 Bringing it home down the hill to the finish in all my patriotic glory!

At the finish line a few of the front runners were less than happy with the extra distance we had to run, not because it made it harder, but because it messed up our ability to compare this effort to a true 5k result, both our own and others.  Upon my noting out loud at the finish line that the race was long and they screwed up the directions, one race volunteer said to me “does it matter, were you racing for a specific time?”  To which I said, yeah, yeah it matters a lot when you are racing”.

Upon returning home I hopped online and mapped and remapped the actual route we ran using the USATF course mapping website.  Each time I arrived at a distance of 3.50 and 3.51 miles.  Facebook posts from people who also ran the 5k with gps watches reported distances of 3.5 miles as well.   So, we had a new distance to kinda tell us how we performed.  What about  the time?  Well, the race was chip timed so that was a little harder to mess up, marking me down with a 18:49 finishing time.   

Being the racer that I am, what I really wanted to know was what did I actually run for 5k that morning.  Here are a few ways to look at it.  Since this was 3.5 miles and longer than 3.1 miles, I could take my overall pace and use that to calculate what I likely ran as my 3.1 mile split.   That would look something like this:

18:49 for 3.50 miles = 5:22/mile pace = 16:42 for 3.1 miles.

OK, 16:42 is a good time for me right now and I would be more than happy with that result, but it led me to ask if there was a way to get an even more accurate estimate?  Considering we know that as a race gets longer we all run a little bit slower pace.  Does that .4 miles make a difference in this case?  I probably ran faster overall pace than 5:22, but how much? Well it is almost a half mile and I’m pretty sure it might have made a second or two difference per mile.  Based on my 18:49 effort for 3.50 miles, what should my equivalent performance have been that day for 3.1 miles?  Trusting the “experts” of the internet running world, there are a number of race time prediction calculators out there to which I could pose this question.

Here is what I found from the following sites –

Interesting… that makes me pretty happy since my previous certified course 5k PR on the road was a 16:38 that I ran last November at the Gobble Gallop in Duluth, Minnesota.  These predictions suggest that had we run the correct course at the Yankee Doodle Dash, I very well would have run a new PR at 16:35.  Dang it!  Oh well, I’ll have to chalk this one up as the 5k PR that wasn’t.

Strutting my stuff doing a little victory jug after the race.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012 Year End Report and Review

The year 2012 has nearly ended and it's time to once again review how my racing compared to my hopes and expectations at this time a year ago.  The time goals I set in January for 2012 were pretty ambitious, but were based on improving on what I accomplished (or nearly accomplished) in 2011 and were designed to motivate me to train and race very hard.  Overall, I was able to find races to run in most of these distances on the track and roads, which was an important first step.  Unfortunately, I was unable to meet any of these time goals, in spite of feeling I had a successful year of running.  I guess I was thinking a little too big and while I continue to improve (in spite of getting older), I might need to be a little more conservative in 2013.  Here’s what I had hoped to run this year, in comparison to what I did run:

Track                Goal                 Actual
1500m:              4:19                  4:29
Mile:                  4:38                  4:50
3000m:              9:20                  9:42
5000m:              16:15                17:03

Roads              Goal                 Actual
Mile:                 4:40                  no races
5k:                   16:20                16:38
10k:                 34:00                35:21

Even though I didn’t hit a single one of those times, I am actually very happy with my racing this year.  I did get a new PR in the 5k on the roads with a 17 second improvement on my old PR, as well as for 10 miles in 58:31. Moreover, I did something I had never done before as a masters runner or even as a high schooler.  I actually won a few races this year, crossing the finish line first overall, in the Rogue Half Marathon in February and Red River Run 10k in July. 

I also won two masters 5000m races on the track, which were frustrating wins, since I arrived at the races really ready to compete and run a fast time, but sadly had no one to run with/against at the same general pace, and instead lapped the entire field in both races (Prefontaine Masters Classic in April and the Portland Masters Classic in June). 

Heading for home and my first ever win in the Rogue River Half Marathon in February.

I also managed to maintain my streak of always finishing in the top 3 in my age group in road races that were not USATF championships ( I was less successful on the track and in XC).  I have been able to pull this off road racing feat every year of being in the 40 plus age group.  Let's see how long that holds with more plans to find some fast and competitive road races in the Seattle area in 2013. 

With my move to Everett in May, I tried something new, making a once a month attack on the local Forest Park Hill Challenge.  With the record standing at 12 completed laps in the 30 minute race window, I managed to equal that 4 out of 5 times and finish 1st, 4 out of 5 times.  The one time I did not make 12 laps it was raining and I made a blood sacrifice with a hard fall on the 2nd lap and instead covered 11 laps and came up about 20 meters short of a full 12 that day. My only loss of the season on the hill climb was to a speedy high school stud who went on to represent his team at the state Cross Country meet. As the reigning overall season champ, I've got my work cut out for me next year and already know that a few local runners will be gunning for me in the hill climb.

Cranking out the laps on a solo 5000m effort in the Prefontaine Masters Classic in Coos Bay in May.

In in some ways, the first half of the year, I was racing with a handicap, since in June I learned that my ferritin levels were extremely low for a competitive distance runner and in all likelihood my low iron levels were affecting my training and performances.  With the introduction of supplemental iron and dietary improvement, I was able to race and train harder in the second half of the year. It showed, with a win at the Red River Run, a strong running at the Hood to Coast relay, as well as a couple of good cross country performances with Club Northwest, and a new PR in the 5k in November.

Plugging away up a hill in the Yankee Doodle Dash 5k in Everett.

The other thing that left me satisfied with my running in 2012 was holding true to a resolution I made to never let up at the end of a race, which I never did.  Not counting my hobbled finish at the end of the Club Cross Country Nationals meet, I only recall being passed once by someone in the final half mile of any of my races, and that was in a collegiate cross country meet where a group of 5 of us were sprinting to the finish and I caught a few guys and one of the guys caught me.  I ran to compete and to win this year.  In year’s past, I showed up some days and competed on others, but this year it seemed to be a little more important and real.  Of course winning a few races really helped to keep one’s focus on racing smart and running very hard through the finish line.

There were two other goals I set that were not personal performances per se, but instead were team oriented, with the assumption that I would be contributing to those teams in 2012.  One was to see my Oregon running club, Bowerman Athletic Club (BAC) mens 40’s team, make the podium at Cross Country Club Nationals.  The other was for my Hood to Coast Relay team, Leapin’ Lizards, defeat the Slug Hunters team in the mixed-submasters category.

Slogging through the mud with my fellow masters runners in the
Club Northwest orange and blue at Club Cross Country Nationals in Kentucky

With my move to Everett, in May, I changed my USATF club affiliation from BAC to Club Northwest (CNW), which meant I would be running with CNW and not BAC at cross country club nationals.  Transferring that goal to CNW, I was very happy to have been selected to run for CNW at the National Championship meet in Lexington, Kentucky on December 8th; however, it was not a good day for me, as I ended up limping to the finish with a seriously damaged Achilles tendon strain.  The team ran hard but only managed a 6th place finish in our division.  Even if I had run to my potential and had not sustained an injury in the race, the team probably would have only finished as well as 5th place, which is still a respectable finish, but far from the podium and a paycheck for the team.

Gritting my teeth through the pain of a strained achilles to cross the finish line
at Club Cross Country Nationals in Kentucky in early December.

As for the goal of the Leapin’ Lizards Hood to Coast team taking the win from the Slug Hunters, we missed again.  We had a strong team and I think ran as fast as we ever have, but yet again the Slug Hunters pulled away from us and won the division with the Leapin’ Lizards in 2nd.  Those of us on that team that are gluttons for punishment and plan to come back for one more go in 2013 are really hoping that this will be the year.

As for a new set of time goals for 2013, I’m a little unsure of where to put my emphases, since I haven’t decided yet if I want to focus on the shorter stuff on the track (after my achilles gets back in order) or if this is going to be a marathon year, for which I would have to adjust my training one direction or the other.  So, with that in mind here’s a set of racing time goals that look at all possible scenarios:

800m                    2:06
1500m                  4:20
Mile                       4:40
3000m                  9:15
5000m                  16:15
10000m                34:10

5k                          16:20
10k                        34:30
Half Marathon      1:15:45
Marathon              2:40:00

Other personal goals are to be selected to race on the CNW men's 40s A team for Club Nationals in Bend in December, to maintain my top three age group finish on the roads, and complete 13 laps the Forest Park Hill Climb.

Crossing the finish line after not letting down at the finish
and running down fellow masters runner Neil Olsen in the Pear Blossom 10 miler in Medford.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ironing Out a Kink in My Armor - Ferritin Testing for Endurance Athletes

About a month ago when in Portland for a track meet I took it upon myself to get my ferritin levels checked, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, but just hadn’t gotten around to.  Why, might you ask, did I think I needed to know what my ferritin levels were?  Well, there are a few reasons, but first and foremost, it was not because I thought I was sick or my diet was inadequate or I was feeling especially fatigued in my training and racing.  I mean, sure I would be tired after a hard long run or speed session, but who wouldn’t be and isn’t that sort of the point of a hard workout, to push yourself a little beyond your comfort zone before recovering and doing it all over again? 

No, I had my ferritin checked simply because I wanted to establish a baseline measure for ferritin and to know just how well my body was storing iron.  As an endurance runner, iron plays an important role in our performance and ability to move oxygen via the red blood cells to our fatigued and damaged muscles. 

Ferritin is a naturally occurring protein in the liver, spleen, bone marrow, muscles, and blood which stores and releases iron as needed.  As a result, ferritin levels serve as a kind of proxy measure for the amount of iron available and stored in one’s body.  The specifics of these processes and the different roles of ferritin/iron moving oxygen and muscle repair are more complex than this non-medical professional needs to attempt to understand or restate here.

Suffice it to say, if a runner has low amounts of iron in their body, they will likely not be able to perform as well as expected or desired.  In extreme cases of low iron levels one can be described as anemic or diagnosed as suffering from anemia.  Endurance athletes, especially runners, can be especially susceptible to lower iron levels, due to losses of iron that occur through sweating and through foot strike hemolysis in which red blood cells literally burst and are destroyed by the constant pounding of one’s foot strike.  In general, one is not destroying a significant portion on one’s run blood cells on their daily runs, but with higher mileage running, this can begin to add up and be a factor.  Menstruating women may also suffer from lower levels of iron resulting from monthly blood loss.  Obviously, it is important to maintain a reasonably high ferritin level or at least not have your ferritin levels decline to a level below the normal range.

Researching the topic online, one can find a variety of different values for the range of normal adult male ferritin levels with low ferritin described as anywhere from under 10 to under 24 nanograms per milliliter of blood.  Overall, most online sources (for what that is worth) list 20-24 as low end of normal.

The results of my ferritin test were rather startling, with my numbers coming back at 22.  Wow, I was admittedly surprised.  That is at the very low end of healthy and borderline anemic (although my hematocrit and hemoglobin numbers were not high, they were not nearly as close to the low end of the reference range as the ferritin was).  In my mind I have a pretty healthy and balanced diet for a runner with a pretty good amount of animal protein.  I thought I ate reasonable, but regular, portions of red meat, the richest and most readily absorbed source of dietary iron.  But in learning more about this issue, I became more aware that how you get your iron and with what other foods can enhance or interfere with the iron absorption process.  Iron absorption is improved with the availability of vitamin C; whereas, calcium inhibits absorption of iron.  These are not one to one ratios, but rather are guidelines to remember and incorporate into one’s eating habits to maximize iron absorption.  As a unapologetic meat eater, I haven’t had to change my diet significantly or worry about where I might get added iron from non-animal sources; however, I am trying to increase my iron consumption from plant based, as well as animal based, sources and to cook a little more in cast iron pans which is purported to also add iron to the diet, although I am somewhat skeptical that it can be very significant.

Now, a month later, I am taking iron supplements in the form of ferrous sulfate tablets three times a day (3x65mg) with a vitamin C tablet and avoiding calcium rich foods near the window of time in which I take the iron supplements.  I am also eating more lean red meat in my meals and paying attention to what I am eating with my iron rich foods and supplements.  For example, am I drinking milk (dairy or almond) or eating ice cream near the time I am taking the supplements?  Am I having cheese on a pastrami sandwich (yes I am), and do I need to really worry about every time I mix a calcium rich food with an iron rich food?  Of course I don’t.  Food is a pretty big aspect of my life and I refuse to have my diet completely dictated by something like iron absorption vigilance.  But I am admittedly more aware of these things than I was before.

After a month of taking the supplements and rethinking my iron intake have I noticed anything different?  I think I have.  I feel much stronger and less tired in my legs in my hard workouts especially in longer intervals and tempo runs and I feel like I am recovering from runs much quicker than before.  I’m actually kind of excited to get in the right race and really see what happens.  It is not like I feel like superman, but I do feel that little bit more fresh and peppy than before.

Now the question becomes, to what level do I need to or want my ferritin levels to rise to?  Of course, I want to get the number up to a “healthy” value or more closer to the average for healthy adult men.  However, working to improve my iron stores and function, brings up another topic, namely that of supplementing to enhance performance as opposed to supplementing to reach healthy or average levels.  In general, men’s ferritin levels are found to be between 20 and 380 ng/ml.  For me it seems to make sense to get my ferritin to at least 50, but why not aim for higher?  It is fairly widely known these days that many elite endurance athletes intentionally take iron supplements to bring their ferritin levels to around 100 ng/ml or above as a means to maximize the muscle repair and oxygen moving effects of iron in their bodies.

Should consuming supplemental iron in pill or liquid form when you do not have a shown deficiency be considered a form of performance enhancement?  Yeah, it probably should, but what does that really mean?  Isn’t that the point of a training program and everything that goes into it, performance enhancement?  Of course that is the tricky question in sports today, where do you draw the line for what is or is not acceptable for performance enhancement, and why?  Most arguments are either based on creating and maintaining a level playing field or around protecting the health and safety of athletes, especially young athletes.  But in all honesty, that seems like a bit of a farce to me, since the point of training hard to be the best involves intentional stresses and pushing your body to extremes and beyond what is considered normal to force it to adapt and get stronger.   One is intentionally trying to find an advantage over your competitors and taking some risks, pushing to the edges of, and sometimes beyond what is normal or safe.  Like most things in life, the line that has been drawn to divide what is acceptable and what is not is relatively arbitrary and is based as much on opinion, convention, and emotions as it is on facts, data, and logic.  Am I advocating for the use of drugs in athletics?  Of course not, but I am not afraid to be honest and talk openly about their place in the bigger picture of training and competition.

Anyway, since this is my blog and is selfishly about me, back to the situation at hand.  Do I need to aim for a ferritin value around 100 or higher?  Not necessarily, but we shall see how this all unfolds and progresses when I get a follow-up ferritin test at the end of two months of supplementation.  Another test might be how my race results look after my body has had a chance to benefit from the effects of increasing my iron levels regardless of how close to 100 ng/ml they reach.  Another test might be how long I am willing to subject my digestive system to the effects of iron supplements, because there is most definitely a change in the “output”, and it ain’t always pretty.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Portland Masters Track Classic – Rare Weekend Double

Continuing on with the 2012 season on the track, I completed a rare weekend double, running the 1500 meters on Saturday and the 5000 meters on Sunday at the Portland Masters Track Classic.  Held at the Mount Hood Community College track in Gresham, Oregon, this meet commonly sees a handful of good Portland area masters show up for the middle and long distance events.  However, for some reason this year the turn-out was very slim.

After braving an exciting but rain-filled day on Friday as a spectator at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, I got my weekend of racing started with the 1500 meters on Saturday afternoon.  Like Friday, it continued to rain off and on all day, however the temperatures were perfect and the wind never became a factor.  From the start list I saw Jonathan Swanson was in the race and I knew there was at least one speedster in my age group who would be going out fast.  With Kevin Paulk also in the race I figured I would have someone to run with for part of the race.  Kevin was quickly on his way back to fitness, and by later in the summer would undoubtedly be leaving me behind, but based on his efforts as a pacer for Nolan Shaheed in the Portland Track Classic Masters Mile, he and I were in the same ballpark.

As we were warming together up before the race we discussed where we wanted to be time-wise and hatched a plan.  We would work together and I would take the first lap in around 70-71 seconds and Kevin would take the next lap in roughly the same split.  After that

My goal for the race was to at least break 4:30, but I really wanted to get close to 4:25 and also set a new PR.  In 2011 I never managed to do any races on the track, but in 2010, upon turning 40, I hit the track hard and ran a PR 4:28.xx while finishing well back in the pack at a college meet at Lewis and Clark College.  It would be great to better that time today.

As expected, Swanson was gone with the gun and as planned I moved into second with Kevin behind me in third.  Unfortunately, I got a little too eager and went through 400 meters in 68 seconds rather than the planned 70-71.  Kevin was smart and held himself back rather than getting sucked in by my too fast start.  I held the second place position, passing through 800 meters in 2:21, which was more or less the pace I was looking for, but the fast start was catching up with me and I was starting to tire. I tried to focus and maintain for the third lap, but started to falter, passing 1200m in 3:39.  Kevin was never far behind, but with 200 meters to go, I dug in, got up on my toes and pumped my arms for a reasonably strong finish.  Jonathan Swanson ran away with it finishing in first in 4:14.90, with me in second in 4:29.76 and Kevin in third in 4:34.52.

Afterwards, I was feeling pretty good and was looking forward to the 5000 meters the next day.  Unfortunately, the start list for that race was a little thin and I realized I might be all alone….again.  In my one other 5000 meter race on the track this season at a Masters meet in Coos Bay in May I lapped the entire field and was relegated to a solo run, a time trial of me against the clock trying to click off 80 second laps for a finishing time of 16:40.  But on that day I fell off pace and could only muster a 17:03 finish.

It looked like this day was shaping up to be a similar solo run, although the weather was a bit better with no wind at all, cool temps, and partly cloudy skies.  As the first event of the day, getting us runners off the line was a bit shaky, as the starters pistol miss-fired three times before we finally got underway.  I went to the front and quickly settled into my planned pace of the same 80 second laps.  Dammit, I was going to run 16:40 one of these days!  My training and other results said I should be able to do it, I just needed the right race and to stay focused.  But doing that all alone is harder than it sounds. 

My first 1600 meters passed by in 5:21, pretty close to right on pace as I began lapping people in the third lap.  Going through 3200 meters in 10:50, I was losing a few seconds each lap and knew that 16:40 was out of the question, but I might still break seventeen minutes.  I did my best to stay loose and keep my head in the race, but I never was able to pick it up and lost a few more seconds each lap.  Coming down the straight away with 2 laps to go they rang the bell.  What!  No! I shouted, “Your count is wrong, I have two laps to go!”.  I am glad I was paying attention to my lap count, but how hard is that really?  Just look at the watch or clock and you can be sure where you are.  I sure knew that I wasn’t about to run 15:40 for 5000 meters!  In the end, I managed a time of 17:06.40 in a race that was sadly very similar to the one I ran in Coos Bay, down to nearly identical splits.  I think I need to find a deeper and faster 5000 meter race on the track to nail that elusive 16:40.  Maybe one of the Club Northwest all-comer meets is the best option.

From the posted results at the meet, I saw that at the meet on Saturday morning, Bill Aronson ran a very speedy 34:45 for 10000 meters.  From talking with others who also ran the 10000 meters, it was pouring rain with lots of standing water on the track.  I am not disappointed that I chose not to run that race, but I would have liked to have had someone of Bill’s talent with me in the 5000 meters.  That would have made for a much more interesting twelve and a half laps.

Since I like to over-analyze my races and look at track stats, I thought I’d see how my last three races on the track compared to one another and where they predicted I should be for a well raced 5000 meters.  Those races were the Masters 3000 meters at the University of Oregon Twilight Invitational, the Masters Mile at the Portland Track Festival, and the 1500 meters at the Portland Masters Track Classic.  Using the IAAF scoring table all three were between 539 and 543 points, with 541 a reasonable average.  That is fairly tight cluster.  But most interesting is that using 541 points as a target, my predicted 5000 meter time should be 16:38.70. 

Distance            Time                  Points
1500                  4:29.76              539
Mile                   4:50.54              543
3000m               9:42.39              540
5000m                16:38.70               541

Perfect, right in the ball park of what I am shooting for in my training and racing goals.  Now, to find the right race to make it happen.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Oregon Masters Mile - 4:50.54

With track season now in full swing, I recently had an opportunity to compete in a special men’s masters mile in Portland, Oregon.  The Oregon Masters Mile is a special prize money race at the Portland Track Festival.  Since 2005, Race Director Dave Clingan has done an outstanding job of luring many of the top masters miles from around the country to come to Portland to toe the line, chase the money and maybe set a national or even world age group record or two.  In many years, this is the most competitive outdoor masters mile race of the year, bringing together a better field than even the USATF Masters Outdoor Championships.  The only other comparable race is the Hartshorne Memorial Masters Mile, a similar assemblage of elite masters milers racing each January on the indoor track at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

In short, this wasn’t your local all-comers track meet, this was serious racing for masters milers and the field assembled for this year was as deep as ever.  Going into this race, I was well aware that I was completely outgunned and would be bringing up the rear, but I really couldn’t care less.  For me, this was essentially another important moment in my masters running career, a running bucket list item if you will, and just getting into the race was enough to make me happy.  Of course, I wanted to do well and to try and run my seed time of 4:42.

All seventeen of us lined up at the start.  I'm on the orange and black, third from the right.

To me, a time of 4:42 was realistic.  My training was going fairly well, and I definitely had the speed work under me.  What I was less sure about was my strength.  Could I really hold this pace for all four laps?  Concentration was going to be critical, especially on that third lap.  As I stated, I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere near the front of the race, but I wondered what might be going on back where I would be running.  The great Nolan Shaheed was going to be in the race and, at age 62, would undoubtedly be chasing a new American record in the 60-64 age group.  The listed record was 4:58.2, and based on similar performances from Nolan in the last year or so, he would likely be running in the low 4:50s, so that would mean he ought to be behind me, but never far.  I also knew my friend Thomas  Kreuzpeintner from Eugene was running and, while he probably also wouldn’t be way up front, he normally is a bit ahead of me, so I would have Thomas to chase.  Hopefully it wouldn’t get thinned out too badly back in the rear of the race.

Anxious and nervous at the start or last minute jibba-jabba trash talking?

After a 20 minute delay, we finally toed the line, all seventeen of us.  There were some really fast guys in here too, such as Mike Blackmore and Pete Magill, who together had been spending the spring beating up on the men’s 50-54 age group record for the 5000 meters on the track, with Magill lowering it to an amazing 15:06 the weekend before.  Also in the mix were Charlie Kern form Philadelphia and Ian Gillespie of Portland, and it was guaranteed to be quick.  On top of all that, there were a number of 30-something speedsters itching for a fast race.  My goal was to go out in 70 seconds for each of the first three quarter miles and then just try and hang on.  

With the gun, I immediately dropped back and tucked in behind Thomas.  I promptly forgot about those guys up front.  They could do their own thing, I’ll watch the video later to see how that unfolded.  Sitting on Thomas’ heels we went through the first lap in 69.  Not bad, I wasn’t feeling great, but I wasn’t feeling awful either.  As we rounded the back stretch on the second lap, I noticed it was getting a bit breezy.  Oh well, head down, keep racing.  I did my best to stay relaxed and hang onto Thomas, but by 700 meters, I could tell I was starting to falter a little.  I went through a half mile in 2:21, a stride off of Thomas.  Nolan was about 5 seconds back and working his magic with the generous aid of Kevin Paulk who agreed to join the race as a pacer to Nolan.

Still close on Thomas' heels with two laps to go.

Coming into the third lap, Thomas maintained and I lost ground as I really began to labor.  I made it through 3 laps in 3:34 and thought I might be able to muster something of a kick and run a solid 70 second last lap.  Unfortunately, I was out of gas and did my best to hold my form together and keep my legs moving forward.  It was a humbling experience to just begin to round the last curve near the steeplechase water jump and hear the announcer calling the finish of the same race I was competing in.  I kept moving forward, but could hear Nolan coming on behind me, not to mention the cheers of the crowd to carry him to the finish. 

Coming down the final straight away.

I made it to the finish in 4:50.54, about 10 meters behind Thomas and a few strides in front of Nolan, who ran a blistering 4:53.01 to set a new American record for his age group.  Technically, this was a new PR for me, since I had raced a full mile on the track.  My 1500m PR of 4:28.26 from 2010 coverts to approximately 4:49.30 (when compared on the IAAF scoring tables) so, this wasn’t a bad day for me, although I was a little disappointed that I wasn’t closer to the 4:45 range.  What mattered most was that I got to toe the line with a great group of runners.  

This was also my first race wearing the orange and blue of Club Northwest, a competitive running club I joined from the greater Seattle area.  

Aaaaand, that's a wrap.

My next race is another masters 1500m on the track, and although I am sure there won’t be nearly the depth in this race at the Portland Masters Classic as I experience in the Oregon Masters Mile, I am hoping to run closer to the equivalent of that 4:45 mile time, which would be around 4:24.15.  Let’s just say I have unfinished business.
2012 Oregon Masters Mile
  1 Tim Gore (42) Team Bsk 4:19.81
  2 Jonathan Swanson (40)  Unattached 4:21.18
  3 Charlie Kern (43) Greater Phil 4:21.70
  4 John Boosinger (36) Unattached 4:21.94
  5 Randy Wasinger (36) Kansas City 4:22.09
6 Ian Gillespie (42) Unattached 4:24.28
  7 Rikki Hacker (34) Kansas City 4:25.40
  8 David Weiler (31) Unattached 4:27.02
  9 Mike Blackmore(50) Bowerman Ath 4:27.67
 10 Kristian Blaich (46) Unattached  4:32.91
 11 Ron Kochanowicz (41) Kansas City 4:33.24
 12 Peter Magill (50) Cal Coast Tr 4:34.50
 13 Ray Knerr (52) Cal Coast/Compex    4:34.75
 14 Thomas Kreuzpeintner (48)   Oregon Track Club 4:45.55
 15 Matthew Thomas (42) Club Northwest 4:50.54
 16 Nolan Shaheed (62) SoCal  4:53.01