Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year’s Resolutions and Performance Goals

As the year nears its end it is that time when I reflect on last year and start to make plans for what and how I want to run in 2012. All in all, 2011 was a very good year for me and my running. I trained harder than I have ever run before. I was able to be competitive in nearly all my races and I ran personal bests in all the distances I raced. In fact, I even ran lifetime bests in the 5k and 10k, racing to times faster than I was able to pull together as a teenager over 20 years. From the 5k, to the 10k to the half marathon to the marathon, I ran better than ever.

The loot from racing in 2011!

One personal goal I have set, which I first achieved last year, is to be able to place in the top three in my age group in every race I run. With the exception of the “big ones” which are the USATF masters championship races (Twin Cities Marathon, Club Cross Country), I was able to pull this off, never placing below third in the 40-45 or 40-49 age division. My friend Joe Dudman has correctly pointed out that it is kind of weak to relegate oneself to racing within one’s age group when we are still able to mix it up somewhat against all competitors regardless of age. Of course, Joe is correct; however, I will continue to measure my performances and competitiveness in part by my relative place among my peers. At the very least, I will continue to be happy to be rewarded for running well as a kind of consolation prize or a reward for the hard work it took me to get there.

With such improvements this year, one might ask if I was happy and satisfied with these times and races? And like most competitive runners, I would have to say yes and no. Of course I am very happy to be running faster than last year or even as fast as I ever have, but in many ways that was the plan and I knew I could do it if I stayed healthy. At this time last year, I wrote down a number of admittedly ambitious time goals I wanted to hit for the year on the track and the roads. Sadly, I did not run in any track meets in 2011, so all those targets were left untried. Likewise, I was not able to find a mile race on the road at the right time in my racing and training, so I never took a crack at that time, but I did race the 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon on the roads and did pretty well against these goals.


200m: 25.0

400m: 56.0

800m: 2:04.00

Mile: 4:40.00

5000m: 16:30


Mile: 4:45

5k: 16:45

10k: 35:00 DONE - Scandia Run 34:56

Half-Marathon: 1:18:00 DONE - Rogue River Half Marathon 1:17:54

Marathon: 2:45

In the 5k I came oh so close, getting down to 16:55 and breaking through the sub-17 barrier. In 2012 the 5k will be a major focus of my racing efforts as I try to bring that time down below 16:30 and as close to 16 flat as I can muster. In the 10k, I nailed my goal of 35 flat with a 34:56 on a pancake flat course. Like the 5k, in 2012, I plan to put extra attention on running even faster in the 10k and am setting my target at 34 flat.

The half marathon was pretty good to me in 2011 as I never raced the distance before. I accomplished this goal from the get go in my very first race of the year. In my three attempts at this distance, I progressively dropped my time from 1:17: 54, to 1;17:31, to 1:16:33 at the Foot Traffic Flat Half. Although we now know that the course was short at the Flat Half, but we don’t know just how short. I’m still going to call that my PR, since based on my effort that day, I think it still would have been PR on an accurate course. Plus, calling this my PR makes me work that much harder to run a faster PR.

Stride for stride in the Rogue River Half Marathon in February.

I spent a lot of time focused on running a strong marathon in 2011 and am very happy with how it went, even if I didn’t meet the target I set a year ago or even the goal time on race day. As has been said by many before me, the marathon is tricky race to master and no matter how ready you think you are, it all has to come together that day and stay together for all 26.2 miles. I knew I was ready to run around 2:42 and went after it at the Twin Cities Marathon. For the most part I ran strong and smart, but as I wrote about in an earlier blog entry, I just ran out of gas. I am learning more every time I run a marathon and am getting closer to understanding my fueling and hydration needs.

I really don’t plan to focus my training on the marathon or half marathon in 2012 like I did in 2011, so I’m not putting any targets down on paper for those distances. Maybe in 2013 I will try to run another fast marathon, but for 2012, I’m taking a break from the marathon.

A pretty typical sight, me chasing Larry Merrifield and Bria Wetsch at mile 9 in the Eugene Half Marathon.

The other significant goal time for 2012 is in the mile or 1500 meters, where I would like to run as close to my life time PR as I can, which means running faster than I did in High School. If my memory is correct, my fastest High School mile was 4:35.

So, here they are, in writing (lord have mercy), my official 2012 racing goals -


1500m: 4:19

Mile: 4:38

3000m: 9:20

5000m: 16:15


Mile: 4:40

5k: 16:20

10k: 34:00

In short, 2012 will be more about speed and racing shorter distances than I attempted in 2011. As Long as I can stay healthy and get in the training, it should be another great adventure on the road and track.

Oh, and two more very important goal for 2012. I want to see the Bowerman Athletic Club masters men make the podium at the Club Cross Country championships and The Leapin Lizards defeat the Slug Hunters in the Hood to Coast Relay with me playing a significant role in both.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The End to a Great Year of Running - Club XC Championships

Last weekend I raced in the USATF Club XC Championships in Seattle. It was my last race of the year, but probably the one with the most competitive field. I was proud and fortunate to be able to run on the Bowerman Athletic Club’s (BAC) masters 40-49 year old team, a team of some of the very best masters men in Oregon. We pulled together 12 guys to form two teams of 6 broken into A and B teams where the first five runners score.

This was my first time running with a BAC team and I have to say, the BAC is a fun outfit to run for because they are serious about competing at the highest level, yet still maintain a sense of team camaraderie and encouragement. As teams go, they also do a good job of managing the logistics and organization. While it sure helps to have the sponsorship of Nike behind you, it still takes some dedicated individuals to pull it all together and take care of the details, which they do very well.

Team races are really a lot of fun, and like the Hood to Coast relay, draw the best out of people who have the support of their teammates and a little something more on the line than their own performance and personal satisfaction with a race well run.

Off with the gun at the Men's Masters 10k race start.

Knowing this was going to be my last race of the year, I put in a final block of hard training with my usual training partners, Mercy Ray and Bree Ray. In addition to the Ray sisters, we pulled together some workouts with other friends and teammates who would also be racing in Seattle, namely Bob Julian, Maggie Donavan, and Dave Engstrom. Doing these workouts together in the weeks before the race helped get us all excited and ready physically and mentally to race cross country. In addition to Bob Julian and I on the BAC masters team, Mercy and Bree and Maggie represented the Rogue Valley Runners women's open team and Dave ran with a Oregon Track Club masters team.

Coming through the second kilometer of the men's masters race.

On race day our two BAC men’s masters 40+ teams and a BAC men’s 50s team toed the line with over 350 masters men racers. The race was 10 kilometers, covering five laps of two kilometers each on a relatively flat grassy golf course. As cross country courses go, this was like a grass track, with a long start and finish straightaway and no real hills. My plan was to start out conservatively the first kilometer and slowly work my way up and try to kick hard at the end. For the most part that was exactly how I raced, covering the first mile in 5:39 then clicked off four more miles at 5:45 pace before slowing a bit on mile 6. Coming into the straight away to the finish I reminded myself this was the last race of the year and every point counts in cross country, so dig down and catch some of these guys in front of you, which I did. Nobody passed me in the last 400 meters and I caught at least 6 guys before the finish line.

Hanging on in the middle of the race.

In the end, I finished 114th in the men's masters race which put me at 75th in the 40-49 age group for team scoring. My time was 36:43 for 10k. Although it is cross country and actual distances are really not that relevant, my Garmin showed the final distance as 6.39 miles. And, yes I wore a Garmin, it is the watch I always wear. And no I was wasn't using it for pacing, I was there to race, but I do like to look at my stats afterwards.

Sporting the BAC black.

With about one kilometer left to run I heard a guy coming up on me breathing hard and rhythmically like an air compressor working in overdrive. As this heavy breather caught me, I realized it was my friend and fellow competitor Joe Dudman from Portland. At first I thought, what the heck was Joe doing behind me, but that thought passed quickly as I heard my brain say “Stick with him, go with Joe”. I managed to tuck in behind for about 100 meters, but Joe was pushing hard and I was just hanging on. Joe pulled away and kept it up to the end bettering me by 11 seconds.

Trying to hang onto Joe Dudman with 900 meters to go.

Since I was on the B team, I knew I was not in the scoring for a possible podium finish for the BAC, but our A team had to be in the running for 2nd or 3rd. First place was sewn up easily by the men from the Atlanta Track Club, aided by the overall masters winner. In the end, they scored an impressive 22 points and walked away with first. The race for 2nd and third was a little tighter, but in the end, the BAC A-Team finished fourth just one point away from a tie for 3rd. Had we tied and gone to the score of the 6th man BAC would have won the tie breaker. In fact, the depth of the BAC A and B squads was such that our B team, which I was the fourth runner, still finished 10th in the team scoring and with the exception of the Atlanta Track winning team, our 6th through 11th (all the rest of our team) were the fastest performer for those relative team positions.

Bringing it home at the finish.

This race and running with the BAC team was a great finale to my best running year so far. I was able to run lifetime PRs in the 5k, 10k, and marathon and even run faster over 5k and 10k than I did many years ago in High School. I set what I thought at the time were ambitious time goals (16:45 5k, 35:00 10k, 1:18:00 half marathon, 2:45:00 marathon) at the beginning of the year, and while I only achieved two (sub-35 minute 10k, sub-1:18 half marathon), I came close in all and trained myself to a level of fitness that made them all a real possibility if not probable. Along the way, I found some great training partners in the Rogue Valley and hope to continue on the same upward trajectory. Although I am relatively new to being a competitive masters runner, having taken so many years off from running, I am still improving and waiting to find that point where aging catches up with improving performance. So far it hasn’t arrived. Until then, I’ll keep training even harder, and hopefully smarter, than last year, and see where I can take this.

Time to rest and set some new goals and challenges for 2012. See you at the races.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Twin Cities Medtronic Marathon Recap –2:46:38 - New PR!

My once a year marathon has come and gone and overall I am pleased with the result. How could I not be. I ran close to a four minute PR and was one of the first 100 runners to cross the finish line. Part of the enjoyment and decision to run the Twin Cities Marathon was knowing that I would have family and friends with me that weekend and on the course, since I grew up in Minnesota. True to my hope and expectations, my cheering section rivaled any out there on the course.

The race weekend started off with a couple of pleasant surprises when much to my surprise I ran into two of my cousins at the race expo whom I hadn’t seen in many years. First I spotted cousin Zach (which was easy as he towered over people with his 6’5’’ frame) and then I was spotted by cousin Tom. Zach was in town from Chicago and wasn’t running but was there to cheer on friends and family and Tom was running the 10 miler. To top it off, my whole family came to town to visit and cheer me on. On top of the good spirits of hanging out with my family, the weather was absolutely perfect for the entire weekend. I forgot how much I enjoyed the fall weather in Minnesota.

Race day started with few surprises as I got dropped off at the start by my brother-in-law Chris and I went through the usual pre-race rituals, like standing in the porta-potty line. Big marathons like Twin Cities are a funny thing for me because I really don’t even try to warm-up or even do any stretching beforehand. There just isn’t any room for us non-elites back in the corrals. So, I didn’t even bother to wiggle my way to the front of corral 1, instead, I used the first mile to warm up and let the fast starters get it out their system and get out of my way! Needless to say, my first mile of 6:33 was a bit off the target pace of 6:10 per mile, but it felt so slow as I settled into the target pace in the next few miles. In fact miles 2, 3, and 4 were the fastest of the day at 6:06, 6:03, and 6:04. However, that was the order of the day. I needed to get some quick miles in early as I knew I needed a time cushion heading into the hills of the last few miles. I probably wasn’t going to run negative splits this race and had to stay focused early on.

For this race I decided to wear a fuel belt with four 6-ounce bottles of raspberry flavored Gu Brew. I learned in the past that I did not get enough fuel and electrolytes from the aid stations and needed to bring my own and drink it all along the way. So, in spite of all the nasty things I have said in the past about folks strapping on their super hero belts, I had joined their unfashionable ranks. Not surprisingly, up at the front of the race where I was running nobody else was sporting such attire.

The race started more or less on time and we were off on the streets of downtown Minneapolis. While it was cool at the start, it wasn’t cold, but I still elected to start with gloves and arm sleeves. I was glad I did as we got blasted by a few wind tunnels that formed between the high rises in the first mile of the race. Right from the start and all the way to the finish there were spectators lining the course. At the start the race officials said there would be 300,000 people cheering us on the course. I’m guessing the number was even higher than that. It was really impressive and encouraging.

Rounding our way around the lakes in Minneapolis was actually pretty relaxing and I rolled through 5k and 10k more or less right on pace. In fact, based on a terrain adjusted pace chart, I was a little under at that point for a 2:42 finish. My left achilles tendon was already sore, but I knew it would be, otherwise, the legs felt great, my breathing was controlled and easy. Everything was going as planned.


Target Split

Actual Split


Projected Finish





















20 miles





24 miles










The second 10k was more of the same as the race began to thin out and the space between runners became a little greater. One neat thing about this race was that it was the USATF Masters Marathon Championships, so all the old farts (over 40) like me had age group numbers pinned to our backs as well as the normal race numbers on front. Personally, I liked being able to spot another masters runner ahead of me and try to reel them in or share a few words when passing or getting passed.

Heading into the halfway point, I was starting to feel a little more tired than I thought I would. Overall the legs felt loose and my breathing was not labored, but I my legs started to feel just a tad more flat than I was hoping for, since it was my strategy to really start to dig in when I reached the River Road on the Minneapolis side of the Mississippi River. Even with that flat feeling, I was still pretty much on pace and knew I had a big boost coming up in the 14th mile. Team Matt made up of my sisters, brothers-in-law and nieces and nephews, was going to be there in full force, and true to form, they made some noise. I spied their green shirts about a block away, and could hear their cheers, cow bells, and whackers a half a block away. Running by one’s own personal cheering team like that really motivated me and beyond putting a smile on my face (I could still smile at that point) it lit a little fire under me too. Although I slowed a little to a 6:17 mile pace in the 14th mile, in the next mile (with a small downhill to help) I sped up to 6:06 pace.

But then I really started to feel a little heavy in the legs. Crap. Up to about mile 16 I was still passing folks and only occasionally getting passed myself, but then that started to change. I tried to stay focused and thought about my ultra-marathon friends and how they talk about running though bad patches. Please, let this be a bad patch that I can run through. I knew I was lying to myself and that wasn’t going to happen, but I still did what I could to stay calm. One thing I did was focus on running the tangents along the River Road. It amazed me how much folks around me, folks I would describe as pretty fast and experienced racers, would run down the middle of the road. Not me, I’m cutting it as tight as I can. We have the whole road closed for us so let’s run it tight people!

By about 30k I was no longer on pace, but was still keeping it close to 6:20 pace; however, I knew I was not going to be finishing around 2:42 and would be lucky to hit 2:44. I still felt I could hang at close to this pace and nab a PR and I wanted to have a decent finish up Summit Avenue.

Crossing the Franklin Avenue Bridge and onto the St. Paul side of the river at 19 miles I literally felt myself lose a gear and at that point knew the second half of the race was going to look a lot different than the first half. I tried to keep my form smooth and light and keep moving forward but I was seriously starting to feel tired. Of course, I just ran a hard 20 miles and I should be tired, but I trained for this and was hoping and expecting to feel a bit fresher at this point. I was starting to feel like I was going backwards. People I passed earlier in the day were now coming by me looking strong and fast. Dang, that was supposed to be me looking strong and passing people at this point. Sigh.

As I fell off the pace after 19 miles my legs never tightened up, but they just had less and less pep. Also, I could feel the change in my face and sensed I was no longer as relaxed as I was earlier in the race. There were no smiles from me to the spectators as I trudged up the hill off of East River Road to Summit Avenue. I was moving into head down, grit the teeth territory counting off the miles to the finish and looking for anything to energize me.

I did catch a really nice compliment at mile 21 that wasn’t even shouted to me when I heard one spectator say to another “wow, that's a nice stride.” That made me feel happy since I sure didn't feel that good but I was trying to concentrate on holding my form together to propel me forward. Heading up Summit Avenue I looked ahead of me and saw nothing but hill. Of course, it really isn’t that steep, but it never really flattens out and at that point, any little hill looked like a big hill. I said to myself, “ give it a rest, you are from Ashland, you normally don’t even notice hills like these.”

Ticking off the miles I was looking forward to making it to mile 22, since Team Matt was planning to be waiting for me again. Right before I reached my posse, I caught and passed Wendy Terris from Milwaukie, Oregon, the only runner I recognized in the race. I said hello as I came by and kept on pushing. Then I came to Team Matt. Just like at mile 14, they really brought out a little more zip in my stride. I tossed my fuel belt and gloves to the team and focused on the runner in front of me. I’m not done, I still have some life left in me. Then just a block later I saw my cousin Tom, who came back after the finish of the ten miler, and his mom, my Aunt Mary Catherine , cheering their hearts out. I felt like a superstar!

At this point I stopped looking at my watch and just focused on running smoothly and trying to catch people in front of me. I knew I had one more big hill in mile 26 and then it was all downhill and I could stop. Once I got to that hill I actually attacked it, or at least I told myself I was attacking. I am sure that those watching couldn’t tell! Unfortunately, in almost the same instant I felt the twinge of a cramp in my left calf and right hamstring. I did my best to ignore them, I was so close to being done and wanted to finish hard down the hill to the finish line. Rounding the corner at the top of Summit Avenue and seeing the Capitol and the finish line a quarter of a mile ahead, I leaned into the downhill and dug in. Ahead I spied a poor victim to target. I can catch this guy, I’m a racer, racers finish hard. So I did, blowing by him in the last 30 meters. Sorry buddy, it may be a marathon, but it is still a race to me. I didn't see or hear them, but it was also comforting to know that my father and his partner Barbara, as well as the whole Team Matt contingent was cheering and waiting for me at the finish.

In the end, I finished in 2:46:38 for a PR by over 3 minutes. It wasn’t the time I had hoped or trained for and I still think I can run that target time, but I’ll take a nice PR as a concession prize. My other goals were to finish in the top 100 overall, which I did with a 96th place finish and to be in the top 10 of my age group. I just missed that goal with an 11th place finish in the men’s 40-44 age division.

I have decided that at this time the Twin Cities Marathon is my favorite marathon of the few (a whopping four) I have run so far and that is not because I ran a PR and I’m from Minnesota and biased. It was simply that well run, on a spectacular course with great spectators and great treatment of the runners. Maybe another will bump it from this pedestal some day, but I doubt it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

IAAF Makes Poor Decision On Women's Road Running Records

This week, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) decided to change how it recognizes world records for women’s road racing by requiring future records to be run in women’s only races. In doing so they established two categories of records. Those that will be called “world records” will be from races in which women competed alone, without men in the field. World record times that are run in races in which men also competed, whether or not they had anything to do with the women’s race, will be called “world bests”. Presumably this was done with the intention of creating a level playing field and eliminating the effects of the assistance of male pacers in a race. This really makes little sense, since pacing in and of itself is not prohibited. We see pacing employed for world record attempts by men and women both on and off the track all the time. Like with Haile Gebrselassie’s heavily paced marathon world record attempts, there is nothing preventing a similar record attempt by women in which they had other women as pacers. We simply haven’t noticed it yet on that scale. The fact is road race records, like track records, are frequently achieved as a result of having others share the burden of pacing and pulling the runners along for a portion of the race. Does it really matter what gender they are?

Outside of major national, area, or world championship and Olympic competitions, there are few women’s only road races available for female competitors to make record runs. Moreover, championship events by their nature are usually aimed at pure racing and winning medals and not running fast times. World records in distance races are almost never set in championship events since it is about winning and no one is usually willing to sacrifice themselves as pacer for a fast time. Furthermore, this decision completely ignores the financial realities of setting up (paying pacers) record attempts and the significance of performance incentives from sponsors and contracts that reward athletes for running world records.

Even more ridiculous is the decision to retroactively penalize the current world record and national record holders for which their record times were run in mixed gender races. As women’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe has stated, she did not request the male paces in her record run, nor was she necessarily assisted by them. Their presence was at the discretion of the race organizers.

The IAAF has made a terrible decision that completely misunderstands the realities of how and where world records in road racing are run. With this decision, unless there is a sudden increase in the number of female only road races or races specifically set up for record attempts (which is logistically no small feat) one could easily anticipate a long term negative effect and even stagnation in women’s road racing world records.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Marathon Training and What One is Made Of

As my annual once-a-year marathon nears, I am winding up, or is it winding down, the last of my key training runs. The way I have chosen to train for the marathon, and this race in particular, is a rather long-term affair. I choose the intended marathon six months to a year in advance and develop a somewhat detailed training plan covering the ten to twelve weeks before the race. In this training cycle, this plan has included a good mix of mileage, mostly in the 85 miles a week range, quality speed work, and longer strength type speed work focused on running my target marathon pace. Workouts like 10 miles at moderate pace followed by 10 miles at marathon pace, racing 10k all out, long progression runs getting down to marathon pace, mile repeats at 10k race pace or faster, and most recently the famed and feared Khannouchi workout.

The Khannouchi workout was introduced to me by my training partners Louis LeBlanc and Bill Mattis when I was living in Portland. The workout is simple in design and is a long, hard progression workout that is intended to mimic the finish of a marathon where you have to suck it up and run hard even when very tired. The workout starts off with 5-10 miles at a moderate “warm-up” pace, in my case I ran 5 miles at roughly 7:45/mile pace. Then, without stopping, run the next 10 miles at your target marathon pace. For this I ran between 6:10 and 6:15 pace. Lastly, again without stopping, run directly onto a track and run two more miles as hard as you can, and for this I ran 5:51 and 5:44. With the exception of being joined by a friend for a few of the marathon paced miles, I ran this workout by myself. Afterwards I was very tired, but I wasn’t completely hammered like I expected to be. In all honestly, I was worried beforehand. The night before and that morning I had to keep reminding myself to believe in the work I had already done. Everything had gone well and indicated that I should be ready and able to complete this workout as planned. “Trust your training” became something of a mantra that day. In my mind, and on paper, this was going to be the hardest of my workouts and it was going to hurt. In the end, I hit all the splits, I felt strong at the end and had no energy, fueling or cramping problems. In short, I killed this workout and ended the day feeling ready. But am I really? I’ve never run this hard and fast for this long. While we usually hope to improve on our race PRs when we can, I’m looking at a big jump into a pain zone that kinda scares the crap out of me.

My target marathon pace is between 6:10 and 6:15 per mile which should yield a finish between 2:42 and 2:44. Unfortunately, my marathon PR of 2:50:23 from last fall is not an accurate indicator of my current fitness. A better measure might be my recent 10k PR of 34:56, which converts to about a 2:44 marathon on the McMillan equivalent performance table, while the Daniels table suggests I’m ready for about a 2:41 finish. Frankly, I think Daniels is more correct in this case. So, where will I make this attack on a new marathon PR?

This year I am running the Twin Cities Marathon in Minnesota, largely for three reasons. First, I grew up in Minnesota and have family there and running a marathon where you have friends and family to cheer and support you is always helpful and appreciated and for me takes a lot of the stress out of running a big race, not to mention the benefits of a trip home to see the family.

Second, this year the Twin Cities Marathon is the USATF masters marathon championships. I don’t really have a shot at placing well in this, but it is exciting to know that I’m competing with some of the best American masters in this race.

And third, with my entry, I want to support a first class race that takes the competitive side of racing as seriously as the recreational side. And yes, this means I am specifically choosing not to run (i.e. boycotting) the Portland marathon. Admittedly that is a rather negative attitude about racing or rather races, but it is something that I feel increasingly strong about. When I have a choice where to spend my entry fee money (and I’m not quite fast enough to earn or request a complimentary entry like the elite racers often do), and when the entry fees top $100 and keep climbing higher and higher, and when I value accurately measured and marked courses, correct and rapid results, and when I couldn’t care less about extra crap like an official race coin in my goody bag, I’m going to pay to race where I feel respected and valued as a serious runner/racer and not simply a revenue stream.

This summer I raced sparingly with my focus on being very consistent and running a lot of quality miles aimed at this big fall marathon. Admittedly, there is a lot of risk in that. On the one hand, I missed out on a lot of fun racing (although I did do my part volunteering at a handful of races too, something we all can do more of) and come marathon race day, a lot of little things I cannot control can go wrong, making one feel that all this time and effort was wasted. But on the other hand, that is why I choose to train and race as hard as I do at this stage in my life. I do it to challenge myself against the course, the weather, my fellow competitors, and all those little things to see what I’ve made of myself and just exactly what I’m made of.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hood to Coast Relay 2011

Last weekend I competed in the 2011 edition of the epic 200 mile, 36 leg, 1200 team Hood to Coast relay (HtC). This was my second running of HtC, both times with the Leapin’ Lizards (LL) team, a competitive mixed submasters team of 6 men and 6 women all 30 years old or older. When I say it is a competitive team, I really mean it, but the truth of that statement is that in this team’s mind we were really only racing against one other team, the Slug Hunters (SH).

The LL and SH teams have been duking it out and trading first and second place in the division for at least the last four years, finishing within minutes of each other each year. Who the third place team might be in the division is irrelevant, since they usually are well over an hour behind every year. Unfortunately for the LL, the SH have the upper hand and were the three time defending champions in the division. We were hoping to change that this year and have a little fun along the way.

Oh look, someone tagged the Slug Hunters van with a Leapin' Lizards magnetic tag, hmmm, how'd that happen?

In the bigger picture of Hood to Coast teams, the SH and and LL are among the elite top fifteen teams, regardless of divisions. And it isn’t because we bring in a couple of super fast ringers from out of town, we don’t. All of our men were running with current 10k performance times within 45 seconds of one another (34:15 to 35:00) and all of our women within 2 minutes (37:00 to 39:00). As the race results showed, everyone performed up to expectations, if not better. Individually, any of our runners would be welcome on almost any other HtC team. That level of speed and depth is hard to find. But what really makes the whole HtC experience matter and memorable is how well the team works together. It is a team race after all and not just a bunch of runners taking turns at getting from point A (Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood) to point B (the beach in Seaside, Oregon).

Van 1 of Leapin' Lizards - L to R:

Ben Flaata, Leo Alapont, Daniel Hough, Matt Thomas, Andi Camp, Andria Scheese.

The decision and opportunity to run the race this year was something of an unexpected thing for me. A fair amount of team drama and an overall sour taste at the end of my previous running in 2009 left me a little frustrated, vowing not to run the relay again. But that all changed after watching the Hood to Coast movie this spring with a packed theater at the Ashland Independent Film Festival. Forgetting everything and wanting to feel the rush again, I said to myself, how could I not do this again. Since I had moved into the masters age group last year, I expressed my interest to the Facebook world of getting on a competitive masters team, but got no bites. Since my running on the team in 2009, the LL continued to improve and seek faster and faster runners, and as a result, I was told by a long time team member, I just wasn’t fast enough. Fine, fair enough but of course I knew better. Fortunately for me, the LL team captain cut me off at the pass and said, “pshaw” if you want to run, we would be happy to have you. I was in. In the ensuing months the team roster changed week to week, and up until a week before the race, day to day, but in the end we pulled together a phenomenal team, both as runners and as people, people with character (some who are real characters too), and that is what really mattered in the end.

Why did character matter any more this year than any other year? Mostly because of the organizational and logistical nightmares most teams encountered from ridiculous miles long traffic backups at and between exchange points. For the entire second half of the race our team ran in fear that we were not going to be able to get our next runner to the exchange point in time to hand off. For competitive teams like LL and SH, there is no down time, no standing around chatting at exchange points. As soon as one of our runners came in their teammates walked them directly to the waiting van and we hauled ass to the next exchange point to ensure that the incoming runner had someone to handoff to and we were never left waiting. No time to cool down or stretch. As much as we would have liked, we could not stop to chat and trash talk and catch up with old and new friends. No time was ever wasted and we still barely made it through with only minor delays. In fact, we outsmarted the race by having some runners run ahead and beg random vans for rides to the next exchange to be able to keep our team racing without delay while our vans were stuck idling in traffic miles behind where they should have been. The race is supposed to work for the teams without delays, and we shouldn’t have to find ways to out smart it just to have it keep flowing as planned, and dare I say as promised.

We were there to race. Unfortunately too many races now days have become huge money making events first, where the attention to details and accuracy that matter to those actually running to win, have taken a back seat to providing an experience for the masses and the back-of-the-packers whose money the race operators are only more than happy to pocket. Many teams were rightly very unhappy with the organization of the race this year and will be demanding some changes for next year. Here’s hoping that change happens, but I am not optimistic. Like many others I do plan to express my frustration to the HtC organization and request some changes be made for next year. I hope those that ran and are reading this do the same.

As for the actual running of my three legs, it went down something like this. I was the 6th runner on the team rotation in van 1. My first leg was leg 6, a somewhat hilly 6.70 mile stretch of highway shoulder rolling into the town of Sandy. I went out hard, but so does everyone on the first leg, and right off the bat in the first mile I got passed by 3 people. As a faster runner, I did not expect that to happen often but reminded myself we did start in a fast wave and it was early so we were going to jostle with some really fast team. Well, I soon found out that two of those that passed me were posers, and when we started to climb some of the longer hills they came back to me, then they got to look at my back side. This leg was hot and sunny and run right into a warm head wind. My van mates who ran legs before me told us how hot it was and to be careful not to blow up. One team mate made that visually clear when she came weaving into the exchange with her head tilted back and her legs turning to rubber as she displayed the full effects of the heat and her incredible effort. I ran very hard, but kept telling myself to run smart, there was a lot of work to do yet with two more legs to run. When I started this leg I knew the SH were behind us but I had no idea how far. Well, with about 200 meters to go, in sight of the exchange zone if it wasn’t a damn SH who comes barreling by me at full sprint. I thought for a second, I can go with this guy, but then said, no wait, let him go, don’t kill yourself sprinting now for a 5 second loss if it is going to wipe you out for the later legs. I let him go. I wonder how long that sneaky bastard was sitting off my butt waiting to do that? I came in a few seconds over my projected time which was just fine by me, because I still felt great and knew I was going to kill the next two legs.

My second leg was a different story. By the time this leg (number 18) started, our team was now around 10 minutes behind the SH. The leg was only 5.28 miles mostly all uphill. I was ready to run hard, but wasn’t going to close a 10 minute gap. Taking the exchange band at about 11:30PM I ran off into the darkness and picked off dozens and dozens of slower runners. As I got moving I realized I really felt good and just attacked the hills. Breathing hard the whole way but never backing down, I rolled into the exchange at full speed to hand off to my teammate. I didn’t know how fast I ran, just that I killed the projected time. Then I waited. Running up the hill to the finish I passed hundreds of idling vans. I assumed my van was ahead of all that and was there waiting for me. I didn't occur to me that my van was even further back. I kept waiting, and started to get cold. I was wet and tired and wanted to get a drink but no van. Aaaargh, 20 minutes later they arrived, they were stuck in traffic. This was not good. After getting back to the van I was able to see how well that leg went compared to the projected time, I just ran 1:35 under the projected time on a 5.28 mile leg. Not bad, not bad at all.

By the time I was mentally warming up for my third leg (leg 30), we were sure that our team was screwed and wouldn’t be able to get our vans down the road fast enough to have runners there for the next few exchanges, let along the transition from our van (my leg) to the next van. As our runner before me took off on his grueling hill climb, we idled in traffic and I worried. Eventually we started moving and got up the climb but we still hadn’t passed him. Finally we were moving down the back of the hill and we passed him, but there was no way the van would make it to the exchange before him. The van hit a stand still and I hopped out and began to run quickly down the hill about a mile and a half to the exchange. In the end we timed it perfectly, just as I got to the exchange, I turned around and our runner was barreling down the hill towards me. We made the hand off and I flew. I had a great warmup for a change by running ahead to get to the exchange point and now I was really hauling ass down the hill. At one point I looked at my watch and I was running 5:01 pace. This leg was 5.38 miles but it was easy fast running. The whole left lane in the road was open with the right lane jammed with vans. I ran the yellow line and the inner tangets hard and tight and just let my legs flow and my arms pump. The sun has just come up and we could see again in the light and this was the first time in the day that I really heard other vans cheering for runners from other teams (like me) on the road. As I neared the exchange, having seen how far back the vans were backed up, a sense of sadness came over me as I had convinced myself this was the end of the road for our team and that there was no way my teammate could have possibly gotten ahead to be at the exchange point. But I ran hard anyway and was determined to still give it everything, then a miracle. As they called our team number 3-5-9, out of the crowd pops my teammate! She was there, holy shit! I handed off the wrist band and cheered, then I turned and ran the 2 miles back up the road to find my van stuck in traffic. I finally got a real cool down and made sure to cheer for every runner and walker I passed as I jogged back up the hill, after all I had just blown by them all like a sweaty shirtless possessed demon with funny lights blinking away on his front, head and butt. This leg was 1:11 under the project time, I killed another one. I was done, three hard legs in about 14 hours time.

My projected total pace was 5:51, but in the end, I ran a total of 2:37 seconds under my total projected time for an average pace of 5:42 per mile over 17.33 miles. Our team finished 10th overall in 20:19:23. The SH finished 6th overall in 20:00:45. Out of over 1200 teams, a top 10 finish (our first ever) is pretty respectable. The SH brought a great team and showed us who’s boss. To this I salute them. Very nicely done. Maybe next year for LL…..maybe.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A 100 Mile Journey

I recently accomplished a long standing running goal of mine to run 100 miles in one week.  Now, running 100 miles in a week may sound impressive to some (it impresses me), but in and of itself, it really doesn’t mean that much.  I’ll admit it, 100 miles is a nice round number and distance that most, both runners and non-runners, can relate to, sort of like the four minute mile (I'm still working on that one).  And as much as reaching this weekly mileage is an accomplishment almost anyone can feel proud of, it is what it represents that matters most to me.  In essence, the 100 mile week was the destination and was a worthwhile one to reach, but it was really the journey to get to that place that was the most satisfying and significant.

For me to get to 100 miles meant that I first had to run 70, then 80, then 90 miles in a week.  If it was simply a matter of testing myself on whether or not I could run 100 miles in one week, I am sure I could have and would have done much sooner.  But it was not a matter of what I could do in one week of running, it was a matter of months, even years of training.  What this mark really signifies is how I got to a level in my running that 100 miles was the appropriate weekly mileage at that point in the training cycle.  Getting to that point was a reasonably slow and calculated process of progressively increasing my mileage within the context of a number of target races all the while running the usual hard workouts and speed session necessary to get faster and stay sharp.  It has never been a mission for the miles.  That for me would get pretty boring, no matter how much I simply enjoy running.  Rather, I want to get faster and stronger and that only happens with hard work and continually building on what has been accomplished.  Running 100 miles in a week was result of having a plan, putting in the work, and maintaining a level of consistency.

Did that journey make me stronger and more able to run even more and more miles?  It sure did, but it also made me fitter, more efficient, and most importantly, faster as a runner.  If I was asked what I think is the one thing that has made me a better runner over the last year, I would say it has been running more miles.  And for those that know me and how I train and how big a proponent I am of supplemental training modalities, especially for masters runners, that might come as a surprise.  But simply running more miles, while staying relatively healthy and continuing to maintain the other key components of my training program, has provided benefits to the whole training package.

Of course there is a point at which one can run too many miles and it no longer has a beneficial effect, where one becomes seriously injured or is not able to recover quickly enough.  I think I’m probably close to that point when running 100 miles in a week, but who knows.  I don’t plan to intentionally push to the limit to find that breaking point, but I do expect that I’ll hit 100 miles in a week again sometime in the future. 

And in the spirit of honest story telling, I’ll admit it, as I came the end of my planned long run on Sunday morning my running log totaled 97 miles.  I should have been done for the week.  I ran what I needed to and completed the workouts as planned.  There was nothing more to do, so I did what any runner with a passion for this sport would do, I went for another run that afternoon.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Finding Your Best Distance

I recently ran a new personal record (PR) of 34:56 for the 10k on the roads at the Scandia Run in Junction City, Oregon.  For some reason I almost never race the 10k distance these days, which strikes me as a little odd.  I’ve run one 10k a year since I got back into running in 2007.  Maybe the 10k isn’t offered as much as a distance at road races these days.  It certainly seems true that there are more and more 5ks and half marathons than ever before.  When I was a teenager in the 1980s and running a road race almost every weekend with my father in some small town in central Minnesota, I recall the 10k being the distance of choice.  Not any more.

One reason I might not run the 10k as often as other distances is that it hurts.  It hurts alot.  To me, a 10k is like a really long 5k race and if I’m going to choose to hurt, why hurt for twice as long!  Granted, one is not really pushing the pace as close to the red line as in a 5k, but it is a long hard run at a pretty hard clip.  Maybe there is something about staying mentally focused on such a hard effort for 30-35 minutes as opposed to 16-17 minutes for the 5k.  The half marathon is a challenging distance too, but for me it is one that is just long enough (or maybe slow enough) to allow me some time to get into a nice rhythm.  Not so with the 10k, it’s get out, get the heart rate up and hang on.

In spite of my apprehension about racing the 10k, it has been a good test of my relative fitness and progression as an adult runner.  I’ve raced one 10k each year since I started running road race again in 2007 and have progressively dropped my time/PR about two to three minutes each time.  I certainly don’t think I can keep improving at that rate, but I do think I can run even faster.

My 10k road racing progression

2007 – 43:15

2008 – 39:50

2009 – 36:45

2010 – no 10ks run

2011 – 34:56

2012 – ????

One thing that running this recent 10k PR made me think about and ask myself is just what is “my” distance.  With what I think are my relative strengths and weaknesses in mind, and recognizing what kind of training and racing I enjoy most, what do I think I am particularly suited to run?  That’s a tough question, because I might not like the answer I come up with or the answer any of my friends that know me and my running may come up with.  There is no question that I really like running on the track and racing 800 meters.  I do still have some all out leg speed, probably more than most masters distance runners.  But I also can get into that groove and put it on cruise control for a few hours in a way that can lead to a decent marathon.  I’ve gotten my mileage up to consistently run 70 to 80 miles per week and have topped out at 100 miles in a week with no major injuries.  So, is the answer somewhere between?  Is my ideal racing distance, god forbid, the 10k?  It might be. 

Where this all leads me to ask myself, what do I want to focus my training towards next year.  Last year, my first as a masters runner, was the year of the 800 meters.  This year has been more of the year of the marathon and half marathon.  Next year I’m thinking of going for some really fast 5ks, both on the track and the roads.  So, what’s a really fast 5k for me?   A PR?  Well, my PR of 17:14 is soft in relation to my current fitness level, so that’s not the best measure.  Is a fast 5k for me what the McMillan performance calculator says I should run based on my 10k or half marathon PRs?  Maybe, but my 1500m and 800m PRs are faster than the calculator predicts.  The short answer is that I really don’t know.  That the fun part of all this.  I guess I’ll just have to run a few and find out the hard way.