Saturday, October 15, 2016

Day 3,576: Fall trail running in FDR state park

PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- It's been a while -- so long that I can't even tell in my running log the last time I put on my trail shoes -- but today I had a chance to run on the spectacular trails in FDR state park.

What happened was that I was worried about parking at a large geocaching event and so I decided to park my car about a mile away at a trailhead and run my way in.

I didn't expect to see red, yellow and orange hues -- wouldn't you think they would arrive in the northern part of the state first -- but that's what I saw as I bounded my way along the rocky paths.

It was perfect, to do something entirely different. I still haven't recovered from last Sunday's Bank of America Chicago Marathon but I enjoyed every step of my 2-mile workout. I liked that I didn't have to worry about my pace -- I can't really run too fast over trails anyway, and it's a different kind of running as you have to pay attention to what's immediately ahead of you on the trail.

I bought my trail running shoes in the middle of last year, wore them once or twice and although they aren't my favorite (I'm pining away for a pair of Brooks Cascadias in the future), I had great confidence in their ability to provide traction and their overall light weight.

I'm looking forward to returning here again and running and geocaching more throughout the park.

Time: 1:02 p.m.
Temp: 79 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Champion red), shorts, New Balance MT101 trail running shoes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Day 3,570: The day I put a nearly 10-year streak on the line, part I (Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

Picasso's Cubist sculpture in Chicago's Daley Plaza adorns this year's medal. I felt similarly distorted upon learning I'd suffered a serious running injury weeks before the race.
You can tell me when it's over, if the high was worth the pain.
   -Taylor Swift

I was only a few blocks away from home finishing a run when I received the call.

"You have a stress fracture," the sports medicine doctor said. "Chicago is out."

I took a deep breath and stopped. This was not what I was expecting at all. Just two days before I was explaining my predicament in the doctor's nicely appointed medical complex, filled with autographed pictures and jerseys from players in Atlanta's pro and college football teams. I felt a little foolish about it, but there was just one thing.

I somehow could not run fast. Eleven-minute miles were about all I could do for days on end.

It had been 16 days since I ran an extremely good race in the Craft Classic Half Marathon and my recovery was taking an extremely long time for someone who has been able to run at pace just a few days after running in a marathon.

I didn't think it was my knee but there was a strange pain around it and my leg seemed to do all kinds of crazy things like it was no longer stable. And when I tried to push off on the ball of my right foot, my leg felt weak.

The doc listened to me and then did a bunch of tests all along my leg. Nothing hurt.

"The good news is it's not anything obvious," he said. "The bad news ... is it's not anything obvious."

So he set up an appointment for an MRI the very next day.

In the weeks after the half marathon, my mileage was dropping fast. I went from an average of about 50 miles a week to just over 40 miles the first week. That's when I tried to do my speed and tempo workouts and just couldn't do them after a few miles.

The next week -- just three weeks before the Oct. 9 Bank of America Chicago Marathon -- I had my last 16 mile run under the Hansons Marathon Method scheduled. Music Midtown had taken up my usual running route around Lake Clara Meer in Piedmont Park so instead I ran on the loop around the Atlanta Track Club's new offices, an industrial complex just off of Interstate 85 and the Sweetwater Brewery.

The loop was nearly perfect, about 1.3 miles and as flat as you could expect to find in hilly Atlanta. I could only run 5 miles before giving up. I ended the week with 31 miles.

Still, I pushed on. With just two weeks before the marathon, I ran my last significant run of length -- a pair of easy 10-mile runs on Saturday and Sunday. After I finished the Sunday workout, I felt like I'd felt after running the half marathon, slightly sore and particularly stiff around my right knee and leg. I could not walk down stairs normally with my right foot.

The wife scheduled my appointment with the sports medicine office, as she'd recently sought guidance for a runner's knee and had also had an MRI. Initially I wasn't convinced I'd need to seek help but after the second 10-mile run troubled me, I was grateful the appointment was the very next day.

The office for the MRI luckily was in the same medical complex and this was the first time I'd ever seen one in real life. You put your things away in a locker in another room, particularly anything metal that would love to fly around magnetically at a high speed. The tech asked me a few different times which part of my body would be scanned and if I had anything metal inside me, like shrapnel pieces or a pacemaker.

The main thing for me was lying down in the machine when my leg was being scanned. It was nestled very well to prevent me from moving but it really was just the thought that I was not supposed to move made me want to move even more.

Even wearing earplugs, the machine's noise was loud and made War of the Worlds-style buzzing noises. The whole thing took 25 minutes and the digital display I could see on the machine recording the time spent reminded me of all those weeks of speedwork I'd done leading up to this.

When the doc called me, there were 12 days before the marathon. I'd already told him that I agreed that I was no longer interested in running in the marathon since if I couldn't run fast for two miles, how could I expect to run a marathon?

Still, he warned me that my recovery would take longer if I ran in it and my leg could completely fracture.

The problem with being convinced not to run in a marathon that was going to happen in 12 days was there were still 12 days left, way too much time for me to think about it.

It was little things at first, the race T-shirt was cool, all of the daily reminders on social media from the marathon of how soon the race was approaching. There also was the fact that all of my travel plans were made way in advance. Not going meant eating probably $1,200 -- in non-refundable plane fares for a family of four, the $185 race fee and one reservation at Chicago's Palmer House Hilton, where I stayed when I ran in the race in 2010.

And then, in the back of my head, there was a little voice. It was actually more like a little thought, something you should never think when you are told you have a crack in one of your bones.

You can still run in this race.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Day 3,541: Craft Classic Half Marathon

This half marathon included a free pour at the end of the race.
Having been in marathon training for quite a while I've been ambivalent over races that I've signed up for that fell in the middle of marathon training.

This one was no different. It falls about a month before the Oct. 9 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. You could look at it as a good tune-up before the big race or maybe a race that is extraneous to my training. 

I felt like the March 21 Publix Georgia Half Marathon took a long time for me to recover and I really suffered during the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K the next month.

Anyway, what it came down to was ... reimbursement. I figured I would don the cherry red shirt of Team Beef representing the Georgia Beef Board for this race. That shirt has been extremely good to me, giving me long-sought PRs in the 5K and half marathon.

I told myself it would be just a training run (although I wisely skipped Thursday's 9-mile tempo run as is advised by the Hansons Marathon Method for a weekend race) and wondered if I would even break 2 hours.

I left home at about 6:45 and figured I would just park at Grant Park and have enough time for the 7:30 a.m. race. When I got to the parking lot by Boulevard I was surprised to see it completely full. Half of the lot was blocked off and unusable, so I had to find street parking just before Mile 13 of the race along the park.

It was fine because it wasn't a far walk to the starting area. I saw two other runners wearing Team Beef gear and I got ready to run. I brought what I usually bring out for training runs here in the hot summer -- an extra shirt wrapped up in a bag, one GU gel, and a towel (the only thing I actually used in this race).

The race didn't start at 7:30 a.m. -- the announcer gave us some course notes including that we would be running down the middle of the suicide lane along DeKalb Avenue and also for us to not make any turns along Virginia Avenue (where the Legal Runaround 5K would be running). 

When the race started off I basically just ambled along, not really knowing what pace I would run at. I ran the first mile in 8:49 and it felt fine to me.

After Mile 2 when we turned onto DeKalb Avenue, I felt extremely good. I was basically just cruising along, in the suicide lane, and really was running in step with some guy to my right. It felt like a training run.

After Mile 4 he surprised me by taking off down the incline along the neighborhood leading to Inman Park. I didn't follow, choosing to run at my own pace but ended up passing him along the huge hill up North Highland Avenue after turning from Elizabeth Street.

Down Elizabeth Street a short blonde woman had also passed me but I caught up to her near the water station. I was on the right and was pinned in by her since she was on the left. I wasn't going to take water but I also was not able to immediately get around her. At the last moment she moved to try to get into the water and although I was wearing my headphones, I clearly heard her say "Excuse you" to me, which I thought was odd. 

So I passed her too and went up toward Boulevard.

At Boulevard I assumed we would just take the PATH trail back to North Highland Avenue. But we actually rode a lane of Freedom Parkway. It was a downhill stretch and I thought those two people I passed would pass me back but I didn't see either of them the rest of the race. 

I continued down to the North Highland Avenue intersection and was going at a good clip, 7:37 for Mile 7.

I'd been looking forward to running in the neighborhood, since it really makes me feel at home. It also is pretty much downhill. Right before the Virginia-Highland triangle I saw a familiar neon yellow shirt -- it was Frank from Running for the second half of my life who was on a marathon training run with the Atlanta Track Club. It was nice to see someone I know on the race course and I felt like I was flying by -- Mile 8 here was 7:36.

On Virginia Avenue you could see on either side of the road near John Howell Park people mulling about in the other race. I wondered if the announcer delayed our race a little bit to hopefully ease some congestion.

I continued down the road, catching up with another middle-aged runner who had taken his shirt off but then put it back on. I passed him briefly before entering the Eastside Beltline Trail but he and another runner passed me going up it.

The Beltline is not really my favorite place to run a race. From north to south it is on an uphill incline, not too much, but enough that I think it gets into my head. Plus there were lots of regular runners, walkers and cyclists coming at you and I felt myself slowing. I'd just eaten a Cliff gel that they gave out at Mile 9 (7:31) and I made the mistake of drinking water first at the aid station and then consuming the gel.

Plus I didn't know where to put it, so I just crammed it into my waist pack. I ran Mile 10 in 8 minutes and was just hoping to get out of the Beltline without being passed. Mile 11 was 8:13 and I was wondering what rate I'd have to go to make a PR.

I was happy to finally exit the Beltline but the roads after it were hilly. I felt like I kept pushing and Mile 12 came at an 8:04 pace. Here I knew I would just have to hold on for a little bit longer.

Right before Mile 13 was a pretty big hill and then it was pretty much downhill alongside Grant Park. I knew the finish was close ... but where? I logged Mile 13 in 7:45.

When I entered the park I sped up. The end includes a 90-degree turn to the left, where you have to look over your left shoulder just to see the road ahead. I finally had the guy who passed me back on the Beltline in my sights (he had a 20-plus second lead on me on the Beltline) and when he turned I told him to kick it. I finished just a second behind him for 1:43:43, which is my second fastest half marathon time, just a minute slower than the 1:42:40 I ran in the Publix Georgia Half Marathon in March. (The last .22 mile on my watch was run at a 6:38/mile pace).

I drank a lot of nuun water after the finish and decided to get my complimentary draft beer before making my way back to the car.

I was extremely pleased with this race. It was hilly but it also gave me good confidence going into the marathon. I should have known I could not run slow ever in a race.

Time: 7:36 a.m.
Temp: 72 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Team BEEF), shorts, Headsweats visor, cep compression socks. Saucony Zealot ISO 2.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Day 3,539: Course correction? Two Saturday race courses overlap

The above section of the Craft Classic half marathon course is where a 5K will begin on Saturday.
With local races in my neighborhood the first notice I usually get is seeing warning signs along the race route.

I saw several of those yesterday during my easy 10 miles of running and then it dawned on me -- a 5K I ran in last year is going to inadvertently share a street mid-race with a half marathon I've signed up for.

Last year I ran in the Legal Runaround 5K and placed first in my age group. It starts on the edge of John Howell Park and then flies down Virginia Avenue for a few blocks before turning onto a side street. This year the race will begin at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

I remember how there was a crush of people last year at the starting intersection, which will be a little past Mile 8 on the Craft Classic Half Marathon course.

The half marathon, in its inaugural year, starts at 7:30 a.m. Saturday in Grant Park. Some runners in the half marathon easily will make Mile 8 after the first hour of the race. They likely will run into people (like myself last year) who will be flying down the road at 5K race pace ... and then a bunch of people much slower, including walkers.

I sent an email to the race director of the 5K and posted a note on the half marathon's Facebook page after I wasn't able to find contact information for race officials.

It will be interesting to see what happens. I guess one or both race routes could be altered, neither one appears to be a USATF-certified course. Or maybe some kind of dividing lane could be set up for the separate races, although this might tie up traffic since if I remember correctly, Virginia Avenue was open to cars before the 5K started. (The 5K race also advertises "no road closures" on its neighborhood warning signs).

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Day 3,534: A 30K PR (simulated) and a weekly mileage record

Since a festival was scheduled for Sunday in the park and because the weather was finally cool again, I decided to do my long run a day early.

Although the Hansons Marathon Method typically lists a 16-mile run as the longest run in training (you do it three times, though), I decided to run a little bit longer since I felt I could get in a few miles within the 2-1/2 hour limit that is also recommended in the training schedule.

What I had in mind, however, was to break my 30K PR of 2:41:33 that I ran in the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 26, 2014. Yet since this was a training run, my goal was to do it within the guidelines of a slower-paced long run.

The cool weather was really a gift but also nearly was my downfall. Unlike in previous long runs in which I ate a gel and drank water after five or six miles, I didn't do this until mile 10. By this time I was surprised that I felt like I was slowing down a bit. Fortunately there was a couple running just ahead of me and it was enough for me to return back to my training pace.

I also had my second gel and water at Mile 14, when I needed to don a visor because of the sun. Around this time there was a runner who converged on my path from another one and we were running at about the same pace when I decided to pull ahead a bit so as to not run with him.

I surprised myself by running at nearly marathon goal pace for the last 2.6 miles to complete my simulated 30K. It was interesting that my brain/body was getting me to slow down although I had plenty of gas left in the tank. When I stopped I felt like I could go for another couple miles, perhaps to 20 miles, but I decided to be conservative and end the run at my planned distance.

My training run was about seven minutes faster than my previous PR from the 2014 marathon, making me pretty excited about this fall's race.

I also ended up with 66.55 miles for the week, the most I've run since I ran 61.32 miles in the week ending Oct. 11, 2014.

Time: 7:09 a.m.
Temp: 66 degrees
Gear: Technical tank top, Mizuno (x2), shorts, Saucony Zealot ISO 2.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Day 3,532: A summer recap

It's been 7-1/2 weeks since I last posted and it's not because I haven't had any stories to tell. Instead of blogging, I've just been plugging away at my training for the Oct. 9 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (I'm in the middle of Week 13 as we speak) and I just haven't had much time to write about it. Since the training segment started in the middle of June, I've logged 617 miles with probably close to another 300 to go.

It's kind of a shame I haven't, since this summer has been one of the more brutal ones I've run through and in the midst of it I've completely overhauled my habits. This is the first season I've worn sleeveless technical shirts and tank tops (I went from zero to a whole drawer full of them).

I routinely carry a spare shirt with me whenever I run any significant distance and cannot run without a towel. I've also taken to running with a visor just to keep sweat out of my eyes (I guess those sweatbands of the 70s aren't fashionable anymore).

Gone is the Camelbak for training -- I now rely on water fountains at various parks and when this isn't possible on a route, I bring a very small plastic bladder of water to drink. Early on, I tried to keep my water drinking to about six ounces every few miles, on pace with what you'd expect from aid stations on a marathon course. But now I make sure I drink when I need to.

Lake Clara Meer in Piedmont Park has been my friend -- I used the roughly .9 mile of paths around it for interval training and (some) long runs during my 2014 training for the Marine Corps Marathon but as soon as I found out I was accepted to run in the Chicago Marathon, I knew I would do most of my training there, since it is one of the few flat stretches near me. I get a kind of sick joy thinking of when I ran around it 16 times for a long run. It still sounds crazy to me.

Upcoming festivals like Music Midtown are going to make me have to get creative on where I'm going to do my final set of workouts before the race.

I've bowed out of races that I'd signed up for previously before I knew I'd be doing a fall marathon -- the Aug. 6 Vinings Downhill Race for the Kids and likely the upcoming Big Peach Sizzler 10K on Labor Day. I'm a maybe for the inaugural Craft Classic Half Marathon on Sept. 10 but my marathon training schedule has become priority.

What I like about this training schedule this time around is that it feels easier for me. I've informally been following a very truncated Hansons schedule for nearly two years now since the Marine Corps Marathon and it's brought me speed, fitness and running success. I also feel like two years ago, I trained at a pace that wasn't challenging enough for me.

This time around, it's plenty challenging and everything is done at a much faster pace. I've been very mindful about not going too fast but already just running at a moderate clip (and not trying) I'm informally breaking PRs I've held in longer distance races or running at a pace that would have broken longtime bests that have fallen in recent races.

The heat has affected my training, though. I'm only now coming off of a period in which speedwork I'm accustomed to doing was not even doable for me and it's a huge relief now there's a little change in humidity that things seem to be back to normal.

There are costs involved -- I am often sore. The frequency of my FitStar workouts have decreased by half since I started this training cycle, although it's nice to know I do more burpees than when I started the smartphone sessions at the beginning of the year.

During this training segment, I've dropped five pounds below what I consider to be a good race weight for me. At a benefit of two less seconds per mile for each pound lost, you can bet I'm eager to enter the marathon as light as I can safely be.

The effect of all this work won't really be known until race day. I have a Plan A, B and C but there are a lot of unknowns like what the weather will be and what I really can do that day.

But posts or no, I'm still around, crushing the daily streak and maybe someday I'll tell you about the time when a three-car pileup happened just feet from me halfway through a 10-mile run or the time I made the mistake of pausing another long run to enter the sauna-like robotoilet in Piedmont Park.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Day 3,480: Eeek! A rattata on the run

Eeek! I encounter a rattata in Piedmont Park during a 6-mile run.
An easy 6-mile run was on today's schedule, one day after completing a long run at a moderate pace in which I unwittingly ran two seconds faster than the PR I set for the 10-mile distance last October.

When I entered the park, I turned on my new app for Pokemon GO, an augmented reality game that lets you collect Pokemon characters in the wild. I knew the park would be perfect for this.

Just off the path in the green bowl near Park Tavern, I glanced down at my phone and could see the digital rustling that takes place when one of these monsters is near. It turned out to be a rattata, a kind of rat in the game (which uses your phone's camera to blend the creature in with actual surroundings as in the picture above).

After a few flicks of pokeballs, I captured it and added it to my Pokemon collection.

I've found over the years that augmented reality games such as this help me run in actual reality. They can give me easy focus on creating new running routes especially during pretty detailed running schedules like the one I'm currently on. When you have to grind out six- to eight-mile runs almost daily (or have been running every day for the last 9.5 years), it can be difficult to be motivated to do the same courses over and over.

I've frequently run in the park to play Ingress, the other virtual reality game by the same creators as Pokemon GO.

This time around, however, I've been able to leave the phone in my pouch when the workout calls for running at a specific pace. It does give me an incentive, however, to make sure I finish with enough time to see what might be lurking in the digital expanse of what we know as Piedmont Park.