Thursday, September 8, 2016

Race Report: 15th Annual Murdick’s Run the Chop Challenge 5 Mile Road Race

This last Monday July 4th I toed the line of the Murdick’s Run the Chop Challenge 5 Mile Road Race for the 3rd time. In the few years since I started racing this event has stood out in my mind as one of my favorites as well as one of the hardest; and most interestingly this race is the marks the 2 year anniversary of the my training seriously with my coach Joe McConkey of the Boston Running Center, as such it is a great marker of my current fitness as well as the huge strides I have made in my personal fitness in the last two years of applied training. But first the race!

As in previous years the race attracts a larger crowd than most island races, this year there were a total of 609 entrants, including a decent subset of faster runners including a couple of collegiate runners, Martha's Vineyards Mikey Schreoder being included in this group and a few faster club runners from the main land. As usual registration was well organized and the race got off to a timely start at just a few moments past 9:00am. For me the race broke down as follows:

Mile 1: The first mile of the course is steeply downhill and has only the gentlest of rises as you get to the end of the downtown section of Main St. As usual this mile went pretty quickly given the downward slope and the excitement of the pack, I made an effort to keep the pace reasonable and ran a relatively controlled 5:24.

Mile 2: Mile two runs away from town staying on Main St. and it includes the longest downhill as well as the longest up hill. Like mile one I stayed within my limits at this stage of the race while we dropped most of the pack that had started the race together, in fact by the end of mile two we were down to three runners, Mikey Schroeder, an unknown runner (high school or early college age?), and myself.  

Mile 3: Around the Chop. Mile 3 is always the deciding mile of this race as it features the steepest hills of the race and a sharp corner that tends to break up the rhythm of the group. Early in the third mile the runner who had been leading (the young guy) started to faulter and eventually fell off the pace Mikey and I ran on together for a few hundred more meters before Mikey made what would ultimately be the deciding move. As we came into West Chop Mikey powered up the last hill and around the sharp curve I mentioned before, I stuck with Mikey through the end of the 3rd mile but started to drop off after that point

Mile 4: Mikey worked to consolidate his lead through the penultimate mile but I limited his gains to only about 10 seconds, other wise not much happened as the pace remained steady

Mile 5: The last mile was a slog-fest with the pace staying steady but the effort level climbing exponentially. I managed again to limit Mikey's gains, but by the time we crossed the line he had stretched his lead to a few more seconds. In the end we crossed 20 seconds apart with Mikey running a solid 28:01 and myself finishing in 28:21.      

The final time of 28:01 is somewhat significant because it is nearly 90 seconds faster than the time I ran here 2 years ago shortly after I first started running. Not only is that a huge improvement in a very short time, it is an improvement in precisely my target distance as I have been focusing on races mainly from 5k to 10k in length. Not a bad outcome all and all! 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Back to Martha's Vineyard

I moved back to the island! Yay!!!

Okay, I suppose that statement requires some further explanation... I had been living in Seattle for the past year and half, and don't get me wrong it was great and all, but it was time to move on. As those of you who are close to me know I made the move out west in order to be closer to a girl whom I had been dating and with whom I wanted to pursue a more serious relationship (see this post). At first that plan worked out, but eventually, as most relationships seem to, it fell apart. That however was not enough for me to move on, I liked my job and my roommates were fantastic so I stuck around a bit longer and in due time got into another serious relationship, which also imploded in due course, and then a bit later my roommate and coworker told me he was planning on moving on from Seattle as well. With the prospect of my living situation changing and the job become less interesting I decided it was time to move on, and given that summer on MV is awesome I thought why not do it now while the weather is fair and the beaches are warm!

So here we are, I'm back on this tiny and island and setting up a brand new life in an old place. So far I've been back 3 weeks and I'm already 2 weeks into my new job and comfortably housed in a decent room which I'm renting from friends. Come this fall I'll be in a permanent place and should be as comfortable and happy as can be.

The logical question of course is how this has been effecting my running? Well so far it's been great! I've been running more with friends in the past few weeks than I ever have in Seattle, and the new job is much lower stress than the old one, which has been a major relief and made it much easier to recover between workouts. And finally unlike Seattle I have access to great trails right from my doorstep, which among other things means less wear and tear on my body and more opportunity to vary my workouts.

All in all I'm pretty happy to be out here!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Miles of Trials and the Trial of Miles

It's odd to think that in our sport I'm still very much a beginner, I tend to think that with almost 4 years of running, and nearly 2 years of systematic training under my belt I'm a little bit more on the advanced side of the spectrum, but among competitive runners I'm not. In a recent conversation with a local coach I learned about the 3 stages of development for the competitive runner: 

Stage I Conditioning - Approx. four years of building general fitness and increasing mileage to a the level necessary to begin more specific and rigorous training. In the typical progression this would be one's high school years. Note: This is four years of intensive conditioning, meaning a runner such as myself is only 2 years into this period.

Stage II Develop Specific Fitness - Again this is a four year stage, only in this stage one builds specific types of fitness such as increasing one's speed and developing the capacity to absorb massive training loads. In the typical progression this would be the college years were racing becomes more competitive and training volume and intensity increased a considerable amount.

Stage III Performance - This stage is a good deal more open ended than the others, it could for example last only a few years, or extend to more than a decade depending on the intensity of training and the frequency of competition. In this stage most of the development that is going to occur has done so and the athlete is really just polishing up the finer points of performance and racing at the highest level they are likely to ever compete at.

I lay the timeline out like this because it underlines the point I'm hoping to make with this post - that running is the very definition of a long game, it is in fact a sport which rewards an extreme degree of patience and determination. The long term commitment that running requires for success is something that I've been ruminating on quite a lot recently and which has been a major grounding force in my life.

I've had a rather difficult year since moving to Seattle; the relationship I moved out here for dissolved in a pretty ugly way several months ago and my job has become an increasing source of ire due to very high staff turnover and a lack of support from management. The theme in booth of these situations has been a lack of consistent effort and commitment to a cause; something which in everyday life seems to be an ever decreasing priority, but which is a prerequisite to successful distance running. It is this long term commitment that has been rewarding these past months and the precise aspect of the sport I've been ruminating upon.

When one starts out in running the gains come fast and the progress is easy to see even day to day, however not long after those first steps the gains slow and the effort required for each additional inch of progress increases with every step forward. It is precisely this point, the beginning of training's diminishing returns, that most people either stop running or stop increasing their training. In his book The Daniel's Running Formula Jack Daniels separates runners into various categories based on there innate talent and motivation, while he reminds us that talent in important he spends far more time discussing motivation and commitment then he does talent. I think that Daniels and others value their runners' motivation over their talent precisely because a high level of commitment and determination is so rare (either within running or life in general).

For me personally the act of committing myself to this sport has been a saving grace when dealing with life's adversities, it's encouraging when things are tough to be able to point to something and remind yourself that you can handle hard things, and that moreover there is a definitive value to long term commitment to a task. My closing point is that the "trial of miles" pays dividends, not just to your performance as a runner, but also in the rest of your life, the continued triumph over adversity that running provides really does build character and have a hardening effect on one's will. It may make us runners a bit eccentric, but given what the rest of society looks like I'm not so sure eccentricity is a bad thing!

Magnuson Run Series Half Marathon: Not Great...

I ran the Magnuson Run Series Earth Day Half Marathon this past weekend, and even though I won and was also told I have the course record for the half marathon (I can't find the 2014 results to confirm), it was not a great race. I ran a 1:20:01 which sorta sucks compared to other recent results.

There are a few things that could have contributed to my lack-lustre time: 1) the course (see map above) has a number of very sharp corners which force you to slow down and accelerate back out the other side; 2) runners in the half marathon run a 5k loop 4 times before finishing on a small side loop, the problem is that this arrangement necessitates that the faster runners lap the slower runners multiple times in some cases, again causing a slowing and accelerating effect; 3) finally it was hot and I'm not used to the heat just yet.

While I would like to believe that without these minor inconveniences I would have run something much faster than 1:20:01 (I was hoping for sub 1:18) I think that it may just be a bit of an excuse on my part, and in the end the point of running is to register the best time possible given the conditions, and on that count I can say I am pleased with how I ran, even if the time was on the wrong side of 1:20... 

My disappointment in my time does not however extend to the race itself, the organizers and volunteers did a fantastic job running things and for $39 I more than got my money's worth. The event started on time, the course was well marked, the marshals were in their place and help in directing us and the timing folks were efficient at processing the results (even if my watch does disagree with the officials, 1:19:57 v. 1:20:01). Finally, there was one volunteer, a pretty blonde girl who was stationed near the mid-point of the 5k loop, who loudly and enthusiastically cheered every single runner on and reminded me of my position on every loop; I'm not usually one to care about cheering but hearing her encouragement on every lap was a huge boost to morale!

All an all a good experience but a bad time, I guess it's time to double down on the endurance building.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ditching the GPS Watch

Lot's of hours and miles with this watch.

I'll admit I've been as devoted to my GPS running watch as anyone out there. As a device it's a very attractive thing, it validates your efforts, can keep you on task and promises to improve your performance through constant feedback... But is it really as useful or necessary as we in the modern era of running have come to believe? I for one am beginning to believe it's not.

My interest in ditching my watch started as I began to ramp up my weekly mileage this spring. As with any increase in one's weekly mileage you'll tend to see a decrease in your pace as you increase the distance, this is a crucial part of the ramp up as doing more mileage while trying to maintain a set intensity is a well known recipe for burnout and injury. The problem of course is that as a runner going slower sucks, especially when you're cranking out 10+ miles per day at 20-30 seconds a mile slower than you're used to. In this instance the constant feedback of my GPS enabled watch was doing far more harm then good by reminding me how slowly I was going (as if being passed by the occasional weekend warrior wasn't enough). Those runs prompted me to think a bit more about my GPS use than I had before; what services was the watch really doing for me, and what value did the data it provided actually have on the run? These questions led to more questions and a then to a complete rethinking of my GPS use.

1) Perceived Effort vs. External Data

This is the big (and usually only) complaint I hear from people regarding GPS watches, that it is hard to go easy when you're constantly reminded how slow an easy pace really is. I hear from a lot of newer runners, and I include my self in that group, that a GPS watch helps them to maintain a good effort, however that isn't always the help it seems. I for one tend to run too fast GPS watch or no, and when it comes to easy runs I regularly hammer my easy days to the point that I'm flat when I need to really go hard in a track workout or tempo run... So what is the point of relying on a device that tells me my pace when what I'm aiming to measure is my effort, isn't my own nervous system a better guide to that specific measurement? Yes, yes it is...

This is the main point that convinced me to ditch the watch. As I've become a better and stronger runner I've noticed that I easily settle into the correct pace for a given situation, I slow down just the right amount to maintain my effort on a hill, speed up enough when the wind is at my back, and that my legs no exactly what pace they can handle that day for a 10 mile tempo. The fact of the matter is my body is great at figuring out what it can and can't do... Except for when I look at my watch. When I glance down at my watch I inevitably determine that the pace that my body has selected is wrong in every way and then I make a decision to speed up or slow down, and that decision is rarely the correct one. 

2) Running is Supposed to be Low-Tech Right?

So what are some of the features of running that drew you to the sport? If you're like me the simplicity of the activity was a big draw. Coming to running from the world of cycling I quickly embraced the lack of equipment and low cost of the sport; aspects which are somewhat tarnished by the wearing of a $200+ watch which needs to be charged between uses. Now one may argue that the striping away of technology doesn't necessarily enhance the sport, for some it maybe in fact detract from the experience, and as with everything in running it is a matter of personal opinion, but for those of us who got into running in part for the simplicity the thrill of disconnecting further is a huge benefit. Not having to pack another charger when traveling is also a nice side effect.  

3) Running "Exactly" 10 Miles...

I think everyone has done this at least once... You get back from your run and realize upon reaching your front door that you have run 9.896748 miles (or something else close to a whole number) and instead of shrugging your shoulders and heading in for a shower you instead run up and down you block like a crazy person until you have run exactly 10 miles, not a step more or less. Note that you're probably tired and/or cold and all you really want to do is go back inside because you've already had a productive workout, but you keep running to reach an arbitrary end point which represents no meaningful training stimulus. The reality is of course that GPS watches are never truly accurate and it is almost certain that if you've run 10 miles exactly per your watch's calculation you've in fact run some other distance which +\- 10 miles. Why not just accept that some days you'll run more and some day's you'll run less; instead of focusing on distance why not run for time?

4) Really, Why Not Run for Time?

We tend to believe that distance is the great equalizer, if you run 10 miles today it'll be the same as running 10 miles tomorrow. But what if today there's not a breathe of wind and tomorrow is nearly hurricane force? First off why are you out running in a hurricane? But more to the point how are the two even remotely equal? Running into a strong wind sucks and no one with an ounce of logic could possibly believe that a 70 minute run on a calm day is equal to an 75 minute run into a gale, so why pretend they are? Why not instead run for a set amount of time and then sort the mileage out later? This is a technique my coach uses when we're working on ramping up the mileage or increasing intensity, it is in fact a lot less risky because it builds in a safety valve for exhaustion (i.e. if I run 8.5 miles in a 60 minute easy run today and only 8 tomorrow it means I'm tired and should be running less, it also signals to me and my coach that I'm worn down because it demonstrates a decrease in output).

None of the above if to say mileage is not significant, it's just to say that setting arbitrary mileage goals is more likely to cause over training that are time goals, and that time better indicates training volume in most instances. When training for longer distances for example Time on Feet (TOF) is considered a more important training stimulus than is distance run, after all few runners will run the full 26 miles 385 yards of a marathon in training but many will run the full time of their race (though far more slowly) during their long runs. For me this type of time first training is easier without a GPS tech strapped to my wrist. 

5) Fly by Wire Racing

And finally my chief concern, racing. In my experience racing is best done by feel and that GPS data is only useful for post-hoc analysis, this is not to say that one cannot race well with continuous GPS data, but it is one additional piece of additional information which can confuse and complicate what is essentially a simple endeavor. For many runner, again myself included, racing with a GPS watch can turn into a game of matching pace to an idealized goal, this can sometimes be helpful but other times it can cause you to out run you capabilities or even worse hold you back from a breakthrough performance. It is chiefly the urge to look at my watch and my inability to ignore this impulse that leads me to ditch the watch.

I recognize that this is not a prescription that will work for everyone, but for me at least it may be exactly the change in my training and racing that I need, a way too disconnect further from the world while running and return to the aspects of the sport that I loved when I first started. With that thought I'll say goodbye for the time being, in the mean time keep the rubber on the road!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Update (Agian...)

So I've been away again... I hate to admit it but I'm always going to be a bad blogger and there's nothing I can seem to do about it, so instead of promising to be more diligent in future I will simple embrace my flaky posting and update y'all on the past few months.

Since it's been a while and much has happened I'll sum it up quickly with a few photos and a couple quick sentences about select races. For those who want a version quicker than that: I broke all my PR's except for 8k and 50k, I competed in USA XC Nationals in San Francisco and did well, and joined Dark Horse Int'l (a local XC team).

Losing on the track in Victoria.

Half Marathon on Martha's Vineyard.

Celebrating a 1:18:40 finish.

I ran a lot of XC this season!

At USATF XC Nationals!

All in all it was a great year for running, lot of good races and I made a lot of progress as far as fitness and racing skills are concerned. I'm looking forward to what 2016 will bring after a very productive 2015!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

4000 Miles!

So I was looking at my watch the other day (a bad habit of all runners) and I realized that I have officially reached an important milestone, 4000 lifetime miles!

If I'm honest I most likely reached 4000 miles a few months ago, however I'm not very good with using my watch as designed, for one I rarely remember to charge it, and for another I often don't wear it when I run... So in reality I guess what I'm really celebrating is having logged 4000 miles of the more like 5000 miles I've actually run. The important thing therefore is not really the mileage, instead it is the time spent running and the step towards becoming a truly fast runner that this step represents.

It's not hard to tell that I love running, and this number is a metric which represents that love in cold hard figures. Ironic I know to represent love with a number, but it's very much in the spirit of running!