Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Where the Heck Have I Been?

Wow, I just realized I haven't dropped a post on here in three weeks. For some reason, August has always been a very busy month for me, and this year is no exception. Between work, my second job, my third job and school starting, I usually have a lot going on.

Add my brother Tim's wedding this year to all of that and you have a month that has just flown by. Running wise, that was the week that hurt me the most as I didn't run for nine days in the days leading up to and counting his wedding weekend. Still, it was a great time, so I'm not going to be hard on myself about it.

Bama y'all!
My brother got married in Florence, Alabama, which as I discovered is a true jewel of a place. I wouldn't have thought so since it is tucked up in the corner of the northwest part of the state, but there is a lot of history to the town. The church Tim and his new bride Jennifer got married in was built in the 1820s and the place where they had the reception was built in the 1830s.

And then there is the music! I didn't realize that in the 1950s, 60s and 70s Florence (and the next town over, Muscle Shoals) was a hotbed of great music. Many hits from that era were recorded in Muscle Shoals, and all of the bars I went into over the weekend had live music at one point or another. It was some very interesting stuff. I love learning about the history of new places I visit, and would love to go back there someday.

The people who live there are very proud of the heritage of their town, and that was neat to see so much of that, because you don't see it all that often.

So not running for a week meant I broke my streak of having completed all 40 runs through the first 10 weeks of the training program. Darn it. The biggest loss was having not been able to do the 15-miler scheduled on Saturday.

I mean, I've missed long runs before -- lots of them, in fact -- so the mileage itself wasn't that big of a deal. It was more the mental aspect of having only gone 13 so far in the program that the jump to 16 (our run last Saturday) was a little daunting.

That's the thing about this sport, it is humbling. I've trained for seven marathons before but when the mileage starts getting this high I always get a bit nervous. No matter how many times you run this far, every run is different.

So I controlled what I controlled and made sure that I went through all of my usual routines the day before. I had a big bowl of pasta and tried to really hydrate because I'd moved my mid-week 8-miler to Thursday night, giving me just 36 hours to recover for the 16 on Saturday.

Now that the mileage is ramping up, the CARA group I run with is starting at 6:15 a.m. instead of 6:45. That means I'm out of bed and on the road by 5:30. Ugh. Really, it isn't that bad, and as I've discovered the nice thing is that once you are done, you're done! It's still only Saturday morning and you have the rest of the weekend ahead of you.

And from a training standpoint what is nice is that with the next run not being scheduled until Tuesday, you have close to 72 hours to recover. So while it's hard getting up I keep the positives in mind.

We caught another break in the weather Saturday. It was actually a bit cool when we started and while it did warm up and there was some humidity I don't think the temperature got above 75 while we were running. The other nice thing is that I think the air was pretty clean too. I'd been having trouble with allergies on my run during the week and was a bit concerned, but it wasn't that bad.

So off we went. I had brought my iPod with me in case the group broke up and I was running alone (like what happened with the 12 miler a few weeks ago) so I alternated between that and talking with the group. I'm on a techno kick right now, and a DJ named Paul Oakenfold has a weekly show called Planet Perfecto that I am downloading each week. The mix is about 55 minutes long, so it's great to run with because you just get lost in the music for close to an hour.

I had a couple of bad patches in the first half of the run but at about 9 miles I started feeling really, really good. I had been working off the strength of the group, running behind a couple of people and mentally checking out, so I decided while I felt good I was going to return the favor.

When I eased past the three other people in my group, the made a comment that if they were going to slow that I should just go ahead. Dan smiled and said "You are just cruising!" I moved in front of them and said, hey, if I'm feeling good I'm going to let you guys work off of me for a while. So I ended up leading the pace of the group for about 3-4 miles.

The run was going really well until about 14 miles, and then my hips and quads started to get really sore. By 15 miles, there was pain. That's the one thing about running this far is that there is a lot of pain involved. You just have to run through it.

I took the same mentality Saturday that I plan to use in the marathon: break the run down into small pieces so it's not so overwhelming. I decided to just focus on getting from one water station to the other, but by the time we got to the last stop with about 2.8 miles left, it was time to dig a little deeper.

In the end, I actually finished pretty strong. We had gone north on the path, so when you get to the final turn it is a hard left and then about a quarter-mile to where we finish. That's almost the same distance you have to go when you make the turn from Roosevelt to Columbus during the Chicago Marathon, so I started picturing in my mind what that will look and feel like. I have to admit that I really picked up the pace over that stretch and it felt great. I can't wait to run down Columbus on October 13th!

I haven't made it on the road yet this week, but plan on it tonight. It will be a challenge this week with the heat, but hopefully we don't have to deal with that much longer!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Running is About Taking the Good With the Bad

I guess it was bound to happen, that I was going to have a total dog of a run sooner or later.

Which I did today, but before I get to that I'll flash back to Saturday, because it was much better. Turns out, our ACS group was dissolved for some reason, and I had the option of jumping in with the CARA group for the duration of the training.

I was definitely excited about that, because when I first heard that our group was not going to be together anymore, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to hook on with anyone and would be going it alone the rest of the way. As I had mentioned in my previous posts, I had encountered the CARA runners a couple of times on the path, and it looked like they had great numbers in their pace groups, and as a bonus had coolers of Gatorade and water every couple of miles.

The only downer is that it is about 10-15 minutes further, which almost got me in trouble Saturday as I missed a turn and ended up parking about four blocks from the meeting point. After wandering around for a while I saw a few runners heading to the same place, so I just followed them. Fortunately, I got there just in time.

The group starts in downtown Wheaton near mile marker "zero", which is where the mileposts in every direction begin for the path that is in DuPage County. We turned north and headed up a nice, shady path that is a nice gravel-dirt mix.

There were about 8-10 people starting out in our pace group, and although I had run in the 10:50 range in my 11-miler last week, I dropped back and went with the 11:30 folks because I thought it would be best to be conservative as the mileage increases.

No one really talked to me at the beginning of the run, which was fine. I was listening to the leaders as we went along and we were going out a bit slow, I think 11:40 for the first mile, which works. After all, it was only 6:45 in the morning and I am always down with easing into things that early in the day.

After about a mile or so, one of the leaders worked his way back and introduced himself to me. Turns out Dan was a super cool guy and we ended up running together and talking for the rest of the run.

Remember when I talked about everyone getting to the starting line having a story? Dan is no exception. He started running six years ago to raise money for Autism awareness, as his youngest son -- now a junior in high school -- is autistic. He's running his sixth marathon and doesn't really care how long it takes him. He just cruises along and when he gets there, he gets there.

Given it is the first week in August, the weather was decent, although a bit on the humid side. It was nice to run in the shade, and even nicer to hit each water stop! They certainly made a difference as I felt a lot more hydrated and just felt better given I was taking in more fluids.

It started to become a grind around mile 10, as expected. By then our group had whittled down to four and none of us had much to say. Dan and I started talking again over the last couple of miles, and it was really nice to get back to downtown Wheaton and beat the heat.

So that was the good. We ended up running pretty close to exactly 11:30 pace, or if you factor in our stops we were around 12 or so. I'll take it...a five-hour marathon is 11:26 per mile, so 10 more weeks of training and hopefully some favorable weather on race day will make that happen.

I put in a 4-miler on Monday night back on my usual route, and felt pretty good. So given the way I'd been running the last few weeks I have no explanation as to what happened today.

I headed out at about 2:30 and while it was warm (83 degrees) it didn't feel oppressive or anything. But the last couple of days the lower parts of my legs have been really stiff and I felt like I had cement blocks on my feet. It was a real grind from the start, and I bet I didn't run faster than about a 13 minute pace.

When I'm training for a marathon, I try and use every run as some sort of race simulation. In this instance, it was all about how the last four miles might feel. Man, I just couldn't get it going, so I just focused on moving forward.

Things did begin to feel a bit better the last 1/2 mile or so, thankfully. I'm still not sure why my legs are hurting, whether it is just muscle fatigue or hydration or whatever. So I guess I'll work on the things I can control (like stretching and drinking) and hope it is just a bad patch.

Going seven tomorrow, hopefully I get back on the right track by then!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bib Of The Day -- Summer Sunset 5K, July 31, 2013

Allow me to present the newest bib to my collection.

I picked this up last night at the Summer Sunset 5K in Geneva. It was a race that I had covered several times for the paper and is great event. It has a great history too, as lots of great local runners have run -- and won -- the event. The first year I covered it, the race was won by Dan Huling, who will represent the United States in the 3000m steeplechase at the World Championships of Track and Field in Moscow next week. It's also been won by Lukas Verzbicas, who was an incredible cross country runner in Illinois when he was in high school and is now one of the top young triathletes in the world.

For all the years I've covered it I thought "man, I should do this race sometime!". So, last night I finally did, and I came away very impressed. The race is incredibly well-organized and the course is pretty fast.

The weather was pretty decent too. Usually it's boiling for the race, sometimes despite the start time of 7:15 p.m. the heat index has often been in the mid to high 90s. In fact last year it was so hot that they cancelled the race altogether. So I'll take the 75 degrees or so at race time, can't get much better than that this time of the year.

Since I had run 33:53 at my previous 5K in late May, I came into this one feeling confident that I could chop a couple of minutes off of that. Actually, I was hoping I could come home in about a 10-minute pace, which would be right around 31 minutes. When the race started I was feeling good and got a burst of adrenaline, and as a result went out waaayyyy too fast.

How fast, you ask? Try 9:06 fast. Ouch. As I approached the first mile clock I couldn't quite see it as I didn't have my contacts in, so I looked at my watch and saw that 30 yards from the clock I was at about 8:56. My awesome girlfriend, Darcy (more on her in future blogs), was there and told me later she was caught off guard in seeing me since she didn't expect me to come by for another minute or so.

She was surprised? How do you think I felt? At this point as crazy as it sounds I didn't think I could run a 9:06 on a track actually trying to run a fast mile!

I spent the next mile or so trying to settle into a pace I could take to the finish. Trust me, by the midway point of the race I was hurting! I eventually dropped to 10:33 for the second mile, but by then was getting my breathing under control and felt like I was good to go to the finish.

It was a bit of a grind to get to the finish, but I ran a 10:12 third mile and cruised it in to finish in 30:46. It was one of those races that felt so hard while I was doing it, but so good and so satisfying when it was over.

For a second, I was mad at myself for going out so fast, but then I had to laugh. Seriously, I've spent most of the last 24 hours laughing every time I think of it. I mean, 9:06 was so ridiculous and so out of the realm of what I thought I could do, it was crazy! My positive spin was I ran the race like a cross country race -- I went balls out at the start and tried to hang on.

I can't be mad...I picked up over three minutes from my last 5K and my goal of breaking 30 minutes before the end of the year is still a reality.

So I had a couple slices of Papa John's pizza after the race and went home happy. It's just been a really satisfying summer for my running. I'm far from setting the world on fire but at the same time I'm running about as consistently as I ever have and I see improvement coming little by little.

I hope to run another 5K over Labor Day weekend, maybe 30 minutes will be possible by then!