Saturday, May 30, 2015

Looking To Run a Half PR This Summer? I've Got Tips!

(Disclaimer: I'm not a coach, though I want to be! What you read below is my ideas gleaned from reading, research and personal experience. But I will say...if you give any of these a try -- they will work! ;--)  )

Hard to believe we are almost into June, isn't it? Despite May being one of the better months of the year to run, it's also become one of the busiest months on my personal calendar. As a result, I only managed to run seven times during the month for a total of 42 miles.

On a positive note, I did complete the Indy Mini on May 2 and a week later ran 28:00 to set a new 5K PR, so it was at least kind of productive! I was planning on running a 5K this weekend but my back has been really stiff for the last couple of days, so I decided to bag it. I ran 3.2 miles today and was so stiff and sore I could manage an 11:06 pace. Ugh.

With summer starting, I've begun reassessing my training and I am still hopeful about breaking two hours for the half later on this year. Though I haven't been running a lot, I've done my best to keep up on blogs I enjoy, and a few people have made a run at their half PR already in 2015. Some have made it, and a couple didn't, but still had good runs that put them in position that it could be done.

One thing I've noticed in reading some posts is that some people who are good runners take multiple shots at a goal, like, say, breaking two hours, and fall short, but never change up how they do things. Improvement comes from finding what works for you but also breaking out of your comfort zone.

When I set my PR of 1:42:36 at the Indy Mini in 2007, it was the result of four months of consistent training at about 25 miles per week, and I was so strong that day my final 5K (miles 10-13.1) and 10K (miles 6.9-13.1) were very near my PRs for those distances. When I set my marathon PR of 4:07 at Chicago in 2005, it was while working with a coach that gave me some great training advice, including having me run three 20-mile training runs. Those were huge, and I'll explain why.

But let's talk about a few things that you can change up that might make a big difference as you move towards your goal race.

*Pick a fast track and a big field. I was reading a blog post recently by a runner that had wanted to break two hours, and in two straight halfs this person missed their goal by less than 15 seconds. In the post this person mentioned two things that caught my eye: one was that the race had a huge hill at the end, and the other was that some of the course was a crushed gravel trail. And, the race only had a few hundred participants, so this person spent time running alone.

None of those things are conducive to a PR race, are they? Try to find a paved, flat course for your goal race, and while you don't have to run a "mega" race, do some research. Look at past results of a race you have in mind and see if previous races had a decent sized group of people in the time frame in which you want to run. Then show up and work together...did you know that running directly behind or at the shoulder of another person (not side-by-side) improves your efficiency by 10-15 percent?

*Only have one goal at a time. If you are training for a marathon, train for a marathon. If you are training for a goal race half, train for that. See where I'm going? It's always good to run tune-up races on the road to a marathon, but your expectations should lean towards how that race helps you run the marathon, and a half is a great measuring stick for that. Still, if you are in Week 12 of a marathon training cycle and you try to have a breakthrough half, that's going to be hard.

That's because marathon training is hard! And the longer you go into a marathon training program, the less bounce your legs are going to have. Most training programs are a circular process that taxes our bodies and includes just enough recovery to keep us going. Sure, you could try to taper, but cutting mileage in the middle of a marathon training cycle makes some people nervous. In the end, a week or 10-day taper into a half would have little to no effect on your marathon, but is it worth the risk?

*Train fast. If you want to race fast, you have to train fast. That doesn't mean you have to find a track to do speedwork, but to pick up speed, try throwing some fartleks in the middle of your runs, or up the tempo every so often for a minute or two. Or do a hill workout...the great Frank Shorter calls hill workouts "speedwork in disguise". Find a hill, run a couple of miles warm-up, run reps on the hill, then run a couple of miles to cool down.

If you do decide to head to the track, look online for some pace calculators that will tell you how fast you should be running your repeats. One of my favorites is McMillan Running. One mistake we all make, me included, is running repeats too fast or too slow. Look to nail your times, and you will get a lot of confidence.

*Forget the LSD. Breaking two hours in the half marathon requires a pace of 9:10 per mile, but a lot of people don't run that fast in training. If you don't do that in training, how can you do that in the race?

When I ran my marathon PR in 2005, I was being coached by a woman named Lisa Menninger. You can read up about Lisa here. One of the things that makes Lisa a good coach is that she didn't start running until she was in her 30s, so she gets it when it comes to balancing running with work and family. In fact, if I decide to work with a coach again, which I will probably do soon, I may go back to working with Lisa. She is that good.

Anyway, one thing she had me do was run three 20-milers (as I've mentioned). One reason was to instill confidence in the distance -- which it did -- and the other was for more endurance (and it worked). She instructed me to also run several miles -- usually 5-7 miles -- in the middle at or below race pace. When race day came, it all worked, and while I didn't reach my goal of breaking four hours, it wasn't for lack of preparation.

*Go long, go often. That is the perfect segue into this tip. You don't necessarily have to run the entire distance, but you should come close, and come close more than once. That means you should run 11-12 miles a couple of times before your goal race. And if you are really experienced, push that to 14-15.

By now you are saying to yourself...dude, what about injuries? If I do these things, won't I run a higher risk of getting hurt? It's possible, I guess, but I'm not telling you that you should go all-out and run 50, 60 or even 100 miles a week. What I'm telling you is that it doesn't hurt to change things up and step above what is comfortable for you. That's where results come from.

And not only that, stepping up your training brings you lots of things, the biggest of which is this...

*Confidence! When you step to the line, you don't want to be saying "man, I hope this happens", you want to say to yourself "I've got this!". And the more you push the belief of what you think you are capable of, the more confident you will feel on race day.

The great marathoner Khalid Khannouchi -- who twice set the World Record in the marathon -- would finish his Sunday long runs by going the last 2-3 miles 10-15 seconds below his marathon race pace. Which meant he was finishing his runs at a 4:20-4:25 pace! Khannouchi once said that the night before he would do those runs he would have so much anxiety about it he couldn't sleep and would sometimes get physically ill.

But you know what? It gave him a confidence that made him one of the best closers the marathon has ever seen. If you search out some of his races on YouTube, you see the other runners trying to just hang in there and maintain a pace, while Khalid is pushing the pace and dropping the hammer. Running that way in training meant that he knew in a race he could reach down into that well further than anyone he was racing, and that is pretty powerful.

In running, confidence is power, and if you throw a few of these wrinkles into your training, you'll take a lot of newfound confidence to your next race!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Apple Blossom 5K -- May 9, 2015

Today's race was really special, not because I set another new PR -- although that was very nice! -- but for the fact it was the first time I've ever run a race with both of my boys. I ran a race with Matt about four years ago, and ran a virtual 5K a few weeks ago with Kevin, but never had all three of us run the same race at the same time.

So with Matt finishing his first year of college at Benedictine University on Friday, and Kevin staying with me this weekend, and not having a track meet, I floated the idea to the both of them to run the Apple Blossom 5K, and they were on board from the start!

Also running the race was Matt's roommate, Matt Gray. They run track and cross country at BU together, and Matt Gray grew up in Bartlett and won the Apple Blossom two years ago. To make things even more confusing, Matt Gray brought two more Matt's with of the Matts goes to Iowa State and the other attends Marquette.

Whew! Anyway, my Matt and Matt Gray were supposed to meet near the Bartlett Library about 40 minutes before the start to stretch and get warm, but I was running a bit tardy and by the time we had made the 10-minute walk from home Matt was nowhere to be found. That's OK, we had a bib issue we had to fix, somehow Matt was in the computer as a 14-year-old girl! Not good.

By the time we got that sorted out, it was about 20 minutes before the race was supposed to start, and Kevin and Darcy showed up. Matt went off to warm up and Kev and I started to stretch out and make our way to the starting line. Kev was surprisingly nervous. When we were talking about the race Friday night, I suggested Kev try to run the entire way and try to finish in the 30-31 minute range.

As we were standing and waiting for the race to start, Kevin told me he wanted to run hard and run for time! OK dude! That left me in a bit of a quandary, because I was planning on just running for fun so I didn't spend as much time getting warmed up and stuff as I would for a PR-type run. Oh well.

Matt was lined up at the front, of course, and Kev and I were lined up together, but once the race started he was on his way! I tried to find a pace that was kind of comfortable, and a nice downhill helped me get settled in.

(Beware: A Runtastic mention is coming.)

As I got going, I found yet another asset of having my Runtastic app running -- a real-time look at my pace! That was a big help, as one of my problems is that I tend to go out way too fast and just try to hang on the rest of the way. I found myself feeling good at about a 9:05 pace, so I just focused on holding that for as long as I could. I could see Kevin up ahead in his bright neon shirt, and it seemed like he was pacing himself well too.

I hit the first mile in 9:05, and was starting to realize just how humid it was! The temperature was OK, it was about 60 degrees, but it had rained most of the night and was just sticky, with the humidity hanging around 92 percent. Doing a little bit of mental math, I figured that if I could only hold that pace, a finish of around 28 minutes was a possibility, so I just tried to focus forward on that.

The course meanders through some neighborhoods, and just before the two-mile mark has an interesting stretch where we run across the grass and connect to a running path. The rain made it a bit treacherous as the water had settled in a low point and the ground was super soft. I navigated that without falling, so I felt I had that going for me!

Approaching mile two, I looked ahead and could see Kev getting a little closer to me. I crossed mile two in 19 minutes flat for a mile split of 8:55. Not long after that, I got a text from Darcy that Matt had finished in 19:20! (Here is his finish line photo!) I got a little boost from that and thought I was starting to hurt I tried to hold my pace as best I could.

A little further down the path I caught up with Kevin. Even though he was starting to slow down I was really proud of him. As I passed by him I gave him a pat on the back and gave him some words of encouragement. What I didn't know until later is that not long after I got by him he picked up his pace again and had a really good finish.

In the final stretch of the race I was really gassed! I hit the third mile in 9:07 (27:07 overall) and despite the encouragement from Darcy I couldn't break 28 minutes, hitting the line at exactly 28:00! Actually since the race was done by gun time my official finish time was 28:11, good for 102nd place, with Kevin coming in 103rd in 28:17.

Matt, meanwhile, ended up eighth overall in 19:15 and finished first in the 15-19 year-old age group! Actually, the Matts swept the entire podium, with Matt Gray (middle) finishing third in the age group and the Matt that goes to Marquette coming home second. Matt was very, very excited, because despite all of his accomplishments in his track and cross country career, he'd never won a medal! He had won his team's "PR pumpkin" (a pumpkin given to the runner who has the best PR at the conference meet) twice, but never had received any bling. He ended up wearing it the rest of the day.

Overall, it was just such an awesome day. From the racing standpoint, I was happy with the even splits that I ran and of course the new PR. It was also an improvement of two minutes from my time at the race last year! As a Dad, it was a great chance to run with my guys and share my love of running with them. Can't ask for more!

With both of the boys training for their cross country seasons in the fall, there will be plenty more opportunities to run some more races together. I'm looking forward to picking a few out and doing this again!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Four Things Friday

One less than my usual because it's late.

(Editor's note: I've only had six page views in the last three days...SIX! I'll try to do better.)

*Today was kind of a big day. We moved my son Matt out of the dorm at Benedictine University as he has completed his freshman year. Like most 18-year-old kids he had his ups and downs, but in the end he learned and grew and figured a few things out. He enjoyed cross country and track, and -- best yet -- he believes he finished the year with a GPA over 3.0.

He will spend the summer working as a day camp counselor for the Aurora Park District, and is excited about the fall semester as he moves into his major of exercise science. Yeah, I'm pretty proud.

*Which leads me into Saturday, as the Knapp boys will join forces for the first time in a 5K together. Matt, Kevin and I will be running the Apple Blossom 5K here in Bartlett, which is a fun, low-key race with a pretty fast course.

Matt's roommate, also named Matt, will be running as well, and those two will be up near the front of the field. I told Matt to just enjoy himself, have fun running with his good friend (they are sharing a dorm room again in next year) and use the race as a celebration of the end of a great year. There is a little bit of pride between the two, though -- Matt told me they are going to meet 45 minutes before the race to warm up and everything together. Should be a fun battle!

Meanwhile, Kev and I will be running together. I'm going to try and help him run the whole way and finish in under 31 minutes. He will start training for his high school cross country season in a few weeks and is really looking forward to this race.

*Despite being passed over for the Team V position, I am undeterred. Today I signed up to be a pace group leader for the Chicago Area Runner's Association (CARA) half marathon program. We'll see what happens, but I hope I get picked. I kind of look at it as an internship for the coaching stuff I plan on getting involved with.

*Finally, I'm going to editorialize. I'm sure many of you have heard the internet sensation (can't think of a better I said, it's late) caused by Pennsylvania runner Mike Rossi. If you haven't heard, he was the guy who wrote a smarmy letter to his kids' school principal after receiving a form letter telling him that the time his kids were out of school while he ran the Boston Marathon was being considered as unexcused.

Rossi's letter went viral and, as the internet is wont to do, spawned two camps -- one that makes him out to be the Father of the Year, and the other that feels bad for the principal for the grief that has been brought to her door. I fall in the latter camp, I feel like it was a crap move for him to do. Educators have jobs to do, and it was policy, right or wrong. If he had an issue with the policy, call the school and discuss it, don't embarrass people because you feel like you were right.

Now we are hearing word that he may have cheated his way to a Boston Marathon qualifier when he ran 3:11 at the Lehigh Valley Marathon in September. Lots of issues are in play with this, but, come on, red flags are going to be raised when you have no workouts or races that point to being at all capable of doing what he did. And his explanation? He was "running injured" or running with friends in many of the run-up races to his qualifier.

I'm not saying that alone makes the guy guilty, because I don't know. I will say this, though, I believe in sportsmanship, fair play and integrity. While some people in the running community are a little nonchalant about it, I believe that things like this are a big deal, and anyone who resorts to cheating at any time during any race deserves to be exposed for what they did. Lots of people work hard to accomplish things through their running. Some are big, such as qualifying for Boston or even the Olympic Trials, while some are small, like a PR or doing something that they never thought they were capable of doing.

As runners, we all have a respect for one another because we know there aren't any shortcuts in this game. You get out what you put into it. And I for one don't have any patience, or sympathy, to anyone that cheats their way to accomplishments. I dream of running Boston too, but I am adamant that they only way I am running it is if I qualify, fair and square. If I never make it, I don't, but if I do I know I will have earned it.

If Mike Rossi ran the race of his life last year, good on him, but I know if I were in the position where my integrity was called into question, I would produce all evidence I had to prove myself. He hasn't done that, instead he has closed ranks and refused to defend himself. I don't have respect for that, I just don't.

Hope you have a great weekend! I'm going to have a fun race wrap up coming, so make sure to look for it!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Indy Mini Marathon -- May 2, 2015

This will probably be a really, really long post, so bear with me. But that said, I can sum up the day in just one sentence.

It felt so good to be back!

Saturday's Mini was the first time I had run the race since 2007, and running it again just made me realize that I had missed it so much. It's always been one of my favorite events, and it once again did not disappoint.

Let's back up to Friday. Darcy and I drove down that afternoon, and because of heavy traffic the trip took a little over four hours instead of three. Ugh! Fortunately the hotel where we were staying was not only just outside of the starting line, but it was only a block away from the expo at the Convention Center. So after getting checked in we headed over.

The expo was really nice, not too big and not overly crowded. Everything was really easy to find and the people were really helpful. I grabbed my number and of course took the obligatory photo near the race's countdown clock.

One of the cooler things they always have at the Mini expo is a collection of shirts, medals and news articles from past races. Since this was Darcy's first trip with me to the Mini, I showed her the races I had run in the past and shared some memories of those days. It's also an interesting display because it's a great way to see how the sport -- and the event itself -- has grown and evolved over the years. Looking back, everything from the clothes they wore to the shoes they had were so primitive, but so many of them ran so fast! And they looked kind of funny too!

Number in hand, we walked a few blocks to the Bourbon Street Distillery, where we were meeting several people for dinner.
Darcy and I were joined by her cousin, Madeline, our friends Wally and Larissa, and three of their friends, Michelle, who is about our age, and Dick and Sharon, a husband and wife team from the Twin Cities. Sharon runs the races, and Dick spectates, and like Wally and Larissa, they have run all over the world. In fact, while they don't live very far from each other, they met at some faraway race and travel together to all sorts of destinations.

It was interesting hearing about some of their travels, especially of their trip to South Africa for the 56-mile Comrades Marathon, and their experience running a marathon on Easter Island in South America. Just some amazing stuff...I promise I will get him to write it all down someday!

After dinner we went back to the hotel and I tried to sleep, but had some, ummmm, intestinal issues. I don't know if it was the dinner or what, but it was probably about 2 a.m. before I finally fell asleep. Not getting much sleep didn't bother me, that's happened the night before a race on several occasions, I was just worried that my problems would carry over into the race, which wouldn't be good.

As I said, our hotel was right next to the starting line, and despite being on the 27th floor, I was awakened at 6:45 by some pulsating music as the buildup to the 5K (which started at 7:15) began. We had a great view from our hotel room, and I was able to take some cool pictures, and video, which I will have at the bottom of this post.

What was cool is that we could see not only the start, but almost the first mile of the course. That gave us a good view of the start of both races. Although Wally, Larissa and I were scheduled to start in the 2nd wave, we moved back to the fourth
wave to join Sharon and Michelle. With the races starting at 7:45 and our wave not starting until 8:30, I had the unique experience of watching a race start that I was actually participating in!

We watched the start from our room (as well as the TV broadcast), and headed down to meet everyone in the lobby about 20 minutes later. After taking some photos and getting settled into our corral, we slowly moved forward to the starting line. I'm normally not a big fan of wave starts, but it looked like we were going to take only 10-15 seconds to get across the line, and I have no qualms with that!

With the rest of the group heading to Cincinnati on Sunday to run the Flying Pig Half (Larissa and Wally) and Marathon (Michelle), they were taking it easy for the Mini and were doing a walk/jog combination of 15 seconds each. I'd never really gone into a race with a tactic like that, so I was curious to see how it would work.

Right at 8:30, the horns sounded and the race was on! We ran the first 1/2 mile or so and then settled into our walk/jog thing. I actually tried not to "walk", instead going to a really slow jog, and that seemed to work. About two miles into the race we passed under an inflatable display marking the 500th mile of the Mini's history (39 races plus two miles). I also realized later that at about the 8.5-mile mark of the race that I had run 100 miles in Mini competition (seven Mini's plus 8.5 miles -- or so), pretty cool!

I wasn't even keeping track of our pace or anything, but I did have the Mini app loaded to my phone and saw we completed the first 5K in 44:01, a little slow for my tastes but we were having a ton of fun.

A couple of miles later, we were outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I was so excited. My pace quickened a little bit and I pulled away from the group. It was a real thrill to be back out on the track again. I made my way onto the backstretch and through turns three and four, and we made our turn onto the main It's just an amazing thing to look down the tunnel of grandstands and feel the history just seeping from the place. From this view you can see well over 100,000 seats, and I tried to imagine what it felt like for a driver flying down this canyon at over 230 mph.

At about this point I waited for Wally to catch up to me because I needed his help with something. One of the newer traditions at the Speedway is for the winning driver and his team to kiss the bricks at the start/finish line in celebration. When the Speedway was first built in 1909, it was paved with bricks, which were gradually paved over with the exception of a one-yard strip at the line.

The actual original brick surface sits a couple of feet below the current asphalt, so the bricks at the start/finish aren't the ones first laid there 100 years ago, but it's still hallowed ground. When I decided to run the race again this year, one of my goals was to get my picture taken kissing the bricks. So here I am!

Dorky? Hell, yes, but I wasn't the only one! This race will once again be on my yearly schedule, and no matter what pace I will be running in the future, I'll stop and do the exact same thing! As a fan of the Indy 500 and the Speedway for more than 35 years (I'll be attending the race for the 18th time on My 24), it was a really, really special experience.

We continued on and left the track, heading back to downtown and the finish. I lost the group at about Mile 10 and felt like I was starting to tighten up -- especially my back and hamstrings -- so I tried to pick up the pace to see if I felt better. After hitting a water stop at Mile 11, I decided to go hard and run non-stop the rest of the way to the finish. While that involved a little zig-zagging around people, once we were to that point of the course the streets were nice and wide.

I hit Mile 12 and turned left onto the New York Street bridge for the final mile home. The last 1/2-mile is a gradual incline to the finish, so I was running so hard it was hurting a bit going to the finish, but I kept going! I ran the last two-plus miles at about a 10-minute pace and crossed the line in 3:03:08.

Darcy was waiting near the finish, which gave me a big boost. I found her in time that we could watch the rest of the group finish, and we spent some time in the post-race area having some beers and talking about the race.

What made me happy was that I got to experience the race with some friends -- old and new -- and that they enjoyed running the race so much. It was great to be able to run the race with them and have so much fun doing it.

Though I didn't run Faster Than Frank, it's been a great journey since I decided to run this race last September. I'm so glad I got the opportunity to run this race again, and I'm glad I got to share it with you through this blog, as well as my Facebook and Twitter pages.

The great thing about running is when one journey ends another one begins. My next quest? To run at least three more half marathons this year -- Rock N Roll Chicago (July), Chicago Half Marathon (September) and Rock N Roll Las Vegas (November) -- with the hope of breaking two hours at Vegas in November.

It should be fun. Hope you plan on joining me!

Here's the Mini start!

Here's the 5K start!

And finally, here is a video Darcy took on the ground of the start of our wave.