Monday, February 20, 2017

Injury strikes again

Odd-numbered years are bad for me, apparently. Two years ago I suffered a bout of hamstring tendinopathy that sidelined me for almost the entire year. I was able to come back in 2016 and race a good marathon in December, but shortly thereafter hit another bump.

While running on the slippery sidewalks, I aggravated my hip flexor, which made running painful. Being mindful of how minor injuries can turn chronic, I prudently took a few days off, but my hip flexor was still sore when I tried running again. I took a few weeks off, but saw no improvement. Finally, I was starting to feel better, but a yoga class pissed off my tendon again.

After three more weeks of no running, I said screw it, and tried jogging two miles. While I was as sore the next day as after a marathon, my hip did feel mostly OK. I ran another 2 miles a few days later, and even though I swore I was dying, there was no pain.

So, 11 weeks after my supposed minor injury, I am just now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have lost all of my fitness from the past year, and my goal of breaking 16 minutes in the 5k is still on hold. But at least I am running again!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rehoboth Beach Marathon Analysis

This isn't so much a race report as a race analysis. If you want a really great race report, please check out Brett Long's or Martha Doody's fantastic reports.

Brett Long and I trained together a fair amount leading up to this race and both were in similar shape and going for the same approximate time goal (under 2:40). I went into the Rehoboth Beach Marathon with these specific goals:

  1. Run with Brett Long for as long as possible and have a good race
  2. Run under 2:40
  3. Run under 2:37
  4. Win

I accomplished most of the first goal, and nothing else, by sticking with Brett for 18 miles on 2:37 pace and then fading to a 2:44 for fourth place. But, I can't be too disappointed; this was my first marathon that I've raced since Colfax in 2014. and my fastest since Grandma's in 2013. Plus, I have only run three marathons faster than this. So, despite not hitting most of my goals and crashing headfirst into the wall, I can't really call it a bad race.

Training leading up to the race was pretty good. My mileage was lower than I typically like, mostly owing to the fact that I can really only train on my lunch break during the week. But I had five weeks over 70 miles, and averaged 64.7mpw in the 12 weeks before the race. I had some really stellar workouts that were as good or better than what I was running before I ran 2:39 at Grandma's, and 5:50-6:00 pace was feeling easy. My confidence was high.

For the race itself, a couple factors led to my performance. One, we drove down to Delaware, and I tried not to drink too much, as my bladder is small and weak and I didn't want to stop every half hour. Two, I did not get a lot of sleep in the preceding nights. Three, despite hitting the paces exactly as I had planned in the first 18 miles, the strong wind made the effort much harder. So while I was running 6:00s, it felt like I was running 5:50s, and that came back to bite me. I'm glad I stayed with Brett and the pack we were in, because the alternative would have been to run into the wind all by myself. It was nice having pack of guys to take turns blocking the wind and I could just roll with them, even if the pace did feel a little quick. Four, I missed a couple water/Gatorade stations and was only able to take two gels during the race when I had planned to take four. By the time we hit mile 19 and turned back into the wind, I was running on empty and could only slog the last 6 miles to the finish while I watched Brett and company pull away from me.

I have included some tables comparing my six fastest marathons because I am a nerd. As you can see, this race ranks towards the bottom is every single category. Note that most of these values come from my GPS data so do not reflect the actual splits recorded by the timing systems.

Average MPW (Previous 12 Weeks)
Marine Corps Marathon85.882:48:15
Columbus Marathon84.932:42:19
Philadelphia Marathon65.962:40:58
Rehoboth Beach Marathon64.702:44:19
Grandma's Marathon64.642:39:08
Colfax Marathon57.142:52:23
Difference Between Fastest and Slowest Mile
MarathonFastest SplitSlowest SplitSplit Delta
Grandma's Marathon5:556:110:16
Columbus Marathon5:566:290:33
Colfax Marathon6:107:111:01
Marine Corps Marathon5:587:151:27
Philadelphia Marathon5:516:360:45
Rehoboth Beach Marathon5:527:221:30
Difference Between Average and Slowest Mile
MarathonAvg Pace per MileSlowest SplitAvg-Max Delta
Grandma's Marathon6:046:110:07
Columbus Marathon6:116:290:18
Philadelphia Marathon6:086:360:28
Colfax Marathon6:347:110:37
Marine Corps Marathon6:257:150:50
Rehoboth Beach Marathon6:167:221:06
10-10-10 Splits
Marathon1st 10 Miles2nd 10 MilesLast 10K
Grandma's Marathon1:00:091:00:2838:31:00
Columbus Marathon1:01:121:01:3939:28:00
Philadelphia Marathon1:00:191:00:2640:13:00
Colfax Marathon1:05:081:04:0943:06:00
Marine Corps Marathon1:02:411:02:1043:24:00
Rehoboth Beach Marathon1:00:151:00:0744:19:00

So what has this experience taught me? I'd like to think I learned a few things from this race, despite it not being a PR or even a very successful performance.

  1. Next time we have a marathon this far away, I would rather fly than drive.
  2. High mileage isn't required (I actually averaged less miles per week before my 2:39 than I did here), but does help.
  3. In the next marathon I race, I will turn off auto-split on my GPS and take true mile measurements. This was the closest my GPS has ever been to the actual distance but I was still off by 20-30 seconds by 13 miles. So while I was recording 5:58s, I was really running 6:05s.
  4. I slowed down more in the last 10K of this race than any other marathon since my first (where I hobbled most of the last 6 miles on cramping legs that would barely function). I blame the hard early effort and the lack of fuel for this more than the training and preparation.
  5. Most importantly, this experience showed me just how rare a performance like my 2:39 at Grandma's really is. I never hit the wall in that race and felt strong all the way through the finish. I think that was one of those perfect days where everything came together. Even though I think I was in better shape for Philadelphia, and maybe even for Rehoboth, I experienced challenges in both of those races. I can't expect to just waltz my way through any marathon I run now just because I had one really good race. Those days are rare and to be cherished.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Gadgets, gizmos, and gimmicks

These days, it seems like everyone is looking for a quick fix, or the next get rich quick scheme. This is true not only with finances, but with fitness as well. Step into a running store, or read the articles about the latest and greatest must-have gadgets, and you will see all manners of products, foods, and services guaranteed to make you fitter, faster, and better. The real question is though: how much do they work, if at all?

Old school runners love to raise the argument that back in the 1970s, when road racing was becoming popular, nobody had GPS watches, compression sleeves, foam rollers, and most runners drank flat Coca Cola instead of Gatorade. While it is true that many professionals were able to post extremely impressive times without the technology available to us now, it would be remiss to think that none of the advances made in the last 40 years are beneficial. With that in mind, let's take a look at some popular ways runners try to obtain an edge. I will rank them from least gimmicky to most gimmicky.

1) Yoga. What originally was seen as a low-intensity excuse for exercise by people who don't eat meat and hug trees has become a very popular choice for athletes from all sports looking to increase their flexibility and strength. Yoga will not cure all of your ailments, but I firmly believe that it will benefit almost anyone who wants to try it. The mix of stretching, strengthening, and body awareness can help prevent injury, increase range of motion, and even increase power as well.

2) GPS Watches. As mentioned above, nobody in the 70s, or even the 90s, had these, and they still managed to run well. A GPS watch is most assuredly not a prerequisite to being a runner. That being said, they are wonderfully helpful devices that can let you take your workouts off the track and provide fantastic feedback on your pace. I do think most runners these days over-rely on them, however. I agree with Jay Johnson's belief that learning to run by feel is one of the most important things a runner can learn, and constantly using a GPS to monitor your pace can disrupt that ability. GPS watches have their place, but I think many people can benefit from keeping them at home at least some of the time.

3) Ice baths. The science is divided on this one, with most people agreeing that at worst, they don't hurt. The benefits may or may be all in your heard, but I for one swear by ice baths after a tough workout or race. Whether or not there is an objective, observable difference, they feel good and I always am less sore the day after taking one.

4) Heart Rate Monitors. Like GPS, HR monitors also provide great feedback and enable your training to automatically follow your fitness. They are great for beginners or runners coming back from a hiatus who may not know what their paces should be. Like GPS, though, I believe runners place too much emphasis on heart rate and not just running. Also, for experienced runners, heart rate training is redundant, as one can just as easily run by effort, not pace, and get the same results.

5) Compression apparel. Elite athletes like Paula Radliffe and Meb Keflezighi swear by compression socks during marathons. The studies on what I like to call calf panties generally indicate that while they can improve recovery, there is no noticeable affect on performance. That being said, I don't think there is any downside to wearing them if you like them. They may look silly, but if they help you run well, go for it.

6) Minimalist footwear. Luckily, this fad seems to have died down. I am all for running a few miles or some strides barefoot on soft grass a few times a week, and do agree that humans were meant to run barefoot, but we were not meant to run on pavement, asphalt, or for 26.2 miles at a time. Running shoes are a great invention. I do urge all runners to experiment with different types of shoes to see if a more minimal shoe works, because I think that many heavy, clunky shoes can actually get in the way of your natural gait and cause you to run in a manner that promotes injury. But I cannot encourage anybody to run in Vibram Five Fingers or to run a road race barefoot. Some people can be successful doing that, but they are few and far between. It's better to do some form drills and strides to adopt a softer footstrike and maybe transition to a shoe with a lower heel-to-toe drop that still offers cushioning.

7) Any diet whose name follows the "The 'X' Diet" convention. This includes Atkins, Paleo, Gluten-Free, and see-food. If you have a true food allergy, then of course you should follow a diet that excludes that allergen (dairy, gluten, nuts). But to exclude an entire category of food based on some fashionable, pseudo-scientific advice from a blog you read online (this one included) is silly. All the hemp seed, beet juice, kale chip, acai berry smoothies in the world won't make you a better runner. Your best bet is to try to avoid most processed foods and eat lots of plants. Anything else you do is irrelevant.

8) Social Media. Don't get me wrong. The internet is a wonderful tool and social media is great for sharing information. But too many people get hung up on what other people are doing, or alternatively, get too hung up on posting selfies with their run stats. Look people, we're all athletes trying to be our best. There will always be someone better, and always be lots of people slower. Do what works best for you, and don't try to impress anyone else with your workout stats. It doesn't matter how many course records you have on Strava if you are injured on race day. Likewise, the victory goes to the fastest runner, not the one with the most likes on Instagram. Running is a simple endeavor; don't over-complicate it or turn it into a popularity contest. Just run, baby!

Now excuse me while I make myself some chia seed oatmeal and charge my GPS so I can post my workout on Strava tomorrow.