Sidelined: Two Weeks With No Running

Jim Valentines Day NP

Running hard at November Project NYC on February 12, 2016. Felt good afterward. But nagging, low-grade discomfort trumps risking long-term injury.

As I’ve posted before, in April of last year I developed a stress fracture in my right sacral ala. While I returned from that injury and ran a successful fall racing season, I had some residual discomfort in my right hip. During the fall, this discomfort would arise whenever I would complete a long run, but would otherwise dissipate with rest and recovery. Both my doctor and physical therapist suspected it was muscle tightness due to my time on crutches, and neither expressed much concern or thought I should not run. They suggested foam-rolling and stretching, which I did after most of my runs and on recovery days.

However, the discomfort amplified when I returned to training this past December. Whenever I would run for more than an hour or an hour and a half, my right leg would begin to feel as if it had run for over two hours, while my left leg felt as if I had not run at all. I reduced my weekly mileage to no avail, but also felt that the imbalance in soreness between my right and left legs, while annoying, did not rise to the level of an impending injury. So, I kept running. I upped my mileage to 50 miles per week, and then 60. I ran a number of NP_NYC PR days faster than ever. My aerobic fitness improved, and my aerobic pace decreased accordingly. All in all, a lot of good things!

But, the imbalance continued, and the discomfort, although low-grade, nagged me a bit more even when not running. I stretched more thoroughly and more often. I foam-rolled like a pro. I worked on this breathing technique that allegedly lessens the impact on each leg while running. Through hill work and leg speed drills, I increased my running cadence from around 175-180 steps per minute to 192 steps per minute, theoretically creating less pounding impact on the body. I rethought how I was tying my laces, which temporarily alleviated some, but not all, discomfort. I dutifully performed my squats and core-strengthening exercises (not just for abs, but for the hip flexors and IT band as well) in an effort to strengthen the muscles and decrease the likelihood of injury.

In other words, I felt as if I had done everything within my power to address this issue, short of hanging up my sneakers or seeing the doctor. Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately), my body just kept telling me that I could not figure this issue out on my own, and after being sidelined for almost three months last year, I figured that I’d listen this time. So, I went to the doctor this morning.

The verdict? My right hip flexor, piriformis, and the top of my right IT band are tight and inflamed. This tightness and inflammation is causing the discomfort I’m experiencing both during and after running.

Why has this been happening? Not entirely sure, but it’s likely residual from the rehab I did after my stress fracture. For whatever reason, despite stretching and working to prevent injury, these muscles and fascia just don’t want to loosen up. Thus, even when I decreased my mileage and increased my other injury-prevention work, that tightness and inflammation did not improve. If anything, working and stretching those muscles in an aggressive manner probably made them worse.

The treatment? Two weeks of no running, but swimming and cycling are OK. One week of anti-inflammatory medication, and 3-4 weeks of physical therapy with lots of point pressure to target the inflamed areas. As my doc said, this PT is going to be painful, but worth it. After that, I’ll return to running on the treadmill, and build up my weekly mileage from there. My doc does not believe that the treatment will take me out of my spring marathon, the Inaugural Queens Marathon, so that’s good.

My feelings on the matter? I’m not that upset, actually. It’s frustrating to have to change my Queens Marathon training plan, but that’s the thing: I have to change the plan, not nix it entirely. I can still train. That’s huge.

It’s hard to stop running when your injury doesn’t actually prevent you from running. When I developed my stress fracture, I could not walk without pain. This time around, however, I would rate the discomfort as, at its worst, a 3 out of 10. Because the discomfort is generally pretty low, I’ve been running hundreds of miles a month and recovering well enough to keep going. In fact, I ran about 8 miles this morning with NP_NYC before going to my appointment, and felt OK overall afterward. But I get it: Having a low-grade, nagging sensation after running means that something’s not right, and if you’ve tried to fix the problem on your own to no avail, get it checked out by a professional, no matter how minor the issue seems to be.

In a sense, though, I’m excited. My left leg seems to absorb running without getting beat up at all. If this inflammation and tightness in my right hip is really just a residual issue from my stress fracture, and this round of drugs and physical therapy irons it out, then I can hopefully return to running on two healthy, tough legs that are adept at absorbing the impact of running. Running pain-free is always a plus.

And that’s the real thing I’m excited about: not being preoccupied about how my body will feel during a run. I love running. I really do. I like the physical workout and the challenge of a goal race. I like the fact that the clock provides an objective measure for my training and performance. I like the meditative nature of the act of running, and how the noise in my head ceases for the time I’m in motion. What I don’t like, however, is worrying about whether I’m doing permanent damage to my body while engaging in an activity I love so much. So, if I have to take a couple weeks off to move past a physical issue, which will allow my mind and body to run freer, then I’m happy to oblige. Life is good and I have no reason not to maintain a positive attitude.

Also, a shout-out to my doc, Chris Allison, RPA-C (registered physician assistant – certified), of Orthology (formerly NYSportsMed). Chris is a great guy who really cares about his patients. He’s one of the only docs I’ve ever had who actually listens to my complaint, understands the human element of medicine, and answers my questions no matter how trivial. If you are in the NYC area and develop any sports-related injuries, I would highly recommend Chris and his colleagues.

Happy running, everyone!

 

 

Spring Marathon Training Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training

This post is part 2 in a series concerning my spring marathon training plan. To read part 1, click here.

Previously, I wrote about why I decided to follow an Arthur Lydiard-style training plan influenced by the Maffetone Method while training for my spring marathon, the Inaugural Queens Marathon. Today, I will describe the first phase of that training plan—aerobic base training—and how it fits into the overall training scheme. As I’m not an exercise scientist or running coach, this post represents knowledge I’ve gained from reading various books, Internet articles, conversations with running coaches, and personal experience. I would strongly encourage you to read further on this subject if it interests you.

Aerobic Base Training

When coaches discuss a runner’s training for an endurance event, they often mention the runner’s “fitness.” For example, before heading out on a 10-mile group training run for the NYC Half Marathon a couple weeks ago, a well-known local running coach told the group, “Don’t worry if you can only run 5 miles today. You’ve got 12 weeks to get fit for the NYC Half.” Why would he emphasize the concept of “being fit?”

For runners, “being fit” means having a well-developed aerobic system (i.e., well-developed endurance capabilities). A runner’s aerobic fitness is the number one factor in determining how well that runner will race on any given day. So, what exactly is aerobic fitness, and how does a runner develop it?

Defining “Aerobic Fitness”

By way of background, the body produces energy through two different but linked systems: the aerobic system, and the anaerobic system. The aerobic system utilizes oxygen to break down fats and glycogen (stored sugars) in order to fuel our cells during exercise. It is the dominant energy system for efforts at or below about 85% of an athlete’s maximum heart rate (NOTE: Maximum heart rate can be roughly calculated by subtracting your age from 220). It utilizes a greater percentage of fat than glycogen and, generally, the less intense the effort, the larger percentage of fat the body will burn during a workout.

The anaerobic system gets activated when a person has become oxygen-deficient—that is, when the amount of oxygen he is consuming can no longer produce enough energy to sustain his effort. Oxygen deficiency typically arises when a person is training or racing at about 90% of his maximum heart rate. The anaerobic system operates without oxygen, and utilizes almost exclusively glycogen. As a result, the body cannot sustain anaerobic efforts for extended periods of time. Why? Because the body is capable of storing only 2,000-2,500 calories of glycogen at any given time, compared to over 40,000 calories of fat. As such, sustained hard efforts burn up glycogen quickly, and a runner will “hit the wall” or “bonk” once he has used up all of his glycogen stores. Further, because the ratio of sugar to fat utilized in energy production decreases as a runner’s heart rate increases (that is, the runner’s body utilizes more sugar), a runner will also deplete his glycogen stores after a hard, sustained aerobic effort. For example, first-time marathoners often “hit the wall” around miles 18-20 after around three hours of sustained aerobic effort.

Based upon the foregoing, we can conclude the following two things: First, “aerobic fitness” is the body’s ability to utilize oxygen to produce energy. And second, in any given endurance event (defined as any event 800 meters or longer), a runner’s aerobic fitness determines how long he can sustain a hard effort over a given distance. Therefore, training one’s body to utilize oxygen efficiently and to run faster at lower efforts (that is, lower heart rates) is critical to developing speed over long distances.

In other words, one’s aerobic fitness is the most important factor in determining one’s speed in any given event.

(NOTE: This does not mean that anaerobic development is unimportant or unnecessary: quite the contrary. In fact, anaerobic development is the second most important factor in determining how well a runner will perform in a given race. Further, a runner who fails to develop his anaerobic capacity will not perform his best (I will cover this in my post about Phase 3: Anaerobic Training). But for now, remember that aerobic fitness is the key to getting faster in any endurance sport, and learning how to properly train the aerobic system will help any runner improve his racing times.)

Why An Aerobic Base Period?

If you’ve ever researched marathon training plans, you’ve probably found plans spanning 12-20 weeks that look like this: for beginners, 3-4 runs per week at shorter distances, plus an ever-increasing long run on the weekend; for intermediate runners, 3-4 runs per week at slightly longer distances, some hills and speedwork, and a weekly long run; and for advanced runners, multiple days containing hills and speedwork, some easy workouts, some workouts at marathon or half marathon pace, plus a weekly long run with some miles at marathon pace. While these plans cater to runners of different abilities (and likely help people achieve their goals), they lack context: Why do runners of different abilities engage in different types of training?

The answer is simple: Advanced runners have built an aerobic base. By building an aerobic base—that is, developing the ability to utilize oxygen more efficiently to break down fat and glycogen to produce energy and, therefore, to sustain harder efforts at lower heart rates for a longer period of time—these advanced runners have greater access to anaerobic development. In other words, a runner’s anaerobic development is dependent on how well-developed his aerobic system is. Therefore, in order to maximize anaerobic development, one must have a well-developed aerobic system.

(NOTE: Another benefit of an aerobic base period is that a runner can increase speed while running at relatively slow paces with a low risk of injury. Harder running such as intervals and racing increases the runner’s risk of injury, so a long base period has the added benefit of developing speed and strength with a lower risk of injury. In other words, it prepares the musculature for harder efforts later in the training cycle).

How to Develop the Aerobic System

To train the aerobic system—that is (once again), to develop one’s ability to utilize oxygen more efficiently to break down fat and glycogen to produce energy and, therefore, to sustain harder efforts at lower heart rates for a longer period of time—a runner needs to train at an “aerobic pace,” which essentially means a pace below or well below “lactate threshold.” “Lactate threshold” is the pace at which the runner’s body begins to accumulate lactic acid—the byproduct of anaerobic energy production—at a rate faster than the body can break it down and expel it from its cells. The body can break down and use small amounts of lactic acid to produce additional energy. Unfortunately, once lactic acid builds up faster than the body can break it down, it disrupts the PH levels of the body’s cells, which causes destruction of the cells and, in turn, muscle fatigue and the feeling of hitting the wall.

What this means, then, is that hard efforts early on in the training cycle lead to the breakdown of the runner’s body, and can disrupt aerobic development. As such, an almost paradoxical relationship exists between fitness and racing: A runner must develop his aerobic fitness—the number one factor in determining how well he can race—only to destroy that fitness through anaerobic development (a necessary step in proper training) and racing.

An example from my own life: At my peak during my NYC Marathon training, I could run a mile at my Maffetone maximum aerobic heart rate (described below) of 1444 beats per minute in 6:55/Mile. After racing the Bronx 10-Mile, Staten Island Half, NYC Marathon, and NYRR NYC 60k in a seven-week period, my maximum aerobic pace dropped to 7:23/Mile as measured by the MAF test, a method for measuring one’s aerobic fitness. Only after two months of rest and near-exclusive aerobic training have I gotten my pace back to 7:00/Mile.

What this means, long-term, is that a runner who trains hard for a goal race will use up many of his aerobic gains in the lead-up to, and the actual, goal race. Thus, once the goal race is completed and the next goal is set, it will be necessary for the runner, if he wishes to continue his development, to start aerobic base training anew for the next race.

Aerobic Pace, as Defined by Lydiard and Maffetone

So, if a runner is supposed to train his aerobic system by running at an “aerobic pace,” how do we define that pace? Every coach seems to have his own definition.

Lydiard

Lydiard, for example, suggests that in order to develop a runner’s aerobic system, he should run at a pace that leaves him feeling “pleasantly tired” at the end of the run. While Lydiard never quantifies “pleasantly tired,” he indicates that a runner can determine that pace through trial and error by running on out-and-back courses and timing the run. If the second half takes longer than the first, then the runner’s initial pace was too fast. Ideally, then, an appropriate Lydiard-based aerobic pace is one at which a runner could run both halves of any particular run in the same amount of time, and end that run feeling “pleasantly tired.”

Based upon this, Lydiard recommends at least 3 long runs per week: 2 runs of about 1.5 hours each, and 1 run of 2+ hours, at the one’s “pleasantly tired” pace. He also recommends performing some tempo runs below lactate threshold, adding strides at the end of runs (for example, 4 x 100 meters of hard effort followed by extended recovery periods at the end of an otherwise steady state aerobic run), and adding as many additional miles at or below “pleasantly tired” pace.

So, an ideal Lydiard base-training week might look something like this:

  • Monday: 1.5 hour run at PT pace
  • Tuesday: Easy run with 4 x100 strides
  • Wednesday: 5-10k tempo run at harder-than-PT pace but below lactate threshold
  • Thursday: 1.5 hour run at PT pace
  • Friday: Easy run with 4 x 100 strides
  • Saturday: 2+ hour run at PT pace
  • Sunday: Easy run with 4 x 100 strides
  • Plus: As many other other runs as possible at or below the “pleasantly tired” aerobic pace

In his experience, Lydiard found that he and his athletes performed best when running approximately 100 miles per week at “pleasantly tired” pace plus as many miles at or below “pleasantly tired” pace as time would allow. He indicates that extra miles accumulated even with 15 minutes of jogging are beneficial. Of course, he instructs runners to run within their capacity, so a week of 20, 30, however many miles is acceptable as long as the runner does not push too hard.

Maffetone

According to Maffetone, one’s maximum aerobic pace is determined through his “180 Formula.” Take the number 180 and subtract your age from it. Then, adjust that number based upon a number of factors, including whether you’ve recently been injured, whether you get sick more than twice throughout the year, whether you’re new to running or a veteran, and whether you’ve seen improvement through using Maffetone’s formula. Then, when performing an aerobic run, keep your pace at or below your maximum heart rate, preferably in a range of your maximum aerobic heart and ten beats below (that is, your “maximum aerobic heart rate range”).

So, an ideal Maffetone week would look something like this: As many runs as possible within one’s maximum aerobic heart rate range.

Ultimately, both Lydiard and Maffetone indicate that running as close to one’s “pleasantly tired” pace or maximum aerobic heart rate most efficiently develops one’s aerobic system. While slower running will aid in development, such development will take more time. Further, both advocate for aerobic base periods that last as long as possible. Thus, if a runner has six months (26 weeks) to train for a particular race, the first 12 of those weeks should be dedicated to aerobic base training, and the following weeks dedicated to the additional phases of training (Hills/Leg Speed 4 weeks, Anaerobic Development 4 weeks, Sharpening 4 weeks, Freshening Up/Tapering 2 weeks).

Putting it All Together

Phew. That’s a lot, right? Here’s what I took from all this information, and how I applied it to my training.

First, while I trained for the NYC Marathon almost exclusively with the Maffetone Method, I felt that I might have outgrown it. I had built a solid aerobic base through the marathon training, and wanted to see if I could push harder. Second, almost every article I read and every coach I consulted indicated that incorporating more intense runs (below lactate threshold, of course) into a base-building phase would augment a runner’s aerobic development. As such, I decided to develop my base-building phase as described below:

First, I calculated my maximum aerobic heart rate and range as determined by Maffetone’s 180 Formula (144: 180 – 31 = 149, minus 5 because of my injury last year = 144 beats per minute, maximum aerobic heart rate range of 134-144 beats per minute). I also calculated my maximum heart rate using the popular 220 – age formula (220 – 31 = 189 beats per minute).

Second, I took the Lydiard skeleton and attempted to do at least three long runs a week, a tempo run, and as many other runs, bike sessions, and pool sessions as possible. When the schedule called for a run at an aerobic pace, I tried to keep my heart rate in my Maffetone range, in large part because Lydiard’s “pleasantly tired” metric mirrored how I felt after most Maffetone-style runs. When a run called for a harder effort below lactate threshold, I tried to keep my heart rate below 160 beats per minute, which equals about 85% of my roughly-calculated maximum heart rate. I also added strides at the end of many runs. You can see how I executed this plan from November 16, 2015 to January 24 here.

I did not follow the training advice perfectly. On two occasions I gave all-out efforts: first, in an unofficial 3.15-mile race (slightly longer than a 5k), and at November Project NYC PR day, a difficult 3.4-mile course. Outside of these 6.55 miles, the only hard efforts I did during this period were during strides at the end of runs, and the occasional tempo run. Thus, I feel good about this phase of my training. And, as I indicated above, I improved my maximum aerobic pace to 7:00/Mile from 7:23/Mile, which is a demonstrable gain in aerobic fitness.

In my next post, I will discuss Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed.

Happy running, everyone!

 

Brooklyn Half Registration is Open!

BK Half Header

Registration for the Airbnb Brooklyn Half, set to take place on Saturday, May 21, 2016 at 7:00 a.m., opens today, January 28, 2016 at noon. In other words, registration just opened! Get over to nyrr.org and register quickly. Last year’s race sold out in about 7 hours. This year’s will likely sell out faster. I’m all registered and ready to rock!

I signed up for this race in 2014 and 2015, but was unable to run it either year. I’m hoping that this year will be different. I’ve heard only positive things about the course (a hilly run through Prospect Park followed by a net downhill run to Coney Island on Ocean Parkway), and the afterparty on the beach. Fingers crossed that life does not get in the way again!

Who else is running?

Happy running, everyone!

Spring Marathon Training: A Plan Based on the Lydiard System, Maffetone Method, and Reflections on My Fall Racing Season

As my first effort to post more general training advice, I am going to discuss the training plan I designed for my spring marathon training, which is based on: 1) Arthur Lydiard’s training system; 2) Dr. Phil Maffetone’s “180 Formula;” and 3) input based on the strengths and weaknesses of my fall racing season. This plan targets the Inaugural Queens Marathon. This is the first post in a series of posts about this training plan.

As an initial matter, in order to discuss the plan I need to provide some background about the Lydiard System, Maffetone’s training philosophy, and how I’ve adopted them to my own training. Further, because Lydiard’s overall training plan contains five phases, this post will address why I adopted this plan, and subsequent posts will address each phase of the plan.

Arthur Lydiard Background

Lydiard (July 6, 1917-December 11, 2004, born Auckland, New Zealand), trained Olympic medalists Murray Halberg (Gold, 5000 meters, 1960 Olympics), Peter Snell (Gold, 800 meters, 1960 Olympics, Gold, 800 and 1500 meters, 1964 Olympics), and Barry Magee (Gold, Marathon, 1960 Olympics). He revolutionized endurance training with his phased training plan. This “periodization” has become the basis of most modern training programs. To learn more about his life and his system, check out this link.

Lydiard’s Training System is broken into five phases, identified as follows:

  • Aerobic Base Training, which lasts as long as possible
  • Hill Training and Leg Speed, which last four-six weeks
  • Anaerobic Development, which last four weeks
  • Sharpening, which lasts four weeks
  • Freshening Up (a/k/a Tapering), which lasts approximately two weeks

The goal of the plan (and why I find it so intriguing) is to allow a runner to hit peak fitness and performance at his goal race.

Dr. Phil Maffetone Background

Maffetone, a doctor of chiropractic, was one of the first coaches to employ heart rate monitors in training endurance athletes. He trained, among others, Mark Allen, the six-time Ironman World Championship winner. He champions a training system in which endurance athletes perform most of their training at or below their “maximum aerobic heart rate,” a number determined by Maffetone’s “180 Formula,” by which a runner subtracts his age from 180 and then adjusts for other factors such as injury, illness, and experience. Such running is generally well below one’s fastest speeds. For example, at my maximum heart rate as determined by the 180 Formula (144 beats per minute), I can run at a top speed of 7:00/Mile, but can currently run a 5k at a 5:43/Mile pace.

Ultimately, Maffetone would have an athlete train at or below this maximum aerobic pace until his development plateaus, at which point he would incorporate anaerobic training for a period of no longer than 5 weeks. He would also have any athlete beginning to use his system to train at or below his maximum aerobic heart for at least three months (and preferably up to six months) before incorporating any strength training or anaerobic workouts. He also advocates other adaptations for athletes, including eating a diet high in healthy fats balanced with complex carbohydrates.

Reflections on My Fall Racing Season

As I’ve discussed, I ran well this fall, and PR’d at the half marathon and marathon distances. While I found that my aerobic fitness was solid throughout the season, I felt that my muscle endurance (how long the muscles can tolerate the pounding impact of road racing) was lacking. So, I wanted to incorporate more miles and longer long runs early in the training season to improve my muscle endurance.

Training Plan: Putting Together all the Attributes

Ultimately, because I spent the months between May and September training almost exclusively at my maximum aerobic heart rate (which incorporated swimming and cycling as well), I felt confident that not only could I increase my training volume, but also increase its intensity. As such, the idea of the Lydiard System, which requires a much higher training volume, appealed to me. So, I decided to develop my spring marathon training plan using Lydiard’s system as a skeleton. Here’s how I planned it out, in six easy steps:

  • I found my goal marathon, the Inaugural Queens Marathon, which is set for April 30, 2016.
  • I counted back two weeks to April 17, 2016, and designated this period “Freshening Up”
  • I then counted back four weeks to March 21, 2016 and designed the period between March 21 and April 16 as “Sharpening”
  • I then counted back four weeks to February 22, 2016 and designated the period between February 22 and March 20 as “Anaerobic Development”
  • I then counted back four weeks to January 25, 2016 and designed the period between January 25 and February 21 as “Hills and Leg Speed”
  • I then designated all time before January 25 as “Aerobic Base Training,” during which phase I would do most of my runs at or below my maximum aerobic heart rate as determined by Maffetone’s “180 Formula.”

To see the plan laid out, check out my Training Plan.

In my next post, I’ll discuss Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training, including why it’s important and how it fits into the overall plan.

Returning to Blogging!

Hard to believe I last posted on December 8! I don’t have a good reason for the delay between posts. Essentially, after the NYRR NYC 60k, I began to reflect on what I want to accomplish with this blog. When I started it in August, I knew that I wanted to write about my running, but had not developed the idea much beyond that. I started by posting about particular training runs I was doing, workouts I attended, and then branched out into race previews and recaps. After a few months, though, I hit a writing wall: What to do next?

Jim NP Cold Running

Getting in some stair running with November Project NYC in December!

That wall, unsurprisingly, coincided with the end of the fall racing season, a season during which I pushed myself and ran my first 10-miler (1:00:20), set PRs in the half marathon (1:20:51) and marathon (2:57:56), and ran my first ultra, the 60k, in under 5 hours (4:55:55), all within less than two months. I knew that my body needed a break; I did not realize my brain did, too. Hence, only a handful of posts since the 60k and now.

All this to say, I’m back! Expect updates concerning my training, but with a more global twist. Expect some posts about nutrition and other fun things I’m up to, such as the Road Runners Club of America coaching certification course that I’m taking in May. And get excited for race previews and recaps for the races I’m planning to run this winter and spring. I might also write more about some of the running books I’ve read lately (more on those below). My goal is to make this blog a spot for people to pick up tips and tricks to achieve their own running goals.

Jim NYRR Virtual Trainer Run

Crushing 10+ miles with NYRR’s virtual training crew!

Thankfully, the time away from hard running and the blog has reenergized me. Regarding training, I began the base building phase of spring marathon training in earnest at the beginning of December, and will likely run the Inaugural Queens Marathon on April 30, 2016. I spent approximately two months running long runs at an aerobic pace, throwing in some strides at the end of the runs, as well as tempo runs (for example, a 5k at 6:00/mile) and progression runs below lactate threshold. I pushed my weekly mileage up from 30 miles to 50-55, and am hoping to increase to 60-65. I’ve also been riding my bike indoors on my bike rollers at least once a week, and hitting the pool (though not as frequently as I would like). In the middle of all that, I ran an unofficial 5k in 17:45 (5:43/mile), and PR’d on the tricky November Project NYC 3.4 mile PR course with a time of 20:36 (6:03/mile). As of yesterday, I ended the aerobic base training phase of my marathon training and began the hill/leg speed phase as per Arthur Lydiard’s basic training scheme. Not bad for two months.

As for the blog and writing about running, I’ve read a bunch of running-related books these past two months. My friend Katherine loaned me “A Race Like No Other” by Liz Robbins (about the 2007 NYC Marathon) and The Oatmeal’s “The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.” I also read “2 Hours” by Ed Caesar, a book chronicling professional marathoners’ journey to break the elusive 120-minute marathon barrier (current world record is 2:02:57 run by Dennis Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon). I also read “Running Ransom Road” by Caleb Daniloff, a powerful story about a recovering alcoholic who sought closure on his past by running marathons and other road races in locations where he was active in his alcoholism.

Jim Liysa Laura Ann Raul

Getting in a solid 11.5 miles with Liysa, Laura Ann, and Raul during the blizzard this past weekend!

And finally, I’m almost done with “First You Run, Then You Walk” by Tom Hart, my friend Patrick’s father. “First You Run” is a collection of essays written by Hart, a former high school English teacher, who picked up running at age 31 after he quit smoking. He ran into his 60s, at which time he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had one of his lungs removed, rendering him unable to run continuously for more than a few minutes. His essays discuss a range of topics: running a sub-5 mile, running 37 miles on his 37th birthday, chasing age-group awards as a 60-year-old veteran, and eventually breaking 12 minutes for one mile while running with one lung. What makes the book so amazing, though, is Hart’s meditative writing style and honesty. Every other page I find myself thinking, “Yep, that’s exactly how I think about running.” He gets it.

And in other news, I had a nice Christmas with my family and my girlfriend’s family, was able to travel to Vermont for a few days over the holidays, and have been working and preparing for the spring racing season. Life is good.

Happy running, everyone!

Race Recap: NYRR NYC 60k, November 14, 2015, 4:55:55 (7:57/Mile Pace)

Prologue: I’m finishing this recap approximately 72 hours after running 37.2 miles – farther than I’ve ever run. My legs feel great, with limited soreness in my right quad and left calf. My left knee, which felt like someone took a baseball to it yesterday, feels much better after two days of IT foam rolling (to alleviate any potential IT band syndrome), ice, and ibuprofen. My left ankle, which hurt for a week and a half after the NYC Marathon, feels 100%, in large part due to my constant ankle stretching these past three days. I’m ready to run again!

NYRR NYC 60k finish

Looking good! Feeling the burn in my legs!

But I won’t . . . at least, for a week, and possibly two. My body has taken a serious beating this past month and a half, running hard at the Bronx 10-Mile, NP_NYC PR Day, Staten Island Half, NYC Marathon, and NYRR NYC 60k, and it craves a break from the pounding impact. Time to hit the bike, the pool, and prepare for the next training cycle by maintaining my aerobic fitness.

Finally, I have felt slightly sick since the 60k ended. I’m not feverish or nauseous, but have had a low-grade headache and feel constantly dehydrated. I’m not sure if the nine GU gels I consumed during the race have anything to do with this, or just that I put my body through more stress than it’s ever handled before. Either way, I’m going to continue drinking water and taking it easy.

Now, the recap before the recap: I ran the NYRR NYC 60k (37.2 miles), my first ultra marathon, this past Saturday in a time of 4:55:55 (7:57/Mile), good enough to snag 16th place out of 353 finishers. I am very pumped about finishing my first ultra in one piece, maintaining a solid pace throughout, and learned a lot about self-inflicted pain and how to keep moving forward.

The recap: The morning before the 60k, I prepped my race clothes and food bag. My race outfit included shorts, my November Project NYC t-shirt, my NYC Marathon long-sleeved shirt, a wool hat, running gloves, and socks. For food, I prepped 10 GU gels, two bananas, two water bottles, and three bags of pretzels (each bag assembled by taking about a serving of pretzels from a larger bag and transferring them to a plastic sandwich bag). I also purchased and decarbonated a 20-ounce Coca Cola by opening the bottle and pouring the soda into a large plastic container, and then pouring it back and forth between plastic containers for about five minutes. I lost about 4 ounces of soda because I am uncoordinated. The morning of the race, I also made a peanut butter sandwich with sourdough bread, but never got around to eating it after the race.

For dinner the night before, Melissa and I got sushi with her college friend. I had chirashi, which is just sashimi with rice on the side. I also had some tiramisu after dinner, which tasted great and (Jim will now rationalize) added to my pre-race carb-loading. I was able to get to sleep around 11 p.m.

The morning of the race, I woke up at 6:15 a.m., ate my standard pre-race breakfast of non-fat Greek yogurt with agave, two bananas, and two pieces of sourdough toast, one covered in peanut butter. I drank some water, piled on my race outfit, threw on a coat, and headed out the door. The morning air was chilly but not frigid, and my body warmed up as I walked the mile from my apartment to the NYRR house at 9 East 89th Street to pick up my bib.

Unlike the NYC Marathon (with its 50,000+ runners and days of expos), between 300 and 400 runners attempt the 60k. Therefore, NYRR allows bib pickup only the morning of the race. I met up with Steve from NP_NYC at the NYRR house, and we loaded our food into the clear bags provided by NYRR, and our other extras into a separate clear bag. Steve has done numerous ultras, including winning a 100k on Long Island last month, so I like to think of him as my ultra spirit guide. His food bag contained Halloween candy and Gatorade. He chuckled at my bananas and pretzels, and we talked race strategy a bit. Like me, Steve wanted to run sub-5, so we both talked about maintaining around a 8:00/Mile pace.

Further distancing itself (pun intended) from the NYC Marathon, the 60k is about as stripped-down a race that NYRR offers. NYRR partitions off a starting line with electronic scoring mats, but that’s all it partitions: Central Park remains open, and runners and walkers can hop into the running lanes at will. The food bag drop was just the benches near the start line: While an NYRR volunteer watched over the bags, our bags didn’t even have our numbers on them. The only clock on the course was at the start line, and the course had no mile markers. Scoring was performed manually with no live tracking element. Whenever a runner crossed the start line, a volunteer would yell out the runner’s bib number, and the scorer’s tent (about 10 people) would input the data into their system. An electronic board would then update, indicating how many laps the runner had completed, and how many he had left. Unlike other NYRR events, there was no singing of the National Anthem, no public address announcer, no music, no real PA system to speak of, and a severely reduced crowd. This, my friends, is as close as I’ve been to running purism in NYC since I started running again in 2014. It was kinda great.

NYRR NYC 60k

NYRR flying the French flag at the starting line in solidarity with the recent terrorist attacks in Paris (repost from NYRR.org).

Before the race began, I hung out with my buddy Sam, Steve, and some other folks. All of us had done the NYC Marathon two weeks earlier. I ditched my gloves in my food bag, ate my first gel, put two additional gels in my shorts pocket, and lined up at the front of the non-existent corral. We had a moment of silence for Paris, abbreviated instructions, and then the air horn signaled the start of the race.

60K_Run02.jpg

The start of the 60k (repost from NYRR.org)

And we were . . . off . . . jogging . . . at a comfortable 8:00/Mile pace . . . and inexplicably close to the front of the pack. Ultras are a different beast!

I ran the first two miles with Steve and Sam, taking in the cool air and blue skies. Sam and I talked while Steve listened to music, and we watched the leaders form a pack and build some distance on us. Once mile 3 began, I started to pull away from Sam and Steve, and by the time I got to Mile 4 I was running with completely new people, all running at steady paces and seemingly enjoying the fact that we were out on a Saturday for an extended run. I made it up Cat Hill without any trouble, cruised through the straightaway to the starting line at Engineer’s Gate, grabbed a cup of water, took my second gel, and told myself, “This is lap 2 of 9. You got this.”

I began to formulate a race plan as I began lap 2. I figured that I would run at a 7:45/Mile pace until the beginning of lap 6, and then figure out whether to run harder, maintain my pace, or slow down. I enjoyed the solitude of the race, but also loved the unofficial cheer stations at the east side of the 102nd Street transverse, west and east sides of the 72nd Street transverse, the group from The Most Informal Running Club Ever on the grass near the Met, and Alison from Harlem Run hanging out near the west side water station, tossing out high fives every loop.

I stopped briefly after the second loop to grab a banana from my food bag, downed another gel and some water, and ran while eating my banana. Loops 3 and 4 passed without much thought: I maintained my 7:45/Mile pace, began to loop some of the slower runners, took off my long-sleeved shirt, and smiled as I high-fived the same folks at different points on the course. I grabbed two water cups at each aid station and chatted with fellow runners. I took a gel each time I crossed the starting line. I ate a second banana when crossing the starting line after loop 4. I threw my hands up and smiled when I saw Katherine from NP_NYC. I felt strong.

A quick note: At this point, the race becomes a blur. The constant looping and friends moving around the course and my own crazy fuel-depleted brain . . . I don’t remember where or when I saw people. What follows is an approximation of how the final five loops went down.

The leaders and eventual winner looped me about halfway through my fifth loop. These runners were the first to pass me since the beginning of the race. The group of two must have been running around 6:30/Mile pace, which was frustrating to watch because I knew that I could run that fast, but definitely not for 37.2 miles. I sighed and kept my pace steady, beginning to feel my hips, quads, and hamstrings getting slightly heavier. No worries, I thought. After 19 miles, whose leg muscles wouldn’t be tiring? At some point in this section of the race, I saw Ali from NP_NYC near the food bags. She asked if I needed anything. I felt slightly off balance and almost fell over, but said no, slapped a high five and pounded the pavement.

I picked up the pace slightly on loop 6 after grabbing a bag of pretzels and taking a gel. My legs slowly felt heavier, but I smiled and slapped high fives with Raul from NP_NYC, and then Myles, and then Chris Mosier. I started to focus more closely on the immediate tasks at hand: one foot in front of the other, breathe, keep the pace steady, easy on the uphills, harder on the downhills. My average pace accelerated to 7:43/Mile. My legs got heavier. I pounded onward.

When loop 7 began, I knew that I could not accelerate my pace and still finish under five hours. My legs, while still functioning, felt like the calm before the hurricane. I smiled less at the people cheering. I grimly acknowledged about halfway through the loop that I was now running farther than I’d ever run before. Every step now brought with it a question: Why was I doing this? I could stop and the pain would end. But I fought on, pushing on the uphills and finding the downhills much less satisfying and slower.

At random points I began talking to myself, saying, “You got this. You got this thing, Jim. Just keep going.” I used the high fives from Alison and her newly assembled NP_NYC cheering crew to push me a little farther. I focused on the backs of the slower runners and reeled them in, passing them one by one. I let out a few primal screams to remind myself that I could do this. I surged every couple of minutes, reinvigorating my legs.

By the end of the loop 7, I was in the zone. Melissa had come out to see me finish, and she spotted me as she and I were ascending Cat Hill at the same time. She said hi! All I could muster was, “I have one more loop. Woot!” No “Hello!” No “Thanks for coming!” In the zone. I was going to finish this thing, and I was sticking with my pace. George from NP_NYC offered me some juice and ran with me for a few seconds near the end of the loop. All I could muster with him was, “I feel terrible.” In the zone. I just kept going.

Before loop 8 I took a gel and grabbed my decarbonated Coke. I slammed some water and headed back onto the course, taking large sips of the Coke as I pushed through even more pain. Once I finished the Coke on the 102nd Street transverse, I felt my legs click into gear again. Woot! I pushed the pace slightly, only to feel the legs get heavy again. I kept moving forward. I grabbed high fives when I could, smiled as well as I could, grabbed my two waters on the west side, told myself that I only had to run Cat Hill two more times, and kept moving forward.

Boom! Last loop coming. I high-fived everyone I knew and said, “Last loop, baby! This is it!” I got a lot of surprised looks, either because people couldn’t believe I’d already run 33 miles, or because I looked like a madman possessed. I ate my final gel, pounded water, and pushed the pace as hard as I could. I slowed on the west side between miles 34 and 35, and a runner that I’d passed on loop 3 sped past me with a smile and an encouraging word. Another runner passed me looking strong and belting hip hop lyrics. I doubled down, pushed hard up Cat Hill, picked up some high fives on the straightaway near the Met, and did my version of a sprint (imagine me running with another person strapped to my back) and crossed the finish line, arms up and smile wide.

Steve from NP_NYC rolled through the finish line looking strong in a sub-5 time. He was ready to keep running. Based on his Strava, I think he ran 11 miles the next day. What a nut. I love this guy!

I literally could not walk home, so Melissa hailed a cab outside Engineer’s Gate. Once home we ordered a pizza, of which I ate six of the eight slices. We watched movies and I barely moved for the rest of the day. Thank you, Melissa, for being understanding!

I might do a separate “lesons learned” post about my ultra experience, but for now I will say this: Everyone who says that the biggest enemy in an ultra is you is absolutely correct. My brain wanted me to stop so many times, yet my body was capable of moving forward. Relentless forward motion. In the zone.

I will also say this: Muscle endurance (basically, the amount of time your muscles can function without getting tired) is huge for ultras. My aerobic fitness was solid for this distance; my muscle fitness was not quite up to par. And that’s fine! I didn’t do any specific ultra training. In the future, though, more time in the gym to work the glutes, hips, and hamstrings, plus time on my feet running longer distances will be key to improving finishing times.

All that aside, I was so happy to finish, to finish in the top 5% of runners in the race, and for all the support from Melissa, my NP_NYC buddies, and my family, who either think I’m awesome for my endurance running, or insane. There is no middle ground.

Here’s my Strava for the race. I accidentally paused it around mile 29, so I’m missing three miles. Either way, you can see that my pace slowed toward the end, but not by much! And that last .2? I forgot to stop the timer until a couple minutes after I finished.

Happy running, everyone!

9/12/15: Morning Run, 6:45 a.m., 15 miles, Central Park Loop x 2.5

What a gorgeous morning for a long run! Just look at that view from the top of the Great Lawn in Central Park:

Central Park Great Lawn

Great view for a great morning!

Overall, I I never quite found my legs on this run. My heart rate spiked more than usual on the hills, and my legs felt more torn up than they’ve felt in months. These factors might have contributed to my less-than-perfect morning:

  1. Before the run, I ate some my usual fat-free Greek yogurt with honey and some pinole/chia snacks, a teaspoon of peanut butter, and drank some water, but that was it. I usually also eat two or three slices of sourdough bread, but decided to try a lower-carb combo for the morning run. It might not have worked.
  2. I warmed up for what I thought was 12 minutes, but might have only been 10 and, ultimately, might have needed a longer warm-up this morning due to the extra cycling session I did yesterday. Without a sufficient warm-up, I might have spiked my heart rate too much when I initially started to run, making it difficult to find a rhythm.
  3. I might also be pushing too hard in general. I usually take Mondays and Fridays off from all running/biking/aerobic activity to give my legs a break. This week, because the NYC Century is tomorrow, I wanted to get an extra cycling session in, and squeezed it in yesterday (Friday). I think a rest day might have served me better.
  4. It’s also possible that I’m getting ahead of my abilities. My recent MAF Test demonstrated serious aerobic improvement, and I PR’d at the Percy Sutton 5k, and I’ve been feeling so confident on every run that maybe I need to remember that I came back from injury only 3 MONTHS AGO. I have the rest of my life to improve my running abilities. It doesn’t have to happen tomorrow.
  5. And finally, my body either might be gearing up to make another big leap forward in its aerobic capabilities, or I might be plateauing. Either way, I have to listen to it and not push too hard. There are too many races coming up, and I’d rather kick their asses than my own for overtraining or re-injuring myself.

This also brings me to why Time on My Feet’s tagline is, “Running One Step at a Time.” This morning’s run was definitely frustrating, and I felt for a while like I was running without a plan. Enter the idea of “one step at a time.” It means that you won’t run every run perfectly. You will make mistakes. Sometimes you’ll want to go home and never run again. And sometimes, like today, you’ll have an off day for whatever reason, and not be able to explain it. How do you react in these situations?

For me, I try to take it one step at a time. I break the run into easily digestible sections. For the Central Park loop, this might mean telling myself, “OK, you just finished the big Harlem Hill. There are three more hills coming up. Let’s worry about this first one, and forget the other two. OK, you’re halfway up. Slow down so your heart rate stays below 145. Good. Step, two, three, four, breathe in every four steps, out for the next four. OK, you’re at the top of the hill. Pick up the pace a bit. Two more hills and they’re easy. Worry about this first one.” And so on. Using this technique was the only way I could study for the bar exam. A study session might go something like this: “OK, Jim, you know you can’t study for a whole day, let alone a week, let alone two months for this exam. But, you are totally capable of studying for one hour. And after that hour is over, you’re going to get up, walk around, get a snack, and after ten minutes you’re going to sit back down and do it again for another hour.”

Shorten the horizon. Break up your project. Don’t worry about what’s coming so much as what’s in front of you. Deep breaths and feel the confidence build within you. One step at a time. Not every step is going to feel great, but the great thing about feelings is that they’re ephemeral, and you get to choose whether to hold onto them or to let them go.

That said, here are my mile splits for the day. They look different from last week’s group run, which makes sense because when I train using the “180 Formula,” I have to slow down on the hills, and then I run faster on the downhills. Overall, though my pace was almost exactly the same as last week’s (about 8 miles per mile, a solid long run training pace).

15 mile run path15 mile run splits

I also ran into Raul from November Project NYC, which made my morning a little brighter:

Jim and Raul NP_NYC

I am a dork.

And finally, Vote for Piff! (seen later in the day in NYC).

Vote for Piff!

The best part is not the dinosaur pushing the car, but that the dinosaur eventually stopped pushing, and the car was driving just fine.

As always, happy running, everyone!