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.

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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!

12/8/15: Morning Run: 5:50 a.m., 7 Miles: Myles and Londoners

Good morning! I’m in week 2 of aerobic base-building for winter and spring races. I logged just over 33 miles during week 1, most done at a moderate, aerobic pace. My aerobic fitness, as determined by the MAF test I performed yesterday, seems strong, but I’m hoping to improve it a bit before I really pick up the pace this spring.

Of course, despite knowing the importance of keeping the pace easy during a base-building period, I sometimes get carried away. I’ve read warnings from some coaches that any anaerobic running during a base phase can jeopardize a runner’s aerobic fitness. I’ve also read plenty of guides that encourage fast running at all stages of training. Ultimately, however, the occasional hard run, performed whenever in my training, has not had a negative effect on my overall fitness and speed. So, while I will perform most of my runs at an aerobic pace for the next two months, I’m fine with occasionally picking up the pace, and can justify it by working on leg speed and negative splits.

This morning, I happened to find myself in some faster-paced circumstances. I hit the Central Park loop about 20 minutes behind schedule. While I was warming up, Myles, leader of the NP_NYC running team, flew past me. I actually recognized his footfalls before seeing him: He runs with an ideal high cadence and lands softly. I called out his name, and we ran about one and a half miles together, talking about our uber-competitive natures and the upcoming Ted Corbitt 15k. If you don’t know who Ted Corbitt is, you need to read this article. In addition to representing the United States at the 1952 Olympics in the marathon, he essentially introduced the ultramarathon to America. He ran well into his 80s, and at his peak he ran approximately 200 miles a week. He was also the first president of New York Road Runners. Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon, called Corbitt “the father of American Distance running.”

Anyway, after Myles peeled off at Engineer’s Gate, I kept on rolling at the same pace, slightly faster than my normal moderate run. Everything felt good as I cruised up Harlem Hill, easing up so as not to spike my heart rate. About halfway up the hill, a guy with grayish hair, blue shirt and black running pants blew past me. I checked my heart rate: 138. Way too slow! I picked up the pace, shortened my stride on the downhill, and kept a steady state over the next two mini hills. The other guy kept a solid pace, but I slowly crept closer to him. As we descended the second mini hill, I came even with him.

“This is quite an effort for six in the morning, ain’t it?” He joked in his British accent.

I agreed, and we ran together for a bit. He was in town for business, and had gotten up to run because, for him, it was basically 11:30 a.m. and he couldn’t sleep anymore. He was getting in a training run for a Boxing Day race, which, in my opinion, isn’t a real holiday (note: I know I know, it totally is . . . no offense, Rest of the World). We picked up the pace down the final mini hill, and cruised along past the Lake near 75th Street.

“How much farther is it to Columbus Circle?” He asked me.

“About three-quarters of a mile,” I replied.

“OK. I’m gonna give it a bit of a sprint the rest of the way, then,” he said, and he picked up his pace enough that I noticed my breathing change. I understood his implicit challenge, and kept stride with him.

I said I’d run with him until we got to my exit at 72nd Street, but quickly decided to push it all the way to Columbus Circle. He smiled and said, “Good!” We pounded the pavement and continuously ran faster. I breathed harder and turned my legs over faster than him (he had a slow cadence). We passed the finish line area of the NYC Marathon, and I pointed it out. He grunted in agreement. We were in the zone.

Just a quarter mile left to the Columbus Circle exit. I pushed the pace. He followed. I pushed a little harder. He pulled slightly in front of me. I got on my toes and dug in, pushing hard but not quite all out. He maintained. I dug in harder. He relented, and I finished up about four seconds before he did.

I never got his name, but we shook hands, and I wished him a good trip and good luck on Boxing Day. He smiled. We each took a moment to catch our breath, and then I jogged home.

Most runs aren’t that exciting, or that random, but I’m glad when they happen. And that impromptu race at the end? I truly believe it’s not about who finishes first, but rather about the spirit of competition, and accepting challenges as they come. I might be shaking my head if he beat me, but I know I would have had just as much fun.

Anyone else have stories of making random friends/competitors during a routine training run?

Happy running, everyone!

Two Weeks Away from Running: An Abundance of Thanks

When I made my fall racing season training plan back in July, I always envisioned taking two weeks off from running after the NYRR NYC 60k. I stuck with this plan . . . for the most part (I jogged through two NP_NYC workouts). Tomorrow marks my first training run for winter races, and I am excited to get back into it.

For my ability to return to running, I’m thankful for good health and humor.

TCS NYC Marathon

I’m sure everybody wants to see more of this in 2016! (picture from mile 18 of the NYC Marathon)

A two-week break from running, however, did not keep me totally inactive. I rode my bike (once), went to the gym for core exercises, and joined Chris Mosier’s “Early New Year’s Resolution Deck-a-Day” workouts. Essentially, Chris posts five exercises every day, each one associated with a suit or the jokers in a deck of cards. You take the deck and flip over the top card, do the associated exercise for the number of reps on the card (Ace-10, Jacks = 11, Queens = 12, Kings = 13, Jokers are a pre-determined number), and continue until you’ve finished the deck.

Simple enough, right? Well, today is day five of the 35-day deck-a-day series, and while I’ve completed every day, some days have definitely hurt. Each day focuses on a specific muscle group. So far we’ve done quads, core, upper body, and glutes. Upper body was the hardest day for me. Even though I do pushups regularly, my upper body has always been my weakest muscle group. Glad that I have another 30 decks to work on it.

For deck-a-day, I’m thankful for NP_NYC for introducing me to so many cool people, including Chris and all the other folks checking in on the Facebook page every day.

Deck-a-Day Workout

Sometimes you get a hard run in the deck.

I also did Thanksgiving at my Aunt’s and Uncle’s house in Ridgefield, Connecticut, with my mom, dad, sister, girlfriend (Melissa), aunt, uncle, five cousins, one cousin’s wife, another cousin’s husband and two kids, and my grandma. While demonstrating some workout move, my cousin Kristen’s younger child, Brenner (a/k/a Baby Bren Bren), ran up to me with a giant smile and hugged me, refusing to let go. We stayed like this (see below) for well over a minute, turning what appears to be a pushup into a somewhat epic plank. So cute!

Jim Baby Bren Bren

I’m very happy!

Baby Bren Bren

Baby Bren Bren is even happier!

Earlier that morning I went hiking with my mom, dad, sister, and Melissa through Mountain Lakes Camp in Lewisboro, New York. Not only is it home to Westchester County’s highest point (a whopping 976 feet), it has some great hiking trails. The trail we hiked, a 3.4 mile loop, contained up-and-down single-track dirt paths recently cleared by the local Boy Scout troop, a 1.5 mile incline on a gravel road, and some downhill on pavement. We also hiked two side trails, one which took us to Westchester’s apex, and one which took us to a gorgeous vista. With 50 degree weather and no wind, we hiked about five miles and earned our turkey dinner.

Mountain Lakes Camp Vista

The vista

Family Mountain Lakes Camp

The family (minus the mom who is obscured by the dad)

Jim Melissa Mountain Lakes Camp

Melissa and some guy wearing a 60k shirt

For this hike, I’m thankful for my mom, dad, sister, and Melissa, all of whom made the day perfect.

After thanksgiving, Melissa and I drove up to Vermont to visit her parents at their summer/winter home in Wardsboro. We hit the trails for two different hikes, both of which were amazing.

We first hiked around Grout Pond in Green Mountain National Forest. The loop around the Pond was just over three miles, but getting to and from the loop added another three. The trail was uneven, covered in leaves, wet, and sometimes difficult to traverse. In other words, I loved every second of it. We hit the three-quarter point of the hike as the sun began to set, which inspired these magical shots. We also discovered a number of camping spots to which we could canoe. It’s not too early to make summer plans, right?

Grout Pond Trail

Grout Pond trail

Grout Pond Shot

Grout Pond late in the day

Jim Melissa Grout Pond

Melissa and some guy walking softly and carrying an excellent hiking stick

Finally, we hit the trail in Jamaica State Park, the same trail I ran shortly before the NYC Marathon. We hiked through a slightly cold 37 degrees, but the weather didn’t hinder the beauty. The trail follows a winding river that roars as it curves. It provided a natural soundtrack as we hiked along. At one point we went off trail, and Melissa and her dad absorbed the energy of the river while I attempted to cross. I’m not sure if any of us were successful, but we looked good trying.

For these hikes, I am grateful for Melissa and her family, who have welcomed me in with open arms.

Today I’m back to work, and tomorrow will be my first official winter racing season training run. Cold or not, I’m going for it!

Happy running, everyone!

Ultramarathons: Lessons Learned from the NYRR NYC 60k

I ran the NYRR NYC 60k, my first ultramarathon, last weekend. At 37.2 miles, the 60k is a shorter ultra (many ultras total 50-100 miles). Regardless, as most people define “ultramarathon” as any distance longer than a marathon, I can now call myself an “ultramarathoner.”

60k Buckle Photo

The 60k belt buckle bling (repost from nyrr.org)

While I was happy with my preparation and how I ran, I learned a lot about how to survive an ultra. Below are my ultramarathon “lessons learned:”

1) Respect the distance. The most important lesson. After the NYC Marathon, I thought that running a race only 11 miles longer would be simple. I ran strong throughout the 60k, but slowed toward the end and got passed by two runners I had outrun for 34 miles. If I reran this race, I would reduce my early race pace by about 5-10 seconds/mile, and run hard the last two loops.

2) Fuel early and often. Many ultrarunners eat about 240-340 calories/hour. I followed this plan, eating two GU gels (100 calories each) and either a banana (~100 calories) or a bag of pretzels (~120 calories) every hour. Further, I began my GU gel intake after the fifth mile, about 2-3 miles earlier than I had my first gel during the NYC Marathon. This likely helped me maintain an early steady state. I did not hit the wall.

3) Muscle endurance. I felt very confident about my aerobic fitness before the NYC Marathon and the 60k. I have consistently espoused my love of the Maffetone Method and its emphasis on developing the aerobic system. That said, prior to the 60k my long runs included a 20-miler, 22-miler, and the marathon. These runs provided a solid, but not ideal, base for running an ultra. To see how experienced ultrarunners recommend a rookie ultrarunner to train, check out the Ultra Ladies 50k (31 miles) training plan. The main differences between 50k/60k and marathon training are the long runs followed by a second long-ish run. This training allows the body to develop the muscle endurance necessary to run harder, longer. Without that type of training, aerobic fitness only takes you so far.

4) Pain is inevitable. I felt physical pain during every race this fall (the Bronx 10-Mile, the Staten Island Half, and the NYC Marathon), but nothing compared to the pain I felt during the 60k. During both the Bronx 10-Mile and Staten Island Half, I was able to tolerate the pain and negative-split. The pain during the NYC Marathon, while more intense, slowed me down, but not significantly. The 60k pain, mostly after mile 30, forced me to bear down harder than ever before, and slowed my pace.

5) Mental toughness trumps pain. I almost despaired around miles 34-35. After cruising along for 30+ miles, two runners passed me, and I thought I would never return to Engineer’s Gate. I had to dig really deep to put one foot in front of the other, telling myself that I was stronger than I felt, that the pain would be over soon, and that I could trust myself. I talked out loud. I screamed a lot of “woos!” I told myself that each step felt good. I told every spectator I recognized how close I was to the finish because saying it out loud made it feel more real. I envisioned myself sprinting down the straightaway near Engineer’s Gate, and anticipated the cheers at the finish line. These positive thoughts propelled me forward.

6) On-course support is awesome. Seeing friends on the course kept my spirits high. Seeing the same volunteers at different points helped me “shorten the horizon” of the race. I thought, “In one more mile you’ll see Alison, and you can say hi get a high five.” It helped break the race into more digestible chunks. I can’t run 37.2 miles, or 50 miles, or even 10 miles, but I can run a mile and reassess. Mile by mile. Step by step. You can’t run 37.2 miles all at once. You have to do it a step at a time.

7) Camaraderie with fellow runners. Talking to other runners helped tremendously. With around 400 runners attempting the 60k, it was easy to say encouraging things to people as we ran around Central Park nine times. It’s nice to know that we’re all attempting something difficult together, and not at each other’s throats in competition.

8) Stopping for fuel/food breaks might not be necessary. If I had a “crew” helping me out during the race, I might have been able to run continuously the whole time. This might have cut 2-3 minutes off my time, enough to move up about two finishing places. That said, I appreciated the mini breaks from the running, but felt like I could have run straight had I easier access to my in-race nutrition.

9) Hard work pays off. I’ve written about this before, but I worked really hard at my running this past year, asking for help, taking advice, and staying consistent with my training. The 60k further demonstrates that commitment to improvement.

10) You must have fun. Despite the physical and mental pain, you need to enjoy the run. Multiple friends told me I looked like the happiest runner on the course. I don’t doubt it. I always try to smile at friends and spectators because I genuinely appreciate their willingness to cheers us on. On a deeper level, though, I feel so much gratitude even to be able to participate in these events. I have family and friends who support me in my efforts, and allow me to push hard every day. When I think about that, it puts my running in context and makes every step special. Plus, endorphins.

Anyone else run the 60k and have some lessons learned? Lessons from other ultramarathons?

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!

Race Preview: The NYRR NYC 60k, November 14, 2015

I ran the NYC Marathon just under two weeks ago. I took six days off from running to allow a sore ankle to heal. I took it easy for the past six days, running about 16 miles since Sunday. I stretched, worked my core, and nailed my nutrition plan by eating all the leftover Halloween candy and pie of which a boy could ever dream. Essentially, I followed the runner’s plan in some ways, and completely disregarded it in others.

Despite all that, I will run the NYRR NYC 60k, my first ultra marathon, tomorrow! I first found the 60k around the time I was accepted in the lottery for the NYC Marathon. At that time I was reading Born to Run and all amped up about ultra marathons. I kept it in the back of my head throughout the year, and decided to add it to my schedule over the summer.

While I was injured and on crutches in April, May, and part of June, I doubted whether I could train for this race on only four months of training (July-October), with July being a slow return to running. After reading numerous recaps of the race, however, and realizing that many people ran and finished it after the NYC Marathon on marathon training only, and reading further that people training for a 50k often train based on a marathon training plan, I realized that I could enter the race on my limited training and treat it as an opportunity to learn about ultra running.

And here we are.

The race follows a very straightforward course in Central Park:

  • Beginning at Engineer’s Gate (90th Street and Fifth Avenue), run a 5.2-mile lower loop of the Park (no Harlem Hill)
  • Upon returning to Engineer’s Gate, run eight inner loops (four miles each)
  • Collapse, arise victorious, eat all the food known to man, collapse from insulin shock, arise beaten but not broken

The race also carries limited fanfare: no professional photographers, no live tracking (the race is manually scored by an NYRR worker checking off how many loops you’ve run whenever you cross the starting line), and a much more lax participation policy: anyone can hop in and run a loop or four with you. Friends, who wants to keep me company/sane?

Further, NYRR allows us runners to bring a clear plastic bag filled with liquids and foods of our choice, to be placed on a “nutrition table” at the starting line and filled with whatever food we want.

Sounds easy, right? You get your own food and all the friends you could ever want supporting you. Here’s what’s going to make this run a beast (besides the 37.2 mile aspect of it):

  • Nine cat hills. Yes, we get to run Cat Hill (3.3% gradient, .25 miles) nine times. As my friend Sam joked, “By the end, it’ll feel like Cat Mountain.” For real.
  • While Cat Hill complicates the east side of the Park, the cluster of three rolling hills that I call the lesser Harlem hills dominates the northwestern corner of the loops. None of these hills are particularly long or steep. However, the constant up and down could affect pacing. Because I’ve trained in Central Park on these hills many times, and in training I tend to run the hills slowly so as to keep my heart rate down, I think I have an advantage here, and will run as if training.
  • Nutrition nutrition nutrition. Having never run an ultra before, I have limited knowledge about how to fuel properly for the race. A friend told me to employ my marathon fueling strategy over the 37.2 miles, make sure to drink a lot of water, and to recognize that most people experience some kind of wall around miles 29-30. He recommended bringing a decarbonated Coke to slam back at this point in the race.
  • So, based on my marathon nutrition and my friend’s advice, here’s what I’m going to bring to the race:
    1. 10 GU gels with sodium and caffeine
    2. Smaller bags of pretzels for extra sodium and carbs (I’ve eaten them in training run before, and they don’t hurt my stomach)
    3. Extra water bottles
    4. Bananas
    5. One 20-ounce decarbonated Coke
    6. Faith, hope, and love

Even though I’m going into this race at less-than-top shape (you know, having run a marathon less than two weeks ago), I have two basic goals: 1) to finish; and 2) if possible, to break five hours (an 8:00/Mile pace gets you 4:57ish). I will try to settle into a rhythm and see how I feel around the marathon point. If I’m dying, I’m happy to adjust and focus on finishing. If I’m still going strong, giddyup.

Ultimately, though, the goal is to finish so that I can earn the right to wear this year’s race bling:

NYRR 60k

Awww yeahhh

And seriously, who wouldn’t want such a handsome belt buckle?

I might not sound like it, but I am PUMPED about this race. I’m currently trying to figure out if I want to run a 50-miler next year, so this race will help me sort out 2016’s running goals. It also seems like it’ll be fun to run with friends as I attempt to go farther than I’ve ever gone before. And also, why not? If 300 other folks (about how many who finished last year) are attempting something awesome less than a mile from my apartment, why would I stay in bed?

Happy running, everyone!