Spring Marathon Training Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed

NOTE: This post is part 3 in a series about my spring marathon training. Click here to see Post 1, and here for Post 2.

Lydiard Hill Springing

These guys look really cool “springing” up that hill, right?

This post will introduce Phase 2 of my Arthur-Lydiard-inspired spring marathon training plan, hill work and leg speed, and describe the first of three critical workouts to be performed during this phase: hill “springing.”

In my previous post, I discussed the first phase of my training plan: aerobic base training. That post condensed tons of information into approximately 2,200 words of dense and somewhat difficult reading. If I could rewrite that post, I would split the information into three separate posts. So, before proceeding, I am going to summarize Phase 1, and why it’s necessary before embarking on the other phases of the training plan.

A Quick Review of Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training

Aerobic base training is the most important part of any training plan because aerobic fitness (the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently to convert fat and glycogen into energy) is the number one factor in determining how well a runner will race on any given day. A runner develops aerobic fitness by training at an “aerobic pace,” loosely defined as running at a pace that leaves the runner “pleasantly tired,” or, in more mathematical terms, at a pace at or below approximately 75% of the runner’s maximum heart rate. During this phase, the runner should also perform strides (hard 100 meter efforts at the end of runs followed by extended recovery jogs), tempo runs below lactate threshold, and some easy fartleks. The runner should do at least three long runs per week (two runs about 1.5 hours, one run of 2+ hours) at an aerobic pace. A plan that incorporates only these types of runs—and leaves the anaerobic training for later—will allow a runner to develop a large aerobic base, which will facilitate anaerobic training later in the training cycle.

Importantly, the aerobic base training phase should last as long as possible. Why? Anaerobic development is limited: that is, a runner can only develop his anaerobic capacity so much. On the other hand, a runner’s capacity for aerobic development is virtually unlimited, and the more developed the aerobic system, the larger the capacity for anaerobic development. So, the longer the aerobic base training phase can last, the better.

Great! So, you’ve completed Phase 1 and built an aerobic base. What next?

Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed—Preparing the Body for Anaerobic Development

Lydiard suggests a four-week training period focused on developing leg strength and speed. We’ll call this Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed. The purpose of Phase 2 is twofold: 1) to develop muscle fibers in the legs and to improve leg speed; and 2) to prepare the body for the hard anaerobic workouts that will follow in Phases 3 and 4. Here’s how it shakes out.

This phase contains three critical workouts: 1) the 1-hour hill “springing” workout; 2) the leg speed workout; and 3) the 2+ hour long run performed at an aerobic pace. I’ll start by discussing the hill “springing” workout.

The Hill “Springing” Workout

You should perform the hill “springing” workout on a hill that is between 200-300 meters long and approximately 3-4% grade, with a flat area at the top and approximately 200-400 meters of flat area at the bottom. For you New Yorkers, Cat Hill in Central Park is perfect for this workout.

Here’s the workout in eight easy steps, and the reasoning behind each step:

  • Warm up for about 15 minutes with some easy running (I jog about a mile and a half from my apartment to Cat Hill)
    • Why? You warm up to prevent injury. The warmup loosens the muscles and prepares them for a hard effort.
  • Begin the workout by “springing” up the hill. If you don’t know what “springing” is (I didn’t before developing this training plan), check out the first minute and then 1:30 to the end of this video:

When “springing,” keep the hips forward. Because looking down tends to thrust the hips backward, keep your eyes focused straight ahead. Your upper body should remain relaxed. The slower your forward momentum, the more resistance you create for your legs.

Why “springing?” Because it helps to develop speed. “Springing” builds and stretches the leg’s muscles and tendons similar to how they stretch during racing, which adds flexibility and speed. It also develops strong and flexible ankles, allowing a runner to increase his stride length and leading to greater speed. In addition, by training oneself to run with the hips comfortably forward, a runner can bring his knees higher while running, allowing the feet to follow through higher and, therefore, creating a faster leg action.

It’s possible that you won’t be able to “spring” all the way up the hill. That’s fine. If you can’t get to the top, just jog the rest of the way.

  • Once at the top of the hill, jog easily for 3 minutes.
    • Why? Two main reasons. First, “springing” is an intense exercise, so a short rest between each repetition keeps the body from getting overloaded. Second, too much at once could potentially convert the workout into a hard anaerobic effort, which we distinctly do not want to do. And, as a bonus third reason, easy jogging within the repetitions aids in aerobic development, which, as we’ve discussed, is always a good idea.
  • After jogging at the top of the hill for three minutes, run down the hill with a fast, relaxed striding motion.
    • Why? Two main reasons. First, strides allow us to develop speed and strength. Second, downhill running allows us to practice running with a naturally elongated stride. As mentioned above, a longer stride leads to greater speed.
  • Repeat the hill reps described in steps 2-4 (springing up the hill, jogging at the top, and striding down) for about 15 minutes. For me, this equals about 3 circuits.
    • Why? Think of it like weightlifting with a cardio element: you’re pushing your body to get stronger while simultaneously strengthening your muscles and increasing your leg speed. In other words, you are accomplishing three critical tasks with one workout. Pretty neat!
  • After  about 15 minutes, perform a few wind sprints (running hard followed by jogging) at the base of hill. You choose how many, and for how long (for example, I have been doing 2 x 100m with short recovery jogs)
    • Why? The other point of this exercise is to prepare the body for the anaerobic workouts in phases 3 and 4. By performing wind sprints every 15 minutes, and by only performing a limited number of them, we train our bodies to respond to faster movements, but keep the volume low enough so as not to create a hard anaerobic workout.
  • After completing the wind sprints, repeat the whole circuit described in steps 2-6 (hill reps plus wind sprints) until you have been working out for approximately an hour.
    • NOTE: If you cannot complete an hour-long workout, do however much of the hour that you can.
  • Cool down for 15 minutes.

Ideally, you would perform this workout three days a week, every other day, during Phase 2. On the days in between you would perform a leg speed workout. On the seventh day you would run a 2+ hour run at an aerobic pace.

In my next post, I will discuss the other two workouts critical to Phase 2: the leg speed workout, and the 2+ hour long run at an aerobic pace.

Happy running, everyone!

 

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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!

 

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!

So Much To Catch Up On!

Wow. Sometimes you live your life and realize that it’s been DAYS since you last updated your blog. So, let’s do it! Four days of marathon training, condensed into one post.

10/15/2015: Morning Run, 6.2 Miles

After November Project NYC’s intense Wednesday session, Thursday morning’s run felt like a welcome return to form. Straightforward loop of Central Park. Not much to report. I also hit the gym at lunch to do some core and stretching work.

10/16/2015: Morning Run, 8 Miles

As this past week was my final week of high mileage before the marathon, I wanted to get in at least one additional long run before my final 22-miler. I really wanted to run 9, but the extra ten minutes I spent in bed before the run prevented that. No big deal. The weekend mileage more than made up for that one missed mile.

Later on this day, my girlfriend and I hosted a horror movie marathon for some friends. We curated a list of meta horror films, including “Scream,” “Murder Party,” “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil,” and “The Cabin in the Woods.” We scheduled five films in total (the fifth film, “Return of the Living Dead,” is not meta horror but amazing nonetheless) and, while we only made it through three, I applaud our friends for sticking around into the wee hours. In fact, both Melissa and I were shocked that anyone RSVP’d yes at all! We will have to do this again.

Scream the Movie

10/17/2015: Morning Workout: 180 Pushups, 180 Situps, 56 Burpees; Afternoon Run, 5.2 Miles

November Project NYC’s Friday workout involved no running. Instead, the Tribe performed 180 pushups, 180 situps, and 56 burpees. Ouch! When I saw that workout posted on Facebook, I thought, “Damn, I have to do that because #solidarity.”

This was a tough workout. It took me about half an hour to complete all the moves. I started by breaking it down into manageable chunks: sets of 20 pushups, 20 situps, and 6 burpees. After doing five sets like this, I changed the set to 10 pushups, 10 situps, 6 burpees, 10 situps, and 10 pushups. I picked a spot of grass near the 72nd Street entrance to Central Park, and people took pictures of me, cheered me on, laughed at me, and stared awkwardly. Sounds about right for NYC!

After depleting most of my glycogen, I ran 5.2 miles through the Park. This was a surprisingly good run on a gorgeous day, although it took me about 20 minutes to find a rhythm.

Later that evening, Melissa and I went to our friends’ CBGB’s-themed murder mystery party. My character was based on Billy Idol, so I spray-dyed my hair platinum blonde, painted my nails black, and wore tight pants and Doc Marten’s. Melissa was a Cyndi Lauper wannabe, so she wore lots of bright colors and turned her hair pink. I got so excited about the evening that I actually wrote the song that my character wrote based on his bio. Such a fun evening! We’re thinking about doing one of these mystery parties at our place. Just need a theme . . .

Murder Mystery Party

Melissa and Jim, a/k/a Anna Filaxis and Byeezus Idolatrus

10/18/2015: Morning Run, 22 Miles: The Hardest Run of the Training Season

So, not surprisingly, I only slept about six hours each night. I also failed to pick up GU packs for my long run. No worries, I thought as I threw on my running shorts on Sunday morning. I’ll replace the GU with a sandwich bag filled with candy corn! I also skimped on pre-run nutrition, eating only Greek yogurt and a spoonful of peanut butter before the run.

Because I’m running the NYRR 60k two weeks after the marathon, I wanted to use this run as both a final long run and a training session for that race.  For the marathon, I wanted to perform a training run that lasted about as long as I anticipate being on the marathon course. Dr. Maffetone talks about the benefits of this in his book The Big Book of Endurance Training, and other anecdotal evidence from friends who have run marathons supported this theory. So, as my goal time for the marathon is 2:55, I thought that 22 miles at my maximum aerobic heart rate pace of 7:45-8 minutes/mile would do the trick.

For the 60k, I wanted to preview the course, which involves a 5.2 mile loop of the Park plus eight 4-mile inner loops of the Park (72nd Street transverse to 102nd Street transverse). So, I figured that I’d run a 5.2 mile loop and four 4-mile loops to get to 21, and then finish it off with another mile. I thought it would be a good idea to get a sense of what it’s like to run Cat Hill five times.

A few things went wrong almost immediately out the door. First, the weather had dropped 10 degrees from the previous day, so I wore gloves for the first time this year. This made it more difficult to check my heart rate monitor during the run. Second, the annual breast cancer awareness walk happened to be that morning, so the Central Park loop was completely mobbed, despite the fact that the walk was supposed to be confined to a lane the size of an NYRR race. This made it difficult to get to water fountains and to maintain a steady pace. I had to duck through groups constantly, and wound up running on the grass every couple of minutes. Third, because of the crowds, I drank much less water than usual (once every four miles as opposed to once every two). And finally, candy corn, a/k/a pure high fructose corn syrup and food dye, provided no energy boost.

So, by mile 21, my legs were screaming. A combination of frustration at the crowds plus poor nutrition and water intake plus OK-but-not-great sleep plus the new angle of not being able to check my heart rate constantly added challenges to the run. It took a lot of willpower to fight through that final mile. I ran slightly harder than I wanted to as well, ending up with a 7:34 minute/mile pace (which included a jogged first mile). Maybe worse was the hardcore sugar craving I had after the run, which lasted most of the day and involved some sodas, Halloween candy, a mocha frappuccino, and a milkshake. That’s how you nail your pre-marathon nutrition plan!

While I was disappointed in how I performed on this run, I am so glad that it happened now and not on November 1. It just reinforces things I already know: 1) sleep properly; 2) relax in the crowds; 3) eat and drink properly; and 4) when you perform poorly, your body gets out of whack, which inspires additional poor nutrition choices. I’m probably being too hard on myself, but hey!  want to rock the marathon.

Here are the route and mile splits from the run. That last mile was a real pain.

Central Park Run22 Mile Run Splits

I finished up Sunday watching the Rangers lose to the Devils with my friend Sam at MSG. We talked all things training and marathon and Rangers hockey as my legs recovered, and my emerging favorite player Oscar Lindberg notched his fifth point in six games as a rookie. As Sam said, no one has told Lindy that he’s not supposed to be this good yet, and that’s a good thing. I then got dinner with my friend Nick, who is back in NYC from San Francisco.

New York Rangers Oscar Lindberg

LGR!

All in all, a good training bloc, and an even better bloc of fun and good times with good people. It’s taper time, so I’m envisioning about 20 miles this week plus lots of time in the gym to stretch and do core work.

NYC Marathon in less than two weeks!

Happy running, everyone!

Race Preview: The Staten Island Half Marathon, October 11, 2015

Staten Island Half Marathon

Staten Island Half Marathon Banner (repost from nyrr.org)

In two days I’ll run the Staten Island Half Marathon for the second time. Last year’s Half was my first half marathon, and I finished in 1:44:42 (8:00/mile pace). I then ran the Fred Lebow Half Marathon in Central Park in January at a 7:22/mile pace, finishing in 1:36. Due to my injury, I was unable to run the Brooklyn Half this spring, but ran a 1:29:36 while training (6:50/mile pace).

After my strong finish at the Bronx 10-Mile two weeks ago (1:00:20, 6:02/mile pace), I am confident that I can PR. While I am targeting a 1:20 time (6:06/mile pace), I’ll be happy to finish the race with a strong effort. This race is just a chance to gauge my estimated finish time for the NYC Marathon.

How can we put forth a strong effort on the windy, deceptively hilly course? Let’s go through our race prep analysis:

Know Your Race: As discussed above, I’m going to attempt to average a 6:06/mile pace if I’m feeling strong out there. I will likely start off around a 6:15/mile pace, run harder than usual in the middle flat section of the course, relax around mile 10 (see the Know Your Course section), and then run hard the last 5k.

Know Your Course: The course is an out-and-back finishing at home plate of the Staten Island Yankees’ stadium. Last year’s course (this year’s is slightly different) consisted of 3-4 opening miles flowing through a series of small hills, similar to the first three miles of this year’s Bronx 10-Mile. I’ll take a lot of deep breaths and let other runners charge past me on the uphills, and smile as I surge past them on the downhills. I want to save my quads for the later half of the race.

Miles 4-9 include a long downhill and then 4.5ish miles of out-and-back flat running. As indicated above, I want to push the pace through this section to make up any time I might have lost on the initial hilly section, and any time I might lose on the following hilly section. Other runners recall a strong headwind on the return section of this run (miles 7-9), but I don’t remember the wind. The goal here is to average 6:00/mile or faster.

Mile 10: This mile killed last year’s dreams of finishing under 1:40. Mile 10 starts with .7 miles of uphill at an average 3.3% gradient, the same gradient as Cat Hill in Central Park but twice as long. Last year I completely underestimated the toll this hill would take on my quads, running hard up the hill to maintain my 7:40/mile pace and being unable to maintain anything close to that after the hill. This year I plan to give the hill a moderate push, preserving my legs for the final 5k. Even if I run mile 10 at a 7:00/mile pace, as long as I can push hard the last 5k, I’ll be happy with my effort.

The last 5k: As hard as I can go. This part of the course is different from last year, and seems to have some hills. At this point in the race, hills become opportunities to accelerate, not hold back. The final half mile is mostly downhill, which culminates in a steep descent into the stadium. That will be a good feeling.

Be Willing to Adjust: The course might be windier than I remember. If so, I might have to adjust my overall pace expectations. My legs have recovered from the Bronx 10-Mile, but I still have the remnants of a cold. If I’m still slightly sick during the race, I might have to adjust expectations. If I’m not careful and run the hill at mile 10 too hard, I cannot get mad at myself for “ruining” the race. I have to maintain positive thoughts and fight through any physical pain that arises.

Nutrition: The positive eating has already begun! Breakfast today included two slices of sourdough bread with some peanut butter, and a protein shake made with 2% milk. Snacks will include cashews, and lunch will be ramen with egg and baked chicken. Not sure about dinner yet, but tomorrow will feature Greek yogurt, more eggs, more salad, and probably some rice with chicken and vegetables for dinner.

During the race, I plan to have a gel right before the start, one around mile 5, and one around mile 10, with water right after each gel. I’ll use this as an opportunity to practice marathon fueling without the fear of bonking.

Woot! I’m excited, although for reasons unclear to me I feel less confident about this race than I did for the Bronx. It might have to do with putting forth another hard effort; it might just be the slight cold talking. It’s just a feeling, though, so I am going to work on replacing it with a feeling of confidence. That’s one of the great revelations of my adult life: feelings are not facts! Relentless forward motion.

Good luck to everyone running the Chicago Marathon this weekend!

A special shout out and good luck to my cousin, Kristen, who is running her first marathon in Hartford this weekend!

And to everyone, happy running!

10/7/2015: Morning Run: November Project PR DAY YAYAYAYAY!

Yesterday’s Training

I hit the gym and did my leg day routine, which consists of: 1) leg press; 2) abduction machine; 3) adduction machine; 4) glute press; 5) hamstring curls; and 6) squats, usually with a kettle bell pressed to my chest. I also stretched a bunch, and then I ran 6.2 miles after work. Leg day always falls on a running day, but as I’ve been doing it this way for a couple months, my body is used to it.

November Project NYC PR Day

Of course, PR day doesn’t always fall on the day after leg day plus run day, but no matter! When it comes to NP_NYC, you #justshowup and hit the workout hard. I knew that this would be my second to last high intensity run before the NYC Marathon (the other being the Staten Island Half coming up on Sunday!), so I planned to give it my best effort. My first run on the course on last month’s PR day netted me a 22:34. I was hoping to break 21:00 this time.

A quick explainer: The first Wednesday of each month is NP_NYC’s PR day. We run eight loops of a course in Carl Schurz Park on the east side, which makes for a 3.5ish mile run. The goal is to improve every month and earn a PR. Very straightforward. The course itself is mostly flat except for two sets of stairs at the end of each loop. As I’ve discovered both times I’ve run the course, the stairs really slow the run down.

NP_NYC had a surprise for us this PR day: Strava had helped the group create a race within their app, so we could track our individual and team results by logging the run with the Strava app. I dislike running with my phone strapped to my arm, but went for it anyway. I thought it would be cool to see everyone’s results.

After Lew got us going with the bounce, we lined up and John started the timer. Boom! We were off.

I ran the first two loops with Myles, a strong runner who unofficially manages NP_NYC’s NYRR running team efforts. Myles and I tried to make small talk, but I was in the zone pushing hard and not exactly capable of continuing a conversation. Myles pushed the pace after the second loop, and I ran the rest of the way by myself.

I view this run as a great example of my mindset during most races. First, I charge out of the gate, ready to conquer everything and everyone. After a couple of laps, I settle into a groove, and usually slow my pace down. Once I sense the end is near (in this case, the last two laps) I pick up the pace again and fight hard to the finish. This mirrored my efforts from this morning, except that I pushed so hard during the first three or four laps that I had trouble finding that extra push in the last two laps. My legs screamed and I had to fight through some negative thoughts to keep on moving.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 21:07 (John said 21:02 when I crossed, but Strava tells me 21:07, so I’ll go with that). Not quite my goal, but damn close and a solid effort overall. At the end of the day, whether I meet the goal or not isn’t the most important part. I felt great because I gave the run a strong effort, and remembered that no matter how much I’ve improved over the past few months, I can still get better.

November Project NYC

We keep improving one step at a time. Woohoo!

I hung out and cheered on the rest of the Tribe, all of whom were crushing the course. My sister ran what I think were her fastest mile splits ever, which was great. I ran with her for her final lap and was pleasantly surprised when she picked up the pace toward the end and pushed me to run faster. Good work, Katie!

As always, I love NP_NYC and fully support any and all friends coming out. You just have to show up and give it your best effort. No judgment!

Tomorrow’s Workout

Tomorrow I’ll run 10 miles at an easy maximum aerobic heart rate pace. Friday is a day off, and Saturday I’ll run two miles in anticipation of the Staten Island Half on Sunday! We’re so close to the marathon now. So pumped.

Happy running, everyone!