The Absentee Returns

I think I might be the worst blogger to run a running blog ever.

Seriously.

More than 5 months since my last post. I’ve failed, clearly.

However, be warned…this is a really long post.

First, let’s get caught up. I trained for and ran the Country Music Marathon in Nashville on April 25th. And nothing in that entire process or race was as I would have liked it to have been.

The training went okay, I suppose. The mental barriers were all there that I figured would show up – not wanting to drag my ass out of bed at 4am to go and run eleventy bajillion miles before breakfast and still have time to make the commute to work – but I’m actually really happy with how strong and consistent I was mentally. In the entire 16 week program, I missed just 3 training sessions, and they were through minor injury.

My training plan was aggressive. 5 mornings a week out on the pavement, mixing up speed work, hill work, marathon-pace practice, Yasso 800s, and the wonderful Long Slow Distances. I was also cross training upper body for 2 days each week. I really only ever had one rest day a week. So my body had to learn some things about me and I had to learn some things about my body. Fortunately (I think), that symbiotic learning relationship was mostly harmonious and generally successful. The midweek grind generally left me feeling strong for the weekend long distances, and the weekend long distances generally left me with a little more self-belief each week, such that when April 25th rolled around and it was time to actually run a race, it simply became a matter of one foot in front of another. Well, almost.

I’d run a half marathon in the middle of January – the Arizona Rock ‘n’ Roll half – and quickly decided it was one of my favourite races that I’d ever run. The course is scenic and varied (no crazy inclines or declines, but enough variance that it doesn’t get boring), and I ran it with a friend and at a very leisurely pace, which made it even more enjoyable. I got the distinct impression that it’s the kind of course that I could possibly PR my half marathon time on if I really applied the right mentality and training…a possibility for 2016 perhaps. It kick-started my long distances, though, and that was the general idea behind running it.

I was fortunate enough that another friend of mine, who is also a runner, was midway through training for the LA Marathon. After a few weeks, our long slow distances began to collide and we ran several of them together. Company makes all the difference when 18 miles looms on a Saturday morning.

And so to the marathon itself. Poor weather had threatened to ruin the entire experience for me. The forecast had led me to believe that I’d have a perfect 65 degrees and clouds the day before and the day after, but 86 degrees with heavy rain and thunder on race day. Joy of joys, right? When I ran the half marathon there back in 2013, the temperatures dropped in to the 50s and it was torrential rain for the entire race. A great memory, but an extremely uncomfortable race. However, Nashville being Nashville, and forecasts being what they are, none of that actually came to pass. Race morning was overcast, about 65 degrees, and dry. But humid as hell. And as the morning warmed up, it became problematic.

I had trained to run a 4 hour marathon, which meant maintaining about a 9 minute pace, and I did so relatively successfully for 15 miles. And then it all fell apart. Why? The hills. Oh god, the hills.

The thing about living in Southern California is that there’s no really effective way to train for 26.2 miles of hills – and I mean 26.2 miles of hills; there was little to no flat parts of the course (I’ll get to that) – other than perhaps a 6 mile hill repeat out and back that’s close by. So my long slow distances were executed on relatively flat beach-path routes that allowed me to run for 11 miles in one direction before turning around. That was great for building up the distance and the stamina, but not so great for building up the endurance needed to run an extremely hilly course. The result was that around mile 15 I began tapping out. The humidity and the first signs of heat were dehydrating me, my breathing started to suffer, and my right quad began cramping. Ergo, I had to slow down. And what had been planned to be a 4-hour marathon ended up being a 4 hour, 39 minute, and 46 second marathon.

And so this is what I wanted to get to: My choice of race didn’t match my choice in expectation. For some reason, my memories of the 2013 half marathon omitted the constant changes in elevation, and because they are rolling and proximate, the elevation chart that Competitor Group published didn’t really represent the severity of it. It’s a mistake I will try to not make again.

Emotionally, I was down. Yes, I finished. Yes, it was awesome. Yes, I’m glad I did it. But I was disappointed that the way I had worked for it for 16 weeks didn’t give me the result I wanted. It took me a good week to properly get over it, but I had a great time in Nashville, seeing old friends, and making new friends.

And so I sit here today, with my eyes beginning to turn to my next marathon; The Moose’s Tooth Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, on August 16th. I’m changing my training routine and plan for this one. I have no desires or aims to PR, because the course is far too picturesque and I’m likely to want to stop and take pictures along the way. So I’ll train to run one day less per week, and add in additional core and upper body work. And that all begins on Monday May 25th. My long slow distance that weekend is set to be 11 miles, but instead I’m going to run the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll half, in much the same way as I did Arizona, and gauge where my fitness and endurance lies.

After 16 weeks of hard work, 1 full marathon, and 3 weeks of rest since the finish line, I’m ready to hit the pavement again. And I promise I’ll try and blog more along the way!

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The First

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I didn’t get nearly enough sleep for me to be enthusiastic when my alarm sounded at 5:30am this morning, but, nevertheless, I dragged my over-baconed, over-beered ass out of bed, laced up, and got out for the first run of my marathon training. On the agenda today was an easy-pace 3 miles. I skipped my weigh-in; that’s not a number I can deal with right now.

By the time I finished, my enthusiasm had at least piqued. The sun was just about rising when I set off, the air was cool, and there was nobody else about. These are my typical perfect running conditions, so it all conspired to give me an enjoyable run.

Since it had been so long since any focused effort, I did some extended stretching before heading out, and I’m glad I did. With a new pair of shoes still to break in, my step is slightly off, and the stretching helped me feel like I had a bit more flexibility in my downstep, even if it was just all in my head.

The hardest thing for me with an “easy” run like this is running slow. At my natural pace, I want to run at about an 8 minute mile on a distance like this, but I know that to get to where I need to be to PR my marathon time in Nashville, these easy runs need to be a minute or two slower per mile than my goal marathon pace. Keeping the cadence slow enough for a 10m00s to 10m30s per mile is a challenge that requires some mental focus for me, at least for now until it starts to feel natural. With enough focus, I ended up with the average right where it should be.

My next run is tomorrow morning; 5 miles slow with hills. The only problem is that I live somewhere terribly flat, so I’m going to need to seek out those hills. Either way, after this first one, I can’t wait to get out and run again tomorrow.

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It Begins

Well here we are, then. 2015, at last. 2014’s accomplishments might as well be ancient history now; this year I’m on to bigger things.

I have 2 more days in my mandatory 1-month rest period. I’ve loved it and hated it. It’s been nice to be sleeping in, eating pretty much whatever I like and not having to consider the quantity of beer I’ve been drinking (beyond general responsibility, of course). But it’s also been mentally challenging feeling like I’m physiologically lethargic and not having an energy outlet.

Which is why I’m going to cheat. Just a little. My training officially starts on Monday with 3 easy miles. But…fuck it…I’m gonna put a couple of miles in tomorrow anyway.

Happy New Year!

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Nice Recovery

The more I begin thinking about, planning, and preparing for my races next year, one thing has become obvious: I suck at recovery.

What I mean is that I haven’t really paid much attention to it. That in and of itself makes this year’s feat of strength a minor miracle, but also goes a long way to explaining why I feel so beat up and why the San Antonio race really did a number on my calves, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Other than extended stretching after a race, I really didn’t do anything to aid recovery.

Looking at next year’s ambitions, it’s very clear to me that I’m going to need to address this. 16 weeks of the most intense training I’ve ever done, plus a really important post-race recovery period, it’s vital that I do whatever I can to facilitate my body’s recovery during training and after each race.

One thing I’m looking at is compression wear. Having talked with a few runners who use them, thigh and calf compression sleeves seems to be the predominant recommendation to aid in leg muscle recovery, and that seems as a good a place to start as any. I’ll be trying out some sleeves from 2XU early in my training and will post my experience with them here.

Another thing I’ll introduce in to my routine is the use of a rumble roller. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this, with some people dismissing them as useless, and others swearing by them as muscle magic. I’ll find out for myself.

What other recovery techniques do you use? Have you found one things particularly effective? What about techniques that you’ve tried and found ineffective?

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Close The Gait

Realizing that I need to replace my deeply worn out 2014 running shoes before I start training for next year, I had a my gait analyzed today before I drop any dough on new running shoes.

For those of you unaware of what a gait analysis is, it’s a process whereby your running step is filmed with a high speed camera while you run on a treadmill. When played back in slow motion, qualified analysts can determine how your take-off and landing is relative to your arch and step, and recommend an appropriate running shoe.

I had my first gait analysis done about 4 years ago, right after experiencing my first (and, so far, only) case of runner’s knee. I’d not been running for that long and was a complete noob when it came to appropriate footwear and running apparel. After talking my runner’s knee issue over with an ultra-marathon running friend of mine, he suggested getting my gait analyzed to see if my step needed correcting. And, lo and behold, he was right. I was over-pronating (meaning I was landing heavily on the inside of my feet) and it was causing impact stress on my knees. I was running in completely the wrong type of running shoe for an over-pronator, hence the steadily-worsening runner’s knee.

After that first gait analysis, the experts at the facility set me up with the right kind of stability running shoe and some custom molded orthotic inserts. My runner’s knee went away overnight (literally overnight – I ran 3 miles pain free the very next morning), and I’ve been pain free ever since.

With all the miles I’ve run this year, I figured it was time to replace the worn out kicks that have carried me over a dozen or so finish lines this year. I’ve been running in Nike LunarGlide 5’s for the last 18 months, and they’ve been great. However, since my plans for 2015 are quite challenging and ambitious, and it is vital that I remain injury free, I figured I should do the diligent thing and get a new gait analysis and see what’s up.

Oh boy am I glad that I did.

It turns out that, by the miracle of muscle memory, corrective orthotics, and literally thousands of miles run since my last gait analysis, my pronation has corrected. I now have a completely neutral step. No wavering left. No wavering right. I’m right in the middle, step after step, at all imaginable paces. And this please me.

This pleases me not because it means I don’t have to correct my step or because I’m like “fuck yeah! My legs did some science!”. No, this pleases me because it means lighter weight, wide ranged footwear for next year’s races. Even just a few ounces lighter makes all the difference after a dozen or so miles. After twice that, even featherweight shoes can feel like blocks of cast iron, so I am very joyful that I can now choose shoes that will feel like little fluffy clouds at the end of my legs.

I’ve officially broken up with Nike LunarGlide 5, and I’m in a committed and serious relationship with Asics GEL-Nimbus 16. Asics and I have places to be, miles to run, and finish lines to cross. Bring it on, 2015.

PS – My race schedule for 2015 is up here.

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2014

Running 2014, by the numbers:

  • Number of miles traveled to races: 29,263
  • Number of total miles run: 744.1
  • Number of race miles run: 157.2
  • Number of half marathons finished: 12

In Huntington Beach, San Francisco, Portland, Liverpool, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Jose, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Antonio, I met some of the most incredible people I’ll ever meet, ran alongside people who inspired and encouraged me, and saw sights that will stay with me forever.

My mum once said that to get something I’ve never had, I’d have to do something I’ve never done, and to get the best perspective on it would be to step back and see the bigger picture. When I think of all the effort, social support, good health, physical ability, training, time, money, etc. that went in to just getting to a race, I realize that stepping up to the start line was and always will be the real victory. A good result is just the icing on the cake.

It’s now two days after my 12th and final half marathon of the year, and I’m still sore. It’s time for me to listen to my body and rest up. But my mind is already on next year and the 3 full marathons that I wish to run. Training begins at the beginning of January and will be the most ambitious yet. I’ll share details later this month about my intended races for 2015 and how I will train for them. It is going to be challenging and intense just like this year, but in a different way. In some ways, it will be even harder. However, that determination is already coming back to me. And just as before, to get something I’ve never had, I’m going to have to do something I’ve never done.

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San Antonio: The Day Of

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Subtitle: “How James Cried When He Crossed The Finish Line And Not Because Of Cramp”

I knew I’d feel something, but I didn’t expect this.

I guess the beginning of the morning is as good a place to start as any. After walking to the start line with a group from my hotel, I quickly found my corral and warmed up. I was wearing my ‘Rock Idol’ bib on my back, and so many people were congratulating me and saying nice things, including some RnR Hall of Fame-ers. All I could think was “wait a minute, I haven’t finished yet.”

The race itself was…well, it just was. It was neither good nor bad. I think the fatigue has properly set in. I hit a wall at mile 6 which I pushed through quite quickly, and again right before the 12 mile marker, and that seemed to stay until the finish line. This comes with the territory. After running as many races as I have, I expect to hit walls, and today was no exception.

What I didn’t expect is my reaction when I saw the finish line. I hope the cameras didn’t catch it, but when I stepped over that final marker, the tears did flow. I’m not sure why – elation, relief, unbelief, belief, joy, sadness, perhaps all of the above – and the girl who handed my medal gave me a hug (as sweaty and gross as I was).

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It’s the nature of revelations, I suppose, to come at unexpected times and in unexpected places. Walking back to my hotel gave me 20 minutes or so to ponder the last 12 months. I’ve laughed. I’ve lived. I’ve seen places I never thought I’d ever see. I’ve met some of the most amazing people. I’ve hurt. I’ve doubted. I’ve feared. I’ve overcome. I’ve persisted. And most of all, I’ve won.

No, I haven’t won a half marathon – that’s just silly – but I’ve won my challenge. I’ve learned an incredible amount about myself this year; what I’m capable of when I set my heart and mind to it, and how the thing that once seemed impossible can certainly become possible. That makes me a winner.

I’m not sure where to go with this. I’m sure I’ll have more to say. But for now, I’m just content in concluding that I’ve done what I set out to do. I have run 12 half marathons in 12 months. And what a race to end it.

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