A Tale of Two Races

In my last post I talked about the OC Combo Crush that was about to follow. Now, just a couple of days from my next race, seems like a reasonable time to talk about the past.

The OC 5k

This was nothing more than an add-on race for me. Another bib and medal to add to the collection, and since I would typically run 2 or 3 miles a day or two before a half marathon, I figured ‘why not?’. The previous weekend I’d done a kind of simulation, running 2 miles at 5pm on the Saturday and then 10 miles starting at 6am on Sunday. Both felt great, so I was pretty sure that a 5k just 12 hours before a half marathon wouldn’t be much of a bother.

And it wasn’t, really. I did my best to keep my pace slow and low, using it as nothing more than a stretch and a warm up. The course was pretty unexciting; exiting the Costa Mesa fairgrounds to the north, in and around Orange Coast College Campus, and then back through the fairgrounds. Nothing exciting, and nothing terrible, but it narrowed horribly in places and there were one or two douchenozzles who were overly aggressive in passing people, with some pushing and shouting happening. One was complaining about not being able to PR, but this isn’t a PR type course.

Missy ran this one two, and set her own PR, though. That’s quite an accomplishment, since she’s recently struggled with shin splints and has been working hard on being able to run with minimal walk intervals.

Medals in hand, we grabbed our complimentary beer, and I justified it as carbing up for the next morning’s half marathon.

The OC Half Marathon

You know when you’re super excited about something, and you have this idea in your head about how it’s going to go, and then when the occasion rolls around it’s not quite how you thought it would be? Welcome to my OC half marathon.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m super pleased with how I ran it and my overall time (1h 55m 41s), but there was nothing about the race that fit the ideals in my head.

To start with, let’s talk about the weather. This is Orange County, California. It barely rains here. It certainly never rains in May. At worst, it might be overcast and a tad chilly. And so you can probably imagine where my head was as Missy and I were sat in my car at the parking lot near the starting corrals as the rain got heavier and heavier and heavier. This wasn’t the race I wanted. But I kept thinking back to Nashville 2013, when I ran a half marathon that involved torrential rain beginning as I crossed the start line and ended when I crossed the finish line. I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat, so I figured that this crazy OC weather was just another reason to prove to me and anyone else who cares that I can defeat such elements.

It meant, of course, that my non-waterproof headphones would have to stay in the car…cool, 2 hours of running with no music or audiobook…and the hoodie I was wearing would now become a throw-away hoodie…cool, I didn’t even like this amazing Hobgoblin hoodie anyway. So…fuck it. I’m running this fucking thing no matter what; I might as well have as good an attitude about it as I can.

I stayed in the car until the absolute last possible minute for me to make my start time. I was in corral 2, so I figured 10 minutes was about my minimum. I was right, but so was everybody else. When I got to the corral, already soaked to the bone, everyone else was trying to cram in to the corral as well. So I was more carried over the start line by a moving crowd more than taking broad confident strides as I hit start on my Garmin.

The first 1.5 miles of this course are a gradual incline. I used the time to find some space and find a pace, losing the hoodie after the first half a mile as I warmed up. After cresting that incline, it’s a fast downhill all the way to the ocean for about 3 miles. That felt good, right up until the rain turned to hail and I turned in to the wind. Of all the things I never thought I’d voluntarily take part in, being pelted in the face by jagged little ice balls in a pacific tradewind has got to be towards the top of the list.

The precipitation gradually fizzled out as I turned back inland at mile 6 and contended with the steepest hill of the course, topping out at Newport Back Bay’s overlook. That hill was a real grind. There was a lot of water still on the ground and so wide berths around corners was the safe take. By now, though, the dampness of everything I was wearing was taking a toll. I was wearing a sleeveless top, and the seam started to chafe my inner arm. There was a stone in my left shoe, and I had a blister forming on my right abductor. Around mile 9 I considered taking a short break to try and re-tie my shoes and sort myself out a bit, but by then I figured I could just power through the last 4 miles.

I shot Missy a quick text at mile 10…”At 10, 25 minutes out”, then turned on the gas. Turning at mile 12 for the last neighbourhood portion, there was a crazed, irate lady in her bathrobe yelling that she wanted her neighbourhood back and something about emergency vet access. I almost stopped to yell back, since only one side of the road was closed, but was too busy laughing with those around me.

The finish line appeared soon after, and I crossed with gas left in the tank. The weather was still pretty chilly, though, so I grabbed my medal and made a beeline for Missy, who had a fresh hoodie and a very eager dog who wanted to give out anxious little looks and the occasional lick. Most importantly, though, were the mimosas that Missy made back at the car. Now listen, and listen carefully. I’ve had my fair share of mimosas. I consider myself at least a tertiary expert and connoisseur of such matters. And I can say this with authority: Grapefruit and Brut Cava mimosas have never tasted better than they did at that moment. This needs to become my standard after-race tradition, henceforth.

I’d run this one again, most likely. I’d like to see what kind of time I could put in under better conditions, but the route around Corona Del Mar and up around Newport Back Bay is gorgeous, even under dark grey clouds. So who knows; maybe Combo Crush 2018 will be the re-run. But for now, on to this weekend; the inaugural Beach & Bay Half Marathon in San Diego.

Ciao for now!

Posted in #RnRNashville, 2017, 5k, fitness, half marathon, races, running | Leave a comment

Is this thing still on?

“Write a blog about running!”, I said. “Stick with it! “It’ll be fun!”, I said.

WRONG! (I’d insert a relevant Trump gif here, but I’m not about that life)

That said, I somehow remembered the other day that this blog existed. I’ve also had that itch to write again. And since I’m a week away from a race and have been training my arse off for it, I figured…what the f*ck, I’ll resurrect this sorry excuse for a turgid Internet presence and spew my intellectual diarrhea all over these pages once more.

You’re overdue a catch up on all things running in my life and by means of a Jedi mind trick, you’re now realizing that your life has been that much empty since my last post way back in 2015. Am I right? I thought so.

James-Notes Catch Up!

(That’s like Cliff-Notes, but my name isn’t Cliff)

After the Nashville marathon in 2015, I wrecked my left achilles and was forced to take a 3 month break, in which time I ate like a fat kid at Christmas and was unhappy. I didn’t run the Moose Tooth marathon in Alaska, but I did get my shit together in time to drag my slow arse over the finish line at the Twin Cities marathon that October and then trudged through the “Perfect 10” 10k in Huntington Beach.

2016 rolled around and I ran-walked the Bolder Boulder 10k (because there’s beer and donuts courtesy of the local sorority houses along the course and I can’t say no to either), ran some random end-of-summer 5k in Long Beach, then returned to Huntington Beach and the 10-miler version of the “Perfect 10”.

Another thing that happened in 2016 is that I put on about 20lbs because I started dating Missy and it was long distance for a while and so weekends together were spent indulging in fine Coloradan beer and foodstuffs.

I think that’s all the blog-relevant catch up you need to know that 2017 needed to be a return to normal. Lose the weight. Gain the pace. Finish the distance. So I registered for the OC Marathon, to be ran next weekend, on May 7th. Only I caught bronchitis after my 4th week of training and it set me back 3 weeks. Karma, gimme a goddamn break, will you?

With the bronchitis scuppering my full marathon training, I downgraded to the OC Combo Crush – a 5k on Saturday, and a half marathon on Sunday. And I gotta say…I’ve been *nailing* the training. I’m down a total of about 12lbs since Christmas, but have still been eating and drinking like it’s going out of fashion at least once a week, so I’ve detrimentally held myself back a bit, but I’m rocking a long distance average pace of about 8:45 min/mile, and have accidentally set a new 5k PR along the way.

And so next weekend. I’m pretty excited to be heading back to the start line of a half marathon. It’s been more than 2 years since I’ve run that distance, and I’m feeling really good about my approach and my readiness. Today was my last long run. I’ve got 2 x 4-milers midweek and 2 x rest days before then, so I’m going to enjoy this mini-taper week and prepare to run a course that I’ve basically been training on anyway.

After the OC Combo Crush, I’m also registered for a brand new race in San Diego; the Beach & Bay Half Marathon. It’s a couple of weeks after OC, so I’ll have time to recover and prepare, but I’m looking forward to a new race and new course.

I would say that I’ll post again sometime this week, but we all know what happens when I make that kind of commitment. So, for now at least…run on.

James ❤

Posted in 2016, 2017, half marathon, races, recovery, running, training | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in #RnRNashville, 2015, marathon, races, running, training | Leave a comment

The First

Untitled

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.

Posted in 2015, fitness, running, training | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in 2015, recovery, thejourney | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in fitness, recovery, running | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in fitness, races, running, thejourney | Leave a comment