Archive for June, 2010

Sunday long runs have been a part of my running and training for the better part of the last 4 years.  In a marathon training cycle my Sunday long runs increase from 10 miles in the early stages of training to a high of 20 miles three times in the final 8 weeks before race day.

When I am not in a training cycle and find myself “between marathons” my Sunday Long runs alternate between 8, 10 and 12 miles.  Long runs which are the cornerstone of marathon training programs also help middle distance runners looking to improve at the 5K or 10K distance.

Running long provides a lot of great benefits:

  • Strengthens the heart – larger stroke volume.
  • Strengthens the leg muscles – endurance is developed.
  • Mind Work – mental toughness and coping skills are developed.
  • Develops fat burning capacity
  • Increases number and size of mitochondria
  • Increases capillary growth into muscle fibers.
  • Increases aerobic efficiency.
  • Increase in Maximum VO2.
  • Over the past three weeks my training has been very “speed focused” with a lot of tempo runs, hill work and racing, including three 5K races in the last 19 days.  So Sunday was a great opportunity to work on my “coping skills” as our Austin temperature and humidity conspired for a heat index of 92 as I left the house at 6:00 a.m. 

    I find that pushing through those late miles on a long run helps my confidence as a runner.  I know that when I am tested and I have to “dig deep” during a key workout or a race that I will have something there.  It is the difference between thinking you can do something and “knowing” that you can.  For me that difference is huge.

    So why all the speed work for this “marathoner” lately?  Well we’ve carved out a stretch goal of securing a starting position in the sub 40:00 minute corral at the Cooper River Bridge Run on April 2, 2011.

    With close to 40,000 runners expected to participate in the 33rd running of the event – securing a spot in the first wave of runners behind the elite men and women is a goal worth chasing.  A race that started in 1978 with 340 runners is now the largest single day sporting event in the state of South Carolina and one of the largest 10 Kilometer races in the United States.

    Starting Line Cooper River Bridge Run

    Just as chasing that magical “Boston Time” in 2009 became a focus of my training – we are now setting our sights on reaching another time barrier at the tender age of 43.  There will be no “benefit” for having turned a year older as the cutoff is simple. 

    Sub 40:00 or everybody else.

    Fresh off a new PR of 19:28 at the 5K distance we clearly have some work to do if we hope to achieve our goal.  Over the next three months we will be spending a lot of time running hill repeats, track workouts, tempo runs and fartleks – all designed at getting prepared to turn in a 10K race at 6:26 pace.

    Sunday October 17th will provide us with the first chance to post an official sub 40:00 minute time at the IBM Uptown Classic here in Austin.  It is a race I have never run before – quite honestly it is a distance I have never raced before – as 5K Races are far more popular especially during the warm summer months here in Texas.

    A 6:26 pace for 6.2 miles today seems like a lot to ask from this marathoner, and it very well may be a goal that is a bit out of reach.  But that is what to me is so great about the sport of distance running. 

    The only one in my way is me.

    It is much too late to talk to Mom and Dad about the gifts they either did or did not bestow upon me at birth.  So all I can do now is work to improve, strengthen not only my body but my mind to push the limits of my abilities for 6.2 miles.

    By breakfast on October 17th we will know just how successful our training over these next 90 days truly was.  My hope is that pushing through this hot Austin summer will pay off large come Fall.

    Just as 7:37 became a number that I saw in my sleep in chasing my Boston Marathon Qualifying time – as it was the pace I needed to post over 26.2 miles to earn my way into the most storied Marathon in the world – 6:26 now has taken on new meaning.

    Conventional wisdom says that you add :15 seconds per mile to your 5K time and you have your 10K “potential”.   Well adding :15/mile to my 6:15 pace at last Saturday’s Holland, TX 5K won’t get it done for me.  We still have to find a way to bring that 10K “potential” down from 6:30 pace to 6:26. 

    :04 seconds per mile may not seem like a big difference, but in a sport where seconds are tracked by hundreths – :04 seconds is going to be a challenge.  When race distances get shorter and shorter, a runner’s margin for error gets slimmer and slimmer.  So to reach my goal of an “under 40:00 after 40 time” I have to get stronger, faster and tougher over the next three months to have a shot at a 39:59 on October 17th.

    Sunday's 12-Miler

    Sunday’s 12-miler in the TX heat was aimed at exactly that.  Run at a much slower pace than “race pace” by design to work on stamina, strength and toughness.  Mission accomplished as I was able to cover the distance comfortably while climbing more than 36 stories in elevation.

    Even though I drank 20 ounces of water and 10 ounces of gatorade on the run, I still returned to the house 4 lbs. lighter than when I left at 5:50 a.m.

    Hydration and proper pacing is critical in logging extended miles this time of year in TX.  It is a good test however and another step in what will be many chasing after that sub 40:00 time as we look toward our 43rd birthday in July.

    Successful or not really isn’t the point.  

    For me it is about the chase.  It is about identifying a goal, planning the work and doing all that you can to get there. 

    That’s a lesson that was taught to me at a very young age and one I hope to pass along to my daughter one day.

    No matter what happens we are going to give it our best shot.   In the meantime we worked up a heck of an appetite for Dawn’s homemade waffles on Sunday.

    Worth every step of the 12 miles.

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    Wednesday night I made my way over to the Brushy Creek Trail in Cedar Park, TX for the 7th race in the Summer Sunstroke Stampede Series.  The races take place every Wednesday night for 12 weeks, alternating between the Town Lake Trail in downtown Austin and the Brushy Creek Trail system behind my neighborhood.

    I first raced in the series two weeks ago posting a time of 20:23 – finishing 10th overall, 1st in my division.

    I treated race #5 two weeks ago as a “tune-up” for the Holland Cornfest 5K as I had not raced the 5K distance in almost a full year.  The Stampede races are a lot of fun with 100-140 runners making it to the Brushy Creek Trail races every other week.

    Being a morning runner – the races in the evening serve as a good test for me – taking me out of my element a bit and requiring me to race in different (meaning very hot) conditions than my body is accustomed to.  Typically when I leave the house in the summer for my morning training runs the temperature will be between 75 and 78 degrees at 6:00 a.m.  Evening temperatures in Austin in June and July are more in the 92-94 range, which makes “Going Fast” a bit more challenging.

    Add in an 8 story high hill that stretches for 6/10 of a mile in the final full mile of the course, and you have yourself a pretty tough race on a Wednesday night.  I learned a lot during Race #5 in the series and I was looking forward to tweaking my race plan a bit and seeing if I could come in a little closer to my goal two weeks ago of 20:00 flat.

    I knew that my newly minted PR of 19:28 posted on Saturday in Holland, TX would be out of my reach given the heat of the day – but I was hoping I might be able to shave :12 seconds off of my opening mile one week ago and :13 seconds off of my 2nd mile.  If I could hold steady up the hill and through the finish I would have a real good shot at that 20:00 time.

    As I was going over my race plan in my head on Wednesday afternoon my good friend Trey in Atlanta placed a quote out on his blog from the legendary Bill Rogers who I met the day after the Boston Marathon this past April, it read:

    “My whole feeling in terms of racing is that you have to be very bold.  You sometimes have to be aggressive and gamble.”

    Pretty appropriate heading into a race where I was really only racing for myself.  Sometimes you have to push yourself to your limits to find out just where those limits are.  The easy way for me to race on Wednesday night would be to look back at my performance two weeks ago and try to shave just a second off of each mile split.  No real risk there – I certainly wouldn’t “blow up” by pushing the pace too early – and I would have a chance to run a solid time in the 20:15 – 20:20 range.

    But if I wanted to take more than :20 seconds off of my previous race on the Brushy Creek Course – we were going to have to be a bit bold over the first two miles of the course and try to hang on at the end.

    Risk – Blowing up on mile 3 and finishing with a time much slower than the 20:23 posted back on June 7th.  I would also feel bad doing it.

    Reward – Being able to keep it together for the full 3.1 miles and posting a much faster time than two weeks prior.  I would also get a good sense of my threshold pace at the 5K distance in 90+ degree heat.

    So that was it then – It was a “Ricky Bobby” kind of night – and to borrow his catch phrase from one of the most underrated movies of all-time in my opinion, “If you ain’t first, your last”.

    Race plan:  6:15, 6:25, 6:45, :35 – Total time 20:00

    Mile 1:  I started right behind Bill Schroeder who has won the Men’s Masters overall title in just about every race in the series.  Even though I knew that Bill would be going out a bit faster than I would like, I decided I would let him and his running mate pace me around the lake loop. 

    I fell into a strong pace about 10 yards behind the two race leaders and although the sun was really beating down on us I felt remarkably strong.  I decided to race without a singlet hoping that not having that wet shirt sticking to me later in the race would help me “feel” a bit cooler.  Fact of the matter was – it was brutally hot – Africa hot.  As my watch beeped at the first mile marker I had turned in a 6:06 opening mile.

    How’s that for going out “Bold” Mr. Rogers?

    Mile 2:  I remained in third position as we crossed the dam and I was holding steady.  Two weeks ago I had relaxed a bit too much at this point of the race.  I felt like this was really the key mile if I was going to break the 20:00 minute mark.  As my breathing started to quicken, now on every second stride instead of every third when I am cruising, I focused on my stride and tried to “stay tall”

    This part of the race course takes runners down the hill they will be climbing on the way to the finish.  It is heavily tree-lined, which keeps the sun from beating down on the runners, but it is absolutely stifling with no breeze whatsoever.

    I kept digging through the turn around, grabbed a cup of water from the race volunteer on the way by and got ready to climb.  I glanced down at my watch as I passed the mile two mark and was very pleased with my split – 6:15.

    Mile 3:  This is where the race really started for me.  As I started to climb I was still holding on in the third position.  Because this was a chip timed race – that did not mean that I was necessarily in “third place” as a runner behind me could have started back in the pack and been running a faster race – but I was determined not to let anyone catch me on the hill.  My hill.

    I kept my knees driving, focused on form and slowly and surely I was reeling in runner number two up ahead.  The climb was taking a lot out of me, but it was encouraging as I was gaining on the runners ahead of me.  As I got to the top of the dam after a solid three minutes of climbing, I had narrowed the gap to less than 15 feet.  I had very little chance of catching Bill who had fallen back to second place, and an even smaller chance of holding him off if I could catch him – but I knew if I stayed close I would have a shot at that sub 20:00 minute time.

    Sure enough as we hit the mile 3 mark, I had fallen back a bit but when I glanced down at my watch I had posted a 6:39 third mile, :06 seconds faster than my goal time.

    Final .10:  As I came off of the dam and made the turn to the final stretch just about everything hurt.  Quads, Calves, Lungs, Chest, Arms – I was drenched head to toe in sweat.  The climb and the chase had taken a lot out of me.  My body was fighting me stride for stride, but it was a good hurt.  In the simplest terms – I was loving it.

    I was hoping for a :35 final 1/10th of a mile – but knew that I didn’t have that much left – I would close in :43 seconds which equates to about a 5:53 pace – I’ll take it.

    Race Splits:  6:06, 6:15, 6:39, :43 – Total time 19:44

    First place in my age group division, Third Place overall.

    Up until four days ago, that time of 19:44 would have been just 1 second off of my PR for the 5K distance.  To run that well on such a tough course in 90+ degree heat might make this my best 5K race ever. 

    That is the funny thing about PR’s – due to different courses and conditions – your fastest time my not always reflect your best effort.

    I know that on Wednesday night I didn’t leave a whole heck of a lot on the course.  

    Thank you Trey for providing the inspiration I needed to “push it” a bit and test myself.  It’s nice when you give an “A” effort and get an “A” result.

    I thought it would be a good idea this morning, still basking in the successful defense of my Holland Cornfest 5K age-group title, to check in on my good friend Ashley Kumlien who is running across the US this summer to raise money and awareness for Multiple Sclerosis. 

    Sometimes we all need a little perspective in life.

    Although she may not know it – I think of Ashley often while I am running.    She is doing something extraordinary to not only help someone who she loves dearly, but to hopefully inspire others to make a difference in the lives of all of those suffering from MS. 

    Cornfest trophys are great and everything, but Ashley’s commitment, drive and determination are a much better example of what gets me going every morning and I know what keeps Dom fighting every day.  Thinking about her on the road each and every day fighting for what she believes in, provides me with a great perspective as I chase my own goals and dreams.

    Ashley and I connected when I was training for “Run for Dom” this winter – and she immediately became a great source of motivation for me during my training.  She was kind enough to drop me an inspirational message on the eve of my second marathon that I tucked inside my left shoe and carried for 26.2 miles. 

    Ashley’s mother Jill suffers from MS and has been battling the disease every day for the last 27 years.  In honor of her mother’s fight Ashley began her run across the United States – 3,230 miles worth – give or take a 10K or two, in March.  You can read my first post about Ashley and her commitment to the cause here:  http://wp.me/pHGel-2E

    Tuesday was a big day for Ashley as by the time the sun set in the west, she had traveled more than halfway across the United States, 1,625 Miles.

    Ashley's Route Across the US

    I have to admit that before I connected with Ashley I really didn’t know very much about MS or how many people it affects on a daily basis.

    MS is a chronic, often disabling disease that attacks the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. Symptoms may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. The progress, severity, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.  An estimated 600,000 people in the US, 2.5 million worldwide have MS and 200 new cases are being diagnosed each week. 

    In fact MS is the most common progressive and disabling disease among young adults today – Ashley’s goal is to generate donations as well as increase overall awareness in support of MS non-profit organizations to aid the research and fight to find a cure for this disabling disease.

    Ashley and Her Mother Jill

    Ashley typically runs 3-4 times each day – covering a total distance of 25-27 miles by sundown.  She has her dinner, often a foot-long Subway Sandwich that I tease her about frequently, and wakes up to do it all over again seven days a week.

    That is a 175-189 miles every week for 24 weeks.  To place that in proper perspective I typically run 35 miles a week when I am not in a marathon cycle, 50-55 miles a week when I am a the most difficult point in my training.

    Most people that I know think I’m crazy.

    It is that incredibly grueling schedule that will take Ashley from sea to shining sea in just about six months.  As you can imagine, a lot of things can and will happen out there when you piling on the mileage and taking on the elements for 180 straight days.

    Ashley has had her share of excitement already in the form of wind, mountains, rain, sun, heat, humidity, freezing temperatures, snow, road closures and a broken radiator on her bus. 

    All of that occurred before she even reached Denver!  Ashley talks about her journey and what she hopes to accomplish below:

    As I look ahead to Ashley’s route across the country I see a couple of opportunities where hopefully work, life and my “New Daddom” will conspire for me to be in the same location as Ashley as she makes her way east.

    There is nothing I would like more than to join Ashley for a portion of her journey.  In the meantime, Ashley – thank you for everything that you are doing in honor of your Mother’s battle with MS and for all of those suffering from that debilitating disease.  You have a legion of followers that think about you more than you know.

    Congratulations on that first 1,625 miles, you rock. 

    If you should happen to see Ashley along her journey – just a bit of advice – do not yell encouragement like, “you are almost there!” or “Only 1,600 miles to go!” – distance runners hate that kind of thing.

    Best to you Ashley!  To pass back the message you shared with me the day before the Pittsburgh Marathon:

    “Run like you’ll never run again”.

    You can follow Ashley on twitter at http://twitter.com/msruntheus or visit her website at http://msruntheus.com/index.html to learn more about her journey, make a donation or simply provide encouragement.

    I learned something about myself on Friday night as I was trying to fall asleep.  The Holland, TX 5K was 10 hours away and I was having a hard time falling asleep.  Mind you that the night before the Boston Marathon in April – just a small race you may have heard of – and the Pittsburgh Marathon just 13 days later I slept like a baby.  But the Holland, 5K – whoa buddy – I just couldn’t seem to relax and fall asleep. 

    Ever since I came through the chute at Pittburgh this year I had been thinking about this race.  

    One year ago I ran Holland for the first time.  I was fresh off of my personal best at the marathon distance at Pittsburgh on May 3, 2009.  I was in top condition last year at this time, 100% healthy and had just qualified for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:17:43.  I felt strong heading into the Holland, TX 5K and ran a very smart, technical race finishing first in my age group with a time of 19:43. 

    One year later after a challenging training cycle for Boston and Pittsburgh and more bumps and bruises than I really told anyone about, I really wanted to race this weekend.  No excuses about the weather, injuries, being a year older – I was going out to compete against … well … me. 

    Running two marathons in 13 days this spring for Dom was something that I will always remember and will forever be an accomplishment that I am proud of.  We had a lot of people pulling for us and a lot of commitments were made to Dom and his family.  I had promised to do the work necessary to complete two major marathons within two weeks to raise money and awareness in honor of Dom’s battle against cancer.  It was an incredible journey, one that I will never, ever forget. 

    The truth of the matter is that because of that commitment I really did not come clean with anyone – even myself – with respect to my health.  I didn’t want anyone worrying about me or questioning whether or not we were going to go get those two finisher’s medals for Dom. 

    The shin splint issue that I had in December as I began my Boston training was never completely remedied.  I dropped my run days down from 5 per week to 4 so that I could actually rest on Saturday each week before my Sunday long run.  I simply could not run on consecutive days at that intensity and hope to make it through both marathons.  If I did not exit Boston relatively “healthy”, I knew I would have a hard time completing Pittsburgh just 13 days later. 

    Dawn would see me with a bag of frozen peas on my shin after every run along with two ice bags on both outer feet as “favoring” my shin caused me some inflammation and soreness in both feet.   It was a battle, but considering what my good friend Dom was going through and continues to go through battling cancer – it truly was nothing.  I just kept my head down, pushed through and “went to work” on my training days.  I didn’t share how I was feeling because hey, I’m not the only one training for a marathon with bumps and bruises.  “Get over it” I would tell myself as I worked to recover before my next training session, all the while knowing that we weren’t “quite right”

    But deep down inside, I knew that I was not completely healthy and I would have to tread lightly while preparing for perhaps the largest international marathon in the world. 

    There was no PR at Boston (3:22:07) or at Pittsburgh 13 days later (3:42:21) – but I am still very proud of those two efforts and all that they did to help Dom, Val, Sierra and Nico. 

    In the past few weeks I have started to feel more like myself.  No more favoring my shin or icing my feet.  I have been getting back to full health and able to push pace without feeling self-conscious about it.  Not worried that I might push too hard and have a set-back, winding up injured. 

    I tell you this now, and frankly admit it to myself, to place the small town TX 5K race in the proper context.  For me on Saturday I was racing the 2009 version of me.  And for the first time in several months, I finally felt like I had a shot to win

    Pre-Race Dinner

    I took a rest day on Friday, although I did break down and cut the grass.  I even prepared my “favorite” pre-training run or pre-race meal of pasta and shrimp tossed in Cajun seasoning and olive oil for dinner the night before.  I hydrated throughout the day on Friday.  I kept my feet up in the evening and turned in early.  If only I could have slept a bit better I thought as I got out of bed at 5:15 a.m. 

    So as I woke up on Saturday morning and picked up my friend Neil on the way to the race, I had scribbled down my race plan and played it over and over in my head:  6:18, 6:20, 6:24, :36 over the final .10 which would bring me in at 19:38 and top my PR set 365 days ago by :05 seconds.  Solid plan, very much within my reach if my legs showed up at the starting line. 

    We picked up our race packets from the tent about 7:10 a.m. and as I pulled my bib from my bag I saw it. 

    Bulls Eye

    Number 2. 

    Now I like a low number as much as anyone, but not this low.  It’s not as if the Holland, 5K is a seeded race or anything.  But I would have been much more comfortable racing in my #59 from last year, or my #559 from the Congress Avenue Mile.  Number 2 says, “I’m taking this seriously today guys, come and get me.” 

    I glanced at my friend Neil’s #94, shook my head and thought to myself, “you know what?  Screw it.” 

    You wanted to race this morning Joe – so let’s race. 

    I ran a few strides in my trainers and my legs felt great.  I had a lot of spring in my step and ran two quarter-mile “warm-ups” just to get the blood moving in my legs.  I ran on my toes a bit to get my calves and hamstrings stretched and went back to the truck to change into my Brooks T6 Racing flats.  As I slipped on my racers I felt like it was going to be a good day out there.  I just needed to post a fast first mile and put myself in position to post that PR. 

    The Holland course is a loop course with a hilly second mile.  If you don’t run a fast first mile it will be hard to make up time at the end of the race when you are fatigued.  I decided to run with music this morning as I had done one year ago and slid close to the starting line as the runners prepared to race. 

    Holland, TX 5K Start/Finish Line

    I clicked on Steve Earl’s “Hardcore Troubadour” and got ready to roll.  There were a few High-School runners in the starting area and one College runner from the Pac 10 who won the overall title last year with a time of just under 17 minutes.  I knew that they would head out at a pace well under 6:00 minutes/mile – if I could just stay near them through the first mile, I would be well on my way. 

    Mile 1:  At the start of the race I found open road and actually led the group out over the first 2/10 of a mile.  I was able to get my leg turnover exactly where I wanted it over the opening distance and fell into my pace.  The faster runners, about 8 of them or so closed on me at the 4/10 of a mile mark and I let them go.  I felt really strong coming up the opening hill and the first mile was going just as I had planned.  It was a hot start to the race, approximately 82 degrees – so managing the heat would be the key for me as the race wore on.  As we got to the first mile marker I glanced down at my GPS on the beep and had turned in a 6:04 opening mile. 

    Mile 2:  After a quick first mile, :14 seconds ahead of my race plan I knew that I would have to slow down the pace a bit over mile number 2.  As we made the turn heading out into the country I saw the first of two hills to climb in this section of the course.  I decided that I would allow the hills to slow my pace and I would simply hold steady with my effort.  I passed two runners on the incline and kept the legs churning.  As we discussed earlier this week on the blog with respect to hill running, this is a strength of mine – and my hill training proved once again to pay off. 

    I made the turn at the 1.55 mile point and grabbed a cup of water from one of the race volunteers.  I pinched the cup and took just a couple of ounces of water in as I went back to climbing.  The turnaround point at the Holland race is at the bottom of a small hill, which requires runners to turn and then climb back uphill in the direction they had just come from.  It is the first point where you can see who is “chasing” you – and it looked like I was in good shape for my age division.  I did not see anyone on my heels that I would have to worry about at that point. 

    We crested the hill and approached the 2nd mile post.  I glanced down in time to see my 2nd mile split on the screen at 6:23.  Just :03 off of my race plan that called for a 6:20 mile number 2.  With the :14 seconds that we had “banked” over the first mile, I was in good shape :11 seconds ahead of my goal. 

    Mile 3:  As mile 3 began I passed my friend Neil who was coming at me from the other direction.  He gave me a solid round of claps that told me what place I was in overall and I began my search.  I was looking for a runner that would push me on pace.  I saw a younger runner up ahead who I would later learn was Andy from South Austin. 

    There was one last hill to climb before the downhill final 4/10 of a mile and I closed in on the runner ahead.  I briefly worked ahead of him for a tenth of a mile or so.  I was fully aware that when we hit the top of the hill he would come back with a vengeance and take me over on the downhill stretch to the finish. 

    It wasn’t about trying to race him – I know however that “chasing” helps me push through the closing portion of a race when my body wants to slow down and “cruise” to the finish.  I used the same strategy at the 3M half-marathon last January and the Congress Avenue Mile in May.  Just having that “rabbit” up ahead really helps me finish strong.  I glanced down at my time for mile 3 at the beep on my watch and read a 6:15 split. 

    Final .10:  As planned Andy had pulled away from me and I was left alone to kick to the finish.  The temperature was really climbing just in the 20 minutes that we had been racing.  Full sun was shining directly in the runners eyes as they pushed to the finish.  I was able to hold on to a 5:44 pace through the final .10 miles and finish with a time of 19:28

    A new PR, :15 seconds faster than one year ago at the same race over the same course.  

    All at the ripe old age of 42 years, 1o months and 19 days. 

    I found Andy after the race and chatted with him for a while about the race as I waited for Neil to finish.  Andy passed on “New Dad” tips, something that I am in desperate need of, as he had his first child – a son – in January.  I passed along “first-timer” Boston Marathon tips as Andy will be running his first Boston this coming April.  I hope I helped Andy as much as he helped me today. 

    I ran into Kim who I had met at the race last year who organizes the January Marathon in Waco, TX.  A fellow “Marathon Maniac” – she commented on my singlet and we chatted a bit about this winter’s race. 

    Shortly thereafter Neil came through the chute finishing with a time 9:00 minutes faster than last year!  Now talk about a PR – great, great stuff. 

    We hung around for the raffle – no luck this year – and the awards ceremony, where with a time of 19:28 I took home first place in the Mens 40-44 age group. 

    Two-Time Defending Age Group Champion

    I have to admit – that trophy is pretty damn cool.  I’m sure you can make a lot of things out of wood, pipe-cleaners and a corn cob – but I don’t think too many of them would be as awesome as the Holland Cornfest Trophy. 

    I will absolutely be back next year to try to make it three age group victories in a row.  But on Saturday there was really only one runner that I had in my sights and that was the 2009 version of myself. 

    In the end that is what racing really should be all about.  I quickly snapped the photo below of the final runner of the day as he came through the finishing chute.  Jacob Crosby, Age 5 finishing with a time of 1:01:18. 

    Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t about to turn over my trophy to him or anything.  Jacob took third place in his age group on Saturday.  The participants, the town of Holland, TX and all of the volunteers and spectators came together for a wonderful event.

    See you again on the third Saturday in June, 2011.

    If you asked me when I first started running how I felt about hills I would have told you the only hills that I liked were downhills.  My first routes that I developed when I gained the fitness level necessary to cover 3 or 4 miles at a time were all as flat as I could find them.

    If I did have to deal with some hills on my runs, I made sure the “ups” came early and the “downs” came late.  I felt that the simple act of running was challenging enough, why in the world would I make it any harder on myself than I absolutely needed to.

    At first I didn’t like hill running because, well, it was hard.  But running hills provides a lot of great benefits to runners and if I wanted to get stronger, faster and “tougher” I knew I needed to head for the hills.

    In 2006 as I trained for my very first marathon I started to feel a lot different about hills and the role they played in my training.  Running hills as well as running in the wind (which we will talk about this winter when the wind picks back up in Austin) quickly became a staple of my training program. 

    I realized that my running would benefit in five key areas from hill training:

    Strength:   Hill running is just a form of resistance training.  It builds muscles in your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings and especially your glutes.  Running on flat terrain strengthens those muscles as well, but not to the degree that uphill and downhill running will.  Another byproduct is the strengthening of your hip flexors and your Achilles tendons.

    Speed:  Hill training helps you build speed and get faster.  The muscles that you use to run up hills are the same ones that are used for sprinting.  The added strength in those muscles will translate to faster times on flat terrain.

    Risk of Injury:  There is no doubt that the strengthening of leg muscles that occurs while hill training helps reduce the risk of suffering from running-related injuries such as shin splints, IT Band issues and calf strains.

    Technique:  I learned how to run hills by simply running more hills.  How to lean, how to use my arms, how to come up more on my toes to drive up a hill.  How to run through the top of the incline and not relax as I crested the top.  How to shorten my stride and keep my knees lower on a steep incline.  Even how to “brake” on a steep downhill without causing extra pressure on my knees and quadricep muscles.  Hill training “forced me” to improve my overall running economy simply through repetition.

    Confidence:  This for me was potentially the greatest gain.  The more I ran hills during my training, the more I felt I could “rock” them during a race.  While others slowed down and lost time to the hill, I would be holding steady and “gaining time” against other runners.  The added confidence that I could be “strong on the hills” helped remove a lot of pre-race and “in-race” anxiety of the hilly sections of a course.

    Cresting Forbes Hill during Pittsburgh Marathon

    Did Heartbreak Hill take a bite out of me at Boston this year?  Absolutely.  I would be lying if I said otherwise – but never once did I fret about it before the race or on the course.  Having run the gauntlet of hills from Newton to Chestnut Hill in 2010 – I will be much better prepared for that stretch of the Boston Marathon course when I return.

    Last Wednesday night as runners were mingling before the Summer Sunstroke Stampede race in Brushy Creek park I heard many of them talking about “the hill” from the 2.2 mile mark to 2.8 on the way to the finish.  Being my home-course so to speak, where I train basically every day during the week when I am not traveling – I was actually looking forward to the .60 mile stretch that climbs about 5 stories in height.

    I knew that part of the race was where I could “make my move” and pass some of the runners ahead of me on the course.  My vision for the race held true to form as I passed four younger runners on the way up to the top of the dam and did not see them again until I was long through the finishing chute.  If that race was held on flat terrain – I don’t think I would have been able to pass them.  That really is the point when it comes to hill running.  You have to practice it to get good at it, it is an acquired skill.  It is also a weapon on race day if you put in the training.

    So how do you get started?  For me there have been two key areas where I have worked hard on improving:

    Approach (Running Form) and Repetition (Hill Training).

    My approach or “running form” was one that I really needed to work on over time.  Running economy is something that gets harder and harder to “keep together” as you tire or put your body under stress.  Hill running is hard work, so your form is something that you need to concentrate on to stay smooth, tall and in control.

    Some keys to remember:

    1.  Effort:  Do not change your effort and “attack the hill”.  I focus on trying to maintain my effort level on an uphill and let the incline dictate my speed.  If I can keep my leg turnover or “cadence” similar – I know that the incline will automatically shorten my stride.  It is this shortening of my stride that will “slow me down” – but I try to maintain the same rhythm and drive in my legs.  It allows you to not overwork yourself, waste energy and end up out of breath at the top of the hill.

    2.  Form:  Concentrate on your form.  I try to make sure my arms are at a 90 degree angle and are moving back and forth rotating from my shoulder.  I focus on that movement and make sure I have no wasted energy of my arms moving side to side – even slightly.

    3.  Posture:  I try to maintain my posture keeping my back straight and “tall” – something challenging for a 5′ 8″ runner.  It is important to lean in slightly at the hips, but make sure that you are not running hunched over.

    4.  Arm swing:  Your arms drive your legs, not vice-versa.  If you can focus on keeping your arms lower and your swing shorter your legs will likewise stay lower to the ground and help you conserve energy.  When you reach the apex of the hill you will be able to resume your normal stride.

    5.  Crest with a purpose:  One of the things I work on every time I take on an uphill slope is to run through the top of the hill five full strides before I start to relax.  This helps me regain my normal pace on the flat and I start picking up the lost seconds that I slowed while covering the incline.  Many runners begin to ease up off the gas as they approach the top of the hill and they drop from an 8:00 minute/mile runner to a 8:30 minute/mile runner.  It can take them anywhere from a tenth to a quarter of a mile before they fall back into that 8:00 minute/mile pace.

    The sooner you can fall back to your goal pace or your “flat” pace – the less time you will have given away cresting the hill.  That may not seem like a lot, but slowing :30 per mile for .25 miles will add :07 -:08 seconds onto your mile split.

    If that occurs 5 times over the course of a 10K race your 48:30 goal time just became 49:05 just by taking too much “recovery time” exiting a hill. 

    From a Repetition standpoint – and by that I mean incorporating hills into your training regimen – there is not too many drills better than hill repeats.

    Hill repeats are a great way to improve in all the areas we talked about.  Strength, Speed, Mental Strength and Self Confidence.  There are as many types of hills as there are runners out there.  They come in all lengths and inclines – but the concept of running hill repeats is the same the world over.  You run up the hill fast (5K effort/pace) and recover by jogging (or walking) down.

    1.  Experience:  Hill repeats are not necessarily an “advanced” running workout – but you should have 2 months or more of a mileage base built up before incorporating hill repeats into your training plan.

    2.  Length:  I look for a hill that is .25 to .40 miles in length.  You can start with a hill that is as short as 100 or 200 meters long and move up in distance from there.

    3.  Incline:  You want the incline of the hill to be tough enough to test you, but not too steep that you cannot maintain your running form.

    4.  Warm Up/Cool Down:  It is recommended that you do 10-15 minutes of slow running/jogging before you start at the bottom of the hill.  You will also want a similar cool down period at the same intensity.  I typically run 2 to 2.5 miles to the site where I will run my hill repeats and the same distance back.  This gives me a distance of 4-5 miles of flat running in addition to my hill workout for the day.

    5.  Approach:  Starting at the base of the hill you run up at your 5K effort pace.  You want to feel as though you are pushing yourself hard up the hill, while keeping a consistent effort.  Do not let your form fall apart – if you feel that is starting to happen near the top of the hill, you need to slow your pace just a bit and adjust on the next repeat.

    6.  Form:  You want to keep your arms at a 90 degree angle, concentrating on swinging them lower and shorter.  This will result in a low, quick stride.  Keep your back straight and erect, if you lean forward, do so from the waist, not your shoulders.

    7.  Crest:  When you reach the top of the hill you will feel like you are almost out of breath.  That is what you are shooting for.  Your legs should feel heavy.  Turn around at the top of the hill and recover by jogging slowly back down or by walking.  Typically I jog down the hill at a pace 2:00 min/mile slower than I ran up.

    8.  Repetitions:  The number of repeats depends on your experience and your fitness level.  For beginning runners a good start would be 2-3 hill repeats adding one additional repeat each week for the next 3-4 weeks.  Advanced runners may want to start with  6 repeats adding one repeat per week up to 10 repetitions.  For me, 6-8 repeats are enough as the hill I train on is approximately .40 miles long.

    9.  Frequency:  Hill repeats are really a workout that is suited for no more than once a week.  This counts as a “hard day” for sure – so if you are following the golden rule of one “hard day” followed by one “easy day” – your schedule may look like this: 

    Monday Off/Cross Training, Tuesday Speed, Wednesday Recovery Run, Thursday Hill Repeats, Friday Rest, Saturday Easy, Sunday Long Run.

    This will give you the proper balance and variety in your training calendar but allow your body recovery time to grow stronger.  You would not want to do Speed Work and Hill Training on back to back days, nor would you want to do Speed Work or Hill Training immediately before or after your Long Run.  It is important to rest your body after tough workouts so your muscles can adapt and grow stronger.

    One of my favorite quotes about hill-running comes from Marty Stern.  “Uncle Marty” who was a hall of fame athlete at West Chester University near where I grew up outside of Philadelphia, then a Women’s Track coach at Villanova University as well as at the 1988 Seoul Korea Olympic Games once said:

    “If the hill has its own name, then it’s probably a pretty tough hill.”

    Right you are Uncle Marty – Heartbreak Hill certainly meets your criteria.

    Happy Trails everyone!

    It’s been awhile since we had a product review on Run for Dom – no particular reason other than I have not added any “new gear” to my running arsenal.  It seems like I tend to try out new equipment in fits and starts, with no real “plan” to see what is the latest cutting edge running equipment.

    I suppose that you could drive yourself crazy trying to keep up with the latest technical fabrics, devices, shoes and fads.  For me I usually get turned on to new equipment by spotting something at a race expo before a marathon, in a starting corral before a race or out of necessity. 

    In the past six months we have taken a look at Zensah shin compression sleeves as I was fighting my way back from shin splint issues, running shoes, Pace Tats, Moeben Arm Sleeves, Technical Shirts, Runderwear, Body Glide and Nutrition supplements.

    There has been one very critical piece of equipment that I have not examined in this space for those of you who have not “gone native” and embraced bare-foot running, and that is running socks.

    A sneak peek at RFD's Running Socks & Shoes

    In my experience there are three camps when it comes to runners and their socks: 

    The “cushioned” camp – where padded areas for your heal, ball of the foot and toe areas are critical.

    The “ultralight” camp – where there is very little additional padding to mimic a “no-sock” experience.

    The “support” camp – where technical fabric is added that supports the arch for the runner.

    Whether you are a fan of Brooks, Asics, Adidas, Nike, Thorlo, Under Armour, Drymax, Pearl Izumi, Injinji, De Feet Cloud 9, Bridgedale X Hale, Euro Socks  or the dozens of other manufacturers, there is definitely a sock out there for you.

    I have tried all of the above and there have been certain things I have liked about all of them.  I even have a few pair of the Injinji 5-toe socks that fit literally like a glove over each individual toe.  If I ever have a blister forming between my toes, or a “hot spot” I will run for a few days in the Injinji 5-toes and my problem area is gone.

    Injinji 5-Toe Socks

    There is nothing like running in a good pair of running socks, especially in a new pair of running socks – which is a luxury I usually only afford myself on marathon morning.  One wash prior to wear – which is something you should do with every piece of running gear you ever buy – and then I hit the streets.

    I stumbled upon a new pair of socks, or pairs I should say, at the Pittsburgh Marathon Expo this year on May 1st.  The folks from Vitalsox had a booth at the expo and I decided to try out their gear.  I wanted to not only run in the socks a few times before reviewing them, but I also wanted to see how they held up to running and washing.

    One of my favorite pairs of running socks – the Nike Elite Structure have all of the best attributes for me in a running sock except one, they simply do not hold up in the toe box very long and no matter how close I trim my toenails – I find holes in the socks after only a few weeks.  This is not a good feature for a $13 pair of socks.

    Vitalsox however have held up remarkably well over the past month and have earned a 5-star rating from Run for Dom.

    Made in Italy, Vitalsox have 5 lines to choose from:  Compression, Court Sports, Biking, Multi-Purpose and of course Running.

    I fall in between the “cushioned” and “support” camp when it comes to my running socks.  I really like the feeling of arch support woven into the fabric – but I also want a plush ride.  I want a sock with some extra cushioning in my toes, heal and ball of my foot – while still providing me with a “wicking” technical fabric to keep my feet dry.

    That’s not asking too much now is it?

    From the first time I tried on a pair of Vitalsox at the Expo I knew that they met all of the above criteria – as an added bonus the Vitalsox have an additional padded area at the top of your foot – directly under where you lace your running shoes.  Anyone who has ever mistakenly tied their shoes too tightly before a run can attest that can cause you some pain and trouble.  The extra padding in that area is a nice touch and feels great when you are lacing up your kicks before a run.

    I chose two different “models” to try out.  The Ped Light Weight, which come up just above the ankle and the Ghost Light Weight which are basically an “unseen” sock that does not come up above my running shoes.

    Typically I will have a mixture of white socks that I prefer from an aesthetics standpoint and black socks that I wear when I am running in the rain or on a messy trail.  Being an “all-conditions” outdoor runner, I can never seem to get the white socks “white” again after a long run in nasty conditions.

    Vitalsox also has a line of what they call “ultra light weight” socks if you like the feel of a very light sock underfoot.  I have not tried this line out yet as their “Lightweight” line was plenty light for me.

    All of their socks have flat-stitch seams which are designed not to have any rough areas that would cause blisters on a run and they even go so far to use two types of cutting edge fibers in their socks:

    Silver Drystat:  Silver ions are built right into the core of the fiber, they inhibit the growth of bacteria and moulds reducing unpleasant smells and keeping biological skin balance during athletic activities.

    MICROSupreme: This material is a hollow-core micro denier fiber that when knit into technical sport socks enhances performance, keeps feet dry, comfortable and, assuming footwear fits correctly, blister free.

    Now, I’m no scientist.  I don’t even play one on T.V.  But I am a runner and I can tell you that the socks from Vitalsox are now the first ones that I grab out of the drawer for a run.  They are very comfortable, have a nice level of support, do not cause any hot-spots and do a great job of cushioning my feet on long runs.

    If you are new to the sport and are just getting started experimenting with new equipment or you are a runner who has had issues with comfort or blisters I would definitely recommend that you give these guys a try.

    You can click here to visit their website:

    http://www.vitalsox.com/index.html

    As is the case with all product reviews at Run for Dom – these are simply my honest opinions on a product after I have had time to try it myself and see how it holds up under heavy use.  I am in no way compensated for my time or my opinion – although if the folks at Vitalsox were in a giving mood – I certainly would love a few new pairs of their socks!

    Happy running everyone!

    It’s race week this week as Run for Dom will be taking to the streets of Holland, TX – population 1,115 – on Saturday morning as part of the 36th annual Holland Corn Festival.  We do a lot of things really well here in Texas – but one of my favorite things that helps make such a large place seem much more intimate is the small town festival. 

    There is something about seeing small boys and girls decorating their bicycles for a parade, a Main Street overflowing with families, music and of course the smell of barbeque.  My absolute favorite part of the small town festival are the “old-timers”.  I love chatting up a few of the elderly gentlemen who always seem to be at these events sharing stories about the past and how things have changed since “conditioned air”

    I like to hear about how towns like Holland who have been celebrating the local cash crop for almost as long as I have been alive have changed over the years, all the while celebrating how much they have stayed the same.  It is good fun for everyone aged 1-100 – and I enjoy being a part of it.

    Of course a small town festival would not be complete without a 5K race to kick-off the festivities – and at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning we will be there with our Brooks T6 Racers on our feet looking to run a fast time and hopefully bring home some hardware.

    The course is a loop course, an out and back that takes you from Main Street in “downtown” Holland out into the countryside full of corn fields and back.  There are a couple of hills that I would describe as “moderate” mid-course and a slight decline down to the finish line at the end of 3.1 miles.

    In 2009 I ran two very technically sound races back to back in May and June.  The 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon 3:17:43 and the Holland, 5K 19:40.  Both remain my PR’s for those two distances.  At Holland last year I posted splits in the 5K of 6:18, 6:17, 6:24 with a closing :41 over the final .10 miles.  I was pretty torched at the end of the race pushing a fast pace over the opening two miles – but all in all that was just about as fast as my then 41 year-old legs could take me.

    This year I am a year-older, a year-wiser and a more experienced racer.  I think that the weather on race morning will have as much to do with my chase for a new PR as my fitness level and training will.  The last couple of weeks here in Austin have been very difficult for running.

    High morning temperatures and high humidity which just saps your strength and energy.  This Sunday’s run which covered 10 miles was a pretty brutal test of hills, humidity and heat.

    Hills:  228 feet of elevation change.

    Humidity:  84%

    Heat:  80 degrees.

    Those conditions conspired to treat me to a time of 1:18:20 (7:50 pace).  One of my “slowest” runs in more than a year, but at the end of a tough seven days of training that included a 5K race on Wednesday night – it was a good run to “finish off” my legs.

    This week we will be traveling to Iowa Monday through Wednesday which will hopefully allow for some training in cooler temperatures and then a two-day rest period on Thursday and Friday leading up to race morning in Holland.

    I am hoping that the extra rest will help these 42-year-old legs rebound a bit and we can make a run at a new PR on Saturday.  Last year our time was good enough for a first place age-group trophy and a photo with the Holland Cornfest Queen.  I’m hoping for a repeat performance this year – but if that is not in the cards I won’t be too disappointed.

    Participants get a Corn Fest T-shirt, a free ear of corn from the Holland Future Farmers of America, Door Prizes and fruit and drinks at the finish.

    Best $15 I will have spent in many, many months.

    Later in the day there will be a parade, crowning of the queen and duchess, a horseshoe tournament, live music, crafts, barbeque cook-off and of course …. the chicken fly.

    I will be posting about the chicken fly next weekend in a post all of its own – as that is something everyone should see at least once.

    For a complete schedule of events click here:

    http://www.hollandcornfest.org/SCHEDULEOFEVENTS08.htm

    So another busy week ahead at Run for Dom – we have a product review on-tap for Tuesday morning, please stop back by for a visit.