Posts Tagged ‘Hill Repeats’

Hard to believe that summer is just about over, Landry is going to turn 2 years old on Wednesday and Dawn will have her own Birthday on Friday. If you ask Landry, Mom will be turning 29 – I wonder where she got that information …

And in just 5 more weeks we will have hopefully come through the chute a Half-Ironman finisher in Kerrville.

There is a part in every training cycle where I feel like I am more or less in race preparation purgatory. I’m sort of caught in between stages. I’m not quite to the finish line yet and ready to start the taper and my body is starting to show a few cracks here and there.  Even though I can’t quite make out the light at the end of the tunnel, my body can almost sense its approach.  I stay on course as I know that these are the workouts that make the athlete on race day. These are the days that while they are tough and you feel as if you are getting beaten down, what is actually happening is that you are growing stronger.  It’s just not revealed to you until the last few days before the race when the reduction in mileage and additional rest and sleep that you load up on during race week is like a magic potion.  You feel more fresh than you have in months.  Rested. Strong.  Determined.

Then it is just a matter of eating right, getting your sleep, finalizing your race plan and then …. Boom.

Over the last two weeks we have covered 329 miles. 200 on the bike, 119.5 on the run and another 9+ in the pool. That’s a lot of ju-ju.

Truth be told I’m feeling pretty strong right now – Last Tuesday I ran my fastest ever training mile (5:51), the only time I’ve ever run a faster mile has been in a race. I also broke through a barrier that while a huge accomplishment, would not register as such to anyone other than me really.

I have been doing Hill Repeats on Thursdays for close to two years now. Always it is the same drill. A slow jog to the bottom of the hill, I turn and then race up the 3/10 mile long hill that climbs 65 feet at 5K effort. To cover the distance it takes me somewhere between 1:43 and 1:47. If it is warmer I am a little slower. If it is cooler I am a little faster. Sometimes the wind is helping me up the hill, other times it is penalizing me in the form of a headwind.

But this past Thursday on a 71 degree morning with no noticeable wind – basically a neutral day – I kept replaying a quote about racing from Bill Rogers over and over in my mind. “If you want to win a race you have to go a little berserk out there.”

As I finished my first repeat in 1:45 I decided to try to get as close as I could to 1:40. A mark I had never reached in over two years.

Repeat 2: 1:42
Repeat 3: 1:41
Repeat 4: 1:40

As I saw the 1:40 on my watch under the street lamp as I made my turn back to the bottom of the hill I thought to myself, you are so close. You have to go for it.

I reloaded on the turn, kicked my legs up high and leaned into the start, hit my watch and shot up the hill like a rocket.
Repeat 5: 1:39

1:39 for that repeat is the equivalent of 6:00 min./mile flat pace over 3/10 of a mile up a 65 foot incline. Something I never have been able to do before. I settled back down into my workout and ticked off 4 more repeats.

Repeat 6: 1:42
Repeat 7: 1:40
Repeat 8: 1:41
Repeat 9: 1:41

1:41 became my “new normal”, which is how breakthrough moments come about. With only nine repeats on my training schedule for the week I thought about my marathon pace mile that was due to close out the workout, then almost automatically my body turned to the right and jogged back down to the bottom of the hill. Let’s add one more repeat this morning and go for it again.

Repeat 10: 1:39

I recovered for 2/10 of a mile to the mark on Avery Ranch Road that sits exactly one mile from our driveway and I fired up the legs for a 6:52 mile home.

I locked into our marathon goal pace effort and never glanced at my watch. One of the things I want to make sure of by the time we arrive at the Houston Marathon is that I can run 6:52 pace literally in my sleep. I don’t want it to be a pace that I am searching for. I want it to feel automatic, completely locked in. This way with race day adrenaline and focus, our 6:52’s become 6:45’s over the first half of the race. We create our wiggle room for our goal of breaking 3 hours and then lock into those 6:52’s and hold them as long as we can over the second half of the race.

As we hit the driveway and heard the beep of my watch I glanced down under the streetlight.

6:49.

Our New Normal.

I believe it was Dwight L. Moody who said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”

I’m not sure that he was thinking about a marathoner running hill repeats alone on a dark street in Austin TX at 5:00 a.m. when he uttered those words, but they definitely spoke to me quite loudly early on Thursday morning.

Over the last three months we have taken to “the hill” each Thursday for our workout.  Skipping only twice over the past 14 weeks during the weeks leading up to The Texas Half Marathon and the Livestrong Austin Half Marathon, we have put ourselves through some grueling workouts.

This is the same workout that we incorporated into our New York City Marathon training plan as well as our ramp up to the Austin Marathon in 2011.

We leave the house for a 3-mile warm-up depositing us at the top of the hill at the entrance to the neighborhood adjacent to ours aptly called, “Waters Edge.

For Boston instead of only running “ups”, we have alternated each week running “downhill repeats” one week, followed by our uphill repeats the next.  This was designed to help our speed, strength and climbing ability to tackle the famous Newton Hills from miles 16-21 in Boston, but also to prepare for the grinding downhill start over miles 1-14 of the course from Hopkinton to Newton.

The part of the course where quads go to die.

Things are about to get interesting.

We run each repeat at 5K effort – very close to our Lactate Threshold along the 3/10 of a mile hill which has 65 feet of elevation change.  We hit our watch at the end of that repeat, glance at the split under the street lamp, and then make a slow recovery jog back to the start.

10 times.

At the end of the tenth and final repeat, we gather ourselves and run a final mile at/near marathon race pace back to the house.

This workout which comes after two runs on Tuesday, followed by a mid-week long run of 11-12 miles on Wednesday is on tired legs.

Each repeat gets harder and harder to maintain our form and our speed.  It is grueling.  It gets painful.  At the end it becomes a mental test as much as a physical one.

Remind you of anything?  That’s right – the marathon.

The funny thing about this workout is the only one who knows that I am out there is me, my wife Dawn and the small dog in the yard that barks at me every Thursday morning each time I pass his fence.

20 times every single week.  His owners must love Hill repeat Thursday as much as I do.

But on this particular Thursday things were a little bit tougher out there than usual.

The temperature was up to 68 degrees and the humidity was 91%.

There was a SSE wind blowing 16 miles per hour with gusts 20-25.

SSE means that the wind is blowing directly down the face of the hill.  That would have been welcomed had we been running “downs” this week, but alas, we were running “ups”.  Right into the teeth of the wind.

I typically break the workout into “subsets” of repeats as thinking about running 7 more or 8 more can be very discouraging as you wrap up your first couple of efforts.

I instead run three sets of repeats, then tack on a final repeat at the end.

I run:

First, Middle, Last.

First, Middle, Last.

First, Middle, Last.

Last.

That brings us to our goal of 10X or 3 miles of hills at 5K effort.

On Thursday, after slugging it out with the hill for the better part of 30 minutes I made the turn at the bottom of the hill for repeat number 8.  It had been getting noticeably warmer on my recovery jogs to the bottom of the hill – my USA Singlet that I wore at the NYC Marathon was sticking to my chest soaked with sweat.

I glanced up the hill and felt the first drops of rain hit my face.

100% humidity hung in the air.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself or debating what in the world I was doing out there – I smiled quickly to myself and hit the watch.  Go time.

My last three repeats were as fast as my first three.  All I could think of as I slugged it out on Thursday was how much I would be able to draw on this workout, this particular nondescript Thursday in early March when things get tough on April 16th.

When the hills in Newton seem steeper than I remember from 2010 and I cling tightly to my time goal as I lose valuable seconds to the race clock.  At the bottom of Heartbreak Hill only 6 miles will remain to Boylston Street and our second Boston Finisher’s Medal.

First, Middle, Last …. First, Middle, Last.

Boston.

Thursday kicked off the final “tweak”that we will be making to our marathon training for Boston in April, trying to strengthen an area that reared its head as a weakness in 2010.  Preparing for the opening downhill 14 miles from Hopkinton to Newton.

Boston Marathon - Course Elevation

It is this opening stretch of miles, slightly past the half-way point of the marathon that does more damage to the marathoner’s legs than the well-known “Newton Hills” a series of 4 climbs culminating at Heartbreak Hill at mile 21.

The facts are after having run Boston that the Newton Hills in and of themselves are not particularly long, not particularly steep and not particularly difficult.

It is more about “when” they are than it is about “what” they are.

They come after an hour and a half of the marathoner “holding back” over the downhill first half of the race.  Putting on the brakes, making sure they do not “go out too fast”, but what these careful marathoners are doing is destroying those quadricept muscles mile after mile.  Breaking them down so that when it is finally time to start “racing” this marathon and climbing to the top of the course in Chestnut Hill the legs don’t have anything left.

I have never felt so helpless on a race course as I did in Boston back in 2010.

That race was good for me however as it forced me to make some changes in my training.  In fact, I’ve changed virtually everything about how I prepare for the marathon and I have taken almost 10 minutes off of my marathon PR in the process.

But this year for Boston I know better.  I know that how I prepared for Austin last February or New York this past November is not the recipe for success in Boston on April 16th.  I need to continue to work hard building my strength, stamina and endurance – I need to continue to strengthen my climbing muscles to remain strong on the uphills – but I need more than anything to prepare for that first 14 miles.

I need to harden those quadricept muscles running a ton of downhill miles, sometimes at great intensity to make myself virtually bullet-proof.

Today marked the start of that journey as we ran our first workout of Downhill Repeats.

Typically on Thursday morning I run a 3-mile warm-up and then jog to the bottom of my hill repeat hill.  I make a turn at the bottom, hit my watch and take off to the top of the hill at 5K race effort.  The hill is 3/10 of a mile long and rises 65 feet.

At the top of the hill I hit my watch to mark that split and start a slow recovery jog back down to the bottom.  I start with 8 repeats during the first week, add one repeat a week up to 10 and then run 10 repeats every Thursday until the taper for the marathon.

For Boston every third Thursday or once every three weeks we will be flipping the workout around so that I jog slowly to the top of the hill and run DOWNHILL at 5K effort, hit my watch at the bottom and then make a slow (8:30-8:40 pace) jog back to the top of the hill to start again.

Thursday’s workout was the first week of “Downs” so we started at 8 repeats or repetitions.

Repeat 1:  1:29

Repeat 2:  1:31

Repeat 3:  1:32

Repeat 4:  1:32

Repeat 5:  1:32

Repeat 6:  1:30

Repeat 7:  1:31

Repeat 8:  1:30

1:30 = 5:15/mile pace.

I closed the workout with a mile home in 6:26.  FAST.

In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see how “fast” our downhill splits become.  Today I was running downhill directly into a 15-18 mph wind, which was certainly slowing us down quite a bit.

The goal is not to really “get faster” however, even though running those repeats at a high intensity will build those muscles exactly as we intend.  But running with perfect downhill form is really what I am after.  I want to be able to lock-in and run identical splits as I go through the workout, hitting the same times as my legs grow more and more tired.

I am focusing on form in this workout, tucking my pelvis underneath me, leaning forward slightly – not backward, and letting gravity pull me down the hill.

I want to land on my midfoot, not my heel – and make sure I am not “braking” as I go down the slope.  All to ensure that I am running with an easy, repeatable stride that will not overly tax those quadricept muscles.

Workout number one went about as good as I could have hoped, that 6:26 final mile showed that after all that downhill running my legs were still strong and able to fire.  Exactly what I will need them to do when we pass Wellesley College, reach the first of the Newton Hills and start pulling in runners ahead of us.

When we kick over the final hill at mile 21 on the Boston College campus and 5 downhill miles remain, that is where we are going to make our move. 

Those final 5 miles will be ours.  Simply put, I will own them.

That course owned me back in 2010.  Well you know what they say about payback.

It’s a bitch.  Bring it on Boston, you are going DOWN.

The marathon is a funny race.

Not ha-ha funny, because let’s face it, personally I don’t crack a whole lot of smiles while I am out there running 26 miles and 385 yards.  But it is a race that is in rare company when it comes to the types of challenges you face and how you need to prepare your body to cope with them.

In a 5K it is all about taking your body to that red-line level just below lactate threshold pace and holding it there for 3.1 miles.

In the 10K it is about locking into a pace that is comfortably uncomfortable that you can hold for in my case just under 40 minutes.  Never really red-lining it until the closing kick, but racing at only :10-:15 seconds per mile slower than that all-out 5K effort.  It takes a lot of discipline to lock in and stay right there mile after mile.

The half-marathon, another race where pacing is king.  Drop another :20-:25 seconds per mile from that 10K effort and you are locked in racing mile after mile for 13.1, hanging on over the last three miles as every part of your body is telling you to slow down except your brain and your heart.

But the marathon is a different animal all together.  The race is simply too long to fake it.  You can’t simply hang on and gut it out if you start to fast or if you have not put in the training time and preparation.  The race taxes you physically of course, but also mentally.  Three hours is a long time to stay 100% focused stride after stride, mile after mile.

It is the marathon training calendar that prepares you for race day.  Every bit of it.  Hard days, easy days, speed work, long runs and for me Hill Repeats.

The methodical nature of training for 18 weeks, peaking for one single morning and a run of 26.2 miles is the beauty of being a marathoner.  It’s not a race where you can just throw out your race shoes and perform.   You have to work hard at it.

You have to love it a lot, but you also have to hate it a little.

I know that for me, I think about the 2010 Boston Marathon at some point on every single training run.  It might be just a fleeting thought that washes over me while I crest a hill or it could last as long as a mile on my run as I replay a section of the course in my mind and how I need to run it differently next spring.

Running Boston was a tremendous accomplishment.

Racing Boston is what I am now interested in doing.

The race standing between me today and the starting line in Hopkinton, MA in April of next year is New York City.  I am looking to show up in New York as the most well-rounded and prepared marathoner I have ever been.  Even better than I was in February at the start of the Austin Marathon.

14 weeks remain until race day and with our first triathlon now in our rear view mirror it was back to the hill this morning, and time for our weekly hill repeat workout.

The hill is 3/10 of a mile from bottom to top, climbing 60 feet in elevation.

The workout starts with a 3-mile warm-up at a relaxed pace, just enough to get the muscles loose and the blood flowing properly.  I run the repeats on Thursdays after an up-tempo workout on Tuesday and a medium-long run on Wednesdays, yesterday’s run being 10 miles.

Running hill repeats on Tuesday would be easier after Monday’s day off, but that is not the point.  The point is to run this workout on somewhat tired legs and hold consistent pace repeat after repeat.  As the workout continues on, much like the marathon, your legs get heavier and heavier. 

Holding pace repeat after repeat is difficult, just as holding race pace over the final 10 kilometers of the marathon gets harder and harder.

And harder.

Today’s workout called for 7 trips up and down the hill.  A sprint to the top at 5K effort, followed by a recovery jog down to the bottom.  A quick turn and back to the top again at 5K effort without a break, repeated 7 times.

It had been awhile since I ran this workout, so I decided to start with 7 repetitions.  Next week will be 8, with 9 the following week and 10 the week after that.  We will then keep the repeats at 10 all the way through to the taper for NYC.  All in all the repeats will add close to 5,000 feet of climbing to our training – all at 5K effort.

The equivalent of racing at top speed to the top of a 500 story skyscraper.

It’s not a lot of fun, but there is nothing like it to build strength and speed.

I made my way through the warm-up with the temperature already at 80 degrees at 5:30 a.m.  In the winter preparing for Austin I would arrive at the bottom of the hill for my first repeat and not a drop of sweat would be on my brow.  Today I was soaked down to my socks in sweat, my shorts already sticking to my legs.

I made the turn and like old times fell right into the routine:

Repeat 1:  1:48

Repeat 2:  1:43

Repeat 3:  1:46

Repeat 4:  1:47

Repeat 5:  1:47

Repeat 6:  1:46

Repeat 7:  1:45

Average time 1:46 which equates to 6:13 min./mile pace.

With the exception of the second repeat which was my fastest of the morning, the consistency was very solid.  My average repeat time of 1:46 was just :03 seconds slower than our final session in the winter before the Austin Marathon.  All indicators this summer are showing that we are faster than we were at this point one year ago as a 43-year-old.

A good omen as we prepare to chase another Marathon PR in New York City on November 6th.

We’re healthy.  We’re happy.  We’re focused.

Now it’s just a matter of putting in the work and building from workout to workout getting ready to light that fuse in November.

Marathon training is filled with workouts.  Some will be great, some will be average and some will not go the way I want them to.  The important thing is to take them one at a time and do my very best each and every morning.  If I can do that and we catch a little bit of a break this time with the weather on race day, look out.

We are going to be one dangerous runner standing among 45,000 other marathoners on Staten Island.

Boom goes the dynamite Nov. 6th.

The marathon is a cruel, cruel race.

At its core, racing 26.2 miles is in and of itself “unnatural”.

Our bodies carry enough energy or “fuel” if you will to expend about 2,000 calories.

Caloric burn is simply a function of weight over distance.  It really doesn’t matter if you are walking that distance, jogging that distance or running that distance.  Once the body has depleted its glycogen stores, it is forced to burn whatever fuel is left.

That fuel is your fat stores.  A much, much, much more inefficient fuel than that of glycogen.

The goal of the endurance athlete training for a marathon is to improve the body’s efficiency at burning fuel, and push “the wall” as far off into the future as possible.

It is there for every marathoner, lurking at the 20 or 21 mile mark.  The point where those 2,000 calories have been exhausted as well as any calories that the runner has ingested during the race.  It is gut check time at that point.  The time where all of that marathon training comes to the fore.

It is that final 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles that separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls and the goal achievers from the dreamers.

18 weeks of workouts, specifically designed to allow the marathoner to peak for race day.  Some workouts are easy, some are difficult, some are tedious, some are exhilarating.  But every once in a while, those workouts are quite simply in a word, humbling.

I knew going into my marathon training cycle that Thursday morning’s hill repeat session was going to be the most difficult workout of the 97 runs and races I had on the calendar leading up to Austin.

Just 4 days after Sunday’s Decker Half Marathon, Thursday’s Hill repeats would follow Tuesday’s 10 Kilometer Tempo run at 6:55 pace/mile and Wednesday’s 10-mile run.

My legs were tired.

I was tired.

But it is these workouts, the ones when you don’t feel perfect, that show up on race day.  I have learned to enjoy the three-week taper period before the marathon as I feel as if it is a gift that I have earned.  I have worked so hard over the previous 15 weeks, that a reduction in mileage and intensity is just what my body needs to repair itself and be ready for race day.

My friend Bob from Riverhead, NY reminded me of a quote from Dean Karnazes first cross-country coach who said:

“On the days you don’t feel like giving 100%, those are the days you need to give 120%!”.

In that spirit I laced up my Brooks Ghost 3’s and headed on my 3.5-mile warm-up that would drop me at the bottom of the hill where I run my hill repeats on Thursdays.

As I made the loop and turned toward the 3/10 of a mile hill leading up to the top of Water’s Edge, I gave a quick nod to the early morning Texas sky filled with stars and thought about our boy Dom.  What he wouldn’t give to have the chance to battle it out with 10 hill repeats this morning.

As I took off at 5K race effort I didn’t even make it to the half-way point before my legs let me know that they were protesting.  Usually this does not occur until the middle of my third repeat.

As I hit the watch under the street lamp I had clocked a 1:41.  Solid.  Right on my previous pace from weeks past, but I knew I didn’t have more than 1 or 2 at that pace left in me.  Not like the 7 or 8 I can normally knock out.

After a slow recovery jog back down to the bottom of the hill, I turned, hit my watch and headed up again.

1:39

My first ever repeat on the hill under 1:40.  I took a minute to smile to myself, fully knowing that would be the highlight of my workout.  The next 5 repeats came in at:

1:43
1:43
1:41
1:43
1:45

Just three repeats to go, but each one was going to be more and more difficult.

My quads were burning, my calves were feeling tight.  From a cardiovascular standpoint we were in great shape.  Breathing was normal, endurance was fine.  If someone could just give me my legs back I thought, we would have no problem knocking out this last set.

1:48
1:48
1:47

As I climbed to the top of the neighborhood and began my 1 mile cool-down back to the house my legs felt absolutely fried.  I struggled to get them turning and locked in on a pace around 7:20 min./mile.

Humbled on Thursday

Close to :40 seconds a mile slower than my closing mile at the Decker Challenge Half-Marathon only 4 days before.

I felt as if I was running the final mile of a 5K race.  Legs heavy, hips sore, calves tight – I pushed my way back onto the turn at the bottom of Palmbrook Drive and pulled up at our driveway.

10.2 total miles, 1 hour, 18 minutes, 12 seconds.

The toughest 10.2 miles I will have to run during this training cycle.

I took a moment to stretch against the garage and then bounded inside for a Gatorade and a shower, ready to start the day with Baby Landry.

Way to go Dad!

9 miles on Saturday, 19 miles on Sunday and we will have put a 54.4 mile week in the book.  Our most mileage ever in a single week.

Today served as a great reminder that training for a marathon is hard work.  From the outside it can look like a runner is simply cruising through their training.

IBM Uptown Classic 10K – PR 38:06

Run for the Water 10-Miler – PR 1:03:47

Decker Half Marathon – PR 1:26:45

But those performances don’t just “happen” by accident.

They are forged during the workouts like this mornings, when you keep pushing knowing full well that others would give in.  They would be tempted to only do 8 repeats, or only 6.  Some would not run them at all.  Tell themselves they will do them tomorrow or on Saturday, knowing full well the workout would be skipped.

That’s o.k., because on February 20th, I’ll beat every one of them.

Thanks for the push this morning Dom.  We’re looking good right now my brother.  I wouldn’t bet against us at Austin.

Friday is a rest day throughout this marathon training cycle.

I guess I need to qualify that by saying a rest day from running and cycling as I do have a 1 hour strength training session scheduled every Friday.

But it is a rest day for the legs, and one that I know my body really needs to recover from all of the hard pushing of three straight run days Tuesday through Thursday, and especially now that we have a tough, tough hill repeat workout every Thursday morning.

Those rest days are included on my training calendar just as a 6.2 mile tempo run is or an 18 mile long run.  I record them and cross them off just as I would any other workout, as I know that they are just as important.  In some ways they are even more important for an endurance athlete.

Improving as a runner is about adaptation.  There is nothing inherently natural about training for an endurance event.  It is not your body’s natural state to jump out of bed and race 13.1 or 26.2 miles.  Hell, it really hasn’t been “natural” since we were trying to run down our breakfast lunch and dinner thousands of years ago.

So to improve at this sport of ours it is a matter of breaking down muscles during runs, rides and strength training sessions so that they can adapt to that increased workload and grow stronger.

Rest days are a critical piece of that equation as they allow those muscle groups the time off to in fact adapt and recover.  Without those rest days, your muscles are simply being beat down and not given the chance to grow stronger.

Those are nature’s rules, not mine.  But I am smart enough to hold them sacred and in fact even embrace those rest days.

The other thing that I enjoy about my Friday’s “off” is that I feel like it grants me the opportunity to slow down, take a breath, and look at where we are in our marathon preparation. 

I get to actually look forward to what lies ahead as well as looking back at what we have accomplished.

This weekend will wrap-up week 5 of our 18-week marathon training cycle.  Normally, this would be the time when the schedule would be starting to get “tough”.  I would be staring down 16, 17 mile training runs over the next two Sundays, a step-back week in week 8, then my Sunday runs would stretch on to 19 and 20 milers on consecutive weekends.

Those were the workouts that I would mentally circle as the ones that would be “getting me ready” for the Marathon.

There is something different this time around however as when I glance over my shoulder and look back at the last 4 ½ weeks of training we are much farther along than we have ever been before.

Last Sunday we put in a 16.2 mile training run at a more than acceptable 7:14 min./mile pace.

Yesterday we knocked out our fourth hill repeat session of 10 repeats over the last five weeks.  Only skipping our hill work in lieu of a rest day on October 28th preparing for the Run for the Water 10-Miler race on Halloween morning.

Never have we done so much “quality work”, so early in a training cycle, and I feel like it is the hills that are making the difference.

The 16th week of hill repeats went into the books yesterday and I can honestly say that while I would not make the claim that “I like them”, which is bordering on lunacy, I will say that “I look forward to them” every week. 

Now, you may ask what the difference is.  But in my already twisted “runner’s mind”, it makes all the sense in the world.  I forget sometimes that things that make perfect sense to those of us afflicted with a love for this sport are borderline psychotic to those “normal” folks who are out there in the world.

When I started running hill repeats back on July 22nd, I was running them on the hill that leads to the top of the dam on Brushy Creek Trail.  For six weeks I toiled in anonymity on that hill running up the 4/10 of a mile hill as hard as I could, made my way to the top, turned around and jogged slowly back down to the bottom.

The first week I did five repeats.  The next week it was six.  Then seven, eight, nine and finally 10 repeats.  The plan was to continue to run 10 repeats each week, trying to run them faster and faster as we got stronger on the hills.

Mother Nature interrupted this plan of ours after week number six as Tropical Storm Hermine came through Austin and literally closed down our running trail for close to a month.  That was a day to remember and a run to remember as I was forced to “relocate” to another hill in our adjoining neighborhood, if you missed the story of that day – you can read about it here:  http://wp.me/pHGel-EM

Our “New Hill” is where we have been toiling for the last 10 weeks of repeats.  It is a bit shorter at just 3/10 of a mile, but it is much steeper, climbing about 6 ½ stories or 65 feet over that distance.  It is also not tucked away on a tree covered trail out of the site of all of the “normal people”.

My Thursday workout is out in the open, for all of the residents of the Water’s Edge Neighborhood in Avery Ranch to see between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.  Over the past two and a half months I have made some Thursday morning friends.

There is the woman who walks her small dachshund.  The woman with the two white standard poodles, one much younger than the other.  There is the morning commuter in his Smart Car who waves to me every week.  The guy on the Harley who shakes his head at me.

There is the young woman with the Yellow Lab who thinks I am the most interesting thing in the world as I race past him arms and legs moving as fast as I can.

And there is the couple, I’m guessing in their mid-30’s who go for their morning walk together.

Yesterday I had just made it to the top of the hill completing repeat number 8.  I turned under the street lamp that marks the endpoint of my repeat and glanced down at my Garmin.  1:43 the display said.  Identical to the repeat before and only :01 seconds slower than my very first repeat of the morning.  I was nailing my workout.  Only two repeats to go.

Now 1:43 might not seem like a long time.  If you are still reading, you are probably well past twice that time at this point.

But to run basically all out, 5K race effort for close to two minutes up a somewhat steep hill is a little bit tough.  Doing it 10 times after about a 3 minute recovery jog back down to the bottom adds to the challenge just a bit.

As I passed the couple on my left I waved and said:  “good morning”

The young woman smiled wide and asked: “How many of those do you do?”.

I replied a little out of breath, “Ten … only two to go.”

I took a few strides past and I heard her husband say:  “Did he say ten?  He must be nuts ….”

I smiled just a bit as I made my way back down to the bottom of the hill by the park, made the turn, punched my watch and raced up for the 9th time. 

1:43 on the nose.

I took my time jogging back down for my final repeat.  The best repeat of the morning, more so than even the first repeat when my legs feel fresh and I know I can push hard all the way through the hill. 

The tenth repeat is the best because it is the hardest.  It is the repeat that makes me stronger, faster, tougher.  It is the repeat that all the others lead up to, breaking me down to see how much I have left.

I hit my lap timer at the manhole cover that marks the start of the repeat.  I pushed up the incline to the ¼ mark where there is a dark black stripe on the road from the last time the street was paved.

I glanced up the hill to the cluster of green bushes on the left.  They mark the ½ way point up the hill.

When I hit the bushes I looked up ahead to the neighborhood mailboxes that stand on the sidewalk.

Just past the mailboxes, the hill increases its grade a bit and there are just two light posts to go.

I get up on my toes at this point to push hard over the final ¼ of the repeat.  I can feel my quads tighten and my calf muscles straining as I change my footfall.

As I hit the final light post I punch my GPS lap timer to stop it.  I glance down at the display and see:

1:42.

I smile.

Nuts?  Nah, I’m just a marathoner.

So you want to be a marathoner?

Doesn’t sound too difficult right?

I mean, there are more people running marathons in the United States today than ever before. By the time the final marathons were completed in 2009, 468,000 runners completed the 26.2 mile distance.  That is 43,000 more finishers than in all of 2008.  9.9% growth in a single year.

Back in 2000 there were only 299,000 finishers at marathons in the US.  That is pretty incredible growth in less than a decade.

It seems like everyone is doing it these days.  How hard could it really be? 

For me, the marathon itself is not the truly difficult part.  It is the training for race day where the true tests come.  The training period is where strength, stamina, character and mental toughness are developed.

Race day is pageantry, excitement and of course time for celebration.

After all, a marathon is just a 10K with a 20-mile warm-up.

Don’t believe me?  Well let’s take a look at Thursday’s workout.

Hill Repeats, 10 Repetitions, Total distance 10 miles.  The same hill repeats we had been building up to 10 repetitions for the last six weeks.  Hop out of bed, let the dog out, knock out our run, and be back home in 75 or 80 minutes max.  Piece of cake.

Well, that is why our sport is such a great one.  Because the only easy day is yesterday.

It had appeared that tropical storm Hermine had moved through the Austin area for good overnight.  That is what all the weather forecasts had said anyway.  I thought to be on the safe side I should bring my running hat with me on Thursday morning, just in case there was a stray shower hanging around.

Flooding at the shallow end of Barton Springs Pool

As I stretched my calves against the garage door, the first raindrops started to hit me.  Good call I thought on the running hat.  As I waited for my GPS to locate its signal, the rain started falling harder.

I saw 00:00:00 on my watch, which indicated we were ready to roll.  I took off up the hill away from our house to run my warm-up of 1.5 miles before we made it over to the hill to get started.

By the time I passed the fourth house on the left, all hell had broken loose from the sky.  Torrential downpour that had me soaked from head to toe only: 30 seconds into my run.  I could already feel the water squishing in my shoes.

No problem I thought.  We’ve run a full marathon in the rain before.  I’ve got this.

As I started to wind my way through the neighborhood I approached the entrance to the trail system behind our home.  I knew that there would be some erosion due to the flooding from Hermine, but I was hoping that the trail would be in decent shape.  We had run the identical hill for the last 5 weeks and recorded all of our workouts, building from 6 repeats to 7 to 8 to 9 and finally 10 last week.  Our goal now was to continue to run 10 repeats up the .40 mile hill, only at a faster pace each week for the next 5 weeks.

The trail was a mess.  Lots of loose areas, standing water, puddles and ruts.  In the early morning darkness, I couldn’t see very well.  But having run this trail more than 600 times, I knew exactly where the problem areas usually were after a storm.

I reached the bottom of the hill after my warm-up, punched the lap timer on my GPS and started up the hill at 5K effort.  My first four strides went through 3 inches of standing water, running down into my shoes.

No problem I thought.  We’ll find a dry launching point on our next repeat.  I’ve got this.

I made my way up the hill a little less than ¼ of the way to the top and I saw a large, dark shadow about 5 feet tall in the middle of the trail.  It had to be a fallen limb from the trees on the left.  I drifted to the right side of the trail and was just able to sneak past without breaking stride, less than a foot from the bushes on the right.

No problem I thought.  I’ll just drag that out of the way on my way back down.  I’ve got this.

I took 20 more strides and hit some large ruts on the path.  These were “ankle-twisters” if there ever were any.  Very bad news for a runner, especially in the dark.  I fought my way over the ruts to an area that was a bit smoother on the left.  Just a couple of missteps, but I was holding my pace.

No problem I thought.  I’ll look for a smooth patch on my next repeat.  I’ve got this.

As I made it to the ¾ point of the hill I heard rushing water up ahead over the Gin Blossoms that were playing on my iPod.  I started to let off the gas a bit and I saw it.  There was a veritable waterfall coming down from the top of the dam on the left of the trail, washing more than 6 inches of water directly across the trail in front of me.  It was moving swiftly and was more than 2 feet wide.

Somebody must be trying to tell me something.  At that point, I hung my head, turned around and headed back down the hill ever so carefully.

Time to go home right?  Not a chance.

I chuckled to myself a bit, thought about all of the different things that our boy Dom had gone through from treatment to treatment, surgery to procedure and thanked him for the lesson that the only direction to keep moving is forward.  There has to be another hill around her somewhere right?

Flood Waters at Brushy Creek

So I backtracked up the trail, cut through a few areas I knew and made my way back to the bottom of the hill from Wednesday’s “Boston” Course.  This is a neighborhood adjacent to ours that features a steep hill taking you from the pool area at Water’s Edge up to Avery Ranch Road.  I used this area preparing for the uphill and downhill nature of the Boston Marathon course last winter.

The distance of the hill is a bit shorter, only .35 miles compared to the .40 miles we typically run our repeats on.  But the slope is much steeper and covers more than 60 feet of elevation change.

I would not be able to run the entire hill as the turnaround would be at an intersection.  I did not want to introduce morning commuters with their cups of coffee in one hand, iPhones in the other to my morning “obstacle course”.  I decided to run .30 miles up to the top of the hill, just short of the entrance to the development. 

It had already taken me more than 3.5 miles to get to the bottom of this hill.  But if my math was correct, we could still run our 10 repeats and bring our run in right at 10 miles.  Just as we had planned.

I turned my hat around backwards as the rain had finally stopped and took off up the hill.

Repeat after repeat up and down we went.  Legs aching, lungs burning, arms pumping, feet squishing.  Up and down, up and down, up and down until we reached our 10th repeat.

1:48, 1:49, 1:48, 1:51, 1:54, 1:53, 1:54, 1:56, 1:55, 1:54.

1:50 = 6:28/mile pace climbing up the equivalent of a six story building.

Not bad.

I made my way home with a final mile at 7:24 pace.  :13 faster than we will need to average at the Austin Marathon to re-qualify for Boston this spring.

There was no finish clock in the driveway, no family members or friends there to greet me, no medal to be won or even a high-five.  Hell, my paper had not even been delivered yet.

But what was there waiting for me when I returned was better. 

Satisfaction. 

Like most challenges in life I don’t think that marathoning builds character as much as it reveals it.

I’m sure that if Dom was looking in on me Thursday morning, he was pretty damn proud of me, and that’s better than any finisher’s medal.

Hill Repeat Thursday - Mission Accomplished