Running in Circles

There is something that I feel right before a track workout, it's a mixture of pre-race butterflies, memories of the dreaded Friday mile we'd have to run in Jr. High, the anticipation of burning legs, burning lungs, shoes spitting up dirt while rounding the 100 meter turn and pushing hard on the straight.  I was never good at track as a kid in high school, I didn't have that determination, the mental strength it takes to move the pain to the back of your mind and just run.  Managing that short, sharp pain isn't something I was ever good at; the long, dull pain is manageable, but the short stuff eats me up.

I'm in gray, not sure why everyone else is wearing blue and white.

I only ran track for one year, the year between trying wrestling as a 96 pound Sophomore and switching to clove cigarettes, Ministry and Nietzsche as a Senior, but the memories of that one season still linger, the Spring smells, eucalyptus trees, the fresh-cut grass, the coach taking us to a dirt hill and making us run up and down over and over until I thought I was going to throw up, and then the final run to the top, sprawling out on the conquered peak and noticing the amazing view for the first time as the sun set over the ocean.  I remember the long runs that were supposed to start easy, and usually did, but would end up as a sprint to the locker rooms.  Someone would eventually and gradually pick up the pace as the conversation became one-word, breathless, grunts, then silence and feet pounding, legs flying and expressionless faces because to show the pain would mean it was no longer an easy run, it was a race and at sixteen years old, we raced every day.  The long runs were seldom easy, but the interval days were always hard because Coach Davis would be out there with his stopwatch yelling splits urging us back-of-the-packers to reach deeper, knowing that the reason most of us did this sport was because there were no tryouts and it gave us a chance to letter in a sport and hang out with the cute girls because all the cute girls did track, and none of the cute girls wrestled or played football.  So, Coach Davis would give us the intervals for the day, two 200s, four 400s, two 800s, one 1600, then back down the ladder, starting easier than you finished and those last 200s always hurt.

So, at 37, I'm back at the track, feeling the same mixture of excitement and dread, knowing that there will be some pain, and some burning, but also knowing that it will be fun and the stretching afterward as the sun is going down, the kids are playing on the field and there is a beer at home in the fridge make Wednesday night track workouts worth it and my favorite evening of the week.

This next part is for those who are planning to come to the track workout that I host (not quite coach) on Wednesday evenings in San Elijo Hills.  It will give you an overview of what we do and why track workouts are important for your training.

Why we run track

Intervals have their place in any good training program whether you are training for a marathon, a half marathon, a 5K, or even an ultra-marathon.  That said, putting too much speed work into your training plan or running fast too often can lead to chronic injuries and diminishing returns.  When done right, speedwork will improve your VO2Max, which is the maximal amount of oxygen-rich blood that your heart can pump to your muscles and that your muscles can then use to produce energy (thanks Wikipedia).  You can improve your speed and running performance by training at a level that is around 95-100% of your current VO2Max level (you can take a fancy test to determine your VO2Max, or you can estimate it as a little faster than 5K race pace).  If you spend some time at this level in training, you will increase your body's ability to extract oxygen and convert it to energy.  To learn more about this process, you can booklearn it, or you can come to a track workout and experience it.

Running faster helps you run faster.  I know that is totally scientific and I have all kinds of data to back it up, but I don't want to bore you with all of that.  It's hard at first and it's uncomfortable, but once you learn to actually pick up your feet and run, it will get easier, no, actually it doesn't get much easier, but you will go faster.

How we run track

If you show up to one of my track workouts, this is what you can expect.

We warm up by jogging slowly a few times around the track, then we do some active stretching and core work -- lunges, twists, inverted hamstring, front and side planks, and push-ups.

Next, we do drills, which, if nothing else, makes the track workouts worth it.  These will help improve your running efficiency by improving your strength and form.  They will also prepare your body for the running ahead.  We do each drill for 50 meters, then transition into a slow run for 50 meters, then take 100 meters to recover, so our four drills cover two laps or 800 meters.

These are the usual drills -

High knees (Asafa Powell demonstrates this way better than I could and his accent is much sexier):

Butt kicks:

Skips for height:


We then do the main set of the track workout, and I try to switch this up to keep things interesting and to work different systems.  We start out the season with longer, slower intervals working up to about 20 minutes of speed work.  Towards the end of the season, or in preparation for a goal race, we focus on sharpening speed with shorter, faster intervals.

I always try to end the track session with striders.  A few of the really fast runners that I know swear by ending most runs with 4-5 100 meter strides.  A stride is a short, fast, but relaxed effort.  You aren't taxing your aerobic system with these, but you are working your physiological system and training your body to run fast and relaxed.  I like to do these on grass, and start slowly, building to a fast pace but staying relaxed, and backing off at the end.  I will then recover by jogging back to the start.

We end with a couple easy cool-down laps.

The great thing about these workouts are the people that show up, some are training for their first 5K and just want to finish, others are training to break a 3 hour marathon or a sub-16 minute 5K.  They all come together to run hard, get faster and share in the pain.

For more information about our track workouts or to join us, go here.  Tomorrow is Wednesday and I'll be running circles.

Streaking - Run Number 100 with Pictures

Today my running streak reached 100.  I entered this challenge back in December to give me a little motivation to train through the winter.  I was coming off an Ironman in November and I really just wanted to put the bike in the garage to collect its winter dust, cut up my membership card to the Y pool, and hit the trails.  I missed running, I missed going to a race without an equipment bag, I missed hairy legs, I missed running for the sake of running.  I missed running as a primary workout not tacked on to the end of a bike or after a swim.  So, I joined the 100 runs in 100 days challenge (ironically on a triathlon site), and figured it would help keep me motivated to run through the winter.

Running consistently has helped me get stronger, run injury free and run more efficiently.  Before this challenge when I wasn't running every day, it would take me a few miles to warm up, feel good, and work out all the kinks.  During this challenge I noticed that I would hit the trails feeling good, my body was used to the motion and it didn't take any time to warm up.  With a few exceptions, most of my runs felt good, I set a couple of PRs and have had no injuries (tap, tap, tap on this Ikea almost-wood) during the course of the challenge.  The best part of the challenge was that I was forced to explore a lot of new trails because I quickly became bored with all my normal routes.

Here are a few stats:

Date started: 12/15/09
Date finished: 3/23/10
Doubles (2 runs in 1 day): 1
Distance covered: 544.13 miles
Time: 78 hours, 12 minutes
Avg. pace: 8.6 minutes per mile
Shortest run: 3 miles
Fastest run: 5k at 6 minute per mile pace
Longest run: 26.2 miles - Catalina Marathon
Slowest run: 3 miles in 30 minutes (day after Catalina Marathon)
Favorite runs: nighttime trail runs in Encinitas, running fast around Lake Miramar with Jeff, Chris, Oscar and Jon, wet and windy Saturday long runs with the running group that always ended up at The Pannikin for muffins and coffee, puking at the Catalina Marathon, muddy trail runs in the pouring rain while running downhill sliding and laughing like a crazy person.
Number of treadmill runs: 1
Most boring run: See above
Number of bike rides: 0
Number of swim workouts: 1
Percent of total distance on trails: 91.764% (approximately)
Best post-run snack: My chocolate banana milkshake

Today, for my 100th run, I wanted to go slow and take some pictures of my favorite trails, so here it is...spring in San Elijo Hills.

My two favorite pairs of trail shoes (my wife is going to kill me for putting these in her plants)

What's next?  I say we all go streaking

Catalina Marathon - Race Report

Five weeks ago, after a leisurely (and flat) run along the Carlsbad coast, a couple of running friends were talking about the Catalina Marathon and how excited they were to run it.  Jeff looked over at me and said "you should sign up, you would love it, it's full of hills."  Knowing that five weeks wasn't quite enough time to prepare for a marathon, I responded, "no thanks, but have fun."  Jeff sent me an email that night with a link to pictures of the course.  I'm not sure how Jeff knew about my infant-like response to pretty pictures; I hit the "Register" button before I had a chance to view the course profile or plan for babysitters or reserve a hotel or a boat trip over to the island.  But, once I hit "Register," I was committed and the logistical details fell into place soon afterward.

My training was inadequate, and I knew that going in, but I tried to get some good, hilly trail runs in and build up the weekly mileage.  I wasn't able to build up the distance for a weekly long run (the most important part of marathon training), but I did get a couple of 15-17 milers in and I was feeling faster than I have in awhile with a couple of good race performances at a 5K and a "hilly" half marathon (I now realize that hilly, like fast, young and hot, is a relative term).  One of the challenges with the marathon distance is that it is much more difficult than two half marathons stuck together.  My marathon half-way point hits at about mile 19.  So, going into this race, I decided to treat it like an ultra, walk a lot of the steeper hills, take in the scenery, run the downhills, flats and not-so-steep sections.  Too bad there weren't any not-so-steep sections, and as for treating it like an ultra, I didn't have a choice, the race treated me like an ultra.

The race had that ultra feel.  On the ferry ride from Avalon to the start at Two Harbors, I noticed a lot of grizzled veterans in their day-glo dolphin shorts, 1,000 mile stare and a long and impressive string of finisher's bars hanging off their hats or shirts (they give these bars out at the finish line and the more you collect, the more bad-ass and respected you are in the town of Avalon for one weekend a year, and don't even consider wearing your bars unless you have at least 7, anything less just seems inadequate somehow).  The war stories were flowing as we sat stuck in the boat, rolling, swaying and waiting for the other boat, the boat that barely beat us to the harbor and was in such a hurry to beat us that they got their line stuck in the propeller and had to get a diver to cut the line, so we sat, stomachs getting less and less settled.  "One year it rained so hard that the trails were all muddy and a guy got his shoe stuck in a mud pit at mile 14 and his foot came right out of it; finished the race with only one shoe."  "I heard Dean Karnazes ran from San Diego, kayaked to Catalina, then ran the race." This last one turned out to be true, but it was the Eco-Marathon, a slightly less cool, easier race that doesn't give out cool finisher's bars that you can wear with your matching Captain Stubing hat.  I sat across the aisle from Heather Fuhr (hoping to eavesdrop and catch some last-minute miracle training tips, but she was calm and quiet and went on to finish 2nd overall and to smash the women's course record).

By the time we got out of the boat, I was so grateful for stable ground that the hills and the mountain we had to run over to get back to Avalon seemed inviting and non-rocking from side to side.  I was ready to go, and that first 1/4 mile was so sweet and flat, then we hit the first hill.

The hills were pretty much non-stop, and I had to keep telling myself not to look up, because every time I did I would see some little miniature person at the top of the mountain and I would think no that can't be a runner all the way up there, must be a bison or a Catalina fox or a wild boar (none of which I saw on the course this year), but no, they tend not to wear bright orange shirts.  The great part about the hills was being at the top and the views were simply amazing and indescribable, made even more so by the effort it took to get to the summit of some of those hills.  The weather was clear and beautiful and the island was green from all the recent rains; it was paradise, or that is what I would have thought it was if I was on one of those island jeep tours.

I think there were some mistakes on this elevation profile, so I corrected them below

I'm going to have to count the boat ride


There was also a slight stomach problem and by slight, I mean at mile 21 it must have looked like someone turned a faucet at the back of my head to full blast and it wouldn't stop.  I'm pretty sure it was the Gatorade (it just hasn't been the same since they dropped the Tiger formula), the extra time on the boat, the steak dinner the night before, the ginger pills I took to avoid getting seasick, the cookie I ate at mile 14, and the lack of sleep (I forgot to mention that we stayed at the 2nd oldest hotel in California and it was described as cute and quaint which are code words for small and old and the walls were paper-thin, I think they actually used paper instead of drywall back when they built this thing, but they did have coffee and bananas laid out for the runners at 4 AM which made up for a lot).  I tried to keep everything down and I kept telling myself to hold it in, but positive self-talk only goes so far, sometimes you've just got to puke.  A lot of people passed me as I was doing my best to fertilize the side of the trail, and most ignored me which was nice, some gave me some words of encouragement, which was also nice, but one guy said something rude like come on, or nice, but it wasn't what he said, it was the way he said it that really pissed me off, which was a good thing because I made it my goal to catch the guy and pass him, which I am happy to say that I did.

The last few miles were great.  They saved all the downhill, all of that "banked" elevation gain for the last three miles, so I just relaxed, and let gravity do its job, it was a beautiful finish.  My wife was there (she ran the 10K and placed second in her age group), Jeff was there (he was the 5th male finisher and ran it in an amazing time of 3:22), and the cold ocean was just waiting to wash the dust off my feet and numb the muscles in my legs.  It was a beautiful day for a run and as I finished I swore to myself that I would never be back, but now it's two days later and I'm already wondering how many of those finisher's bars would I have to get before I actually wore the thing year-round.

This is what finish lines look like in heaven

Leaving Avalon

Countdown to Catalina Marathon

Catalina Marathon is this Saturday and I am officially in self-sabotage mode.  Before an important race, I always feel like I'm not ready, that I haven't trained enough, that I'm too fat for this dress, that an ache in my Achilles tendon is now full-blown tendinitis and that little sore spot in my lower back is probably spina bifida.  And, after downing a pint of McConnell's Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream while watching The Bachelor Wedding special (what have I become?) last night, I am feeling more like an on-course buffalo than a graceful and stealth gazelle.  Oh well, the scenery will be nice.

That's not me...I would never wear my race belt that high

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