Tuesday, December 20, 2011

life without Hitchens

December 15, 2011 -- life became far less interesting. And the world became immeasurably dumber. Please save us, Sam Harris!
Yes I've been running quite a bit. To the point where I'm not that interested in blogging about it, but that will end soon. Merry xmas.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

sanctioned shmanctioned

Yesterday I did the Walpole Labor Day 10K. 37:54.


I hate hilly road 10Ks. I really do. I only did this because I figured it would be good preparation for the Codfish Bowl 8K, a race that uses the Franklin Park cross country course (i.e., it has hills). But I have no feel for the 10K. I mean, the half-marathon pace makes sense; I run those at "comfortably hard". The 5K pace makes sense; I jump right into uncomfortably hard, knowing that it will end just as I'm hitting crisis mode. The 10K is an ugly hybrid, even on the track. I always feel like I'm running too fast or too slow.

The Walpole 10K course... just... sucks ass. The weather? 80 degrees and humid. And the distance? Okay well the race website has the words "USATF sanctioned". Which doesn't mean shit. "USATF sanctioned" is quite different than "USATF certified". The latter means everything and the former is utterly fucking pointless.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

46 weeks later, 44 seconds faster

Last October I posted a tempo workout that took me 21:41.25 for 6K, and this morning I did the same workout (on the leet new NHS track) in 20:57.15 = 44.1 seconds faster. I'm happy with this improvement in light of what has happened since. So here is a summary:

1) lower back strain at the end of Oct 2010, useless for Nov
2) slow rebuild in Dec, ramp up in Jan 2011, prepping for Boston
3) knee tendinitis ruins Feb and half of March, now I'm screwed
4) knee heals up, solid if unremarkable Boston (2:54), then rest ...
5) another volume ramp up for the NE Relay, then I run 46+ in one day
6) general fatigue and nagging ankle pain soaks up the rest of June

And then, after all that, my training for the last eight weeks has been solid and consistent. Even with our usual mid-summer heat and humidity. This must mean that outstanding race results are on the way.

It just has to mean that. Doesn't it?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

phase one complete

I have three self-imposed tests of increasing difficulty that I use to judge fitness, and I passed the first one last night: Running five miles solo at a sub-5:45 pace. Officially it was 8.4K in 29:41.6 which is slightly over 5:42 per mile. The second test is to do the same for a full 10K (so anything under 35:39) and the third is breaking 35:00 for 10K. I don't remember where I came up with these tests and it's all terribly arbitrary but they just seem to work. I feel like I'm race-ready when I can run a sub-35 without competition. Doing it outside of a race matters; the magic race day adrenaline boost is cheating. Or it would be cheating, if it happened on a flat and accurately measured course. But I'm not sure such a thing exists in eastern MA.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

7/23 - 7/31/11

7/23 - 15 min + 6.4K tempo (23:07)
7/24 - 80 min easy w/striders
7/25 - 4 miles easy
7/26 - 15 min + 8 x 400 @ 70.6
7/27 - 6 miles easy
7/28 - 15 min + 7.2K tempo (25:56)
7/29 - 6 miles easy
7/30 - 15 min + 5 x 1K @ 3:18.4
7/31 - 10 miles easy

Saturday, July 30, 2011

race to train to race

Most competitive runners have probably heard this warning before: "Train to race, don't race to train." To put it another way: "Don't be a workout hero." Over a given period of time, six weeks or six months or whatever, even world class runners can only deliver a relatively small number of breakout performances. Those efforts should be saved for races rather than wasted during (yet another) five mile tempo run or interval session. This is often harder than it sounds. I was never the top runner on my college cross country team but, being young and stupid, I usually tried to keep up with the top runner(s) during training. Unfortunately, that makes no sense. If you can't race with someone you shouldn't try to match that person during training. It means that you: 1) worked too hard for the potential benefit, and 2) probably won't recover well enough to race effectively.

So, yes, of course racing a workout is a bad idea. But I still believe that frequent racing is a legitimate form of training. The nice thing about the XC / IT / OT seasonal rhythm was that once per week we had an opportunity to fine tune our craft. Repetition generates success. Tempo, hills, volume, intervals, striders, long runs -- yeah yeah all that stuff matters. But maximizing potential at something like the mile or the 5K means that you do the mile or the 5K, against competition, over and over and over. And then you'll know how to race it. It's time to move past the "train to race" phase. It's time to race to train to race.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

7/12 - 7/22/11

7/12 - 6 miles easy
7/13 - AM: 4 miles easy
       PM: 15 min + 5 x 1K @ 3:20.1
7/14 - 32 min + drills
7/15 - 30 min + striders
7/16 - AM: 15 min + 5K race (16:53)
       PM: 6 miles easy
7/17 - 33 min + drills
7/18 - 15 min + 3 x (200 + 200 + 800);
       34.9 - 36.6 - 2:28.8
       35.6 - 35.0 - 2:29.4
       36.0 - 34.4 - 2:28.4
       200s too fast, 800s too slow, dew point too high
7/19 - AM: 6 miles easy
       PM: 6 miles easy
7/20 - 4 miles easy
7/21 - 57 min w/hill repeats. Fuck this heat.
7/22 - off

Monday, July 11, 2011

7/1 - 7/11/11

7/1 - AM: 30 min + drills
      PM: 30 min + drills
7/2 - 6 miles easy
7/3 - 15 min + 5 x 1K @ 3:20.3
7/4 - off
7/5 - 15 min + 7 x 400 @ 71.6
7/6 - 4 miles easy
7/7 - 15 min + 20 min tempo
7/8 - AM: 4 miles easy
      PM: 30 min + drills
7/9 - 15 min + 6K tempo (21:58)
7/10 - off
7/11 - 15 min + 2 x (4 x 200 + 800);
       33.4 - 34.1 - 33.9 - 33.5 - 2:29.2
       33.9 - 34.2 - 33.4 - 33.9 - 2:28.4

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

NE Relay 2011

Last weekend I teamed up with five fine runners for the New England Relay, a 223 mile route from Rhode Island to Maine. Aside from the obvious challenge there were several logistic wrinkles. First, the MA tornadoes damaged the course badly enough that the director cancelled two legs without actually letting those runners off the hook. This meant each team had to double up on two sections, so the 2nd and 4th runners both ran leg #2 and the 3rd and 5th runners both ran leg #3. The times for the extra runners were later added to the team's total elapsed time, and the originally scheduled fourth and fifth legs were skipped.

Second, because the teams still had to get from the end of leg three to the start of leg six, we all recorded our time driving that part and then subtracted it from the total. Finally, because this ended in a state park that didn't open until 12:30pm on Sunday, and predicting finishing times for 46 teams is kind of an art, we were one of the teams that had to take a mandatory break of nearly an hour at one of the transition points. This delay was also subtracted from our total. Simple, right? Here is how my legs went:

Leg 2 -- 8.5mi -- 60:14. As I mentioned, this was a double-duty section and, being runner 2, I ran with runner 4 (Jake). A quick word about Jake: He is one of the few runners I know well who scares the crap out of me. Yes there are thousands of runners around the world who could crush me at any distance, but I haven't known most of them for 19 years or stood next to them on the starting line dozens of times. Any advantage that I might have in natural speed and economy, Jake makes up for in raw stamina and toughness. But it was great having company for at least one leg and over this portion the running itself felt effortless.

Leg 8 -- 10.4mi -- 71:58. Things get interesting. I'm cruising along at 6:50 per mile on some anonymous country road when I see a team van pulled over. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but as I approach the driver waves me over and I reluctantly stop. The words he actually said to me were: "We just saw a bear cross the road up ahead so we're going to drive behind you for a bit." But I'm still in the mental running fog, and I hear: "We just saw a bear cross the road up ahead so we're going to drive you for a bit."

I don't like the sound of that (the bear or the driving) but I thought maybe this team had called the race director to report the bear and she had asked them to deliver the next runner past any danger. Umm... is that really what he wants me to do? Well the race clock is still ticking and I'm standing fucking still so I blurt out: "You want me to get in the van??" In response, I get a justifiably confused look, and then what he really said sort of registers, so I take off and call out: "Oh I see you'll follow me okay got it thanks a bear! got it okay thanks bye!"

I dial it up a little the rest of the way because... bears can really move when they want to, right?

Leg 14 -- 8.1mi -- 57:28. This is one leg that I'm quite sure was badly measured. First, it is basically flat with two downhills. I run sub 7s on terrain like that. Second, I still felt comfortable and was moving well. I run sub 7s when I feel like that. Finally, I checked mapmyrun afterwards and it said 8.5mi. Yes, I already had almost 19 miles on my legs at the start, but I know what 7:06 miles feel like. This wasn't 7:06 miles.

Leg 20 -- 8.0mi -- 61:19. The elevation chart, as they say, is worth a thousand words:
I had done 27 miles to this point and now I got to do something I hate: Run slowly. Up a big hill. If this was accurately measured my pace was 7:40 and hell it sure felt like 7:40s. This wasn't just a physical battle either; the thought I couldn't get out of my head the whole time was that even after I finished, I would still have 11+ miles more to do.

Leg 26 -- 7.5mi -- 50:10. Light at the end! Well not exactly but I did have 35 miles down including both the long leg and the hilly leg. This was running at its most surreal. For much of it I couldn't see any lights other than my headlamp. No car lights, no street lights, no house lights. It was also still overcast and drizzling so no stars and no moon. Nor did I see any other runners. I had asked the team van to stop after four miles so I could get a split and make sure that I hadn't totally lost my sense of pace -- but that is precisely what I learned. I don't remember my exact time when I passed Jeff and he said I was just beyond four miles, but I knew it wasn't good. Something around 7:40s.

My choice here was to 1) coast home and leave something in the tank for a final hard leg, or 2) go for it now. What would Joanie do? Yep, fuck this. My next three miles were all 6:20 - 6:30 and on top of the prior mileage they felt more like 5:30s. One little hiccup was that the final turn was a small rotary and I didn't see an arrow sign so I went all the way around. Uh oh. I started around again, hoping that a sign would magically appear, thought better of it, went back to the first exit and floored it. A lucky semi-educated guess.

Leg 32 -- 3.6mi. I had a long time to think about this one because leg 30 (for runner 6) was 11.4mi. I tried to get some rest but was too keyed up about wanting to finish hard. I got out some paper and calculated that so far I had covered 42.8mi in 5:01:09 if I included an extra 0.3mi fudge for leg 14. If I wanted to average sub-7 for the whole event I would have to run 23:38 or better for the balance -- a 6:34 pace. I broke habit and did some warm-up jogging and strides. I felt surprisingly good. This was going to be fun.

Then I started running and my demeanor quickly changed. The first mile, which looked moderately tough on the map, was truly nasty. Eventually it flattened out and I started to click. I felt like I had it under control now but knew it was going to be close. At the end of mile three I hit a short steep climb that had me cursing the whole event. A few minutes later the grade flipped again and I emptied the tank. The course had one last surprise: I came out of a turn and under an overpass that was basically a wind tunnel, right in my face. Final time = 23:27. Eleven seconds to spare!

So officially without the 0.3mi add-in I wasn't sub-7 but I'll never admit to it. Cisco, Jeff, Jake, Sean, and Ollie all fought through a wide range of injuries, non-running obligations, and other distractions to deliver a fine performance. WELL DONE!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

classic moments

My new race morning habit while I'm having coffee is browsing youtube to see how the elites do it. These are my favorite clips so far, and yes it is a predictable list:
1964, Billy Mills, 10000
1972, Dave Wottle, 800
Ovett beats Coe
Coe beats Ovett
Joanie   everyone underestimates her and she destroys them. Hard not to love that.
El Guerrouj vs Lagat   two middle distance gods in their prime. Enough said.

"Don't expect this to be too gentlemanly when it starts."
Finally, I can watch the Sydney 10000 over and over.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


My new shoes: Saucony Hattoris. The Kinvaras were okay but just a touch too heavy and restrictive. I still rely primarily on the Nike Streak 3s and the heavenly Adidas Adizero PRs. My first impression is that these are the shoes the Nike Free should have been. On the other hand, using the Hattoris on concrete is out of the question. Ouchie. Even asphalt feels significantly harder, at least compared to running in the Streaks. Previously the Kinvaras were my heavyweights and the Streaks were my 'tweener' shoes; my intention was to bump the Streaks up to heavyweights so I could use the Hattoris as tweeners (PRs still holding the ultralight position). The only problem so far is that there isn't much difference between these and the PRs. And since the PRs are lighter, why would I ever wear the Hattoris? Hmm...

btw -- by tweener I mean: Too heavy for 5Ks but not enough cushion for regular distance sessions.
I miss the days when I had spikes for racing/speedwork and lightly cushioned trainers for everything else.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

just a 5K? only a 5K??

Alright... enough with people referring to this distance as "just a 5K" or "only a 5K". There are only two types of runners who have earned the right to call it that:
1) men who have run sub-13
2) women who have run sub-15
Anyone else who uses those labels needs to shut the fuck up because they don't know what they're talking about. If a 5K is that easy, you aren't doing it right.

Monday, May 30, 2011

the road ahead

Saturday 5/28 was the Gilio 5K and, well, what a difference two hours can make. Running conditions at 7am were more or less ideal; by 9am the heat and humidity had ramped up to the point where I knew sub-17 was going to be a struggle. So I opted for Plan B: Go out slow and run for a win.

Apparently all of the local competition was elsewhere. I was in 4th place after 0.5mi and the three guys in front all had on knee-length basketball shorts and training shoes. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it just means you have no business winning a road race -- even one as small as this. My two mile split was 11:16 and, despite the pedestrian pace, a quick glance back confirmed that I could coast it in.

The heat has arrived and the next three months will require careful training management. First I have to survive the New England Relay on 6/11. Recovering from that will eat up most of June, and then I have pager coverage in July. Pager coverage doesn't mean that I absolutely can't race but I will be more focused on building up my speed for the fall. Early August brings the USATF-NE outdoor masters track & field championships (8/6) and I am planning on doing the 1500, maybe two events depending on the schedule.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


This this this. This is the payoff for all the long slow grinding miles. Speedwork like this:
12x200 @ 31.4, 31.8, 31.8, 31.3, 30.8, 31.3, 31.0, 31.8, 31.3, 31.1, 31.3, 31.7

There were lots of people milling about the track last night and during one of my recovery phases, this guy asks me: "Are you a professional runner?" My response, of course, was to laugh, shake my head, and mutter "no no no". His response to that was, "well you look like the real deal." Ahh, if only that were true.

Even though it isn't... this.

Friday, March 4, 2011

babying the knee

Training has been sporadic since the MV 20mi. I only meant to take two scheduled rests over the last thirteen days but ended up taking an extra 3.5 days off, as follows:
2/20 - planned rest
2/21 - unplanned rest / calves still sore from race
2/22 - normal training
2/23 - unplanned rest / left knee acting up again
2/24 to 2/26 - normal training, all systems go
2/27 - "half" rest day / knee pain returned, wanted to do 14 but stopped at 7
2/28 - planned rest
3/1 to 3/3 - normal training, all systems go
3/4 - unplanned rest / knee still not 100%

Fortunately the 7.5 training sessions that I did get in have been promising. After today's unplanned rest I'm going to do a normal training day, then a 2/3 training day (14mi instead of 21), then a planned rest day on 3/7. Hopefully everything will be back to normal after that.

The knee problem has been hard to pinpoint. Sometimes it's fine during a run and hurts as soon as I stop. Sometimes I feel nothing before a run but it aches fifteen minutes in. Sometimes I wake up with no pain and it gets cranky over the course of the day, and sometimes the exact opposite happens. Another strange thing I've noticed is that the actual sore spot will migrate around. It can be directly underneath the knee cap, or on the top outside edge, or lower down towards the inside of my leg, etc -- this migration is easily noticeable when I sit down and ice it.

I'm not terribly worried but if there is no improvement by next week I'll probably make a Dr. appointment.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

48 days away

I must be out of my mind. I thought about it during my hill repeats today and I'm seriously considering starting Boston at a 6:15 pace -- 22.4 sec faster than my PR pace. Why the madness? Because of the "consistent effort" idea. Basically this means that you shouldn't try to run an even pace; you need to adjust for the moment-to-moment difficulty of the course AND the fact that your mechanics will deteriorate. In other words, an early downhill 6:15 mile could demand the same intensity as a late uphill 6:45, so it would be a mistake to run either of them at 6:30.

Fucking marathons.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


This was one windy race and since the course winds around most of the island, we got it from all directions. Gusts were 20-30 mph. It's hard to evaluate the cumulative effect but I'm guessing it helped a little. There were more moments of feeling that I was being nicely pushed along than there were of consciously fighting against it. But when it was a headwind? Yeah that sucked. Right before the start I went outside and the chill convinced me to make a last minute change and wear my plain cotton long sleeve tee. Other than that it was shorts, lightweight gloves, no hat, Adidas Rockets.

I give the race four stars for these reasons: It started on time, turns are clearly marked, the course is accurate, and hills aren't a major factor. That is all I ask for in a road race. Everything else is window dressing. The start was a refreshing change because there was no anthem and zero chit-chat. I like it that way, I'm just not used to it because virtually every other race is preceded by dopey speeches and "thank yous to so-and-so!" and blah blah blah. All business here.

Mile one, 6:04. Way too fast but I cut myself some slack because the wind made it impossible to judge the pace. I dropped out of the lead pack, watched them spread out, and settled in for a long haul. Miles two through ten was essentially a lonely, extended tempo run and I hit the half at 1:01:48. Still faster than planned but, as most runners know, races tend to assert their own identity.

Soon after the halfway mark I notice two things. First, my sore left knee wasn't bothering me at all, which is a good sign. It hurt afterwards but apparently a hard twenty didn't exacerbate the problem. Second, around mile 12 or so, I formed painful blisters on both feet... I have no idea what the fuck that's all about. My mileage for a full month has been low fifties, including an 18 and a 20. I shouldn't be getting blisters but there they were. And it was a problem.

I slowed to the point where I got some company during mile 13, and this guy clearly knew his shit. Nice even rhythm, giant quads, Whirlaway singlet. Why did I wear that dumb long sleeve again? I thought maybe if I could focus on staying with him it would distract me from the blisters. This actually sort of worked. We ran together through three plus miles of variable headwind and I was even able to slide ahead and draft for him a couple of times. I figured he would probably pull away eventually but I was determined to share the work and not just suck along behind.

Near the end of mile 17 we take the sharp right and a younger guy floats past. Decision time. I move up with this new companion and we absolutely crush it for 2/3 of mile, running in eighth and ninth. This was easily the most enjoyable part of the race. I don't know what the pace was but it felt fantastic. Mile 19 arrives and I come crashing back to earth. That was too fast. Then another guy cruises by, also young looking, and my new buddy goes with him. Now I'm wallowing in tenth place aka self pity land. I checked their ages afterwards and those two combined (45) are still younger than the Whirlaway dude (51) who is looming somewhere behind. I was suffering again but that was the idea going in -- run the first 18 fast enough so that I could practice stride deterioration over the last two.

Finally, one mile to go, and I'm all sorts of bad: Blisters are screaming, I have a side cramp and, worst of all, I feel those scary jittering calf spasms that usually only come during marathons. Now I'm desperate for this shit to end. When the finish line appears I steal one glance back and mercy mercy mercy he isn't close enough to force a sprint finish. Overall time 2:05:56.

I spent the night dreaming about 1500m track races.

# Div/Tot Div  Time       Pace Name      Age
1  1/34 M3539 1:54:52  5:45 Chad Carr 35
2  1/22 M3034 1:57:20  5:52 Ryan Aschbrenner 33
3  1/18 M2529 1:59:15  5:58 Timothy Catoggio 25
4  2/22 M3034 1:59:42  6:00 Kevin Gravina 32
5  1/43 M4044 2:01:02  6:04 Jonathan May 42
6  1/5  M2024 2:02:33  6:08 Thomas Fagin 22
7  2/34 M3539 2:04:08  6:13 Jon Chesto 39
8  2/5  M2024 2:05:02  6:16 Jake Marcus 21
9  3/5  M2024 2:05:32  6:17 Evan Williams 24
10 3/34 M3539 2:05:56  6:18 Zachary Laidley 38
11 1/23 M5054 2:06:16  6:19 Chris Spinney 51
12 4/34 M3539 2:07:44  6:24 Chris Schulten 38

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

stride deterioration

During my morning run I was thinking about how to approach this weekend's 20 mile race, and I recalled the moment in Again to Carthage when Denton says this to Cassidy: "I just don't think it's possible to practice for an event like the marathon. In fact, we don't practice when we train for the middle distances either. We do exactly what athletes do in almost every type of sport: we isolate certain functions and do overloading kind of work on each, one at a time. Then at some point we do a limited amount of integration work, blending everything back together."

In addition to the more obvious difficulties, one function (or disfunction) that marathoners need to prepare for is stride deterioration. In one sense we do this on every run because pure volume will help delay the onset of stride deterioration. But I'm interested in training not only to (1) delay stride deterioration for as long as possible, but to (2) maintain a decent pace when it happens.

It might be a big mistake but #2 is something I want to isolate during the race. My idea is to run at the slowest possible pace that will induce noticeable stride deterioration after eighteen miles. If I can do that, I'll have two more miles to practice the 'running with less-than-ideal mechanics' function.

The trick of course will be judging my fitness level accurately enough to select the appropriate pace. If I go out too fast and deteriorate early, it will create an unacceptable risk for injury. If I do the first eighteen too slow, my mechanics won't suffer enough during the final two.

Okay some specifics: I don't think a 6:30 pace will do it. Running eighteen miles at 6:30 is a serious workout but, assuming the race conditions aren't horrible, I don't think it's hard enough to cause much stride deterioration. At that pace I would have to go beyond twenty. On the other hand, doing 6:00 per mile is too fast. In my current condition and at that pace my stride would probably start to fall apart after twelve miles or so, and eight miles of bad mechanics is just too dangerous. Besides, it would result in an awful finish time -- reason enough not to do it.

I'll probably aim for 6:20 which would put me at 1:54 for eighteen. If I'm totally smoked at that point, well, fine. That's the point. I can focus on mechanics, coast in, and be happy in the fact that I've practiced stride deterioration. If it isn't quite hard enough and I have something left in the tank? That's fine too. I'd just try to finish hard and be satisfied with my first sub-2:07 twenty mile run.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

so was it fast?

This is an abridged version of the McMillan race equivalency calculator using my best college 1500m:
I'm well aware that aging athletes sniveling over faded ability are terribly pathetic so I'll try not to be one. To that end, I think this little table may prove useful. For example, although I never ran a 5K in 15 flat, the table says I recorded an "equivalent" performance, i.e., 4:01 for 1500m. And last fall -- 15 years later -- I ran a 16:57. In other words, I was 13% slower than my lifetime best (16:57 / 15:00 = 1.13).

So was it fast? Is that 13% slow down acceptable? No and no. Going back to the calculator, 16:57 for 5K is equivalent to a 4:53.6 mile, and that is not fast. I just can't call a 4:53.6 mile "fast" even now, in the deep autumn of my running career. Must do better.

Monday, February 7, 2011


It was just barely warm enough to run in shorts yesterday so I did 20mi @ 7:05. Other than a slight twinge in my left knee (minor tendonitis maybe?) I was happy because it never felt like I was working that hard. Looking forward to the MV20 in two weeks.

Today is also exactly ten weeks from Boston which means it's the start of my eight week peak training phase. This will include four 20-22 mile training runs (including yesterday and the MV20), four 15 milers, a timed half-marathon, and then just plenty of tempo, hills, and striders.

I'm leaning towards the 3/20 Quincy half because the timing is right, it isn't too far, and the course is flat (allegedly, according to the website). New Bedford is the same day but it's a much longer drive, the course isn't flat, and -- let's face it -- I'm not going to be prepared for that level of competition. Plus the NB post-race food sucks ass.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Only two firm commitments on the calendar so far:
4/18 - Boston Marathon
6/11 - New England Relay

2010 ended badly: I re-aggravated my lower back problem after the SF vacation. I maintained decent mileage numbers but couldn't do quality speedwork. Things feel much improved but the outdoor tracks are snowbound now which means hills and road tempo... blah.