New running goal

Things work better for me when I’ve got a goal in mind.  The harder the better (to a point).  It helps me stay focused and motivated.

Thoughts about my next running goal have been going through my mind for a while now.  So much so that I’m concerned I’m not being open to all the possibilities.  And maybe I’m not being realistic either.

But at this point I’m feeling pretty strongly about my next running goal, so I might as well get it out there.

My new running goal is a 50 mile race.

That being said, I’m reluctant to commit to anything right now.  It’s just too early.  I’d like some time to relax and just enjoy running and riding my bike, without worrying too much about a specific goal.

So I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance the need to start training for a 50 mile distance with my desire not to get too locked in too early.

Here’s the tentative plan:

Aim for a spring 2013 50 mile race.  That ought to give me enough time to adequately prepare for it.  I’m already exploring a few possible races, but registration hasn’t even started so I’m under no pressure to make a decision.

Start training now, focusing on getting out every day to do something.  The tentative training plan looks like this:

  • September-November:  build a base, go longer, start to develop strength
  • December-February:  focus on strength and speed, maintain base as much as possible
  • March-April:  increase distance again, lots of long tempo runs

All of this will include lots of hill work and climbing (as much as possible here in NJ).

I’ll probably take checkpoints at various times throughout the next few months, and I won’t hesitate to adjust my goals if things aren’t going well.  However, I need to be serious enough that I don’t just blow off training.  I guess that’s part of what I’m trying to assess–how serious am I about this?  I need to be serious enough and enjoy it enough that it doesn’t take plunking down money for me to be motivated.  It has to be intrinsic.  If it’s not, I’m backing off.

I’m really stoked about taking a crack at 50 miles.  There is no reason why I can’t do well at that distance.  And it’s cool to be thinking about a new distance and a new kind of race.

One thing I’m pretty sure about — I don’t see myself going back to road marathons any time soon.  I’m just too intrigued by running trails and longer distances right now.

Beyond the 50 mile race in the spring, I’m not sure what’s out there.  Thoughts of a better run at Pikes Peak are percolating, as are thoughts about even longer distances.  And every once in a while I think about a triathlon.

But all of those are for the future.  I don’t even want to spend a bunch of time thinking about the 50-mile race.  Sure, I will come up with a plan or approach to training.  But I’m not going to obsess about it.

Rather, I’m looking to just take it one day at a time.  Just stay in the moment, enjoy my workouts, take care of myself (eating, sleep, stretching, etc.) and look to make progress each day.


2012 Pikes Peak Double: Post-race thoughts

It’s been a crazy week since I finished the Pikes Peak double.  Lots of driving, overnights in Denver, NJ and Long Island plus some one-on-one time with the 2-year old.  Hopefully tomorrow I’ll get back into more of a groove.

I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the events of last weekend.  To sum it up:

  • Ascent (Saturday):  3:20:54, overall 122th of 1685 finishers, age group 25th of 203 finishers
  • Marathon (Sunday):  5:31:54, overall 74th of 736 finishers, age group 17th of 113 finishers
  • Double (total):  8:52:48, overall 6th of 130 doublers

My overall assessment of the weekend depends on the lens through which I’m looking at it.  If I look at it from a long-term perspective (i.e., the last 6-8 months of training), it’s a disappointment.  I didn’t perform up to my expectations when I envisioned the race back in March.  If I look at it from a short-term perspective (i.e., considering my level of fitness going in to the race), it was actually a reason for optimism.

Pikes Peak Ascent (Saturday)

Going in to Saturday, my plan was to run easy and focus more on how I felt as opposed to running a specific time.  I knew that I wasn’t as fit as I wanted to be, and I could only guess what would happen in the race.  I was carrying the splits for a 3:15 ascent, using them as “red flags.”  A 3:15 pace should have sent alarm bells that caused me to slow down.

That didn’t happen.

I hit the Bottomless Pit sign in 1:48:09 (a 3:06 ascent pace) and the A Frame in 2:15:26 (a 3:10 ascent pace).  The alarm bells didn’t go off.  I got crushed in the last 3 miles above the tree line.  It took me 1 hour, 5 minutes to finish the three miles.  I was reduced to walking most of it as my legs were cramping, especially when I tried to navigate the step-sized rocks above the tree line.  Attempting to run just made it worse.

I was really discouraged coming off the mountain after the Ascent.  On the (seemingly endless) bus ride down the mountain, I just looked out the window, trying to figure out what happened.  I knew I had run too fast during the first half, but I had no idea just how fast.  I was actually nervous that I wouldn’t be able to finish the Marathon on Sunday.  Or that it would take me 6+ hours.  I also felt like a twisted-up pretzel after spending more than an hour in the bus on the way down.

I slunk back to my hotel room to start the recovery process.  I stretched, cleaned up, picked up my marathon race number and headed over to my friend’s camper which was parked at a local campground.  We ate dinner and I was back to my hotel to look at the numbers from the Ascent.

It was then that I discovered my mistake during the Ascent — I ran way, way too fast during the early parts of the race.  My split at Barr Camp (halfway point) was at 3:05 ascent pace.  At the Bottomless Pit sign (60% of the race) I was running 3:06 pace.  At A Frame I was at 3:10 pace.

No wonder I blew up at the top of the Ascent.

I was kicking myself, but also feeling a bit optimistic — if I could run a poor Ascent and still hit 3:20, it was possible for me to run better in the marathon.  The other good aspect of the race was that I managed to locate all the relevant landmarks on the course — from Hydro street to the 1 to go sign, I found all of them.  That was very different result from my first Pikes Peak race, where I got lost a few times and couldn’t find anything.

Pikes Peak Marathon (Sunday)

I woke up Sunday feeling better than expected across all dimensions — physically, emotionally and mentally.  Saturday’s race provided a ton of insight that I was able to use on Sunday.  Based on Saturday’s results and how I was feeling, I thought the best case would be a 3:30 ascent and 2 hours down, for 5:30 total.  My “red flag” meter was set at 3;30 ascent pace, and I was not going to go any faster than that.

The ascent portion of the marathon went much better.  I probably walked half the ascent, but at the A Frame I felt great.  No cramping and I was ready to run.  Unfortunately I was slowed by traffic, both people still running up as well as people already on the descent.  I really couldn’t do much about it though–those folks had gone up faster than me, so I just settled into a pace I could sustain and passed people as I could.

I reached the summit in 3:35:51, slower than my best case scenario but I felt very good at the top.  My immediate thought was to just bomb the descent, going as fast as I could from the very beginning.

Of course I was still slowed by traffic, sometimes as many as 5 or 6 downhill runners being held up by someone running a more cautious descent.  I tried to be as respectful as possible, but there were times when I got frustrated and found safe but aggressive ways to pass groups of downhill runners.  I was feeling great on the downhill.

Coming down past the A Frame, I was on a surprisingly empty trail.  Every once in a while I’d come up on a runer and pass right by, then I’d be on an empty trail again.  I got to worrying that I might have made a wrong turn somewhere.  Luckily that wasn’t true.

Just before I was halfway down the hill, I came to an open stretch with a slight downhill.  I was opening up and getting into a faster pace.  I remember seeing a large rock in the center of the trail, so I moved to the right to get around the rock.

The next thing I knew I was in the air.  I had tripped over something and was flying.  I ended up crashing hard on my right hand and arm, then I rolled to my back and skidded 5-10 feet to a stop.  Ouch.  Fortunately I was experienced with falling on the downhill (I hit the dirt 3 times in 2010), so I just got up and started running again.  Looking down I saw blood covering most of my right hand.  I wiped it off and took a closer look.  I saw a layer of skin flapping off my right hand where it met my wrist.  Luckily my wrist band (the paper one they put on when you pick up your race number) got stuck in the cut, which stopped the bleeding enough to ease any concerns.

The rest of the downhill was relatively uneventful.

I ended up getting passed right at the end by someone who was sprinting to the finish.  I was just jogging in, giving high fives, reveling in the cheers and just being happy to finish.  I wasn’t ready to sprint for place 5 hours, 30 minutes into the race.

I’m disappointed by a 3:20 ascent and a 5:30 marathon.  In March I was thinking I could go under 8 hours for the double.  I blew that chance.  I blew it in March, April and May.  I didn’t give myself a chance.  I was really annoyed to be walking up sections of the course that I ran up 2 years ago.  It felt awful (though I can’t say it was unexpected).

But it doesn’t help for me to beat myself up about that.

So what positives can I take from the weekend?

I was really happy with two things.  First, the way I adjusted from the first day to the second.  I rebounded well overnight and ran smarter, more positive on the second day.  Second, I was really happy with the confidence I showed on the descent in the marathon.  I ran assertively and with confidence.  I didn’t get discouraged by the fall.

All in all, it was a great weekend.  I got a chance to run in a beautiful setting, spend the weekend with friends and test myself.

Compared to three months ago, when I was ready to drop out, I’m really happy with how things turned out.

Pikes Peak thoughts – Before the 2012 Ascent

The lead-up to this race weekend has been very different from the lead-up to all of my other races.

I didn’t have much of a taper—last week I ran 59 miles and rode 55.  I didn’t think a taper was appropriate; I had come into the week on pretty decent rest so I decided to push the mileage a bit.  I don’t know if it was the right decision.  I’ll probably never know.  My nutrition focus has been on eating light and healthy and on hydration.  I haven’t done my usual pre-race eating (more carb-oriented).  Instead I’m drinking a lot of sports drink and trying to rest more.

I originally planned to have a pretty comfortable week.  I had plans to spend a few days at a friend’s house in Lakewood, Colorado before heading down to Colorado Springs on Thursday.

My buddy is a former colleague from my days in consulting, but he left that grind to open up Croc Soup Company, in Golden, Colorado.  If you’re ever in the Golden area, I’d encourage you check out Croc Soup.  The guy makes a great selection of soups, salads and sandwiches.  Almost all of it is made from scratch.  He recently expanded the menu to include BBQ pork (on Wednesday).  He smokes the pork right there on premise and makes his own BBQ sauce.  I had a chance to sample the stuff and it was fantastic.

As it turns out, work intervened and I ended up in San Francisco for meetings on Thursday and Friday.  I’m writing this late afternoon Friday on a flight from San Francisco to Denver.  As luck would have it, my flight was delayed and I’m a bit rushed to get to Colorado Springs for a decent night of rest.  I suppose things could be worse, and I’m hoping this represents the biggest problem I have all weekend.  If that’s the case, I’ll be in good shape.

I’ve spent a good bit of time remembering my previous experience with this hill – the 2010 Pikes Peak marathon.  I’m hoping some of that experience helps me tomorrow and Sunday.

This is what I remember from 2010:

  • Going out extremely carefully and following other runners to help keep my pace in check.  I spent a lot of time following a group through Barr Camp.  Somewhere above Barr Camp I decided to let go a bit and moved out ahead.
  • Missing just about every course marker in Matt Carpenter’s course description.  It started almost right away, when I couldn’t figure out when I had reached the top of the W’s.  I think a combination of never having been on the course along with some over-focus on other runners (see the point above) led me to miss the key landmarks.
  • The sections between the W’s and the tree line seemed more runnable on the up than I expected.  They weren’t as steep as I thought they’d be, and the trails weren’t overly technical on the up.
  • Getting lost a few times on the up, the most prominent of these being just after the A-Frame I missed a right turn and ended up on a steep incline towards the Cirque.  Luckily other runners were there to pull me back on course.  I didn’t lose much time with these misses, but they started to distract me after a while.
  • The top was very windy.  So much so that I ended up walking the switch backs that were into the wind and running the ones that were with the wind.  At the time, it didn’t make much sense to run into the wind up there, as strong as it was.
  • I almost fell when I got to the top and was getting ready to turn around.  I think it was some sort of weird altitude thing.  I had to stand there for about ten seconds just to collect myself.  Someone offered me some M&M’s which I appreciated but turned down.
  • I was very conservative on the descent, especially in the upper sections.  A runner passed me and suggested that I just follow him down.  I tried to follow his line and it worked for a few minutes.  But he was skilled at navigating the rocks and I was nervous of falling.  So I lost touch with him pretty quickly.
  • I fell a few times on the descent between A-Frame and Barr Camp.  Nothing severe, but enough to affect my confidence.  I ended up slowing down considerably during that section.
  • After Barr Camp on the descent I started to get some confidence back.  From Barr Camp on down I put in a pretty good effort.
  • It was hot on the bottom on race day.
  • The altitude didn’t affect me as much as I expected.  I chalked this up to the fact that I was going so slow it didn’t matter that much.

I’m counting on that 2010 experience to help me this year.

I am not nearly as fit in 2012 as I was two years ago.  I’ve spent a lot of time at low intensity, so I think my aerobic fitness is decent.  But I have very little ability to sustain high intensity over time and much less strength than last time.  I’m 10-15 pounds heavier.  Needless to say, I am not overly confident in my fitness.  It could be better than I think, but it’s just been really inconsistent this year and I have not been as disciplined as I should have been.  All that’s water under the bridge now, the only thing I can do is run a smart and tough race.  I think my self-awareness is much better now, and I’ve spent a lot of time on pretty technical trails at home.  So I will have some confidence on the rocky sections, especially on the descent.

With all that in mind, this is how I plan to approach the weekend’s races:

  • Run the entire Ascent at an aerobic intensity.  I’m aiming to avoid going into the red.  I don’t think I can sustain much time above aerobic threshold, at least not on the first day.  As of now, if I’m going to run with any intensity, it will probably be after I reach Barr Camp on the descent on Sunday.
  • Pay much more attention to the course and to how I’m feeling.  I want to use this as a learning experience, so I want to identify the course landmarks and be aware of where I am on the course.
  • I’ll probably drift back a bit in the first mile or so.  Getting caught in a crowd through the W’s might be good for me, as long as it’s not too slow.  I’ll need to balance this and pay attention to how many people are ahead of me and the pace.

I’m generally uncomfortable with predicting a time, or having a time goal, this year.  I just have no idea where my fitness is, so I plan to run by feel.  My biggest goal is to minimize the difference between my two Ascent times—I want to run the ascent part of the marathon (Sunday) in about the same amount of time as I run the Ascent on Saturday.  If I can do that, I’ll be pretty happy.

Regardless of what happens, it’s awesome to be out here testing my limits.