Back to racing — Quad Rock 50

In May 2014 I’ll be racing again for the first time since August 2012.  Looking forward to the Quad Rock 50 in Fort Collins, CO on May 10th.  I’ve read lots of great things about the race and the organization that puts it on .  Can’t be more excited.

Here’s a course profile from the Quad Rock 50 web site.  Lots of ups and downs!!

Quad Rock 50 profile

I spent a lot of time trying to decide if I was ready for getting back to racing.  I spent most of December trying to figure out if I was ready to make the necessary commitment.  I was satisfied enough that I’m ready to do it.

Of course, the day after I signed up I came down with some sort of flu bug which I’ve just gotten over.  But all systems are go for Quad Rock in May.




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 Double: initial thoughts on race strategy

My final race strategy won’t be set until the days before the Pikes Peak, but I couldn’t help thinking a little about the strategy now.  It’s important to at least get a sense of the strategy early on, so I can make sure my training is appropriate.  It’s hard to have success racing in a way that I haven’t trained.

This will be my first ever race that covers more than a day.  The Ascent is on Saturday, and the full marathon is on Sunday.

One key “strategic” decision is how aggressive I am on the Ascent.  The tradeoffs are pretty simple:

  • If I go too hard on the Ascent, I leave myself comprimised at the starting line of the marathon.  Except for an injury, this is probably the worst thing that could happen to me.
  • If I go too easy on the Ascent, I may not achieve the time goals I’ve (tentatively) set for myself.

If I show up on the marathon starting line with more energy and strength in the tank than I expected, that would not be a big problem–I could easily use that extra energy on day two by pushing a bit harder.  As of now, I’m thinking I will err on the side of being conservative on the Ascent.  The race doesn’t start until somewhere between Barr Camp and the A-Frame anyway (about 7-10 miles in), so I will probably take it easy until then and decide how hard to go at that point.

In order to be successful in the double, I need to develop these areas of fitness:

  • Aerobic fitness.  This race is an exercise in patience.  I need to be as fast as possible at relatively low intensity.  This is why I continue to focus on MAF training.
  • Strength.  Strength is especially important here considering the terrain and course profile.  Strength will help me run with good form and will help me run faster at lower intensities.  This year I’m putting more of an emphasis on strength than ever.  Hopefully it will help.
  • Lactate threshold (for lack of a better term).  This is the ability to maintain a higher intensity over time.  I haven’t focused much on this, but it’s huge once you get into higher intensity racing.
  • Recovery.  If I improve my ability to recover, I gain the ability to push harder on the Ascent with the expectation that I’ll be able to recover after it’s over.

Based on these, my schedule is starting to look like a lot of back-to-back hard days.  It turns into a weekly schedule that’s something like 2 hard days, 1 easy day, 3 hard days, one easy day, etc.  If I can stack my hard days, I’ll develop that ability to recover.  For now, though, I’m continuing to focus on aerobic fitness and strength.  I’ll begin to add the hard workouts in about 4 weeks.

I don’t see myself doing too much speedwork.  At this point, I don’t think I have the time.  It’s one of many regrets that I have about my (lack of) preparation during the past 6 months.

One other note on something that was successful for me at last Pikes Peak.  I must have read the course description about 75 times.  It resulted in a simple mantra that captured everything I needed to remember.  It went like this:

smart – strong – tough

Smart represents the start to Barr Camp.  I have to be smart about how I use my energy.  Run patiently.  I expect the race to be crowded, and I don’t want to waste a lot of energy passing people down in the lower parts.

Strong represents Barr Camp to A Frame.  The race gets harder during that stretch and being strong means maintaining my form and pace despite the increase in difficulty.  During this stretch I expect people to start coming back to me.  I won’t necessarily increase my pace, but maintaining during a harder stretch is almost like increasing.

Tough represents A Frame to the top.  In 2010, I had no idea what to expect during this stretch, except for huge challenges.  During this stretch, I might have a chance if I match the toughness of the mountain.

At the end of the day, I just want to perform honorably on the mountain.  I want to perform in a way that I can feel like I deserved to be up there.  That I prepared and performed in a way that didn’t let the beauty and challenge of Pikes Peak down.   That doesn’t just happen on race day; it happens every single day leading up to it.


New York City Marathon thoughts

I only ran the NYC Marathon once, but it was memorable.  It was in 2001.

I nursed a back injury through the summer of 2001.  Although I was entered in the NYC Marathon, there was a chance I wouldn’t be able to run.  I remember being at the chiropractor’s office when I first heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

Obviously, that day changed everything for New York City and people like me who lived there.  I made a promise that day to run the race in November.  Like most everyone, I wanted to do anything I could to prove that I was getting back to life.

I remember starting the 2001 NYC Marathon…running over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.  Looking to my left, I could see the smoking rubble.  I’ll never forget that picture.  I remember race organizers telling us to only take aid from authorized aid stations.  That was the mentality.  I remember thousands of American flags.

If you took the NYC Marathon course and plopped it anywhere else in America, it wouldn’t be all that interesting.  It’s a fair course—not too hilly, lots of turns.  They actually made it easier several years ago.  They bypassed a relatively big hill entering Central Park.

Stating the obvious here…it’s the city that makes the NYC Marathon.  For a runner, there is no experience like it in the world.

Each borough leaves its own distinct impression, even when you are trying to focus on the race.  I remember the cultural diversity and raucous atmosphere in Brooklyn.  I remember the quiet pragmatism of Queens.  I remember a specific section of Queens—a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood.  The residents were lining the streets, but they were completely silent.  Periodically, a child would break the silence by clapping (which didn’t make the parents happy).  Shortly after that neighborhood, we crossed over into Manhattan and a scene that was very very different.  Throngs of screaming people.  I remember feeling alone in the Bronx until I ran into the gospel choirs.  Heavenly.  I remember finishing in Manhattan to a beautiful scene in Central Park.  I ran so many miles in Central Park, I knew the finish by heart.  It was great to be able to walk home after the race.

The NYC Marathon is a crowded, complicated race.  To get to the start, you need to get on a bus about 5 hours early.  It’s not for everyone.  I lived in NYC for 10 years and only did the marathon once.  I don’t know if I’ll do it again.  But I’ll always remember 2001.

Good luck to all the NYC Marathon runners!  Stay safe and run well.

A new way of thinking about goals

“I know there’s a balance, I see it when I swing past.”

John Mellencamp, Between a Laugh and a Tear

I’ve been thinking about my goal for my next race ever since my original goal went out the window.

Like most things, I’m probably thinking too much about it.

I’ve been wondering whether I should set my goals based on a rational process or whether I should just discover (or uncover) them.  If the key to achieving a goal is being motivated and committed, it’s better to just listen to what my “inner self” is saying.  Those urges, and the stuff I find interesting, will probably motivate me more than anything I can cook up.

At least it’ll be better than saying I want to do something that seems reasonable until I actually have to get out and do it.

Along those lines, here is a preliminary list of concepts that I’ve been exploring, the things that are most interesting to me right now with respect to running:

  • Dial in on a new nutrition strategy.  I’ve written a lot about my eating habits and my exploration of Paleo.  It’s occupied much of my attention over the past 3 months.  I believe nutrition is the foundation of fitness.
  • Explore new training strategies.  These strategies include higher mileage running, shorter but more frequent strength work and different allocations of workouts over the course of a week.
  • Rest (sleep) more.  This isn’t overly complicated, but it does take more time!
  • Enjoy the experience of running.  No explanation required

Looking at this list, I think my current focus is on resetting the foundation of my running.  I did well in a couple of races in late 2010 and early 2011, and that led me to think bigger for the upcoming years.  But to get to those bigger goals, I need to build a better foundation.  I might have been able to PR on my old running foundation, but it was showing cracks.  I don’t know if I could have gotten much farther beyond a PR.

Recently I’ve also been thinking about whether I should (or how I can) bake running more effectively into my every day life.  Be more steady and consistent about it.  Get to the point where it doesn’t dominate for too long, and it doesn’t hibernate for too long either.

Right now the effort I put into running is a bit too extreme—it’s either unsustainably high or ineffectively low.  I emphasize 1-2 races a year and put a big effort into getting as fit as possible to race them.  Then, after a race, I let go and decompress.  I need time to recover from the effort I put into the race.  I don’t run much and I regress in my level of fitness.  Then, for the next race, I end up re-covering a lot of fitness ground that I’ve let lapse.

Compare that with what might happen if I focused more on the every day aspects of running as opposed to 1-2 races.  What if I just ran because I love to run instead of because I need to get faster for my next race?  What if I didn’t completely restrict eating junk food, but I didn’t go overboard either?  Could I create a sustainable running/fitness workload that I could manage for extended periods of time?

I wouldn’t stop racing.  But instead of using races as the prime motivator for all things fitness, they would be more like checkpoints where I would test my fitness.

I don’t remember ever cramming for a test during my four years in college.  Not once.  I didn’t have to cram—I had a routine of consistently studying and dedicating time to learning.  Taking a test was just a checkpoint along the way.  I didn’t need to find extra time to do it.  The time was just there.

I don’t remember ever worrying about a test either.  In my opinion, I either knew the stuff or not.  If I felt like I knew the material and still bombed the test, that was ok.  If I did great on the test but didn’t feel like I knew the material, that would be a problem.  My thinking was longer term than the next test.

These weren’t the thoughts of a normal college kid, but I still did well in school.

I’m thinking I should adopt a similar perspective on running as I had on studying.  That is, the first priority is to create a good, sustainable set of habits.  When races (tests) come, I’m going to rely on those habits to carry me.  I can do really well with a good, sustainable set of habits.  Sure, I might need to increase the intensity before one or two particularly big races, but I won’t do it for long enough to burn me out.

Adding it all up, I wonder if my goal should be to create a set of fitness habits that I can sustain for longer than 4 months.  It might mean running shorter distances more frequently.  It might mean getting away from a complete restriction on junk food (followed by the inevitable binge).  It might mean I run in the middle of the day sometimes (instead of only in the morning).  I’m not entirely sure what it means.

As for this race in November, I’m not going to set a time goal for it.  I’m going to run whatever I can.  If I can create a set of good, sustainable fitness habits by the time the race arrives, that would be a good enough outcome for me.  I’ll get back to worrying about my PR in 2012.

Running Slump Over: Hungry and Humble Again

My fitness is terrible, but my running slump is over.

I’m on a regular schedule now, increasing the distance and looking forward to increasing the intensity.  I’m being careful so I don’t get hurt.  Most important, I’m looking forward to every workout.  My eating and sleeping habits are improving.  I’m out of the rut I was in.

Autumn’s perfect running weather is right around the corner.  I can’t wait.

I’ve got a brand new set of goals for 2011 and 2012.  Do they qualify as BHAG’s?  Pretty darn close.  I’m nervous, and I’ve already started re-thinking my training and recovery strategies.  I’m not sure I should publish these since I’m still not 100% committed, but here goes…

My new list of races and goals:

November 2011:  Marathon (Kansas).  As fast as possible (I may not have time to get fit enough for a PR)
February 2012:  Marathon (Alabama).  Get my PR, potentially break 2:50
April-May 2012:  Races TBD.  Weekend of back-to-back racing.  Saturday marathon, Sunday 50K.  I’m looking to find a marathon and 50K within reasonable travel distance
August 2012:  Pikes Peak double.  Ascent Saturday, marathon Sunday
Fall 2012:  TBD.  Either ultramarathon (50+ miles) or marathon PR

The centerpiece of my new goals is an old friend that inspired (scared) me to big breakthroughs in 2010 – Pikes Peak.  I intend to race the Pikes Peak double in 2012.  I’ve never done anything like that.  And just finishing isn’t good enough, I intend to compete.

Future posts will cover the training implications of all these races.  Training for a PR is different than training for a Pikes Peak double.  Right now, my main concern is getting this PR, so that’s my initial focus.

It’s nice to be thinking about serious racing again.

What caused the slump?

Understanding what caused my running slump probably isn’t important.  But I’m obsessed with improving, and diagnosing the root causes of this slump will help me get better.

While running slumps are common, the cause of this running slump is not ordinary.  It’s related to the intersection of running and life.  The two can’t be separated, but in my case they became too close for comfort.

For a while now, I’ve been wondering whether I’m in the right career.  I’ve been reading a lot about “following my passions” and building a career based on what I love.  My biggest passion is running.  That passion has led me to some modest success – I’ve done pretty well in races over the past few years.

I started this blog as a first step in transforming my running passion into a career.  When I decided to start this blog, I fully intended to make money from it some day.  I figured other runners would actually be interested in hearing my secrets to running success.  Interested enough to pay for them.

I didn’t expect what happened next.

Once my “passion” became the seed for a new career, it ceased being a passion.  I stopped thinking about running for the fitness and challenge, and I started thinking about running as work.  I started thinking about ways that I could turn running into a business.  Not what I was looking for.

I also started to believe my own marketing hype.  I lost my humility.  In my attempts to position myself as an expert, I inflated myself to the point where I thought I was invincible.  I thought I could get by on eating like crap, running poorly, and sleeping poorly.  I forgot what fueled my previous success.

It’s taken me a while to figure this out.  I had to do some soul searching.  But discovering these connections is huge, and ditching this blog over the past couple months helped me get out of the slump.  I’m back to running for the right reasons.

What’s next for this blog?

Against most conventional blogging wisdom, I’ve disconnected this blog from Facebook.  Disconnected it from Twitter.  Disconnected it from LinkedIn.  Those connections were lame attempts on my part to get people to read it.

I’m no longer writing this blog with the aim of getting readers.

I’m writing this blog to capture my thoughts and feelings as I pursue running breakthroughs.  It’s like a journal or advanced training log.  I enjoy the process of writing and it helps clarify my thinking, so I don’t see a need to stop writing altogether.

I plan to use this blog to capture my learnings and document the places I find useful information.  Sometimes I’ll probably just capture some feeling I had during a training run or an inspiration I got from somewhere.  Writing for those purposes will be useful for me; perhaps it will be useful for others too.

I’ll probably end up posting more frequently.  In the past, blog posts have taken a long time because I’ve tried to make them perfect.  Ironically, I’ve had trouble developing content that I thought was compelling for readers.  I don’t expect to have that problem any more – I’m getting unstuck.  If it’s compelling for me, it’s good enough.

I’m guessing that plenty of other people are searching for that running breakthrough.  If you’re one of them, you might find some value in what I write.  That would be great.  But I’m no longer worried about anyone else who might read this stuff.

I’m just happy to be back running again.