Browsing Category: Training

On Tapering, Carb-loading and Race Planning


Taper Week
I do not taper well. After almost 10 years of marriage, we have a lot of unwritten rules that keep the household ship off the shoals. One rule, high on the list, is that I need to exercise almost daily. If I don’t, I get restless, irritable, and cranky. I’m a 70 year old man that was charged a nickel too much for his coffee. I’m a 10 month old that can’t dropped her bottle. Suddenly there are three little kids to deal with in the house. It can make tapering for big races a challenging and fraught time. 

The fact that I at least recognize this psychosis is a step in the right direction and I’m trying hard this year not to let it throw me off stride (ahem). Having two little kid and a nutty puppy certainly gives me plenty of distractions to keep my occupied, but I was relieved when I woke up this morning and started to feel excited for the race this morning. It was like emerging from a fog.

In retrospect it was probably more than just the taper this time. After three 40 and 50 mile weeks in a row, I hit the 2 week slow down and taper sore and very relieved. And very burned out. If (okay, let’s not kid ourselves, when) I do this again, I think I’ll cut the training time back from 20 weeks to 16 weeks.

The problem was that as the recovery week moved into the taper week, I still just felt mostly relief at not having to put the running shoes on every day and little to no excitement for the upcoming marathon. It was a weird blue period, that thankfully seems to be lifting.

Mental Prep
The other thing I’m trying to do this year is shift my focus during the taper off the drastic reduction in activity and toward a better mental race prep. Over 26 miles, a strong mental game is likely to be just as important as strong legs.

As a writer, I’m very familiar with self-doubt and I’m hoping this kinship will pay off. There is a point in writing any story, short or novel length, where you become absolute sure that what you are writing is all worthless drivel and a complete waste of time. At this point I almost welcome the feeling. Personally, I know it means I’m almost done and if I push through, the feeling will (mostly) pass.

From all that I’ve read and watched, I think I can expect something similar in the marathon, probably around mile 18 – 20. During a couple long runs, I definitely hit a point where my legs were concrete pillars, my lungs were suddenly heaving and taking another step felt like running in cement. I’d like to avoid that on Sunday, but if not, I want to be mentally ready to beat back those feelings rather than indulge them.

I’ve also come to terms with the fact that there is no perfect race. Despite all the long runs, short runs, intervals, strides and stretching, you can’t prepare for it all. A marathon is a long race and I’ve spent much of this week going through various scenarios in my mind and having a plan or a response for each high or low I hit.


Carb Loading
Being on a primarily plant based diet, this is actually proving to be one of the harder pieces of race week. You’d think I might enjoy the respite from greens and whole foods, but, starting yesterday, trying to cram in all these carbs (oatmeal with brown sugar and honey, white bread, Gatorade, bagels, white rice, gummy candy) has led to some rather wild swings in energy.

And you know what, I still don’t think I’m hitting the ideal number my coach is recommending. Based on my weight, I should be consuming over 500 grams of carbs each day leading up to the race. If you’re not recoiling, you should be. That is a massive number. But I’ve stuck with his plan so far, so to question it now would be a little self-defeating. Gotta embrace it. Excuse me, I’ve got to eat another bagel.

The Plan
The course
The race is the Bay State Marathon in Lowell, MA, about an hour north/northwest of Boston. The course runs through downtown Lowell and a neighboring town and mostly hugs the Merrimack River.

I’ve scouted the course (thank you Google street view) and made sure I’ve read through the athlete guide so I don’t have any surprises race morning. Anything to reduce the race day stress.

This race is a big BQ qualifier (no, I’m not attempting to qualify, it’s flattering you ask) and is flat (really flat) and, hopefully for me, fast. The total gain is less than 200 feet over the duration of the race. No complaints there.

The one thing I am definitely changing from a few weeks ago, is to be almost obnoxiously early. I definitely felt a little sluggish in the half-marathon by skipping the pre-race warm-up routines that I’ve been doing during this whole training set. I do not want to miss those on Sunday.


The nutrition

Given how well the half-marathon rehearsal went, I’m going to largely stick with the same plan for race morning nutrition. One cup of coffee, white rice cereal with honey and almond butter then water on the drive to the race before sipping on a pre-run energy drink and maybe some Amrita bar depending on how I’m feeling. It worked for the half and worked during my weekly long runs. I’m not deviating now.

During the run, I plan to carry some dates, four gels and a pack of lemon-lime Clif shots in my race belt. I’m going to try to get 100 calories an hour. The race has aid stations every 1.5 miles or so with water and Gatorade and I can supplement my own gels with race gels at mile 7 or 17.

The health
After practically bathing in Purell and being terrified of falling off a curb and twisting my ankle, I’ve managed to get through the last two weeks injury free. I’m still nursing a mild case of plantar fasciitis (self-diagnosed), but it actually bothers me more when I’m walking and going about my day than when I’m running. I hope that remains the case on Sunday. It will definitely be something I’m going to have rehab in the off-season, but there’s nothing I can do other than continue to ice, stretch and roll it until the race. Overall, I fell about as healthy as I could be after 20 weeks of hard training.

The pace
I know I need to go out very conservatively. For the first five miles I want to put a floor on my pace of no faster than 8:00. I know from a couple tough long runs that burning those matches with a 7:40 mile early will just kill you on the back half. The plan would then be to slowly (are you listening Mike, slowly!) ease into the race pace with the next ten miles between 7:50 and 7:55 and try to hold onto that good, I-can-keep-this-up-forever feeling for as long as possible. If I can hit 20 miles still hitting 7:50s, I plan to loosen up and just run the last six as fast I as I possible can.

In short, do the first third with my watch, the second third by feel and the last third with heart.

The weather
Finally, the weather, something completely out of my control, but something I’ve been compulsively checking six times a day anyway. Right now, it looks good, high of 59 and partly cloudy. Perfect marathon weather.

The Goals
1. Finish
2. Finish without walking
3. Finish in under 3:30
4. Run my own race
5. Finish strong
6. Smile/Have fun


Pre-Race Report: Allstate Boston Half Marathon (13.1)

allstate_half_topThis weekend’s race is serving two purposes: first, it’s a dress rehearsal for next month’s Bay State Marathon, my ‘A’ race this season. Second, it’s breaking up the 20 week training plan I’ve been on for the marathon. (If I use this plan again, I’d cut it down to 16 weeks. ) Racing is fun and a good litmus test to see if all the miles, tempos and intervals are paying off.

The Course
The race is actually at Suffolk Downs a horse race track in East Boston, not the city proper. The half marathon course is an out and back course that hugs the coast up toward the north shore. Should be nice views, but could be cold and windy off the water if the weather is bad. Right now it looks good (after a surprise burst of heat this week).

Pre-race Plan
As a dress rehearsal for the marathon, I want to test out my pre-race routine (this race starts at 7:30, the marathon at 8),  and nutrition.

During the race, I want to focus on early pacing. I need to keep the pace under control. My two previous halves, I’ve been too aggressive early and really paid for it in the last third. I know I will pay double if I burn too many matches early in a marathon. I want to finish strong. After the halfway mark, if I feel good, I’ll let go and run by feel. If not, I’ll keep pacing and treat the day as a catered training day.

I also want to test out clothes and shoes. After running the past two years in more minimal shoes, I found my feet aching after long runs and recently switched to a, still neutral, but more padded shoes (New Balance 750v2). We are still getting used to each other. A little worried about a persistent hotspot on my right foot.

Finally, I want to practice my nutrition. I’ve been pretty consistent during my long runs with the gels, food, salt pills and blocks, and have not had any issues, but want to put them through a race environment. Along with the fuel and race belts.

1. Practice my race routines

2. Stay on pace early

3. Finish strong

4. Set a half PR

5. Smile/Have fun

1:37:22 – I actually set a half marathon PR last week during a 16 mile long run, lowering it almost two minutes, from 1:40:52 to 1:38:46, so I know the training is paying off. If I can find that flow again, I think I can drop it even further.


The start of my 2013 is here

I’m looking out my window and fresh snow is falling on the existing three feet high snowbanks along the driveway and I’m questioning the sanity of starting my season in February while living in the Northeast. In past years, I’ve eased into the season with 5Ks in March, typically around St. Patty’s Day, and typically with a race that featured a pint at the end. This year, perhaps to keep me motivated to up the annual mileage or just to avoid using my paternity leave as a crutch to slack off, I chose the Old Fashioned Ten Miler in Foxboro tomorrow as my first race of the 2013 season. One part of me (the type A part) is looking at it as a challenge. Snow, wind, black ice, sub-zero temps? Bring it on. The other part of me is itching to scrap it and log a few miles on the treadmill in the basement next to the percolating warmth of the boiler room.

A Quick Recap of 2012

First, a quick look back. The further I get away from 2012, the more mellow I become about the results. After the last 5k in December, I felt pretty down on the season despite setting two PRs and finishing another half marathon. My big goal for the first part of 2012 was strength and speed work with the benchmark being breaking 20:00 for a 5k. Believe it or not, of the 6 5k’s I ran in 2012, I ran each between 20:00 and 20:12. If you’re feeling generous, you might give me that one. I hit 20:00 on the nose, but never dipped under it. A new PR, but not a gold star for my goal.

The second PR was in the Finish at the 50 10k at Gillette stadium on a pretty hot July 3rd. I finished 16th in my age group and posted a 42:39. Not too shabby, but I put a mental asterisk next to this one as the first kilometer or so is on a serious downhill, so a steep hill-aided PR.

The big goal for the second half of ’12 was completing my second half marathon and improving on my first time at Rock N Roll Providence (1:40:52). I did finish the race (the flat Smuttynose Rockfest in Hampton), but failed to top my Providence time as both IT bands tightened painfully around mile 10 (up to that point, I was very pleased with my nutrition and pacing) and the last three miles were finished at a hobbling limp. Net result? Two minutes slower than Providence (1:42:50). Errr.

Goal Setting for 2013

2013 includes my first tri
2013 includes my first tri

Time to put the 2013 goals in writing to ensure a little accountability.

  1.  First Tri
    The big goal for ’13 is my first triathlon. I chose a sprint one, USAT certified, but with a capped field that I hope will provide both a gentle introduction to the sport and a fun experience. This is local and in mid-July. Ramping up cycling and re-learning to swim should be interesting learning experiences.
  2. Full marathon or Multiple half marathons
    Haven’t completely made up my mind about this one. Given that we have a new baby and being cognizant of how much time it would take to train the way I’d like for a full marathon, it makes me leery of stepping up to the full this year. If I chose a full, I’d aim for one in mid-October. Maybe the Bay State. If I go multiple halves, the Ocean State Triple Crown series looks fun.
  3. Continue focus on flexibility
    I am not flexible. Never have been, but as I work to take on more endurance races and get older, I’m increasingly aware of how better flexibility can aid training, recovering and prevent nagging injuries (see the IT band issues above). Last year, I did yoga fairly regularly, I’d like to continue that and be better about consistent foam rolling on a weekly basis.
  4. Stay on a plant-based diet
    I plan to write about this more soon, but since December I’ve been eating a largely plant-based diet and really feeling the benefits in all aspects of my life: sleep, work, energy for playing with the kids, training. The plan is to keep this up for the rest of 2013.

That seems like a solid, challenging, yet achievable list.

Potential 2013 Events

Here are the events I’m eying for early in 2013.

Here are the events I’m considering now for the latter part of the 2013


So after a so-so 2012, I’m ready to push harder into 2013. It all starts tomorrow in the snow, sleet and wind.


flickr cc photo attributions: shawn allen, ella baker center, through my eyes only

Running a Half Marathon

5k braved the monsoon

The Half Marathon needs a better name. It sounds like a cop-out, doesn’t it? Oh, you couldn’t do a full marathon, huh? Opted for the halfsie? By the end of 13.1 miles this past Sunday, I was quite ready to take any abuse, any insult, just to be done. I staggered across the line, legs like dead wood, chest heaving, eyes zeroed in on that finish line with a zombie-like stare. Sounds like fun, right? Why would I possibly subject myself to this? Good question.

In the days leading up to the Providence Rock N Roll Half Marathon, I asked myself this question a lot and came up with two reasons. I blame my co-worker and Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. The co-worker because he innocently handed me the book and McDougall for writing a very convincing and very entertaining book that certainly made distance running seem fun and romantic. Before I go further, let me say I’m not a barefoot acolyte. I do own a pair of minimalist trail shoes and I did make a conscious decision to change my stride this year to more of a mid-foot strike to ease the burden on my knees, but please don’t attack me with do’s or don’ts of barefoot running. My advice? If you’re running without pain (or little pain) there is probably little reason to change. If you find yourself bogged down with injuries or returning to running from a long layoff, you might give the arguments in the book some thought.

The second reason was more esoteric and tangential. I play basketball once a week with a group of like minded, competitive guys. We recently switched leagues from the open league to the over-35 one. Seems rather banal, and definitely a good decision given how the 20 year-olds were buzzing by us like we were playing in cement shoes, but I think it triggered some sort of urge to still prove I could compete. Even if I was only proving it to myself. Like I said, esoteric, but better than buying a Corvette or something, right?

I wasn’t starting from scratch. I was pretty fit and had a solid base of 15-20 miles a week of recreational running. Still, I knew I needed a plan for a half marathon. Sure, I could probably wing it and complete it, but being a type A personality, I had goals and ambitions of running it well. There are numerous plans out there on the Internet for free. Pretty much a plan for every type of runner, I think. I choose Hal Higdon’s Intermediate plan for a couple reasons. First, it wasn’t overly complex. A lot of plans had days (or multiple days) dedicated to speed workouts or splits or intervals or tempo runs. Undoubtedly that would probably help, but I the more I searched the more I realized I wanted less of a plan and more of a road map on how to  ramp up to sufficient miles without risking injury. Second, I have a full-time job, a toddler and lot of other demands on my time. Higdon’s plan was flexible. It allowed for me to slot in my weekly basketball game as cross-training and for flip-flopping training days when necessary.

With the training now in the rear view mirror, I can say Higdon’s plan was successful and the right one for me.

My form at the end of the race

Let me also pass along a few tips on the physiology of long training runs. I did come to welcome these runs (proves how short term my memory is) each weekend, at least until mile 9 or so, and definitely came to recognize a certain pattern:
Mile 0 – 3: This is a good pace. Nice and easy. I can do this all day.
Mile 4 – 7: Damn! I am flying. Half marathon? Screw that, I’m going for the full monty.
Mile 8 – 11: Where did these elves and their little knives come from? Why are they jabbing me in the knees, ankles and hips? Aw, gawd, it hurts!
Mile 12 – 13: Mental boot camp. Your numb lower body is on autopilot. A death-march to the finish.

Two final things, having a time goal did help me. It gave me a tangible measuring stick to track my training progress. Second, I always thought the idea of a mantra was kind of silly, but in those last three or four miles when your mind is a blank slate of pain, they do help bring a kind of focused determination to finishing.

When & Where?
On further reflection, picking New England in August for my first attempt, was pure folly. If I had to do it again, I’d aim for September or October. Hot and humid were not just a possibility (despite the 7 am start), but a probability. Not a lot I could do about it. I had trained through August, sometimes timing longer runs at midday to acclimatize a bit. The one thing I didn’t count on? The rain.

What Happened?
Well, I did finish, but Sunday August 7th in Providence was a monsoon. And that is barely exaggerating. Fifteen to twenty mile an hour winds with driving rains for a good three quarters of the race. It did build a sense of solidarity among the five thousands that turned out, but man it was less than ideal, especially for a maiden voyage. Despite a fifteen minute delay at the start, leaving us packed and shuffling in the corral, the race was otherwise well organized on all fronts. They could have used more post-race shelter for runners, but I can’t fault them for not anticipating the storm. I would have liked to see them put the gear bags under tarps or something as finishing and picking up your soaked gear was a downer. The on-course stations, timing, and post-race recovery spread was good.

I made it around the course a few minutes under my goal time and despite some pacing issues (like an eager beaver I went out waaay too fast) will definitely be running another half again in the future. My last piece of advice? Reward yourself. Running 13 miles is nothing to sneeze at. Take a few days off recover and reward yourself. Me? I spent the next day lounging, stuffing my gut with BBQ and cupcakes.

Running with a Garmin: Friend or Foe

Never take an unrecorded step

As I’ve crept closer to my mid-thirties I’ve become better at curbing my instincts for buying up the latest gadget. Having to pay a mortgage and daycare bills will have that sort of mitigating effect. After seeing the new Garmin Forerunner however, I’m seriously fighting the itch. While mulling over my argument to Michelle about why I really need to upgrade my “virtual coach and training partner” I thought about how the Garmin (I have a now antiquated 305 model which feels like carrying a grandfather clock on your wrist) has changed the way I run the past three years.

Record Keeping
Even if you’re just running for health maintenance and not training for a race or other goal, not tracking and recording your runs can be a mistake. I’m not talking about religiously recording every step like a deranged fitness accountant (more on that in a minute) but not keeping any record of progress makes it hard to measure improvement and easy to slip into a rut and simply plateau.

There is a dark side to being able to capture all those stats. In those first heady months after you strap a GPS to your wrist you’ll be setting all sorts of personal records and pushing to reach new goals. It’s fun. It’s invigorating. It’s enticing. Up to a point. Eventually you’ll reach a barrier and those PR’s and goals become harder and harder to accomplish. In and of itself this is not a bad thing and can help keep you pushing, helping you avoid that plateau. But it can also lead to disappointment and drain the fun out of running. Beware.

Sweet, sweet technology

One benefit of pushing for those PRs and having constant access to pace and heart rate is the more closely you tune into your body. You’ll soon learn to judge your turnover in relation to pace and when you’re having a good day and a shot and when it’s not there. The latter is the harder lesson to learn. Not every time out is going to be a PR. Some days it will enough to just log the miles.

Letting Go
Something happened in the third year of running with the Forerunner. I started leaving it home more. I started running to just to run. I knew instinctively when I was loafing and when I was pushing. Some days I just plain didn’t care. I just wanted to go for a run and not be tethered to time and distance.

Did I just talk myself out of it? Maybe I just need to go for a run.