Monday, February 22, 2010

Halfway to the marathon

Sunday marked a semi-momentous day in my training: the unofficial halfway point to Grandma's Marathon in June.

It feels like that marathon is just around the corner, even though in reality, it's still about four months away. I intentionally started the training early to get through any injuries that might have occurred and to ensure that I would ease into heavy running weeks rather than jumping straight from 15 to 40 miles.

Well, at the halfway point, here's how it breaks down:

I have been training for 17 full weeks and amassed a grand total of 497 miles. That equates out to an average of a little more than 29 miles a week. My highest total for one week was 43 (my total last week) and my lowest total was 8 (holiday week with the family, kind of hard to find time to run). My longest individual run was 12 miles and my shortest ones were generally in the 3-4 mile speed drill range. For weight loss, my goal was to drop 25 pounds by June, and I have so far dropped about 9 (depending on the time of day and the scale, of course).

Overall. I'm pretty pleased with my training so far. I was hoping to be averaging more weekly miles at this point, but I had a lull during the holiday season and a sore achilles to contend with. My mileage has ticked noticeably upward in the last seven weeks (254 miles, average of more than 36 a week), and I'll take that as a sign that my training has progressed for the better. The weight loss has been a bit slow, but I'd rather focus on being "light on my feet" rather than obsessively trying to cut calories. 

From here, I'm hoping to average around 40 miles a week, have a long run of 15-20 miles every week, and start ticking my average mile time down to the 7-minute range for average. I also plan on incorporating more hill workouts into my routine once the weather (and more importantly, the icy sidewalks) improves. 

Considering my progression so far, those goals seem very reasonable.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A duathlete masquerading as a triathlete

Sometimes, we need reminders of how bad we are at something before we start taking the necessary measures to get better at it.

For me, that reminder came a few days ago, when an attempt to break up my recent monotony of running by swimming turned into a 30-minute embarrassment of clumsy kicks, flailing limbs and exasperated lungs. There may have been a point during my time in the pool where the YMCA lifeguard legitimately thought I was drowning.

To be fair, it has been a long time since I've donned a pair of swim trunks. The last time I can remember going swimming was for the 1/3 ironman triathlon that I did last August in Waseca. Incidentally, the 1-mile swim that I did for that race also featured a lifeguard wondering whether or not I was drowning, probably due to the fact that my poor technique had me zig-zagging the swim course like a drunk driver careening across the highway. My overall time in the race wasn't bad, but that's mostly because my biking and running abilities came to the rescue.

As you can probably tell, I'm no Michael Phelps when it comes to swimming. I am competant enough not to drown, but that's about as far as I go for water prowess. Swimming has always been a struggle, even after 8 years of lessons and countless hours spent in Hiniker Pond last summer.

The solution to this is about as obvious to me as it is for anybody else: practice. It doesn't always come easy, but practice always makes perfect. Most people who do triathlons aren't good at all three events right away; they have to work at it to get better.

For myself, improvement might require practice in the form of coaching or classes from people who, unlike me, actually know how to swim.

The Y is offering Triathlon Training 101 class from March until May. I haven't decided if I'm going to sign up for it. The cost is relatively nominal ($47 for members, $94 for non-members over 8 weeks), but the classes are at 6:00 a.m. Mondays and Wednesdays (a little early for me) and I'm only REALLY interested in the swimming portion of it. I've attended some of the other aquatics classes sparingly, but those are generally more focused on aerobics than technique. Besides, there is something a little off-putting about being the youngest person in a fitness class by a solid 30 years.

In other words, I haven't yet figured out how I'm going to get better at swimming, but the struggles recently have convinced me that it's something that I need to address.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Reconnecting with an early exercise influence

As mentioned in an earlier post post, I haven't always been such an enthusiast for running.

In high school, I loathed running unless it involved playing a sport like basketball or football. My best mile time was 8 minutes flat, and that came with my asthma acting up by the end of the run. If you'd have told the 17-year-old version of me that I was going to eventually run a marathon, I'm fairly certain the youthful version of me would've stared at you with a look of disbelief normally reserved for a fictional person with lobsters growing out out of their ears.

But somewhere along the line, my perception of running, and fitness and general, took a major turn. And a big early influence on that was Jeff Kellerman, my high school track & field coach.

At first glance, Coach Kellerman hardly seems like the type who would have an influence on a person like me. Kellerman was a distance running guru (he also doubled off as the head cross country coach) and my one year on the track team was spent throwing discus and shot put. At one point, Kellerman told me that he wished I would have joined track earlier because he saw me as being a good relay runner (in hindsight, he might have been more of a visionary than I gave him credit for). But that was about the extent of our running interaction. He rarely coached the throwers and we only really saw him when he brought the whole team together for meetings.

However, while he didn't have a direct influence on my current running habits, Coach Kellerman did have an immense influence on my work ethic as an athlete. Kellerman was a coach with boundless energy toward his sport. You could tell he thoroughly enjoyed running and part of the enjoyment he derived from it came from making his athletes better at the sport. No one exuded more excitement for upcoming track meets and no one was more apt to praise his athletes for their hard work.

Before that track season, I was mostly in sports to hang out with friends and pass the time. But Coach Kellerman's enthusiasm (and me having fluke success in the discus ring) went a long way toward exercise becoming part of my daily routine.

Recently, I managed to get a hold of Coach Kellerman, both to catch up with him and to soak up any form of training advice he could give. Here is a rough sketch of what we discussed:

  • Surprisingly enough, Coach Kellerman has ran the exact same number of marathons that I have: one. To his credit, Kellerman keeps himself busy with coaching and teaching and is admittedly more concerned about helping his daughter Hannah, a high school senior and one of the top runners and skiiers in the St. Cloud area, train for sports. Kellerman is also more of mid-distance advocate, having participated in numerous half marathons and 10K races.
  • As far as marathon training goes, the biggest point he could think of was the importance of getting a long training run in every week. He said the sheer distance helps prepare you mentally and physically for the abuse your body is going to take. At present, my weekly long run is in the 10-mile range. Kellerman told me that it would be in my best interest to build that up to the 20-mile range before the marathon rolls around.
  • He also stressed the importance of getting an interval training run in every once in awhile. This means trying to work in short sprints to help build up speed and keep your cardiovascular system guessing. We both agreed that fartlek was an effective training method for this.
  • Another simple, but key point he gave for training: Listen to your body. If you're not healthy, you're not getting the most out of your training.
  • His nutritional advice was pretty basic: eat healthy and stay away from bad carbs and late-night eating habits. Apparently, Coach Kellerman has the same mindset that I have for dieting: Part of the beauty of long-distance running is having more freedom to eat what you want. This probably doesn't bode well for weight loss goals.
  • For weightlifting, he explained that trying to pack on pounds of muscle in the weightroom is counterproductive to distance running, where it's better to be light on your feet. Lifting is still important for building strength and endurance, but he advised me to shoot for more repetitions per set at lower weights.
  • The advice he had for breaking in running shoes was to taper the new pair in gradually with your existing pair. That means breaking them out once or twice a week during your shorter runs so they'll form to your feet without causing pain or blisters. He's been rolling with the same type of New Balance shoe for the last 10 years, which probably helps a lot in the breaking-in process. I'm more of an Asics man myself.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Mankato marathon without hills? Well that's just plain crazy talk!

Attention runners of Mankato: You won't have to travel far to try out a marathon course. There is now one in your own backyard.

As the article in today's paper indicates, the Mankato Marathon Web site has been updated and now includes registration information, more in-depth event info and, most importantly (at least for the running nerds like myself), a finalized map of the marathon course.

After reading the article, there is plenty to get excited about for the inaugural race. For one thing, the race won't be a big dent in the pocketbook, with the marathon, 1/2 marathon and 10K races currently costing $50, $35 and $25, respectively. That's a lot cheaper than you're going to find for almost any established marathon. I would know; I just got done dropping $90 on Grandma's Marathon.

Secondly, the overwhelming interest in the marathon already has coordinators bumping their registration estimate up to 2,000 instead of 1,000. Several people have already registered since the Web site went online on Tuesday. This kind of interest, especially with the marathon still more than 8 months away, creates optimism that it will be a successful event and will become a yearly staple in the Mankato community.

But in all honesty, the thing to get most excited about is the course itself. Race coordinator Mark Bongers said in the article that the marathon course avoids the major hills in the area. Count me as a skeptic after reading that. Avoiding hills in Mankato? Isn't that like trying to avoid traffic in New York City?

So, with the course map in hand and some time to kill, I drove around the eastern loop of the course (miles 1-15, I'm relatively familiar with the rest of the course) to see for myself if they really were successful at dodging Mankato's hellish hills. Believe it or not, they pulled it off for the most part. The course doesn't avoid ALL of Mankato's hills, but it avoids the major ones.

The two biggest hills to climb occur within the first seven miles of the course, each featuring an initial downward slope into the Le Sueur River valley before their respective climbs. Both hills look fairly challenging (again, I drove it, I didn't run it), but neither is in the neighborhood of Gage hill, Main Street, Lookout Drive or even Madison Ave for difficulty. The fact that the hills are early in the race is encouraging enough, as I'm sure any runner would agree that it's better to climb a hill at Mile 6 than at Mile 22.

As a matter of fact, the longest and steepest hill on the entire course is one runners have the privilege of running down instead of climbing up. The hill in question runs along County Road 90 on the South Bend bike trail around Mile 18. It's a doozie of a hill, one that serves as good training for triathlon biking (coming from personal experience). If anything, runners should almost be as concerned about their descent on the South Bend hill as they are about the early climbs, as it's steep enough to cause problems if they're not under control.

The rest of the course is littered with minor hills here and there (one on the Red Jacket Trail, another while running around Sibley Park), but as stated before, runners won't have to fear a Main Street-esque climb at any point in the race. Overall, the course actually drops nearly 200 ft. in elevation from start to finish. It also features 13 water stations and has police stationed at numerous intersections to keep the course safe for runners.

The only concern I can see is trying to fit nearly 2,000 runners onto the bike trail portion of the marathon course (miles 16-23). However, the trails are late enough in the race where people shouldn't be as crammed together as they would at the start of the race. Besides, given the amount of planning that's already gone into the race, this is undoubtedly something Bongers and the rest of the event planners have thought of.

There's still a lot of organizing to be done between now and race day, but as far as the race course goes, bravo. Or, at the very least, bravo until I actually try to run it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

If it were me, I probably would've just taken the elevator

Just call it "The Stairmaster from Hell."

At least that was my initial reaction while watching the KEYC newscast last night, when the Empire State Stair Race was reported on and nearly 300 runners partook in climbing the building's 1,576 stairs, 86 floors and 1,050 feet of elevation change. In it's 33rd year of existence, the race is considered the cream of the crop among professional stair runners (yes, they do exist) and typically draws in the world's elite for stair racing, similar to Boston Marathon for long-distance runners.

Mountain runner Melissa Moon took the female title with a time of 13:17 and Thomas Dold won the overall race with a time of 10:16. Dold actually fell well short of the record in the race, which was set by Paul Crake with a time of 9:23. If you average out Crake's time, it equates to climbing roughly nine floors and 167 steps every minute. Even for the most seasoned of mountain hikers with a taste for hard workouts, there's only one word for this kind of stair-climbing prowess: damn.

After watching a YouTube video of it, two things stood out for me about the race: the bottleneck of runners jokeying for position on a narrow staircase (think the start of an average road race for crowdedness multiplied by 10) and the struggle many of the elite runners had to reach the top of the climb. Many could be seen clutching the stair railings and walking gingerly as the race progressed, some even to the point of collapsing.

Bear in mind, these are people who, for the most part, train year-round for this. They are probably the gym rats you see breezing through workouts on the stairmaster at the Y on a regular basis.

In any event, this looks like one of the races that I'd rather admire from afar. Climbing the stairs at the Free Press is enough work as it is.