Thursday, December 6, 2018

End of 2018 Musings

There are still a few weeks left in 2018, but with no more races on the calendar, I figured I’d write down some thoughts on how the year has gone.

It's been a good year of running. First, no major injuries! Second, perhaps as a direct result of the first point, I improved as a runner, despite getting a year older. Third, and most importantly, I’ve enjoyed running this year. Never really had any long-term motivational issues or struggles. I enjoy the daily “grind,” and it feels like I’ve found the right balance in terms of time spent running without feeling obsessive about it.

More granular thoughts:
  • I’ve run 1853 miles this year as of this morning, so I may or may not make it to 2000 miles on the year. Last year, I ran over 2800. That’s a 28% reduction in volume, with a significant improvement in racing performance year over year. (You reading, GZ?)
  • That said, this was not quite as light of a volume year as it may sound. Living at 7800 ft., unless I’m running on the track, every single run I do, including my “flat runs,” has at least 500-1000 feet of climbing. In the summer and fall, most of my long days are over 12,000 feet. Right now, 75% of my runs require screw shoes to get traction on all the snow and ice. So mileage isn’t a key driver for me. I track mileage, but it’s just a reference point. It’s not a focus of training.
  • The main reason for the improvement this year, I think, is that I’m doing two workouts a week, damned near every week. Tempos, long intervals, short intervals, hills, track workouts, speed development, time trials, cruise intervals, 800 m workouts, whatever. I have one full year of regular workouts under my belt, and I can tell the difference in terms of fitness. 
  • I’ve actually been following online the training philosophy of an old college teammate of mine, now a nationally recognized HS school. He’s fond of saying for his runners (who ran sub-7:46 for the 3200 meter relay four years in a row), “our feet move fast every day.” And “Everything is present. Always.” I like that. And so I try to throw a few strides into nearly every run. I think that’s helped, too.
  • At least one day a week now, I’m doing at least one or two full-on 100-meter sprints. As a master, I think it’s good to do a little bit of speed development every week.
  • I’ve played around with different training philosophies, but my training right now is fairly conventional. One easy day with maximal hill sprints, one tempo run, one medium aerobic trail run, one track/speed development day, one long trail run, and the rest of my runs super, super easy (almost always slower than 9-minute miles, sometimes slower than 10-minute miles). If I feel any niggles or what feels like an injury, my easy days become off days. 
  • In terms of racing performances, I’m most proud of my 1:21 half at the color run. That’s an 8-minute half marathon PR as a 40 year old! That’s the race that makes me most excited about what I can do in 2019.
  • I didn’t get the 17:30 this year, but I’m cautiously optimistic I’ll get there eventually.
  • I don’t have any specific goals for this next year. But what I’d like to continue to do, is not just to maintain, but to improve as I get older. That's not easy anymore. But I’m hopeful that I’ve got a few more years of that left in me.
  • For 2019, I think I might run some bigger and more competitive races. I ran five races this year. I got first, second, fifth, first, and then an unknown place (40th, maybe?) at the Emma Coburn Elk Run 5k. (Because it’s other people’s job to time Emma Coburn. Not Emma Coburn’s job to time other people.) 
  • As much fun as it was beating up on old ladies walking with their dogs in Salida 5ks, it might be fun to see how I measure up in bigger races.
  • With that in mind, possible races on the agenda in 2019 include: Moab Red Hot 33k, Salida Run Through Time, Cherry Creek Sneak, Bolder Boulder, Spiral Drive, Grin & Bear It, Pikes Ascent, Grand Traverse, and Canyon de Chelly.
  • Those last two races are big maybes, as they are ultramarathons, and I haven’t done any of those since 2012. I love the idea of long days in the mountains in beautiful places. I don’t love the idea of slogging through back-to-back 4-5 hour training runs week after week. So if I run ultras this year, the thought will be to dip the toes into those races without any competitive aspirations and without changing my training too much, just to see if if I can enjoy myself getting out there without turning my life into a black hole of ultrarunning. We’ll see.

In sum, 2018 was a year of good health and good fortune (knock on wood), so I’m grateful for that. I try not to take that for granted. Here’s to hoping for more of the same in 2019.

Best wishes to all.

Thursday, November 1, 2018


That’s what I ran for a 5k this morning in Riverside, California on the UC-Riverside track. I’m in Riverside spending some time with my brother and sister-in-law (she’s a professor at the University), and I figured I’d see what I could do for a low-altitude 5000.

Fueled by Skittles and Snickers bars from Halloween, I showed up at 9 am on the track (that's when it opened) and gave it a go. It was warm (upper 70s, low 80s) but otherwise perfect conditions (besides general Inland Empire smog, which is definitely gross).

I started off in 5:37 and felt decent, but I faded to 5:43 and then 5:47.

17:40 is ten seconds slower than what I was hoping to run for a 5k this year. But that’s the fastest I’m going to run in 2018. And I’m ok with that. I got in better shape this year and I got close enough to the goal. 17:40 is a good reflection of my fitness; I'm just not quite in 17:30 shape, even at low altitude.

I’m happy with the effort, and I’m ready for a break. My body has felt worked for a couple of months now, and I need an off season. I’m going to take at least a week off and then take some time to think about what to do next.

Fun anecdotes:

  • The University XC team was hanging out in the infield doing their warmups and plyometrics. A few of them saw how hard I was working and gave me a few cheers as I did my old man laps.
  • On the way back to the car, I was walking by the softball field. A kid who was texting on his phone was walking the other way when a softball came flying over the fence. The softball team shouted “heads,” but the dude was so engrossed in his phone that he had no idea it was coming until it smack the phone out of his hands. The young man was not seriously harmed, but definitely startled. It was funniest thing I have seen in a long time. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Top-End Speed

I’ve posted a few times on this blog about how I’m looking to improve my 5k speed.
The goal is to get my 5k below 17:30. But apart from a downhill time trial in June, I haven’t come close yet.

I’m happy with how my running has progressed in general this year, and I feel I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since college.

But the speed thing has proved stubbornly difficult. Running 5:38 pace (what I need to run to go sub-17:30) doesn’t feel like 5k race pace right now; it feels like a sprint. It’s too close to my top-end speed for me to run that fast for a 5k.

If I were to do a workout today with six repeat 400s, my pace would be in the low 80s and that would be a hard workout. In college and in high school, when I was at my peak, that same workout would be in the low 60s. I remember one workout I did my senior year of high school where I ran 62, 61, 62, 61, 62, and then finished in 55.

Today, I think 82, 81, 82, 81, 82, with a 75 finish would be an all-out-effort or close to it (or maybe even a workout I couldn't do).

I’m a good 20 seconds per lap slower than my peak right now. I appreciate that we all slow with age, but that's a serious drop, not commensurate with what the data shows should be the physical decline associated with age.

20 seconds per lap equates to 80 seconds per mile, which equates to more than three minutes slower for a 5k.

These days, I’m actually about two minutes slower than I used to be for an altitude 5k, but it’s easy enough to see why when you look at my times on the track.

My endurance is fine; I’m just slow at the top end.

I’ve neglected top-end speed for the last 20 years. And it shows.
Last Friday, I did a “speed development” workout I learned about from Jay Johnson[1] years ago. It consists of 3 150-meter strides, followed by 3 all-out 30-meter sprints, followed by 4 120-meter near-all-out efforts.

All of this on full rest.

The 120-meter sprints are timed. My times? 21 low, followed by three repeats around 20.

That’s 68-second quarter pace or 4:32 per mile pace, for what basically amounts to a 100-meter dash. I'd very much struggle to stay with Kipchoge for a 400 right now.

I found this stunning. I knew I was slower than I used to be, but I figured I could run sub-60 pace for at least a hundred meters. 

My 400 PR was once 52 high. Now, I’m incapable of running 62-second quarter pace for any distance.

There are two ways of looking at this. One is that getting old is really sad. Another is that, if I can recover just some of the speed I once possessed, I might have some real room for improvement.

If I could improve to the point where I was only 10% slower than I used to be, rather than nearly 30% slower, that leaves room for 20% improvement over where I am right now. 

(Stated another way, if my max quarter were a 57 as opposed to a 72, that would be more than a 20% improvement)

That's what I’m going to try to do; I’m going to try to work my way over the track on a regular basis to work simple speed development until I can run a sub-60 second quarter again.

I’ll still keep running 40-60 miles a week so that I don’t lose endurance altogether, but I think I’m better served going to the track and to try to reacquire something resembling real foot speed than trying to do a lot of tempo runs or Vo2 max repeats, as I have been doing so far this year.

It seems obvious that lack of top-end speed is my limiting factor right now. So I'm going to take some time to work on that. 

[1] Jay Johnson is the ultimate running ubernerd and a great source of information on running. He also used to whoop my butt in high school.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Elk Run 5k

On Saturday, I ran Emma Coburn’s Elk Run 5k in Crested Butte.

Holy crap, there were some legit runners who showed up.

Emma recruited 30 elite men and another 25 elite women to come run in her hometown, and it made for a fast race. Other than the two big city marathons I’ve done, I’m guessing it was the most competitive field I’ve ever run in. Dozens of dudes with PRs under 14 minutes for 5k and lots of ladies with PRs well under 17 or even 16. Plus, lots of Colorado-based sponsored athletes were there. There were a half-dozen Kenyans even. $13,000-plus in prize money for 15 minutes of small-town mountain running. Not bad work if you have the chops to win it.

I definitely wasn’t going to be winning this race. But I figured maybe I’d get a chance to throw some elbows in the direction of a few of the sub-elite ladies, if I was lucky.

Anyway, it was a crowded and precarious start, with way more fast runners than could fit in the front of the 15-foot-wide start banner. I had to do some work to avoid getting taken out at the beginning.

After navigating the first tight turn, I settled into a reasonable pace. The goal was to try to go sub 18, so my thought was to start out in the low 5:40s for the first slightly downhill mile, and then hold on for 5:50s for the slightly uphill second and third miles.

I ran the first mile in 5:41. So far, so good. But I felt all 9,000 ft. of the elevation in Crested Butte, and when the rolling hills started in, I was not up for the challenge. It was all I could do to hold on for 6:10 miles after that.

18:38. Meh. I don't think I was all-the-way recovered from my effort two weeks ago.

Not sure what place that got me overall or age group wise. There was a malfunction with their timing system and they didn’t have a backup. I saw one dude who looked about my age fly by me at the mile marker. I’m guessing I was second in masters and about 40th overall, but that’s a total guess.  

Crested Butte is beautiful right now, and it was fun getting my ass handed to me by real runners. It’s kind of a bummer than my 5k pace is only slightly faster than my half marathon pace, but I suppose that’s just a side benefit of getting older.

Fun side anecdote: Allie Kiefer, who got second female, ran 18 miles the morning of the race and then got second to one of the Kenyans in the world-class field. Watch out for her in the upcoming NYC marathon.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

BV Autumn Color Run Half

Yesterday, I ran the Buena Vista Autumn Color Run half marathon. Lo and behold, I won the damned thing. Results here.

With 214 runners participating, I’m fairly certain that’s the biggest race I’ve ever won.

Based on recent workouts, I was optimistic that I was in relatively good shape. A few workouts made me think I might just be in the best shape I've been in since college. So I wanted to give a fast course a decent try to see if I could score a new PR. Since this was a fast, downhill course, my goal was to try to run sub-1:25. My prior PR was 1:29:30-ish, which was the half way split to my marathon PR of 2:59 back in 2011. Given that I had never run a half marathon before, I figured I had an excellent chance for a PR!

But as I’m starting to learn at these small mountain races, organization is always a bit of a crapshoot. You never quite know what you're going to get on race day. 

The race buses got us to the starting line about ten minutes before the race was supposed to start, where there were three porta-potties awaiting 200-plus runners, so yeah, it was a bit of a shit-show at the start. Literally!

Being a male and only needing a number one, I was able to address my concerns easily enough amidst the beautiful fall foliage. But the race was delayed to accommodate many of those who had different concerns.

Conditions were nearly perfect. Warm for a fall day and breezy, but nothing to complain about.

The race eventually started with the race director driving on the mountain road ahead of us honking his horn, which was a first for me. I started in front for the first few hundred meters, and then looked at my watch and noticed I was under 6-minute pace, which was a bad idea.

So I relaxed a bit and a local runner named Jared Oubre popped out in front of me. Jared’s a great runner and he’s gone sub-1:20 a few times at this event, so I figured that was going to be that.

My intent was to try to start with a 40:00 initial 10k and then see if I could hold on for second. But the first two miles clocked in under 6:20 and it felt doable, so I decided to roll with it. Mile 3 was 6:03 and mile 4 was 6:02 (these were both downhill miles, mind you), but they felt good and relaxed. Mile 5 had some decent rollers that knocked the wind out of me, but I kept things below 6:30 and still felt ok.

From miles 5-8, the course opened up from the fall foliage to open roads where you could see well ahead of you, and Jared was, indeed, well ahead of me. I was running well, but he probably had close to a two-minute lead. Third place, on the other hand, was right on my ass. Through 8 miles, I was focused on time, staying relaxed, and holding off third.

But as we got closer to mile 9, there was another decent uphill section, and I could sense that I had closed the gap some. At a turn, I tracked how far I was behind him, and the lead had narrowed to 55 seconds. Then, with three miles to go, it was 45 seconds. Closer, but the math was still working against me.

The final three miles were on a busy (by Chaffee County standards) stretch of straight road heading back into BV. At this point, I still wasn’t even aspiring to catch him, except I started to notice that he kept looking over his shoulder. It’s been a long time since I thought about this in a race, but every runner knows that’s a clear sign of weakness, right? I felt like crap at this point, too, but I thought to myself, this guy is just waiting for someone to catch him. I figured I had to give it a shot.

So I pushed like hell the last two miles. And he kept looking over his shoulder, and I kept getting closer. I closed with a 6-flat and passed him somewhere in the last mile.

I won in an official time of 1:21:00. I was shocked. That was way faster than I thought I could run and way slower than any other winning time in the history of the race. My lucky day, I guess.

As Tom Sobal is fond of saying, “the key to winning any race is having the faster guys not show up.”

Either way, it's the best race I’ve had in years. And after a few years where I feel like I have underperformed expectations in nearly all of my races, it's nice to outperform expectations for once. 

Going forward, I suspect that’s the last race longer than 5k I’ll be doing in 2018. Still haven't even come anywhere close to the main goal for the year, so I figured I'd put some effort in that direction over the next few months.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Breck Crest

Ran the Breck Crest half yesterday. Results here.

Short story is that I got 5th overall and second in my age group. But they told me I won my age group (40-49) because the guy who got second got top three overall. So I got a blue ribbon with a medal on it for winning my age group even though a guy who was 43 ran 10 minutes faster, which seemed a little silly to me. 

Either way, it was perfect weather for a race, chilly at the start and then mild during the race. Race starts in Breck, which is at around 9500 feet.

At the start Andy Wacker took off at what must have been close to 5-minute pace uphill, and then a pack of five of us, with me following three men and one female, running at closer to 7-minute pace, well behind.

I moved into 4th place at about two miles, as we worked our way up gradual single track. I had planned to run conservatively, by heart rate, but my heart rate data was wonky and unusable, so I was running by feel instead. I got the sense that I was running hard, and when my HR data finally started registering correctly, I could see I was in the 170s, which was indeed too intense for a 2-hour-plus race.

I laid off the gas a bit, trying to keep my heart rate below 170. The trail got way steeper, though, and I got passed by a guy after the five mile mark. I continued to make steady if not spectacular progress up the hill. Hit the crest at 6.5 miles at 12,500 feet at about 73 minutes and then the mile-7 aid at 78 minutes.

At that point, the marathoners, who got a 10-minute head start on us, continued on the crest and us half marathons took the steep fire road back down into town.

It was rocky for about two miles and then smoothed out. I trotted my normal conservative pace on the rocky stuff and then tried to push on the smoother sections. Mile 10 was a 6:11, my fastest of the day. At this point, the road opened up, and I could not see anyone ahead or behind me. A guy at an aid station said I was about four minutes behind the next runner.

That did not do much for my motivation. We switched from fire road to single track, and that’s when my low-6-minute pace turned into high-7s. There were a couple of rollers, and then a bit of a contrived section as we got back into town. Race ended up being 13.54 miles, according to my watch. 

Finished in 2:05 and change.

On the whole I’m satisfied with the effort.

I certainly didn’t execute a perfect race. In an ideal world, I would have started off with my HR in the high 150s and finished with it in the low 170s. Instead I did the opposite. I toasted myself a little early, but I think 2:05 is a decent reflection of my fitness. With perfect execution I might have gone 2-3 minutes faster, but I think I finished where I belonged relative to the other runners.

Race results notwithstanding, I’m happy with how my running is going.

It was about two years ago when I started upping my mileage beyond 15-20 miles a week. Last year, I averaged closer to 60, but I was injured the second half of the year, so it didn’t do me any good. This year, I think I’m a touch better off fitness-wise, but have accomplished it on less mileage (about 40 miles a week) and most importantly, with no serious injuries (knock on wood).

So yeah, racing reasonably well (for my fitness level) at mid-distance mountain races with no injuries. I’ll take it.

Here's a pic of the top 3 plus age-group winners:

  Photo courtesy @agoldie94