Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Rock n Roll Las Vegas Race Report and Year End Summary

By Mike

If you've been following my posts this year you'll know that this has been one horribly inconsistent year. While the triathlon's I've done have been more for fun than for competition, I've had a few good runs including a 15K PR and a half-marathon PR. With only about 2-3 hours a week to train, I decided to focus my season largely around running given the low-maintenance nature of it (especially when compared to triathlon!). Despite the challenges I saw some gains and some potential so I decided to run a marathon to cap off the season--the 2011 Zappos Las Vegas Marathon to be precise.

After my successful 15K in late October, I felt confident that I should be able to smash my old marathon PR of 3:29. I had a nice and easy week of training the week following the race with plans finish off with two more solid weeks of training following by a peaking period (taper) leading to my December 4th marathon. I was targeting a 3:10 or lower. Unfortunately my last good day of training ended up being November 8th and I never really got back into solid training mode after that. I went from being confident of crushing my marathon record to being really unsure of what my fitness was. Still, I had my flights and hotel booked and the race was already paid for so I figured I'd still go and give it a shot hoping my fitness from the summer and late fall was still with me. Plans of a 3:10 went out the window but I still thought that a conservatively run race would still lead to a slight PR. Lindsay wasn't racing but planned to come with me as well so if nothing else it would be a weekend in Vegas. :)

Race Day
If you're not familiar with the Zappos Las Vegas Marathon, it's actually a night race, with the last ~13 miles being run up and down the strip. The race started at 4pm which meant plenty of time to wake up, eat and make it to the start in a nice leisurely manner. It can get cold in Vegas on a December night but the weather on December 4th was possibly the best you could hope for (low 40s and sunny at 4pm) so I had that going in my favor. Lindsay accompanied me to the start so having her there gave me a chance to wear warm clothing up until the final few minutes before the start gun.

After a speech by some random celebrity and the national anthem, the gun went off and so did we. The first few steps felt surprisingly tough. Despite trying to keep an easy and conservative start my shins started to feel very tight and painful almost from the get-go. My first two miles came in at a ~9:00 pace (definitely not 3:10 or even 3:29 material). I stopped, massaged my lower legs and mile 3 felt much better. I settled in at a conservative 160bpm heart rate for miles 3-8. In my past marathons I raced a few bpm higher with a very even split so I knew this was a conservative target HR. Unfortunately my pace at this heart rate was about 0:45 to 1:00 min/mile slower than desired. In terms of perceived effort it also felt like 166+ bpm and not 160 bpm. By mile 8 I was feeling more tired than I felt at the end of my 15K just over a month ago and that was over 1:00/mi faster and at a much much higher heart rate. It was clear from the beginning that "something just wasn't right" and now at mile 8 it was painfully obvious that things were going downhill (and I don't mean a nice gradual descent to the finish line). My legs were starting to run out of gas and while I could have pushed hard for a few more miles I asked myself why. I definitely didn't need to finish another marathon. I wouldn't get any satisfaction from a finish--just a much slower recovery process post race. I decided to stop pushing and just took it super easy with plans to exit the course when it looped back to the start area at mile 13.1. Found Lindsay at the half-way mark and told her that I just wasn't feeling right. Got my stuff from the bag drop off area and we just went to dinner instead.

Race Review
While I only did half the race, I got a pretty good impression of the whole course and event. The race was pretty well organized--registration, bag drop off, packet pickup, etc all went smoothly. Despite the very large race size (some 40K registrations) it was easy and hassle free to get to the starting corrals. The corals were surprisingly uncrowded too. Water was evenly placed but the sports drink was not available at a most of the aid stations (at least within the first 13 miles). On course port-o-potties were extremely sparse and located at unpredictable spots. Many male participants decided to turn random walls, posts and fences into bathrooms as a result. The first half of the race was also on rather desolate terrain going through miles of dark, quiet residential neighborhoods and a small section of highway and then past a factory at one point. There were maybe 2-3 bands playing but that's it. Also the race is often described as being a pancake flat course but the first half (with it's various onramps, offramps, overpasses & underpasses) is anything but. While I didn't do the last half, I am familiar enough with the strip to confirm that it is quite flat so that's probably where its flat course reputation comes from. The strip was also far more lively than the first half of the course too. One other thing I would change is the timing of how the half-marathon race and marathon race intersect. In 2011 they had the half-marathon start 1n hour thirty after the marathon with the last half of the marathon course being the same as the half-marathon course. This lead to hundreds, maybe thousands of marathoners running right into the back end of the half marathon field. While they tried to keep each race in it's own "lanes" it didn't quite work that way but I could see what they were trying to do. All things considered it was a "OK" run race though it does leave some major room for improvement with regard the half-marathon/marathon timing and the on-course aid station & port-o-potty availability.

Post Race and End of Season Thoughts
Las Vegas Marathon was an inconsistent race to end an inconsistent season featuring both PRs and PWs. Inconsistent schedules lead to inconsistent training which lead to inconsistent results. Surprisingly, my chronic right hip problem definitely didn't benefit from this type of training either. :) I'm currently going through some physical therapy and hope to find a good ART specialist in the Seattle area as well. At least part of reason I had a strong year last year was due to a blend of consistent training (steady ~8 hours a week) and frequent preventative trips to my ART specialist Dr Bochner in NYC. Work schedules aren't always predictable but I can at least make time for preventative maintenance like ART and applicable strengthening exercises. Sounds like the makings of a New Years' resolution. Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Magnuson October 15k Race Report

By Mike

Ran this race on October 29, 2011 as part of my marathon training. I wasn't too sure how I wanted to pace it since I was just coming off a minor injury (or major inconvenience) and I haven't been running too much (~20 miles per week). Part of me wanted to try a marathon pace effort and the other part of me wanted to do a true race effort.

The morning was a nice 50 degrees and partly sunny. Gun went off and I tried to pace by my watch. My watch kept reading 7:10 pace with a very high heart rate though... oh crap I recalibrated the watch on the treadmill and it didn't seem to correspond to actual running outside. Not only that but the mile markers were way off... my first mile came in at the 8:30 mark with my watch reading 7:10ish. At the very start of the race, my heart rate was also picking up some other peoples' watches too.

Realized I just had to go by feel at least for the very beginning. It was around this point that I decided to just race it. The race was somewhat crowded at the start with the 5k and 10k racers starting at the same time as the 15k runners. Rather than pace off the incorrect mile markers or my poorly calibrated watch I just decided to pace with some of the faster folks (most of whom I suspected were doing the 5 or 10k). That definitely helped.

Aid station situation was not ideal. I didn't get any water during the except for a tiny half sip at the 5k mark. They didn't set up the water table properly.. there were no volunteers handing them out and the many of cups were empty. I had a half filled cup at 5k and I drank nothing at the 10k mark. I didn't bring any gus with me either since I wasn't planning on taking this "race" too seriously. I was really starting to feel it after 10k and the only thing that kept me going was this one other 15k racer. She passed me passed me at the 4-5 mi mark and dragged me along for a few miles. I drafted her for 2 miles, then ran shoulder to shoulder and then made my move to repass her at the 7 mi mark. It was sort of a 2010 IM Macca moment. I could tell she put out a big effort to catch me in the first 4 miles because she started slowing down a tiny bit at mile 7. With ~2 miles left I just decided to go all out and try to catch the one other 15K runner ahead of me. Even though there was a nice out-and-back section, I wasn't sure if he was 1st place or not since the course was now intermixed with 10k runners.

There was a short while when it seemed I might be able to catch him but he seemed to have the same idea as I did for the last 2 miles (accelerate hard). I didn't catch him but I had a strong finish with slightly negative splits for each 5k. My finish time was ~1:02:50.

Plugging in a 1:02:50 yields a 3:08:30 marathon assuming similar course (I think Vegas will be harder). It's short of my goal of 3:05:00 for a BQ so I'm going to try and get two more hard weeks of training and see if that does it. In any case, I feel confident about beating my marathon PR of 3:29:38 but I don't know if I'll be strong enough to BQ at Vegas.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

TriRock Seattle Race Report

By Mike

I ran the TriRock Seattle Olympic race today with Lindsay (not exactly an Olympic but close -- 1500M swim, 23mi bike, 6mi run). A few days before the race Lindsay asked how I was able to do a 1:35 half marathon last Sunday (the 10th) on so little training (10-15 miles a week for last 5-6 weeks or so). I don't remember my exact answer but I do remember saying I was paying for it this week. It's hard to recover from a race or near-race effort with so little training, especially with so little intense training. I was thinking I might just take it (intentionally) easy this race so as to not risk sacrificing any training.

First race with the new wetsuit. The swim was a 3-segment triangle. Started off and felt pretty good on the first segment. Found some feet for most of first segment but some person came out of nowhere with a washing machine style kick and threw me off my rhythm. Lost my feet but caught on to this person instead. Was tough to stay on but I managed. Don't know what my time was at the first turn buoy but I checked somewhere along the middle section and my watch said 11:12. Thought I was making some great time even though I didn't feel all that strong. Did some rough math in my head and thought I could come in like ~27-28 minutes which would be pretty good for me. I lost my feet for a quick second and drifted back though still had the swimmer in sight when I popped my head out of the water. I just couldn't accelerate back up however. Was really starting to feel it and swam much of the 2nd leg solo. At the 2nd turn buoy I glanced at my watch and saw 20:50. Was really starting to feel it now. Struggled the last section and came out of the water in 33:xx. I started strong but just faded.

"Wobbly" experience. Took me a while to get stable. Not my finest T1.

Started off and noted how my heart rate just stabilized around 139bpm. Definitely very low for me. Just felt flat... couldn't put out anything more with the exception of a few hills where I pushed a bit harder. Dropped my chain around mile 15 just before one of the climbs (so knew it was going to happen too). Unlike 99.9% of the time I couldn't get it back on with just a simple chainring upshift. Had to get off the bike and reset it and then go back for the climb. Got passed by a whole mess of people. I was averaging around 19-19.5 mph which again is just plain slow for me... it was quite impressive given the hills and low 140bpm heart rates... we're talking sub-IM pacing here. Started to feel a little better around mile 18-19 but decided to keep the effort levels mostly constant and not bury myself and sacrifice another week of training and possibly the Seafair race the following week. Came in around 1:09 off the bike.

Brief and uneventful. Wasn't trying too hard by this point though.

Started the run glad to get off the bike and wondering if I could match my half-marathon pace from last week (sub 7:20). Started mile 1 with a low 7 pace. Thinking to myself it might be possible since I felt pretty good and my heart rate came up nicely to the 160s. The effort started to feel harder and harder though. About 100m after mile 1 my left calf and shin started to really hurt BAD. It was like I had just done the half-marathon yesterday. Slowed to a walk and then to a complete stop several times in miles 2 and 3. My leg "warmed up" a bit mile 4 (maybe it was the endorphins killing the pain) and felt like I could push again but decided to just keep it easy instead. Mile 5 came around and decided to give it one final push. Run time was ~50:xx or so for a 8:13 pace.

Overall time was a 2:37... horrible race but solid training day (well minus the stopping and walking parts). 2011 will need to a be a rebuilding year. I haven't done much of anything until June and it's been hard to start a normal training program in the middle of race season. I have a race next weekend but I probably won't go full force even if I do recover. I'd like to complete 4 solid weeks of training at 8+ hours a week before I start thinking about truly "racing".

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Race Report: Ocean Shores Half Marathon

By Mike

Coming into this race it was very hard to predict how I'd do as I had just began my training program a few weeks back. I did a 5K (21:03) a month ago on June 12 (was effectively my training kickoff) and was quite happy with how well I did given the lack of training. I did a disappointing 45:21 10K the following week and noticed that I just wasn't ready to put out heavy efforts on so little effort. I pulled way back on my training intensity over the following weeks and focused more on nice easy steady consistent efforts with the goal of eventually ramping up to 10 hours a week of training (not there yet) before adding intensity again. Actually I've been feeling weak on recent workouts... struggled to hit the higher intensities and higher heart rates.

Race Course
This race (Ocean Shores Half) was flat however (perfect for a PR) and I knew I had strong underlying fitness but was very unsure how strong of an effort I could sustain for ~100 minutes. I did a bit of race recon the day before the race and was a bit surprised to see that there would be about 2 stretches of ~2.5 mile sandy beach runs. Was not expecting that and would not have brought my K-Swiss Blade Light shoes (they have holes in the bottom that pick up sand) if I knew any better. I was wondering if it would be worth it to take my shoes off after each beach stretch. The race day temp was expected to be mid 50s with low humidity and some sun and very light wind ~5mph... Great conditions on flat easy course minus the beach sections. All these factors combined with fitness, fatigue, etc made it tougher to really predict how I'd do. I made it a goal to ignore time and focus more on trying to put out a strong effort with high heart rate.

The Race
The race started about 6 minutes early so I barely had a chance to warmup and didn't have a chance to use the bathroom or take in a drink with my Roctane (decided not to take one at the start actually). There were maybe 30 people at the start (supposedly 200 registered) so either the number was off or a few people got caught off guard with the early start. Since it was chip timed, it was impossible to know if any fast people started behind us (Lindsay and I ran together).

The race started off fast with about 10 folks going out ahead of us... 4-5 of them women.. wow.. what a fast start. Lindsay and I decided to keep an easy pace as we figured they'd burn out and we'd reel them in later. Well we did reel some people in but only a few. Actually we started pacing together at in the low 7's... with me drafting the group for much of it... I think the other runners didn't "get" the benefit of drafting because they just let me hang on. We hit the sand shortly after 2 miles and it was annoying to say the least. After the soft sandy part though it wasn't too bad on the packed wet sand by the water. We even saw a baby seal on the beach.. can't say I've ever seen that in a NY race.

At the half-way point a woman came up from behind us and was running hard. I accelerated (from ~7:15 to 6:45) and latched on and so did another male runner in our group. We went from a group of 5 to a group of 6 for a short while to groups of 3 and 3. The 6:45 pace didn't last however and we slowed to about 7:05; however the group was already split by this point. The other male runner started breathing heavily.. I could tell he wasn't going to last and he eventually dropped off at around mile 9 before the second beach section. The beach was no more fun the second time around :) but I was happy to keep a nice strong pace. I stopped drafting her on the beach (I should have continued) figuring it was close enough to the end to try and pull off, test my legs and run along side the other female runner. After we hit the 4th and last soft sandy section on the out part of the beach there were ~2 miles left and I decided it was time to accelerate. I dropped her quite easily but she didn't stay that far back. With about a mile to go however I made a wrong turn on a poorly marked section (actually there was a volunteer but she was in her lawn chair eyes down, half asleep, reading a book)... I lost a few seconds here but it was enough for the other runner to bridge a big part of the gap I opened up. I decided to let her catch up to me and then accelerate again once she caught on (like Macca did to Raelert. My legs were starting to burn but I did manage to open up a small gap again. I won this mini race on gun time, but she did win on net time since she started a bit later... ugh! I came in 10th overall and 6th male overall... got chicked x4... this was one tough women's field! Lindsay finished soon after me.


Mile Splits/Paces:
7:15 (1x Roctane here)
7:37 (sand!)
7:21 (mostly out of sand)
7:07 (1x Roctane here)
7:23 (sand again!)
7:13 (mostly out of sand)
1:05 @ 5:57 pace for 0.18 miles.. course long
Total: 1:35:45 @ 7:17

I averaged 167 bpm for the full effort, which was only about 3bpm below what my theoretical max (fully tapered, rested) would have been for a ~100 min effort. I was happy with that! It happened to be a PR for me by 3 minutes as well which was also pretty sweet... my previous PR was on the much hillier course of 2+ loops of Central Park, NY. Really I'm quite happy with this as I had almost no expectations today. This bodes well for some future races where I'll hopefully have a bit more fitness and some more rest. I'm getting close to that elusive sub 1:30! May not happen this year but I'm definitely gunning for it regardless.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Race Report: Pleasant Prairie International Dist. Triathlon

Race Report: Pleasant Prairie International Dist. Triathlon
Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin

by: Sarun T.

Final time was 2:09:59. 12th place overall. 5th person in my Age group, but 2 of the top 3 overall were in my AG so the 3rd AG award rolled down to me.

Time: 23:41
Rank: 27/607

Swim started and bunch of guys just took off. I thought I'd be able to swim them down eventually but that was not the case. I tried not to feel too disheartened but it was a bit of shock to see a group of guys just disappear like that- especially considering how much time I've been spending in the water.

I stuck to my game plan of going relatively easy on the swim - no redlining and no attempts to close up gaps. This is the first race in awhile where I didn't find feet. Coming out of the water I felt pretty good, but I had no idea what my time was going to me. When I saw the results I definitely was very pleased. I've never broken 25 min before, and to go 23:41 without redlining is a huge improvement. I'm going to keep my swim volume at 15000 yds a week and hopefully by November I'll be down in the 22:xx.

Time: 1:03:11
Rank: 19/607
Pace: 23.55mph
Watts: 243 NP

A pretty flat course and a ton of turns. I started passing a bunch of people who started in the wave before me right at the start of the bike. Then about 15-20 min in, I'm pretty much riding alone. I get worried about missing one of the many turns. The course isn't marked very well, though there are cops at every turn. Unfortunately they just stood there and didn't really point out what the right turn was. Fortunately, I didn't make a wrong turn.

I didn't burn a single match on the bike. I kept my pace in check at all times and at some points, tried to relax. This may have ended up lowering my wattage a bit but it set me up for a good run.

I put less effort on this race's bike leg than any of the other races I've done so far this year but in retrospect it's probably the right pace for an olympic distance. Again, the idea was to start the run with good legs, so that goal was accomplished.

Time: 40:33
Rank: 22/607
Pace: 6:32 min/mile

After a disastrous run in my last race, this was exactly what I was hoping for. I knew I could come close to breaking 40 min and this race confirmed it. My legs felt good for most of the 10k but it did start to feel heavy towards the end. No cramping issues at all. I'm now convinced that all my prior cramping issues had to do with going out too hard on the swim. It has taken me 4 long years but I've finally figured out how to pace an olympic distance triathlon.

Running down the finishing chute I saw the time say 2:22:52. I knew that I had started 13 minutes after the gun went off so I realized that I had a shot of breaking 2:10. I dug deep, started my kick (hurt sooo good) and managed to cross the mat at exactly 2:09:59 :)

This is probably my best executed olympic distance triathlon yet. As I mentioned earlier, I'm now convinced that for me, redlining the swim results in cramps. Now that I have that figured out, I should no longer have cramping as an excuse for any future races.

Tomorrow starts my first week of interval and threshold work. If I can already do a 40:33 10k off the bike with just base and hill training, I don't think it would be too wishful to aim for a 38:30 by the time the Thai National Olympic Dist. Championships rolls around in November.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Boston Marathon Race Report

After qualifying, registering, and deferring for the 2010 race, it was my time for 2011.  I qualified in the 2009 New York City Marathon on my second try with a 3:33 (needed a 3:40 or under).  Boston is every marathoner's goal race and I was happy and privileged to be able to do it so soon.  Incidentally, it was also my first marathon outside of New York City, which I have now finished 3x.  Here's my recount of the weekend:

Friday night:  Greyhound bus from NYC to Boston.  My parents live outside of Boston so that made this trip logistically (and financially) pretty easy.

Saturday:  After a good night's sleep, we headed downtown to the Number Pick-up and Expo.  On the way there I walked through the finish area and across the line.  The whole Back Bay was already getting ready to shut down for the race.  People were everywhere, taking pictures.  It was a fun atmosphere.  Got my number (13262), bought the requisite finisher's jacket (before the race, I know, but I didn't wear it!), and took a tour of the Expo.  My parents always get a kick out of these.  My dad is a novice/aspiring runner, at 61!, and my mom is just an awe of all of it.  We made a lunch out of sampling sports nutrition products- my parents loved the PowerBar Energy Bites and went back for seconds!- saw Ryan Hall, lots of shoes, etc.  The expo was mobbed and I think I was the only one who left without spending more than $100 on merchandise.  Adidas must have cleaned up!  The good thing about having the race on a Monday is that I felt more comfortable spending time at the Expo as I knew I still had a full day to relax and rest up.

Sunday- Rest day.  Stayed at home, ate well, rested.  I planned on doing an easy 3 miles to get things loose after the bus ride and Expo day, but such as my luck I got about 3/4 of a mile away before I got drenched in a downpour.  I ran back, quickly!, and just did some stretches and strides in the garage.  The rain stopped a few minutes later and I went back out for another mile. 

Monday- Race Day!  Woke up at 6am, in the car by 6:30.  The drive to Hopkinton was about an hour away and we pulled into the State Park around 7:30.  From there my parents dropped me off and I took the school bus down to the race start.

I thought Boston was a monster race with lots of logistical issues to deal with.  Don't forget the only other marathon I'd done with NYC which is a huge mess getting to the start line.  As it turns out, getting there at 8am was about 2 hours too early.  I didn't need or want to go to the Athlete's Village, it was a 1.5 mile round trip walk and I had brought my own food and beverage.  Unfortunately, I wasn't meeting up with any friends either.  My wave (2) was set to go off at 10:20 and we didn't even get into the corrals until 10:10, after the first wave went off.  So, at the start line I sat for 2 hours.  Having this be painless is a huge positive for the race, but I wish I had known and could have slept in longer! Met a man from San Antonio doing his first Boston as well, but his 10th marathon.  The idle chitchat calmed the nerves. 

I got into the 5th corral and off we went at 10:20.  I wasn't that nervous for the start, which is a refreshing change, and I just went with the flow.  The first few miles are extremely crowded, it's a narrow 2 lane country road.  And being in the second to last corral of the wave, I had about 7,000 people directly in front of me.  The good thing is the first 3 miles are mostly downhill, so I was able to go easy yet still maintain a decent pace.  First few splits were all about 8:00.  

My goal for the race was to finish with a smile on my face.  2 of my last 3 marathons had not ended well and I did not want that to be the case for Boston.  As such, I threw out my initial plans of a sub-3:30 PR and just would to go by feel.  It's a special race and I wanted to enjoy it.  However, the first few splits of 8:00 put the 3:30 back in my mind.  The weather was perfect, mid-50s, sunny, and a significant tailwind.  I didn't want to push my luck, but was thinking if I can keep this up, I'd be good.

In order to avoid a blowup, I decided to run based on HR.  The first few miles, being downhill, were super low and eventually I settled around the low 160s.  This is very much a maintainable rate for me and I worked hard to keep it there.  Of course, over the next 10 miles or so this was creeping up to 168, 170, 172 but there I stopped it and actively controlled my pace to stay within this zone.  I knew pushing upper 170s before I even hit the hills, and with 2 hours to go, would be very problematic.

However, as I maintained this HR my pace dropped a bit.  8:10, 8:15, 8:07. 8:20.  Perfectly decent paces, but I was definitely falling off the 3:30 goal pace.  I couldn't hit 8:00 miles and keep my HR as low as I wanted to.  Therefore, my heartrate won and I continued to run based on that, and let the pace be what it was.  I think this was the right move, but it was a bit painful to see my stretch goal slip away.  However, the last 5 miles are all downhill so I said I'd kill them if my HR plan worked and I still had gas left in the tank.

I like to break up marathons into 10 mile, 10 mile, and 6.2 mile sections.  I don't like to consider myself halfway done until mile 15 or so.  At 10 or even 13.1 miles it's just too early, almost everyone feels fine and is going strong.  Problems at this point would be VERY bad, so it's important not to get cocky.  The first 10 miles were just cruising, mostly downhills with some flats and short rises.  The course was crowded.  The crowds were intermittent, at every major intersection but not on the 1/2 mile stretches between them.  I did write my name on my jersey so I got far more call-outs than I was used to, which was nice.

After running past the Wellesley girls, which I'll admit was a bit disappointing as there weren't nearly as many as I'd expected (they were just in one section one one side of the road), I hit the 13.1 mile mark in 1:46:xx.  That was great, even though the 2nd half had all the hills I wasn't too far off 3:30, especially if I could nail the last 5 miles.  My hopes renewed, I picked up the pace a bit back under 8:10.  The crowds were getting better as we were in bigger and closer-in towns.

The next 4 miles were important as they were the last flattish ones before the Newton Hills.  Torn between banking time and saving my legs, I toed that line carefully.  I kept my HR low, 172ish, and was able to maintain a solid 8:10-8:15 pace.  I didn't feel any problems and thought I was finally getting there.  I was mentally preparing for the hills, taking in my Gu Roctane and Endurolytes salt tablets strategically so I would be well nourished and hydrated for the hills.  I also made my only pit stop for a brief respite (which unfortunately added almost a minute to my time).

The Newton Hills are 4 hills within miles 16-21, including the (in)famous Heartbreak Hill at mile 21.  The first 3 were totally fine, I was ready and cautiously attacked them.  The biggest mistake I made is that I thought Heartbreak was at mile 19 so when I saw a riser there I was up and over and then thought I was done.  Feeling pretty good, I picked up the pace (it dropped to around 8:30 on those few miles) and really let it go a bit on the downhill.  Turns out I was wrong, Heartbreak was yet to come and I was running as if the rest of the race were flat and downhill.  So despite making up a slight bit of time, it wasn't a great move.  Heartbreak came and I was actually able to go up in pretty well, getting a lot of cheers as I passed a number of people,  but then I really felt it on the steep downhill on the other side.  Ouch!  Quads were now on fire.

So at mile 21 it feels like the race is over, the hills are behind us, but there's still 5+ miles to go.  Even though it's an "easy" 5 miles, I finally understood all the warnings about the downhills.  My quads were absolutely shot and I was pretty fearful of cramping and having to walk, like last NYC marathon.  Yikes.  Ironically, my cardio felt great, my HR was still low, my nutrition/stomach were perfect, and I was mentally stable (not always the case if I get dehydrated or tired).  If it weren't for the quads, I really feel I could have run the last 5 miles well.  Even though breaking 3:30 was out of the question, too many miles around 8:20-8:30 made it impossible to make up, I was still looking at a decent time and had a chance of PRing. 

However, my legs just weren't having it.  It wasn't really a blow up, I didn't go above 8:45 min pace, but I was losing time with every mile.  And every mile felt REALLY long.  Are we there yet?  As usual, I wished this was a 22 mile race.  But it wasn't.  The crowds finally got really good along Commonwealth Ave (props to BC) and we were almost there.  I tried to pick it up just to finish well, but couldn't budge my mile splits.  Oh well.  I finished in 3:37:14, and felt decent crossing the line.  That was my goal, and it was almost exactly halfway between the 3:30 I hoped for and the 3:45 I'd tolerate in order to have a fun and good race.

Post-race I (slowly) got my goody bags, medal, cape, etc and met my parents. We had a mile walk back to the car, which I was able to make and probably was good to walk it off.  Other than the quads I felt fine with no other aches or pains, which was good.

The Good- Easy start, well-organized, good aid stations
The Bad- I was underwhelmed by the over-promised crowds.  NYC wins this competition hands down.  More music and more people!  If Boston is this highly touted, I'm nervous that every other race must be desolate.  Spoiled by NYC I guess.
The Ugly- My quads.  Ugh.  Need to run more miles!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

SHOES!!! Natural v. Minimal v. Barefoot v. Traditional.

As the flames of the barefoot/minimalist running "revolution" continue to blaze, giving rise to a plethora of new shoe options, runners are left scratching their heads in confusion. Team Sports Bistro's Ryan Heisler, a connoisseur in the shoe industry, discusses the merits and flaws of the popular shoe fits on the market.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 18 months, you've probably heard quite a bit about running barefoot, and the advantages it has for the body. How we were born to run barefoot, and how shoes are the enemy of your feet.

There's just one small problem with this theory: it's wrong.

The running barefoot crowd doesn't seem to realize that we were not made for such wondrous objects like pavement or concrete, nor does it account for such sharp objects that tend to litter a large city's landscape. Catastrophic foot injuries are on the rise, including stress fractures of the metatarsals, ruptured plantar fascii, and Achilles tendonitis, to name a few.

But this is not to say that the technique of running barefoot is a bad thing. Incorporating light barefoot work into your running repertoire helps to develop a shorter, more efficient stride, and can help teach you to be lighter upon your feet. The thing is to incorporate this technique into your everyday running shoe. So how do you go about manufacturing such a technique into your training shoes?

The simple answer is, to steal Nike's thunder: just do it. Remember that your shoes are dumb objects. They can't tell your body how to move through the gait cycle, and they can't dictate how you will land in your footwear. So the idea that you should be going out and buying different shoes right out of the gate (as advocated in this book) is absurd at best, and downright dangerous at worst.

How can it be dangerous? Well, let's think about this as if you have been happily heel-striking your way through miserable miles. You've been transmitting the majority of the shock through initial impact through the heel, which brings that up through to the upper part of the leg, causing more strain on the knee and quadriceps. As you start to move towards midfoot, the Achilles' begins to lengthen slightly, and the strain begins to be placed on the calf. You then utilize this muscular grouping through the rest of the gait cycle. So simply, you've got two different groupings taking care of the three phases of the gait cycle: heel/knees/quads for the initial impact, then calf/Achilles/foot for the transition and propulsive phases.

When you midfoot strike, though, you're changing the emphasis to more of the latter, and a lot less of the former. Much like the first few weeks when you hit the gym, you'll be sore as all hell. The problem that seems to be coming up, though, is too much emphasis on the Achilles/calf. This usually happens because people are landing too far forward on the foot, avoiding the heel entirely. We're designed to use both systems; why else would we have them?

As such, there are four main categories of footwear on the market. It doesn't help that a lot of the companies that are making shoes don't seem to be able to come to a consensus as to what to call it all. So, I'll do them a favor, and do it for them.

Natural: Natural running shoes are not necessarily minimalistic running shoes. Instead, natural running shoes attempt to put your foot into a similar position as if it were barefoot. However, as covered above, most of us do not have the bone density to be running on pavement every day barefoot. As this is the case, these shoes tend to have cushioning along the same lines as a traditional training shoe. Look for less heel-toe drop in the shoe (under 6 mm, give or take), but plenty of substantial cushioning to protect the foot against the elements. Who it's for: runners who have converted to a midfoot strike with no issues; former track runners who have maintained a forward technique; neutral runners looking for a true "flat" for racing. Examples: Saucony ProGrid Kinvara, Newton Gravity, New Balance Road Minimus (available 3/1/11).

Minimal: Minimal running shoes are merely stripping away at the cushioning underneath the foot. They are trying to providing much more feedback as to the surface you are on. Some would advocate that this teaches you to be lighter on the foot. Your results may vary, but my experience is that these are for people that don't like much shoe underneath them AND have a pretty good bone density. A lot of minimal shoes will still have a pretty high heel-toe drop, though, and will let you land on your heel if you decide to. This is where most "racing flats" these days fall. Who it's for: runners seeking as much road feel as possible; runners seeking a short-distance racer; a runner looking for a speedwork shoe. Examples: New Balance MT101, Brooks T6 Racer, Nike LunaRacer, Nike Free Run.

Barefoot: Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nothing going on under the foot outside of maybe 3-4mm of foam. There's really only two things that fit into this category, no matter what shoe companies will try and tell you. Most people will never be able to use these as their primary footwear solution; however, again, results can and will vary depending on body weight, surfaces used, impact force generated while running, etc. Who it's for: someone looking to begin incorporating barefoot technique into their repertoire, but want something to actually protect the foot in the process from sharp objects; trail runners.Examples: Vibram Five Fingers (KSO/Sprint/Flow for off-road; Bikilafor on road), Merrell Barefoot Collection

Traditional: Big old wedge shape here. Not that it's a bad thing, but will tolerate higher load-stresses on the heel. You can still wind up getting relatively lightweight here as well, but not quite to the same degrees as the categories listed above. Remember, though, that weight only matters when your foot is working efficiently. If in this category, it'll be imperative to get fitted for the correct amount of pronation control (such as this fine-fitting institution). Oversupporting the foot can be just as poor as undersupporting it. Who it's for: heel-strikers; midfoot/forefoot strikers who are running into Achilles and calf issues; those who don't want to change how they run period. Examples (ranging from least pronation control to most): Brooks Launch, Mizuno Wave Rider 14, Saucony ProGrid Guide 4, Brooks Adrenaline GTS 11

So, armed with this information, where do you go now? Start with the light barefoot work and see where it takes you. Listen to what your body is telling you; it will give you the keys as to which of these four categories you will best fit into.

And remember, have fun out there!

Ryan Heisler has worked in the running industry for 5 years, and currently works for Maine Running Company in Portland, ME. He has helped thousands of people via footwear and running technique. Ryan is also planning on earning his USAT Level I Coaching certification. He is training for two half-iron distance triathlons this summer. His musings on training, footwear, and other rantings can be found on his blog, Crashing the Boards ( and Twitter (@rrheisler).