Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Deconstructing “The Grid”

I wasn’t intending to write this post because “The Grid”, like the fine piece of modern art that it is, defies explanation and demands a bit of personal interpretation, but since Lindsay questioned my masculinity and issues with PMS while others confessed to have no idea what they were looking at, I guess I should reveal some of the hidden meanings and codes within the grid at the risk of depreciating its value.

Thanks again to F.L. for giving everyone an introductory overview to the marathon training awesomeness that is “The Grid”. I will take over, and expand on the other numbers, letters, and colors contained within the chart.

By now, it should be pretty obvious that within each training week, that is a series of seven slots that correspond to the days of the week, and within each slot, there is a recommended distance and a pace for that day’s workout. Pace is generally broken down into multiple different categories (E – easy; G – general; L – long run; R – race) that corresponds to the expected effort of each run. The numbered pace runs are speed workouts and correspond to the same number and color as can be found in the lower speedwork box. Green runs are speed interval workouts, while the light brown runs are tempo workouts of 5 to 8 miles. This year, I’ve also added some purple or marathon-paced training runs to the running mix. As you can see, I have 8 tempo runs, 4 interval workouts, and 3 marathon paced run scheduled for this marathon training cycle. Since each speed workout involves a warmup, a quality run and a cooldown segment, there are spaces for each to record the corresponding time spent doing each segment.

Not to be outdone, colors on the main worksheet have their own brand of significance. Color on the speedwork days correspond to their individual workout assignments while blue runs are long runs of twenty miles or more and yellow runs are short and mid distance races that I’ve entered or are planning to enter. Eventually, all roads must converge on red, which denotes marathon Sunday on 11/1. At the end of each training week, there is a summary tally of the distance and average pace for the week while at the end of the marathon cycle, there is a total number of the composite distance and pace traveled.

So that’s my training plan, in a nutshell. Hope it makes a bit more sense to someone else except FL and me!

My Running Update:
The long run this weekend didn’t happen. I only ran 9 out of the 18 miles Sunday morning because I had a migraine prior to starting and just never felt comfortable out there. Yes I sucked. I’m chalking it up to a non-running injury and moving on. Next up is 5 mile tempo run tomorrow and a 20 mile Long Training Run on Saturday. This should be interesting…

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Recovery Saturday and “The Grid”

Okay, so it’s unanimous then! Thank you for setting me straight. No one (other than me) has actually gotten sick while running in the rain which leads me to one of two conclusions – either my preconceptions were wrong and this old adage is nothing but an old wives’ tale probably passed down from generations of non-runners to keep the actively inclined at bay or I have freakishly weird immunity. I’ve already scheduled an appointment with my GP for early next week, thank you very much!

Although I was feeling somewhat better this morning, no fever/chills x 24 hours, I thought the safe approach was to switch my long run/recovery run weekend routine and give myself an extra day to recuperate before I tackle the 18 miler. So I went out and did an easy 5-miler around my new ‘hood this morning. Although the miles (all 5.61 of it) felt long and my pace (7:42 min/mi) awkwardly slow (another runner around here actually ran by me…and smiled as he passed…), I was satisfied with this run because by the end, I felt strong enough to have tackled a lot more miles if I wanted to. Unfortunately, my stomach started feeling queasy again as soon I stepped inside and now I’m back to not feeling bad but not feeling so great either…

Anyway, I know I’ve been talking about my marathon training a bunch in the past several posts (and probably will continue to in the next several months) so I figure I’d give you all a peak at my training plan just to make sure we’re on the same page. I sure as hell have tinkered enough with it that I’ve pretty much got the whole thing memorized by now. I think everything is pretty self explanatory but in case there are questions, discrepancies, criticisms, false pretenses, or gross overestimation of paces or races outside the range of my abilities, feel free to ask away. (Just for reference, I’m currently in the tail end of week 2 of training.)

Okay, so without further ado, Ladies and Gentleman, feast your eyes on “The Grid” (Wow, I realize I've never done this before...I feel as if there should be a drumroll...or the pitter-patter of a thousand runners running)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rainy Running Day: The Sequel
Not So Fun Anymore!

After my travels around the park in a steady rainstorm, you’d think the running gods would celebrate my persistence and general hardcoreness and bless me with a gesture of some kind – improved physical conditioning, better running mechanics, more efficient strides (honestly, I would have taken ANYTHING) – but you’d be wrong. Instead I’m cooped up in bed with my running book, a pounding headache, a 102F fever and enough Motrin in my tummy to open up a drug store. This is just not fair! Who gets the flu in the middle of summer? Oh right, the stupid idiot who decided to taunt the weather gods and run in the midst of a rainstorm. Oops. Guess I should have stayed indoors like the rest of the civilized world instead of trying to simulate the “natural running” of the Tarahumara Indians! I officially blame Brandon Wood for conducting such an excellent interview with Chris McDougal, the author of “Born To Run” (which I listened to while I was running) that he made me feel as if I too could spontaneously run 100 miles…in the rain…with no prior training…and no shoes. (Alright, just kidding about the no shoes part…)

But alas you think this post is just about a sick man ranting about his sickness, sorry to disappoint. There’s actually a more important and intellectually stimulating question I want to poll the audience. Does running in the rain make one more susceptible to infectious agents? Have others had similar experience as me where my chances of catching a virus of some sort exponentially increases after a run in bad weather? Does that even make sense physiologically or is this just an old wives’ tale? I have to admit that despite all the medical training I’ve undergone, I am clueless to explain this phenomenon. All the books I’ve ever read tells me that steady running/exercise bolters the immune system (except during the immediate period before and after a marathon). So why does my immunity grow weaker than Superman next to kryptonite every time I run in the rain, snow, extreme temperatures, and the like. Why am I sick in the middle of summer? (I googled my question and found this annecdoctal answer...but I'm still somewhat skeptical)

Despite my sickness, I miraculously completed my mid week long-ish run this morning. 10.3 miles in 1:17:39 (7:32 pace). To be honest, I popped a couple of Motrins prior to the run and didn’t feel the effects of my impaired physical state until the last mile and a half. I underestimated the humidity outside and my dehydrated state caused me to almost faint at the end of the run. I slumped to the side of an apartment building and didn’t try to get up until after the security guard brought me some juice and water. I somehow made it home and have been in bed ever since. Hey, I might have fever and shaking chills, but at least I haven’t yet fallen behind in my marathon training! Don't I deserve some brownie points for this? (Yes, I know I’m a dork!) Tomorrow is a scheduled rest day and Saturday is my first 18 miler of the season. We’ll see if I’m ready to run by then.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Rainy Running Day…Oh What Fun?!

In The Morning
“66F, Cloudy, Showers likely throughout the day…” isn’t the first thing you want to hear early in the morning when you’ve got a rather intense interval workout of [9M; 3x1M@6:07] scheduled for the late afternoon. As I got dressed ready for work and packed the gym bag with my clothes and running gear, I carefully weighed all the options available to me: A) Run outside in rain and postpone speedwork for later in the week; B) Take extra rest day and postpone running all together or C) Succumb to the machine and do miles on the treadmill. I had to admit that none of these options seemed particularly appealing to me as I was planning out my day, so I gathered everything I’d need for indoor or outdoor running and resolved to reassess the situation again after work. Still, as I got out of my apartment and found myself in the midst of a torrential downpour, I admitted that the prospect of any running happening later in the day wasn’t going to be good.

The Treadmill Miles
A few hours later, I found myself at the gym still undecided about my running. Work at the hospital was unusually light this morning as most parents opted to keep their kids home rather than subject themselves to the mercy of the weather gods just to come see me, (A rather wise choice in my off-the-record unprofessional opinion…) so I took the opportunity to escape to the gym much earlier than I had planned. Since the persisting rain eliminated any possibility of outdoor speedwork, I surrendered myself to the machines and climbed on the treadmill for my planned interval workout. But instead of setting it for 3 interval miles at 6:04, which I thought would be rather monotonous, I decided in the spur of the moment to do progressive miles – 0.25 miles at 6:07, 0.5 miles at 6:04, and 0.25 miles at 6:00. My reasons for doing this was not only to add variety to an otherwise boring workout, but also to teach my body correct pacing for these type of faster workouts. In the end, my plan worked brilliantly as I knocked out a total of 6 miles on the treadmill with my three interval miles clocking in at 6:04, 6:03, and 5:58 respectively…not so terrible for my first dedicated interval workout of my new marathon training plan.

The Park Miles
I was so inspired by my treadmill speed workout that I braved the rainy weather and ran my cooldown miles in the park. Even as I told myself that it was only supposed to be 3 flat miles, my legs wouldn’t listened and carried me straight through to the upper 5 mile loop of the park! As an added bonus, I even kept my pace at a steady recovery pace of 7:28 min/mi the entire time, never speeding up or slowing down at all! Wahoo! I dare say I’m slowly getting the hang of the whole “run more miles, run slower miles” philosophy to marathon training. And as if that wasn’t enough, I had a bunch of silly, slightly euphoric moments that made the run slightly humorous…

Moment 1: I’m at the entrance to the park and find myself stretching my quads and hamstrings next to a street vendor selling umbrellas in the steady rain. I’m casually looking at him as I go about my business. He catches my stare and asks me in broken English…”Do you want to buy an umbrella? Umbrella…good for running…” I shake my head and chuckle to myself, What? If I’m crazy enough to go running in the park in this weather, does it look like I’d need an umbrella? What could I possibly do with an umbrella while I run? For some reason, this interaction energizes me as I start my trek around the park.

Moment 2: I’m running up Cat Hill at a slow and comfortable pace. In the past 2 miles, I’ve only seen a handful of runners. This is extremely unusual for a late afternoon in mid-July. The thought makes me feel a bit hardcore and a bit more confident. All of a sudden, I see a fellow runner chugging down the hill with a poncho of sorts. Okay, maybe I’m not as hardcore as that guy. I’m thinking to myself as I instinctively track his progress with my adoring eyes. He passes me. I glance back. What I thought was a poncho was not a poncho at all; it was a mylar blanket from last year’s NYC Marathon!

Moment 3: I’m winding down now, flowing through the rolling hills of the western section of the park. Directly in front of me, part of the road was being blocked off with orange cones and a sign labeled “Central Park Conservatory - Tree Work In Progress”. Some city workers were high atop a big crane getting ready to cut down a giant tree by the side of a road. As I ran past, I wondered Geez, what kind of conservatory work would involve cutting down a tree? I thought the whole point of their line of work was to preserve the park environment to allow a safe and natural habitat for animals and wild life to thrive and grow. Hmmm…does PETA know about this? Should someone tell them? I don’t consider myself an environmentalist, at least not a passionate one, so for me to have these thoughts was a bit out of character for me.

Total distance for the day: 11.23 mile @ 7:09 min/mi

A New Book and Sushi
My running day didn’t end there as after the gym I went straight to the bookstore, perused around a bit and picked up my next reading selection! I had finished “Born To Run” earlier that morning on the way to work and had already listened to Brandon’s insightful interview with Chris McDougall by the time I hit the gym so I was in need of an outlet for my new found exuberance in running and marathon training. I spent about an hour at Barnes & Noble, researching and interviewing potential candidates, but eventually settled on “Brain Training for Runners”. Why? Three reasons. 1. Ana-Maria recommended it to me. 2. It is medically relevant. 3. It is guaranteed to improve my running (or so it claims!) Any others who have read this book, feel free to comment…

After making my purchase, I ended the night by indulging myself to some Japanese sushi with a friend on the Upper West Side. I’m not sure if it counts as a recovery meal but it definitely hit the spot and provided a perfect ending to my unexpectedly fulfilling rainy running day!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Long Run Dynamics

As part of the NY Flyers Marathon Training Program, a whole bunch of Flyers and I took the subway up to the Bronx to do a long run up in Van Cortlandt Park. Although I currently work just a few blocks away from this well-known running venue, I had never previously run there before. So when the opportunity came this morning to venture outside the confines of Manhattan for a relaxing group run on trails, I jumped at the opportunity (even if it meant having to get up at the crazy hour of 5:30AM on a Sunday morning!) The group gathered promptly at the signature Tortoise & Hare statue (where the weekly cross-country races starts and finishes) and after some pre-run instructions from our fierceless leader GW, we guided ourselves over the cinder tracks and into the park.

There were about twenty of us out there this morning, each hoping to hammer out about 11-13 miles on the trails. Since I wasn’t familiar with the area and didn’t want to get myself or others lost, I hung back for the first part of the run and was content to just follow the crowd. Although the first section was steep and hilly (or so I was told afterwards), I was moving so effortlessly slow (~9:00 pace) that the elevation gain hardly registered with me. All I knew was that everytime I reached the end of a hill, I found myself no longer involved in the conversation I was having just a few seconds ago. I would then introduce myself to the next person and inevitably the cycle would repeat again at the next uphill. By the end of the first out-and-back loop, which was about three miles, give-or-take, I was once again running with the leaders, exactly where I knew I’d be from the get-go.

I stayed with this first group through the rest of the run, never pushing the pace or falling behind by too much. Although the established pace was leisurely at the outset, our lead group of 4 was really booking it on the way back to the start, leading one girl to say “hey guys, we’re now running at my half-marathon pace.” By the time we returned from our second out-and-back loop through a different and much longer section of the trail which leads into Westchester, we had completed 13 miles. I left the group at the end and polished off one last loop around the park, finishing the day with 14.4 miles at 8:04 pace, and pushing the grand total to 48.6 miles for the week.

After the run, one of my partners in crime asked me whether I prefer doing long runs solo or with the group? It was an intriguing questions and one that I’ve wrestled with for a long time. On the one hand, I love running with the Flyer group because the miles seem to just melt away with the eclectic conversations. The group dynamics also help to keep my long runs at a slow and steady pace. On the other hand however, since my natural pace is faster than almost anyone else on the Flyers, I must run alone to practice my own pacing for the marathon. Also, when NOT running with the group, I can get up at my own convenience and design my own running course for the day. Eventually, the deciding factor to whether I will run with the group or not will be dictated by the training plan and convenience. If I had my choice, I’d prefer running the first half of the long run with a group and the rest by myself.

Week 1 Training Summary
Mon – 6.1M General Aerobic Run; Average Pace – 7:08
Tues – 10.2M with 4M Tempo Run; Average Pace – 7:13
Thurs – 12.8M Mid-Week Long Run; Average Pace – 7:29
Fri – 5.1M Recovery Run; Average Pace – 7:30
Sun – 14.4M Long Run; Average Pace – 8:05

Weekly Total – 48.6 Miles; Average Pace – 7:34

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Reading and Running

Maybe you didn’t notice, maybe you did. But while I was locked away in no-internet land, I finished my old book “Outliers” and moved onto the new book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougal. (See the new picture in my right sidebar...) It was first recommended to me by a friend in my running group who stumbled onto this unlikely national bestseller while he was on sabbatical from running due to an injury. When he told me the main premise of the book, I was more than intrigued since it supposedly confirms when I’ve been preaching to many of my running friends for quite some time. Since then, the book’s been making the rounds on many running blogs and podcasts (including Brandon’s Marathon who will be interviewing Mr. McDougall himself on his next podcast!) and has created quite a stir in the running community. Although I was familiar with his arguments for natural running and have found myself advocating many of his basic principles in arguments and discussions on the “most ideal way to run” with my friends, I felt it was important that I read the book to become familiar with his story, his theories and his path to discovery which was differs from my own. I am currently about ¾ done with the book and will post a full report on the story from a medical perspective once my reading assignment is complete.

On the running front, my first week “back on the grid” as my marathon-training buddies have come to call it, has been a bit tumultuous. After averaging only about 30 miles per week for base training the past four weeks, I packed some heavy miles on the roads this week. I have a nice 13 miler with my running group bright and early tomorrow morning and assuming it gets done would put me at 47 miles. For me this is the good part since last year at this time, I was at the peak of training for the San Francisco Marathon and still “only” completed 46 miles for the week. The bad part? My average pace this week was slower than any training week I did leading up to Boston. (I’d call my current state of running slower than molasses…) Yes, I know that was part of the program – “Run longer miles; run slower miles” – but it’s still quite a shock to the old confidence, you know? Alright, hope you all are in the midst of a good weekend. Maybe I’ll come back tomorrow night to report my actual training numbers for the week…if I’m not too embarrassed to tabulate them.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Back From Obscurity: Gettin’ Ready for NYCM

Hi All! Contrary to popular belief that I fell into a ditch on my long run over the weekend and didn’t get discovered by a runner until a few days later, I am actually doing quite well out here in the borough of Queens, thanks to the cable guy who took pity on me and actually called to announce his impending arrival just as I was about to leave for my daily run a couple days ago. A high five to him! Now, I have high-speed internet, HDTV with cable/DVR and home phone service and am once again a happy man. Okay, not entirely happy yet, since I still have no desk, no chair, and barely any furniture to feel comfortable in my new place. But I know they will come, so I’m not stressing about it.

Instead, what I’m stressing about currently (stressing maybe too strong, more like passionately thinking) is my training strategy for the next marathon adventure, namely the New York City Marathon, on November 1st. In the blink of an eye, the 16 week countdown to race day has already begun. (BTW, is it just me, or doesn’t it seem like the Boston Marathon just happened a week ago?) Although I was somewhat diligent in running right around 30 miles per week since my late spring/early summer racing season ended a few weeks ago, I wished I could have pushed up the mileage numbers and turned down the speed dial just a bit to build a stronger base. But with the address change and other unavoidable stresses in my life, running extra miles was just not feasible for me. As such, I will count my lucky stars that I am fresh, fully recharged and recovered, and totally energized to embark on yet another strong training program in preparation for arguably the most prestigious marathon in the world!

I had initially intended to strictly follow the 18/55 Pfitz plan as the template for my own training plan for the fall, but after further review of the weekly details and what I’ve learned about marathon training in the past several months, I recognize that an average of 40 miles and a peak of 55 miles may be not sufficient volume for my purposes. As such, I will modify the plan and incorporate 5-10 extra miles per week to bring the training totals to a still practical but more beneficial range for me. Aside from the harder speed days and sporadic races where I’m expected to push the pace to a higher intensity, I will concentrate on running my general and longer runs at a steadier but slower pace to enhance consistency and build my endurance. I will also schedule longer tempo runs and more marathon-paced exercises to practice LT pacing and improve my running economy. Finally, I plan to incorporate the Queensborough bridge into my long run consistently to prepare my legs for the long, steep, and quiet climb up that famous incline at mile 15 of the marathon. I never practiced running this section prior to race day in any of my previous NYCM attempts. This time, when extra seconds on the clock may be the ultimate deciding factor, I will train to become better adept at running that specific section of the course which is notoriously treacherous for every NYCM runner past and present, including me.

That’s all the musings I have about my training strategy so far. Further details to come, I’m sure, once my ultimate training program is constructed and analyzed. For now, enjoy these views from out on my balcony.

USTA National Tennis Center

Manhattan Skyline at Sunset

CitiField: Home Of The N.Y. Mets

Thursday, July 9, 2009

HELP! Still Stuck In (Virtual) Solitary Confinement

Okay folks, It’s been a week, a full week, since I’ve moved into my new crib, and there’s still no sign of the cable guy. Rumor has it that he won’t be coming around my building until this weekend at the earliest (and that’s only after I yelled and screamed and threatened to switch cable companies if they didn’t come by sooner than the end of the month!) Needless to say, I’ve been feeling a bit loony, a bit sad and very “emotionally labile” (as one friend put it kindly when I called her late at night earlier this week). It’s funny that she used that term on me because that’s usually the pithy label I use to describe friends who, on occasion, will act contrary to their normal behavior. In other words, it’s her backhanded way of telling me that she knows that calling “just to chat” is way out of character for me. Ouch! Geez, thanks. Why don’t you pour more salt into that gaping wound? We shared a good laugh, but I seriously doubt she knows what it’s like to live without TV/internet for a week. From my vantage point it’s akin to living in solitary confinement, except that the eating, sleeping, and bathroom facilities are a little nicer.

Speaking of solitary confinement, I went out on another exploratory run last night in Flushing Meadows Park to seek out more members of the endangered species known as the running man or woman. I ran a bit off the normal track and found a beautiful 3 mile semi-paved trail around a quiet lake. Although I finally spotted some runners sporadically circling the lake in the opposite direction, they were few and far in between. The trails were inhabited by many more dog walkers and baby strollers than runners and I felt way more self-conscious veering off the path to avoid them than they did in doing absolutely nothing to avoid me. It is a bit ironic that after fighting for space in the rec lanes of Central Park for so long that I suddenly find myself in an environment where running is the exception rather than the rule. It’s a bit ridiculous that my heart rate actually quickened by a few beats last night at the sight of another runner. Really? Seriously? I never thought I’d be THAT guy again. Anyway, the run was pretty nice and I finished it up by running to the footsteps of the USTA National Tennis Center and CitiField. (Yes, I know I have to post pictures when I get back on-line…) Let’s hope the cable guy doesn’t flake out on our appointment this time. Have a good weekend all!

Running Recap
Distance - 6.88 miles, Time - 50:04, Average Pace - 7:16 min/mi
In Passing –
  • Bikes (18)
  • Strollers(12)
  • Dogs (10)
  • Soccer Games (7)
  • Volleyball Games (2)
  • Baseball Games (1)

  • And –
  • Runners (8)
  • Monday, July 6, 2009

    Post-Independence Weekend Update

    Wow, is it me, or did the long weekend fly back faster than it ever did in years prior? I mean, the last coherent thought I can remember was me slowly counting down the days eagerly anticipating the arrival of a long four day weekend. And now, it seems I just blinked, and my brief reprieve from work is already over! Pfffttt…

    Well, in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been forced again to take a short leave of absence from blogging (and blog reading). Only this time, the decision was not voluntary and I am not entirely to blame. Although I’ve taken permanent residence in my new condominium since last week, the cable company does not regard my lack of internet access an urgent matter. As a result, no matter how many times I call to badger, annoy, or insult, they will not be by to grant me access to cyberspace until later this week. Let me tell you guys, In case you haven’t experienced it first-hand, living without internet access is worse than not being able to run. I know because I’ve tried. Although I’ve been able to go at most four days without running, I haven’t yet been able to survive more than two days away from the virtual world. If you don’t believe me, just ask the manager at the corner Burger King who’s already ripped me off for ten bucks in the past three days just so I can check my e-mail…E-MAIL for gosh sakes. Although I’ve never been the kind to partake in overpriced services driven up by demand, I couldn’t help myself from repeatedly dipping my hands into that proverbial cookie jar just to tap into the internet. Yes, I know…I am ashamed, as a runner and as an idealist, what a sellout am I? Okay, on second thought, don’t answer that!

    But before I disappear into the nether regions of the real world where contact with the virtual world does not yet exist, let me share with you my first impressions of running in Flushing Meadow Park. Last night, before it got dark, I went out for a jog in the park not knowing what I’d find once I got there. At the time of day that I went, the temperature was mild and there was a light breeze. In other words, it was perfect running weather. But while I saw plenty of people lounging, biking, playing soccer, and walking about, I saw absolutely no one running. I made one inner loop saw nothing, and dared myself to go out again, venturing a little further into the park this time to look for my own endangered species. On this second trip, I pass by kids flying a kite, two soccer games with garbage can as goals, a softball game and even a cricket match, but alas no runners. I must have been quite an anomaly in these parts because I caught quite a few stare and chuckles as I ran by. Although I felt slightly out of place, being the only runner in my 8 mile journey, I had a great time on my scenic jog because I ran by some beautiful gardens and historic landmarks that I’d never knew existed in this part of Queens. I will do some more exploration in the coming weeks and report back my findings. Hopefully, I’ll spot a runner in there… somewhere.
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