Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Runners vs Cyclists: A BiCoastal Phenomenon

Over the weekend, despite the rain, one of my friends actually trekked all the way from Manhattan to visit my new pad in Flushing. We had planned on touring the neighborhood so I can introduce him to my running grounds and the aquatic center around the corner where I will hopefully be learning how to swim over the winter. By because of the foul weather, we ended up spending most of the early afternoon watching reruns of the Ironman Championships from the recent past on Universal Sports. As we watched the athletes swim, bike and run their way through the difficult course, analyzing and critiquing the strength and weaknesses of the showcased athletes, we did our best to tackle the burning questions of the day, the issues that most recreational athletes like us care about.
One of these topics has to do with the question “Why are there so many more cyclists than runners in California and why is it the exact opposite here in New York? Is it mere perception of is it really true?” Hmmm…interesting right? So before I reveal what we ultimate came away with from our several hour long discussion, let me give you a brief description of my friend so you understand where he’s coming from.
My friend, NOT named here to protect his identity, is a die-hard northern Californian living in the outskirts of Marin County who travels to New York for business for about a week every month. When he’s not working, he’s an avid cyclist who is as passionate about his sport as I am about running. Unlike myself who knows almost nothing about bikes and cycling, my friend has actually tried running and has completed two NYC marathons before calling it quits this year due to exhaustion/injury. Since he’s been involved in running and/or cycling much longer than I, I consider him somewhat of an expert in both arenas and we often have very interesting discussions on the merits of running/cycling whenever we’re hanging out together.
Okay, now that you’ve been acquainted with my Cali friend, let’s get back to the question at hand. In case your attention span is shorter than one of my six-year-old patients with ADHD, the question is…Why is there such a huge disparity between California and New York in terms of runners and bikers? To phrase it in a more meaningful and practical sense…Why is Central Park so overcrowded with runners (especially during this part of the year) that I fear for the life of the occasional biker who dare challenge the running groups that swallow up the rec lanes during the late afternoons but yet when I went running in Half Moon Bay on my most recent trip out West, there was not a runner to be seen, only bikers challenging cars for the three inch space on the side of the highways?
Here are a set of hypotheses we came up with, based on our anecdotal experience to explain this bi-coastal phenomenon:
  1. Running, especially long distance running, isn’t a recreational sport; cycling is. What I mean by that is the number of people who go running consistently without a goal in mind (vs running to train for an event) is significant smaller than the number of people who cycle for fun. If there is any doubt about this, consider the popularity of road races in all its many forms - 5ks, 10ks, half and full marathons and compare them to the popularity of bike races for those who cycle on a consistent basis. I surmise that if you took away road races, 75% of runners would run significantly less; a significant majority would probably eventually give up the sport altogether. Whereas, 95% of cyclists ride for the pure enjoyment, and almost universally not because they are training for a specific endurance event.
  2. Cycling is more conducive to recreation than running because you cannot get injured riding too long as readily as you can by running too hard or too long.
  3. Cycling requires more technical and expensive gear to be a professional/competitive rider as compared to running. My friend told me that last weekend, on a trip to a local bike shop, he saw a sweet looking, top of the line, bike suspended from the ceiling with a sale price of a whopping $14,000+. Running shoes on the other hand, no matter how elite and performance-based, are rarely in excess of $300-$400. As a result, it is more economical and somewhat less technical to be a competitive runner than it is to be a competitive cyclist. As a result, more people are drawn to running than to cycling.
  4. The enjoyment from cycling is heavily influenced by the external environment in which you are riding whereas the joy of running, I think, comes from internal cues projected as an action affecting the external environment. It is a subtle difference I agree but as was explained to me, you can’t have a good ride if the scenery/environment is confined, repressed and unassuming whereas for most recreational runners, they can get similar psychological benefits from a treadmill workout as one done outdoors.
  5. Finally, because California has longer roads and hillier terrain that can make long runs rather grueling, it is much easier to travel the surrounding area via cycling than it is by running. Beside the major metropolis of San Francisco where as far as I can tell, running is still king, the rest of the open roads in that states are usually inhabited by bicyclists. In contrast, we often hear local complaints about the lack of places to run in New York. Moving across the open road over long distances isn’t as important for those of us who run and train in Central Park.
For these reasons, it makes more sense for recreational cyclists to turn up in California where there is lush scenery, steep hilly roads and perfect weather than it is for runners to run recreationally over there. Conversely, running will always dominant the scene in NYC even if the number of local riders are generally increasing.
Agree or disagree? Let me hear your perspectives in the comments.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

An Epic Long Run Over the Palisades

So today, after 4 long runs in this training cycle all ranging from 20-21 miles, I finally sucked it up and ran 22.6 miles. This is quite the accomplishment for me because not only was it my longest training run ever. It was also the hilliest run I’ve ever done as well (and that includes the San Francisco Marathon)! Yeah, no wonder my body feels as trashed as if I’ve just completed a marathon!
This annual group run, organized by my running club, the New York Flyers, starts at the foot of the George Washington Bridge, and goes up and over the bridge to the New Jersey side before entering the hilly Palisades State Park where most of the running takes place. Once inside the park, you have to run over a series of rolling hills…some mountain-sized if you ask me…for 9 miles before engaging the battle of a mile-long massive hill at 8-9% grade that makes Harlem Hill look puny in comparison. Once you successfully conquer this monstrosity of a hill, you’ve reached the midway point and now must make the way back to where you started from. From beginning to end, at least according to Rover, my Garmin, the route contains 3230 feet of elevation gain and 3300 feet of elevation loss. By comparison, the San Francisco Marathon, only nets 2380 feet of elevation gain and loss through all of its 26.2 miles. Now I know those figures are only a rough approximation since Garmin is notoriously bad at calculating gains and losses of elevation (especially on bridges) but I think it suffices to make my point that this was a REALLY HILLY run.
Despite all of this, I made it through in one piece at a pretty good clip, keeping my pace conservative in the first half and running a bit faster in the second half. The highlights and lowlights are summarized below. The total time for this run was 2:57:45. Average pace was 7:51 min/mile. I felt strong enough to run sub-7:30 for the last six miles, which I am excited about. My only complaint is that after this epic run, I am the proud owner of a new blood blister at the bottom of my right feet. Awesome!
I hope I will feel well enough to do a few recovery miles tomorrow to finish off my 55 mile week. Thanks to all who contributed in whatever way to making my run possible today! You all know who you are! Hope everyone had similarly beautiful runs this weekend. Marathon season is fast approaching! I, for one, can hardly wait!

Keys To 22-Mile Long Run Success (At Least For Me!)
  1. Plan a gorgeous trail in a densely wooded park next to a large body of water.
  2. Pick the perfect running weather – 55 degrees and sunny with a slight autumn chill.
  3. Schedule the run 20 or 30 of your closest friends in your running group and have volunteers stationed every five miles for water stop.
  4. Be driven by a nice fellow runner over to the start at the foot of the GWB.
  5. Be stuck in a traffic jam on the way there and be in danger of missing the run entirely.
  6. Improvise and come up with alternate plan to meet up with running group after they have started.
  7. The day before, have everyone warn you that the course will be hillier than any you’ve ever run.
  8. After finally starting, take a wrong turn immediately and run an extra mile unnecessarily because you couldn’t follow directions.
  9. Run with someone slower than you for first half then partner up with someone faster for the second half (or just with yourself if you’re a bit speedier than the group)
  10. Make plans for an applicable reward after the run (frittatas and chocolate chip pancakes at City Diner…delish!)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Slow, Slow Miles

Isn’t it strange how things always seem to work out when you least expect them to?

One of the direct consequences from my fabulous race on Sunday is that I am now married to my high mileage training plan for the rest of the season. If you recall in last week’s post, I was set and ready to use a bad time in the Queens Half both as evidence that higher mileage wasn’t working for me and as an excuse to switch back to a more comfortable, more conservative, lower mileage plan. But because I shocked myself by running my second-best marathon despite some unexpected inconveniences, shifting download in mileage is no longer a viable option. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, I’ve gotten used to running more miles and slower miles despite my innate desire to do entirely the opposite. But on the other, I absolutely miss the exhilaration of running hard and running fast each and every time out on the road. It’s kind of ironic how slow my training runs have gotten despite my internal pressures to run so much faster.

The schedule this week calls for a slight recovery of 55 miles including a hard tempo run of 7 miles and a long run of 22 miles this weekend. Next week will be peak mileage week when I will attempt to push through to about 65 miles for the entire week and end with a half-marathon race that I will run at marathon pace. Although some may hold a different opinion, that is a whole heck of a lot of miles for me! For comparison, last year at this time, I was peaking at 48 miles/week; that’s right, PEAKING at 48 miles. This year, I’m AVERAGING 51 miles/week for the entire training cycle. That is a significant difference. The craziest thing is that despite the big jump in mileage, I have absolutely no injuries to speak of. That has never happened to me before. My body has somewhat come to expect nagging aches and pains every year around this time as we get closer to race day so to have none of these concerns this year feels on the one hand absolutely wonderful, but on the other hand very awkward. I likened the sentiment to hosting a dinner party on marathon eve where nobody shows up. I think you get the point.

The key to my success in bumping up the mileage without injury I’ve come to realize is a newfound respect and appreciation for slow miles. In direct conflict with my personality, most of my running is now done at slower than conversational pace. It feels weird to write and even weirder to do, but I must give credit where credit is due. It has taken me a really really long time to get to this point, and I continue to struggle with the idea constantly, but I think I’m at peace with the slow miles now. Finally. I think.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Catching The Rabbit:
Race Report from the 2009 Queens Half Marathon

(Yes, I ran a half marathon yesterday and yes, I’m sorry this is coming to you a day late!)

The way the morning began, I had every excuse NOT to run a good race. Between the 7AM race start in a remote pocket of Queens not accessible by public transportation (at least not in the wee hours on a Sunday morning) and the limited number of shuttle buses (two) that was ill-equipped to handle the running masses arriving via the subway, I consider it a minor miracle that I arrived at my corral at 6:58, exactly 2 minutes before the start of the race. Never mind that I waited for a bus pickup at the shuttle stop for more than 45 minutes for a ride that normally requires 10. Never mind that when I finally arrived at the starting area, I had so little time left that I was forced to run around like a chicken without a head to find the baggage area, drop off my bag and race like hell just to get to my starting corral. By the time I lined up next to some Flyers waiting for the starting horn to sound, even though I was slightly out of breath from all the pre-race running, I was just happy that I eventually found myself exactly where I needed to be at the sound of the starting horn.

Miles 1-3 (M1 – 6:32; M2 – 6:17; M3 – 6:28)
My game plan for this race, formulated on the bus ride over when I was as sure that I was going to be late as I was that yesterday was Sunday, was to establish and hold a consistent pace through the entire race. Since I had done this race once before, and was familiar with the curvy and hilly topographical nature of the course, I knew this was NOT going to be a PR day. Coupled with the fact that I had not done a consistent tempo run for longer than a mile since the middle of last month, I was hesitant to push the pace to an extreme and risk burning out toward the last portion of the race. As long as I felt comfortable running, paced well enough to have a good last mile sprint, and beat my time from my last half marathon (in Brooklyn; 1:26:27), I would be extremely satisfied. The PR attempt will come in a few weeks when I travel to Staten Island for the final leg of the NYRR Half-Marathon Grand Prix series.
If I had any lingering thoughts of P.R.-ing, it melted away as soon as I passed the start. Because I was rather late to the corrals, I found myself much further back in the pack than I wanted to be. From the faces of people I recognize surrounding me, I could tell it’d be a struggle for most of this crowd to run 1:35, much less 1:30 like I was hoping for. Still, staying true to my word, I didn’t dodge and weave. I didn’t get irritated. I just ran with the people I was with until I saw some opening that I could comfortably take. It helped that the first big hill came off of the first turn as soon as we exited the park because it slowed down my neighbors some as I took the hill at my comfortable pace. It helped me move steadily toward the front, passing by many racers and Flyers in the process. I was slightly embarrassed and felt somewhat uncomfortable moving so effortlessly by as I watch some familiar faces struggle climbing the big hill. I thought about yelling something encouraging but I really didn’t to be thought of as THAT guy, the only who’s cocky and bubbly at the start only to fade and sulk at the end. So I minded to my own business at hand and made my way up the pack until I found others running a similar pace. It took me nearly all of the first mile to find my place, and didn’t feel comfortable with my effort and pace until nearly all of the second.

Mile 4-6 (M4 – 6:33; M5 – 6:28; M6 – 6:37)
I found my rabbit early on in the third mile, the one who I’d be trading places with and inadvertently battling for the rest of the race.
To be honest, I never thought of her as a worthy adversary when I initially found myself running behind her in the early miles. With her long sleeve beige shirt that matched the color of her hair and thick legs which complemented her heavy stride, I thought she was more suitable to be my track partner than for racing with me on the road. We ran even paces for the flats but at completely different speeds up and down the hills. For the most part, I’d pass her regularly climbing up, feeling pretty good about myself, only to have her completely smoke by me during the long descents. It’d be somewhat hilarious if it weren’t so embarrassing. Because the number of noxious hills on this course doubled the number of miles within it, I had multiple opportunities to adjust my strategies. I tried slowing a bit on the ascent, opening my stride on the descent, or running fartleks for short burst of speed. But everything I tried was to no avail. I never really gained on her and she kept herself always just slightly ahead of me. By about mile 6 and 7, I was mentally fatigued and annoyed. By mile 10, I was beyond impressed. No matter what happened after that, I reminded myself to congratulate my rabbit after the race.

Mile 7-9 (M7 - 6:24; M8 – 6:26; M9 – 6:35)
Aside from toying with my rabbit, I was in my own little paradise running this race. The weather was absolute perfect for running and I felt completely comfortable keeping my speed right around my PR pace of 6:30. I slowed during the uphills and surged through through the downhills. I cut tangents on the 61 (yes, someone counted) right angle turns that the course provided, drank water/Gatorade at all the mile markers and for the first time in a long time savored the pure joy of running fast. I breathed the fresh air, watched the beautiful homes roll by, and focused on keep my form as smooth and efficient as possible. At mile 9, I heard my name being yelled and some of my neighbors cheering from the sidelines. I chuckled at their boisterous enthusiasm and sped up ever so slightly. Although some would complain afterwards that this section contained the most treacherous peaks and valleys of the course, I enjoyed this scenic tour of Whitestone as the beautiful landscaping, magnificent homes and the glistening bay made for some breath-taking views for those who bothered to pay attention to the scenery around them.

Mile 10-12 (M10 – 6:35; M11 – 6:36; M12 – 6:52)
Coming up through the backstretch, I noticed I was fatiguing ever so slightly. I know this because things that I found amusing just a few miles ago started to bother me out of the blue. I was puzzled by the mile markers that were all running slightly long. I no longer cared for meandering through side streets which made me feel like a lab rat stuck in a never-ending maze. Even my new performance shoes (Asics Gel-Speedstar 3) which I bought this week and really loving for the first 9 miles, started to cause some mild midfoot pain at mile 10. I located my rabbit, who was about 200-300 feet ahead of me at this point, downed a gel slowly over the next quarter mile and quickened my pace a bit to give chase.

Mile 13 And The Finish (Last 1.1M – 6:56)
After registering that horrendous last mile split, which I could have sworn was measured incorrectly, I made up my mind to leave my comfort zone and start my kick towards the finish. Unfortunately, NYRR had other ideas as it designed two quick steep uphill climbs at the start of this mile. “Oh, this is just cruel!” I thought as I eased my effort and slowed a bit to tackle them. Once over the hills, I spotted some people I wanted to pass. First, I sped by some tall guy who was panting so audibly loud that I couldn’t hear my other breathing. Then I spotted another guy wearing a Flyers jersey and took him down also with a half mile to go. I was imagining myself running a Yasso 800 at this point, gaining speed, and running faster and faster with each step. Eventually, I found myself about 100 feet behind my rabbit again with a quarter of a mile to go. Up ahead, I can barely make out the park and the blue finish line banner. People were lining the sidelines and cheering loudly by this point. Because I consider myself now a Queens native, I pretended a portion of those cheers were for me, even if in the back of my mind I knew better. No matter. I was finally gaining on my rabbit! We approached the park, the cheers got louder, I got excited and pushed a bit harder still. Finally, we passed the mile 13 marker and enter the park. I am now directly behind her. Above the boisterous crowd cheering and clapping wildly, I hear the announcement, “Ladies and Gentleman, bring your hands together for our first female runner approaching the finish line!” I almost stopped dead on my tracks and suddenly everything made sense. I was being paced this whole race by the first overall female runner! Oh my gosh…what an honor! As we approached the finish, race officials were directing me toward the left lane to make way for her to cross the tape held out for her on the right side. Light bulbs flashed in every direction. I thought about running directly behind her all the way through but at the last second thought better of it. I allowed my speed burst to carry me all the way over my side of the finish line just in front of her.
After catching my breath and grabbing a sip of water, I returned to the finish line to pay my respects to the rabbit. Unfortunately, she was nowhere to be found. I figured she must have been siphoned off to a VIP area immediately after crossing the finish. It’s too bad really because I thoroughly appreciated her efforts at inadvertently pacing me to an awesome time at this race. If I had a chance, I would have loved to ask if she also was training for NYCM and whether she’d mind running that marathon just slightly ahead of me for that race as well…

Final Assessment
On a personal note, I am very proud of the race I ran today as my 1:25:27 finish represents my second fastest time in a half marathon and just 11 seconds off of my PR race from early May. So despite late start, nagging turns, tumultuous hills and my nagging doubts, I ran a very smooth and efficient race for myself today. Oh, and with this race, I finished another 60+ mile training week and scored my second consecutive highest mileage training week ever! Yeah, can you imagine if I actually tapered for this race? I am preparing to run the Staten Island Half as my PR attempt in one month so we’ll see if adequate rest and a flatter course will be enough to carry me to a sub-1:25. If not, maybe I can find my rabbit and invite her to pace me again next year!

Here’s a picture of me with my teammates after the finish. I’m on the left with a lame attempt at color coordination with my yellow bandanna, yellow souvenir shirt, yellow shoes (not shown), and the biggest goofy smile this side of Queens!

Final Statistics
Finishing Time – 1:25:27; Pace – 6:31 min/mi
Overall Place – 73/5072 (1.4%)
Gender Place – 73/2852 (2.6%)
Age Group Place – 19/597 (3.2%)
Age Grade – 69.5%
Flyers Men – 1st Place

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The 800M Special

Normally, I do not like to post on back-to-back days; but then again, it’s not everyday that I finish a training workout so grueling that it garners commentary from a friend of mine who’s used to seeing me after speedy workouts before. He took one look at me as I limped into the locker room after changing and said, “Geez. You look like you just ran a marathon, what happened?” Well, I got two words for you my friend, Yasso 800s.

Now I know some of you run these as part of your regular speedwork routine for marathon training. If you do, I admire and congratulate you. Me, on the other hand, have never done these before. Yes, you heard right. Never, as in NEVER EVER. In fact, I’ve never done any speedwork on a track before. I remember trying once and got yelled at for not knowing which lane I was supposed to use and inconveniencing the faster college track guys running in the inner lanes while having to weave and dodge the slower runners and walkers in the outer lanes. As a result, I’ve always avoided the shorter distance workouts which necessitates the use of a track and stuck to mile repeats which I could run anywhere I want with my trusty Garmin. For this training cycle however, I decided to experiment a little bit and snug in a 8x800m workout as suggested by the Pfitz 18/55 plan just to mix things up. In retrospect, I think it popped up at a good time for me because as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been struggling big time with my speed game and needed a solid faster workout both to get my legs back on track and to gauge where I’m at physically and mentally heading into the stretch portion of marathon training.

Having never done 800s before, I was so nervous and anxious thinking about this session that barely any real work got done today. Luckily, all my patients canceled or rescheduled on me today so I was free to ponder and anticipate about how the whole thing would go down. I planned out my appropriate pace (2:47-2:54 for 800m according to McMillian), converted the pace to mins/km (so I can gauge my speed on the Garmin as I’m running) and mapped out an appropriate “track” on googlemaps all in the office before leaving work. To escape the multitudes flocking around Central Park, I ran over to the calmer and less traveled East Side Drive to prepare my workout once I signed off at the hospital. After some brief stretching and a couple of warmup laps to identify appropriate landmarks that would serve as the starting and finish lines of my unofficial 800m track, I was ready to roll.

Here’s how it went down for me today:
  • Planned - 8 x 800m at 2:47-2:55 pace
  • Interval 1: 2:45 [Started off faster than I should, rookie mistake]
  • Interval 2: 2:48 [Ouch, okay this is not as easy as I imagined]
  • Interval 3: 2:54 [Took this one a bit easy, almost too easy]
  • Interval 4: 2:49 [Back on target, but already getting winded]
  • Interval 5: 2:52 [A side stitch, dared not to stop, cursing Yasso]
  • Interval 6: 2:51 [Gosh, this is hard, fighting mental demons]
  • Interval 7: 2:52 [Ouch, the side stitch returns. Must. Battle. On]
  • Interval 8: 2:50 [Finishing up, finishing strong. Yay, I survived!]

To say this was a tough workout is like saying this country has a small problem with healthcare. Um, yeah, it completely drained me and left me cramping and panting like a dog in heat on the side of the road. I must have looked like a complete mess running my 4 mile cooldown at 8:01 min/mi pace, which is slower and seemed to last longer than my 20 miler over the weekend. No wonder my friend gave me a weird eye and feared for my well-being when we met up afterwards (even after I showered and cleaned myself up!)

So what did I take away from this workout? I think my speed is starting to come back, although I am reluctant to extrapolate anything from these 800m times. Although there are some who will look at these numbers and claim that I’ll run a 2:52 or 2:54 marathon, I remain unconvinced that 800 times translate at all to the full 26.2. However, I do think that running 8 x 800s is good preparation for a half marathon, which I’ll run this weekend and then use that time to predict an appropriate finish for my marathon .

Let’s hope my legs can run hard and long as well as they run fast and short. Then and only then will I officially announce to the rest of the running world that I’m finally back.

Digging Out Of A Hole, Part II

Well, yes, it’s been another little while since I’ve provided an update for all you fine running folks. Unfortunately, it’s the same old song with the same old refrain from me. I’m physically getting better, recovering from my sickness. The cough is still there although much rarer now then it used to be. I am not really complaining even if my inopportune coughing spells at times make me look more like a homeless guy with a nicotine addiction than a marathoner in training. Either that or everyone in my apartment building thinks I have the swine flu because they all give me strange looks whenever I let out a slight cough in the elevators. So even though I look fine and feel fine, everyone else around me these days are acting like I’m a bigger menace to society than the Taliban! What gives?

As for my running, well, there is some good news and bad news. The good news is that I successfully completed my 4th 20+ mile run of the training cycle this past weekend on my way to a whopping 60.4 miles for the week (my highest total ever so far!) The bad news is that my speed game is still nowhere to be found. It’s been three weeks since I’ve experienced any semblance of quickness and efficiency on my runs. It’s so sad that I’m considering posting up an MIA sign for my speedy legs on my refrigerator door and refusing to take it down until I have documented evidence that the faster version of my lower extremities has returned to me. In the meantime, I’m practicing patience and diligence in putting in the miles day after day, slow, slower, or medium-fast as they might be, and having faith that the running gods will notice my steady work ethic soon and grant me back my old speed and form from a month ago. Well, that’s the game plan for now. However, if I fail my next big test (in the form of not making a certain time in a half-marathon this weekend in my own backyard essentially), I reserve the right to blow up this whole “run more miles, run slower miles” training plan that I am on now and revert back to a version of my old “quality over quantity” philosophy of training that I’ve used somewhat successfully in the past. For the record, I don’t like changing things in the middle of marathon training, but I feel if my legs aren’t responding to the heavier mileage plan, I need to be proactive and make changes to the plan in order to improve my chances of scoring a two-minute PR at the NYC marathon.

Truth be told, I’m seriously hoping it won’t come to that because I am starting to like the high mileage training. In other words, Lungs-please, no more coughing, and Legs-please do your thing at the Queens Half. Got it? Good! While we anxiously await the results of that battle, here’s my latest updated “grid” for your observations, comments, and review.

Seven weeks left to race day and counting! We’re getting close to crunch time!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Digging Out Of A Hole

Alright, yes, I realize that’s been way too long since I’ve posted. And believe me, I do feel kind of bad that I’ve been M.I.A for a little bit after all the encouraging and insightful comments you all left on my previous post. I really do appreciate all the well wishes and have read through the list at least twice while I was sick but I seriously did not feel like ruining everyone’s day and holding a pity party for myself, so I figured I’d wait until the whole sickness episode was over before I reported again. Unfortunately, I remained infected for way longer than I ever anticipated (~10-12 days…yikes!) and is only now recovered enough to a point where I am not coughing, sneezing or running to the bathroom every hour and can sleep through the night without interruption. This is a major upgrade from how I felt even just 48 hours ago, believe me, so I’m not complaining.

What is frustrating me to no end however is that although physically, I feel about 90% back, my running, especially my speed game is only about 60% back from where it was just a few weeks ago. I know this because although I’ve been able to complete the majority of my easy, steady, and long runs, I have not finished a speedwork session successfully since before I got sick. And it’s not been from lack of trying either. Over the weekend, I wanted to try a marathon-paced run, but wasn’t able to sustain the effort past 2 miles. Yesterday, I attempted a tempo run of 7 miles but quit after 4. Time and time again, I’ve failed and failed at maintaining a faster pace that its all wreaking a havoc on my sanity and confidence. I realize that I am physically still not 100% (since I still intermittently cough while running and have trouble taking in fluids in between breaths) and should not extrapolate my current running state to how I will perform when I’m fully recovered but I can’t help but wonder if my speed and stamina will come back to me in time. Yes, I know it will…but I just wonder sometimes. I have a relay race with Flyers where I will be running the toughest segment (7 miles of hilly terrain) of the entire course coming up this weekend (with a 20 miler over three bridges the next day) and the Queens Half Marathon coming up next weekend. So my speed will be called on plenty and often during the next two weekend. I hope my legs still remember how to perform in front of a crowd!

Thanks again for all the well wishes. I am getting better…slowly! Don’t you all worry, I’ll find my way back here soon. Hope all is well with everyone and their running!

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Debate Continues

No major update from me folks. Although I’m done with the fever and chills, I still have paroxysmal coughing spells which makes sleeping through the night and running through a longish run a major hassle. As such, I’m trying to be smart and laying off the feet and laying off the speed as much as possible this past week. Luckily for me, this was a scheduled recovery week anyway so I’ve not been too worried about the layback workouts or the missed miles. I’m fully embracing the essence of the plan and trying to be patient with myself. I won’t lie; coming off August where I ran more miles (245) than I ever did, this sudden decrease in distance and intensity feels completely foreign to me. Some friends have already been whispering things to me in private for some time, but it may now be time for the issue to enter the public light: “Am I addicted to running?”
On second thought, there’s no need to answer that. It’s a rhetorical question. But what isn’t rhetorical are the questions I’ve been asking myself ever since I finished reading the featured article “The Rules Revisited” in the latest (September) edition of Runner’s World. Is less really more? Are there really studies that show “little correlation between weekly mileage and marathon performance, especially for novices?” as is claimed by the authors of the article. Are RW, FIRST and other low-mileage, high-intensity marathon training plans just as good as Pfitz, Higdon, Daniels and other more conventional programs that advocate higher mileage but slower pace training? Has Runner’s World reached new levels of deceit with their manipulation of studies and statistics in order to entice newbie runners who are ignorant of what it really takes to run a 26.2 mile race? I realize I may be opening a whole big can of worms by opening discourse on this subject here, but I really think this is an important topic that affects a lot of marathoners and wannabe marathoners and as such deserves some recognition and discussion from the running community.
So as someone who’ve partied like a rockstar from both camps, I’d like to offer my personal opinions on the matter.
Let me start by saying that I think RW is really doing the regular/veteran runners a disservice with its false propaganda of the benefits of lower-mileage training. I agree with most of the forummites here who vehemently reject the Runner’s World findings. There is no doubt in my mind that running lots and lots of miles is the key to maximizing your marathon performance. After all, you don’t see any elites running less miles and thanking F.I.R.S.T. for their marathon success. Most of them run in excess of 100 mile per week and wish they could recover faster to run more.
Yet, unlike the forummites, I feel as though the lower mileage plans may actually work and be ideal for some select people. I myself have used F.I.R.S.T. in some variation or form for my first few marathons and found pretty good success with it. For the newer runners who are marathon virgins or those who are injured frequently, the emphasis on dedicated cross training and fewer actual miles may be of some benefit.
For the rest of us who do not fall into those categories, I believe the conventional high mileage training is the way to go. Not only do the additional miles increase the endurance capabilities of the athlete, but the higher mileage training is conducive to to faster speeds on the road as well. It is debatable whether this extra training increases the risk for injuries, which is a legitimate concern. As long as you run with correct form, slow down on easy/recovery runs and keep long runs at a comfortable pace, injuries shouldn’t happen which means that if you are getting them at a somewhat consistent basis, the thing to do is to find out what mechanistically and physiologically is wrong and deal with them, rather that make adjustments to running less miles.
So what says you blogosphere? Did Runner’s World go overboard here or am I just over the line? I’m interested to hear.
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