Sunday, September 28, 2014

What's Up With the Women's Marathon Record?

Today, the men's marathon world record was broken at the Berlin Marathon. Again. It now stands at 2:02:57. Congratulations to Dennis Kimetto. This is the 5th men's record in 7 years! Yet the women's world record stands at 2:15:25. The same as it has been since 2003 when Paula Radcliffe set this mark at the London Marathon. Why hasn't it fallen? What's up with that? We seem to be seeing more and more women runners at all levels from local fun runners to elite marathoners. Why hasn't that 2003 women's record fallen yet? More than a decade and no one has even shaved a second off this record. Are we going to see a sub 2-hour men's record before a woman breaks Paula's 2:15 record? What's going on here?

I have no answers. My gut tells me that Radcliffe was a very special runner and her record is simply an incredible performance that won't be repeated soon. Paula has run a 2:18 marathon, two 2:17 marathons, plus the record of 2:15. Her closest competitors have run 2:18. Wow. Her record may stand for many more years. Still, I want records to be broken! Step it up ladies, go after that world marathon record.

PS: Shout out to Shalane Flanagan who gave it her best and tried for the American record at Berlin. She ran a personal best 2:21:14 and came in third place. I think she has Deena's AR of 2:19:36 within her in the near future.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Ultra Running Advice

I love ultras. It's great to see more and more friends running them. I wish every runner would try an ultra. Seems we live in a world where people dream of finishing a marathon. It's a bucket-list item. That's fine, but finishing an ultra is actually a more pleasurable and meaningful experience. Not much difference in training either, just a different emphasis. Why you should run an ultra is a different blog post. Today is about HOW to run an ultra.

#1. Slow the fuck down! This isn't a short road race. This is an ULTRA race. It's a long way to the finish. No rush. You'll get there if you simply practice patience and determination. You need to dole out your energy in small doses. This applies to your training as well. Instead of fast short repeats, incorporate longer tempo runs. Go slower on long runs too so you can extend the distance.

#2. Walk the hills. Why do you need to run up those serious inclines? You are fighting a losing battle. Walk the hills and conserve your energy. Power walking will help stretch your legs, allow you to recover, and you'll still make good time. Remember, it's all about relentless forward progress. Keep moving forward. No need to rush on a hill. Pick up the pace on the downhills and flat sections.

#3. Practice eating and drinking during your runs. Have I already mentioned that ultras are a really long distance? You can't make it through one with just water and Gatorade. Consume real calories, lots of fluids, and electrolytes. Practice this during your long runs. Eat bananas, M&Ms, chips, cookies, sandwiches, etc. Gels are OK too, but real food will often work better. Spend time at the aid stations. Use drop bags if needed.

#4. Time on feet is the priority in training. The above three pieces of advice lend themselves to this rule too--it's not how fast or far you run in training, but rather how long you stay on your feet. Go out for really long 4+ hour runs/hikes/jogs. Mix up plenty of walking with the running. This provides the extended endurance you need, plus allows you to test out your shoes, socks, anti-chafe lube, eating, drinking, etc.

#5. Enjoy the hell out of the race. Ultras are special. Your ultra colleagues are special. The volunteers are special. Chat up the aid station workers. Assist your fellow runners. Share supplies. Enjoy the scenery. The camaraderie of ultra runners is amazing. You are competing against the course, not each other. You are in this together so cooperation and support is the norm.

Also, if your ultra is on trails (as most are), then practice on trails. You need to be comfortable jumping over rocks, side-stepping roots, wading through streams, and twisting and turning as the trail meanders across varied terrain.

Ultras are awesome. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rule of Specificity Sucks

Running is pretty simple. One foot in front of the other. Repeat. Repeat again. Yet the more you read and run, you discover all sorts of extras. Turns out running isn't that simple. Well, at least improving your running, and racing, are not that simple. There are tons of theories, rules, laws, principles, coaching advice, and the like. One rule that tends to hold up well is the "Rule of Specificity." It may be the grand rule of them all. In fact, I've seen it discussed as the "Law of Specificity." Basically, to perform well, you need to mimic the race situation and all of its conditions and demands--distance, pace, weather, elevation, terrain, etc.

With limited resources and time, we always make compromises. But, with a particular race focus, we can specifically train for the demands of that single race fairly well. And when we repeatedly race, and train for, the same distance (or similar range of distances), we become quite good. The rule of specificity is confirmed.

This specificity rule sounds pretty grand. Great guide to racing well. But what happens when you are racing disparate distances...across different terrain? I have a road half-marathon coming up in October (St Louis RNR on Oct 19) and a trail 50-mile ultra in November (Tunnel Hill 50 on Nov 15). One short road race, the other a long trail race. Training? This rule of specificity sucks! I need speed and stamina for the half-marathon and massive endurance for the 50 miler. Trails vs roads? Don't get me started.

Here is my compromise. Between now and the half-marathon, I'm training primarily for the road distance. The concentration will be on developing my speed and increasing my lactate threshold. No runs over 13 miles. I have a solid aerobic base from past ultra races. I don't have speed. I'm also not comfortable running on roads. And I'll shift to lighter road shoes. An example week follows:

Mon = off (stretching, core strength)
Tues = 7-10 mile road run (1 mile w/u, 5 to 8 x 1-mile repeats at 7:00 pace, 1 mile c/d)
Wed = off (walking, stretching, core exercises)
Thur = 10-13 mile trail run (4-5 mile w/u, 5 mile progressive tempo, 1-3 mile c/d)
Fri = off (stretch, core)
Sat = 10-13 mile easy road/trail hybrid run (70% HRR)
Sun = 5-7 mile easy road run (70% HRR)

After the half-marathon, the weekend long run will move to 15-20 miles. Mile repeats and tempo runs will continue, but the mile repeats will be at a slower "marathon pace" (7:50/mile). Oh yeah, and all the runs will be back on trails. Can't wait until October 20. Trails are my sweet home.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

I Was the Last Man Standing!

Yesterday I ran my 94th ultra/marathon. It went well and I ended up winning the sucker! It helps if there aren't too many entrants and it's more of an informal fun run among friends. I think we had 13-15 starters for this "Last Man Standing" event. The idea was to run a 5-mile trail loop every 55 minutes. Keep going until only one runner is left. Everyone remaining must set off at that 55-minute mark each time. Run fast and you can rest. Run easy and there won't be rest for you. Too slow and you're out. Kind of odd to start a race and not know how long it will go. No pre-determined ending time or mileage. Hmmm...this could be fun.

I wanted 30 miles for the day, but was ready to go 35 or 40 if needed. Brought lots of fluids and food. Had spare shoes and socks. Even brought extra shirt and shorts. I was ready. Knowing my running buddies, I figured several would go for a 20 mile long run, then call it a day. Maybe one person would go 25. I didn't think anyone would do 30 or more. Well, no one except me! I was ready to go one more loop than anyone else. Still, I felt 30 miles was my sweet spot for the day.

My strategy was to stick toward the back of the pack and finish each 5-mile loop with about 2 minutes remaining to grab a drink, snack, and get ready to go again. This plan worked well for the first 25 miles. I actually ran just a little too fast each loop (often finishing with 3 minutes of rest between loops). I felt great for those first 5 loops. No stress, no problems, just smooth and steady. People dropped earlier than expected. After 15 miles, only two runners remained: John and me. After 20 miles, still John and me. After 25 miles, John and me. When we headed out on that 6th loop, I was starting to feel tired. It actually felt like an ultra! It was a great day weather-wise, but things were stating to heat up and the sun was now shining. I walked the hills much slower than the previous loops. I started to think it would be hard to do another loop. Maybe 30 was my limit. If John wanted a 7th loop, I'd try, but it wouldn't be pretty. I finished that 6th loop (30 miles) with about a 1:30 time cushion. John stopped short (doing 27.6 miles). I was relieved. It was over and I won.

Glad John kept pushing through the day. It would have been sad to "win" with only 20 miles under my belt. We both ended up with an "ultra distance" for the day. Good efforts for each of us. I was tired, but not injured. Perfect. A day later, I'm feeling sore, but good. I'm excited to start training for my next ultra...Tunnel Hill 50 miler on November 15. I think we have almost 20 buffalo runners doing that race. It'll be fun. Unfortunately, I have a half-marathon on October 19 in St Louis. Not looking forward to that "sprint race." I'm a trail ultra runner, not a road racer.

Thanks to Seth for making this unique event happen. A few of us had talked about this Last Man Standing idea, but no one made it past the talking stage. I enjoyed the day and would definitely do it again. Maybe we can have a summer and winter version? With all of the local ultra runners, I think we can easily double or triple the participants and really get some good competition going among friends. Next time it'll take more than 30 miles to win. I'll be ready to defend my title!

PS: My Skechers Go Run Ultra shoes worked great for this run. So did Tailwind Nutrition sports drink. I'll use both at Tunnel Hill 50.