Friday, February 24, 2017

Race Into Shape?

My main goal (for the spring) is the Illinois Half-Marathon on April 22 (8 weeks to go!). Training has been going well, but I still have to work on my stamina and speed. I already have the basic endurance. I think a couple of races over the next 6 weeks might help me focus and test my speed.

My first test race will be a local trail 5K on March 12. It's the "Pi Mile" run in honor of Pi Day (which is actually 3-14). Working in engineering, this seems like a great fit. And the local University Arboretum provides a nice course. Perfect test of my VO2max.

Three weeks later, on April 1st, I have two race options. Another 5K (this time on roads and bike path close to my house) or a trail half-marathon at a park about 30 minutes away. The "Run for the Library" 5K would be super convenient and allow me to see my progress on speed from the trail 5K three weeks earlier. On the other hand, the Allerton Half-Marathon will let me challenge my stamina on one of my favorite park trails. The Allerton race also has a 10K race option. I suppose that might be an ideal distance to test both speed and stamina...but who runs the shorter race option?

For now, it's the March 12 trail 5K (Pi Run). Depending on how that race goes, I'll decide on Run for the Library or Allerton trail race. Any suggestions on what option would be best for the second race?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Clinton Lake Trail as a Benchmark

One of my favorite trails in the area is the Clinton Lake Northfork trail. It's officially advertised as 11 miles long (according to Department of Natural Resources), but Coach Jeff and I have wheeled it more than once--it's a 10 mile loop (slightly short unless you add the small parking lot loop to the trail section). It definitely feels like a full 10 miles (or more) with all of the small hills with twists and turns. Great trail. And hilly for central Illinois.

I've run the trail loop hundreds of times in the last 15 years. Usually just one 10-mile loop per outing, but occasionally 2 or 3 loops at a time. It's a fantastic marathon, or ultra, training spot. And if you run the trail hard, you get a wonderful lactate threshold workout. Since I've run it (slow and fast) so many times, I have a sense of what counts as a "good" or "fast" loop. I can also equate it to a marathon or half-marathon predicted finish time. Following are a few insights. These build on my original thoughts here.

If you run TWO loops (20 miles) on the Clinton Lake Northfork trail, at a medium training effort, your running time will predict a full road marathon finish time. Similarly, if you run ONE LOOP at Clinton Lake, at slightly harder than medium pace, it will predict your half-marathon road finish time. Kinda cool. It's a benchmark to judge your conditioning and potential race times.

In terms of "What kind of shape am I in?" type benchmark, Clinton Lake does not disappoint. Here are my one-loop training times and corresponding running condition:

2:00 or longer = Terrible
1:55 = Poor
1:50 = OK
1:45 = Good
1:40 = Very Good
1:35 = Excellent
1:30 or faster = Race Ready!

Just ran a 1:37 loop, so I'm currently in the "very good" category heading toward excellent. Right where I should be with about 8 weeks left to train for the half-marathon. Almost excellent and soon to be race ready!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

If You Want to Race Fast, Then Train Fast

I often get enamored with the "build endurance, run easy" style of training. Proponents of this approach seem to have persuasive arguments (Maffetone, Mittleman, Lydiard, and even Coach Jeff). And it sure seems that if you run more, you get better at running! Simple correlation, right? Lots of easy, aerobic runs will build leg strength, running economy, and skeletal resilience. Easy running offers less potential injuries, right? More miles with less injuries means a fitter and more consistent runner. Maybe. Certainly all elite runners put in a lot of miles. Many of those are at easy paces. But they also put in a ton of hard running. They run fast in training so they can race fast. Too much easy running leads to slow racing. Plus, easy running does not necessarily prevent injuries--particularly overuse ones.

Now that I've been reading more Owen Anderson and Joe Friel, it seems the research supports fairly frequent and consistent hard running (even faster than lactate threshold) to better prepare a runner for racing and fitness. The value of slow and easy aerobic runs is tempered if the full training mix does not include serious hard efforts too. Sure, we all need recovery, but lots of easy running makes you good at easy running. Training is fairly specific. We need a variety of paces to stimulate metabolic and physiological adaptations. And some of those efforts need to be really hard. VO2 max type efforts. 90-100% heart rate efforts. Lactate threshold ("tempo runs") are fine to include in the overall program, but they do less to stimulate positive change than the harder, intense intervals.

If I want to run a "good" ultramarathon, then I probably need to prioritize lots of slow, easy running. Heck, that's race pace for ultras! But if I want to run a "good" (fast) half-marathon, then I better get with the program...and run fast in training. Time for more intervals, tempo runs, and HIIT sessions. When it starts to hurt, go harder. Then do it again. Train fast to race fast. I already know how to run slow. I need to learn how to run fast.

Sidebar for older folks (50+), Joe Friel's book "Fast After 50" is excellent. It provides real research and guidance on how to remain fast after reaching that 50 year old milestone...or 60, or 70+. Spoiler--you need regular hard efforts. Strides, sprints, intervals, and tempo runs. I'll be incorporating more speed work into my weekly routine. And it won't be simply tempo runs. Lactate threshold efforts are useful, but less so than truly hard runs (10K race pace and faster). We'll see how this works for my next half-marathon race in April. If I get injured, or run a poor race, then it's back to lots of easy, aerobic runs. THE KEY TO BETTER RUNNING is to be injury-free, consistent, and happy.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Riddle Run 2017

Female Champion: Sarka
2017 Riddle Run Finishers (photo credits: Tom Rice)
I was again the caretaker for the 2017 Riddle Run 28-mile fat ass event. This is your standard "no fee, no aid, no awards, no wimps" type of ultra event. Usually "no whining" too, but I allowed it this year. Jeff Riddle started this particular fat ass back in 2000 (this was the 18th annual run), but these days he prefers to have less commitments. I'm happy to keep the tradition going. I'm sure he'll be back to
Male Champion: Nic
direct a future Riddle Run. Right?

This year we saw pretty reasonable temperatures (28-32F), overcast skies, with a steady west wind. Trails were in great shape. Just frozen enough so mud was not an issue. It was time for some course records! Or not.

We had 60 participants (7 doing satellite runs out of state) with 7 finishers (including one running in Colorado). We also had a participant from New Zealand who ran 28km--not quite a full 28 mile Riddle Run, but maybe it counts as an international-style metric finish. The fastest full 28-mile finish time was Sarka Petrickova (4:40). This is the first time in Riddle Run history that the OVERALL winner was a female. Congrats to Sarka! Nic Carter was male champion in a time of 5:30. Sarka was awarded the mini-stuffed buffalo and Nic got the roll of toilet paper (both are travelling trophies with winner names etched on them). The shortest distance DNF was 1.5 miles for Steve Butler (last year's champion). Maybe we should have an award for this feat too? He guarded the real winner awards and helped with the fire so all is good.

Full 2017 Riddle Run #18 results available here.

Eighteen years of past champions can be viewed here.

Here is a short YouTube video from our one out-of-state finisher (Melissa in Colorado):


For me, I completed 12 miles (the "beginner fun run") and hung around to drink, eat, and socialize as the finishers kept running the 4-mile trail loops. Except for the wind, it was a great day to be on the trails chatting with fellow runners. A big thank you to Jeff for starting this whole deal. And many small thank yous to all the runners that came out to share the trails on a Saturday morning in late January. My current total Riddle Run miles are now at 427. Tom Rice and I are the only ones to have participated in all 18 events. Tom, we should do this again: January 2018 will be Riddle Run #19. I think it's time for the race director to win this damn event. You've been warned.