Jun 30, 2010

More Training Updates

I'm getting my VO2max tested hopefully this week. The Garmin heart rate monitor also just arrived. Looks like training for Chicago will be the most scientific training I will ever be doing. For an intuitive runner, this is so uncharacteristic of me. Why all the fuss with numbers? I can't help it. The more I'm reading about the physiology of this sport, the more I'm drawn towards being technical. I'm finally understanding why my body behaves the way it does and it has tremendously improved the way I train. More to report on the VO2max testing once I get it done.

I know many of you who are running for a higher purpose, raising funds for cancer, leukemia, AIDS, and other adversities life throws at us. Here's a preview of a nice documentary of everyday athletes trying to add purpose to their running other than mere self-satisfaction.

Jun 24, 2010

Training update: Last week

Training for Chicago is unlike anything I have done before. For the first time, I'm running according to a plan. Unlike standard template plans that spans 16 weeks or so that don't respond to your training, I'm taking my training on a week by week basis.

The other big change for me is running in Baltimore during summer. For the past 3 years, I've managed to escape to San Francisco during summer but this time I've to be here to make "progress" on my thesis. Running in 90+ degrees heat is a different experience and high intensity training is especially challenging. More updates on that soon.

Jun 17, 2010

The Five Variables of Interval Training

This post is all about interval training. It was originally titled "Interval Training 101" when I started writing it but then I realized there is so much to interval training that this post can barely do justice -- even if it's 101. I'm not going to explain why one should do this, the physiological adaptations etc,  but in the process of building up my training for Chicago I realized the interval training can really be broken down to a combination of five parameters. If you grew up training with a coach or running on your x-country team then probably you know all of this and more but if you're, like me, who ran most of your life just for fun and never bothered to figure out training techniques then hang on.

Before we get started, I want to get some terminology in place. The two main things in an interval run are "reps" and "intervals". Contrary to the intuition, the "intervals" in interval runs are the periods of rest or slow pace jog between the "reps", which are high intensity sprints.

So, when you're designing your training plan it's obvious how the intervals and reps result in the following five knobs:
1. Distance (or time) of the reps.
2. Distance (or time) of the intervals.
3. Pace of the reps.
4. Pace of the intervals.
5. Number of reps.

These five parameters give rise to countless (mathematically speaking, countably infinite) variations on interval training. However, tradition has been to have the reps in multiples of 100 and since this is usually done on a track, the space of possible interval runs are fairly standard. Also, you could vary the pace of the reps and intervals in the same training run by making it a progression interval. Happy Training!

Jun 9, 2010

Wednesday: What next?

The 50 mile race was an important mark on my calendar. Now that I've got it out of my way I'm excited to focus on newer things. The race was an exercise in self-assurance than anything else. I held up pretty well after the race. After not doing much (other than traveling) on Sunday, I did my recovery runs on Monday and Tuesday, and today I spent time in the most unlikeliest of places for me -- an indoor track.

Long distance running is close to my heart and I see myself doing longer distances eventually but it's time I pushed my running along a different direction -- pace. However tempting it is to signup for other ultras or even keep doing a marathon every weekend, I will resist doing so and focus on my next goal -- a Boston Qualifier at Chicago. Yes, I'm crazy enough to go public about this on my blog but after this point, there is no going back! This will require cutting down my marathon pace from around 8 min/mile to 7:12 min/mile or less; that's a huge jump in pace and somewhat ambitious but "the art of going too far is knowing how far to go too far".  Running fast at shorter distances will require a different training strategy, nutrition plan, and mental preparation. It will require discipline and sticking to a training plan -- something I've never done.

Traditional cookie-cutter marathon training plans, like Runners World for example, don't take a lot of things into account like your fitness levels, current training background, cross training experience, time commitments and so on. I will be posting more details on my plans towards a BQ at Chicago soon after sifting through my training logs and my current/future school commitments.

Jun 6, 2010

The DC/VA North Face Endurance 50 mile Run

  • Chip time: 9:36:02  Gun time: 9:36:20
  • First ultramarathon
  • Yucky weather: hot & humid
  • Beautiful but torturous course 
  • Multiple gear malfunction

My first official ultra is in the books. My expectations from this run was rather low since I was dealing with a lot of unknowns but I was surprised!

Pre-race (Friday)
Having picked up my packet from DC on Thursday, I checked in to my hotel in Sterling, VA on Friday. Everything went as planned. I spent most of Friday resting and eating. And I ate a lot! Two bowls of spaghetti, four large oatmeal raisin cookies (from Au Bon Pain), three bananas, and an apple cinnamon scone. I also drank two gallons of water.

Travel to this race was entirely on public transport and overall spending was around $15 each way.

Race morning
The race started at 5am so I was up by 1am. Pre-race breakfast included three bowls of cereal, a large banana, three tablespoons of peanut butter (recommend the "JIF to-go" packs), and three cups of hot tea.

I had three gear bags containing various stuff I thought would be useful, including a fresh pair of socks but after running the race, I'm convinced that I could have done without them -- I never once used my gear bags. With the gear bags checked in, I milled around the start line around 4:30am meeting & greeting people I had known only through email.

At the start line, I munched on a Clif bar and a banana and drank more water. I never knew I could drink that much! When the time arrived, I lined up and tried to turn on my head-lamp. All I saw a bright flash of light followed by darkness. Damn! This could not have burned out at a better time. After this, I decided to tailgate other runners, which might have worked in my advantage by preventing me from over-pacing in the beginning. But the sight at the starting of the race was nothing like I've seen before. Imagine a long stream of headlamps in the dark, like ants crawling up the terrain. Splendid!

In all this confusion and excitement, I forgot to turn on my Garmin until we had run half a mile or so. But turns out it did not really matter because 1) Garmin sucks on trails and is grossly inaccurate when you've too many sharp turns and 2) Even my 100% charged Garmin ran out of battery around 35 miles in the course. Bah-humbug!

The course itself was pretty. For an urban road runner, this course a treat to the eyes and torture to the legs. The course can be broken down to a long run to a place called Great Falls, and three 7 mile loops at Great Falls, followed by another long run back to the finish line. The loops at Great Falls are crazy with long uphills followed by rocky downhills and the long run to/from Great Falls involves a stream crossing and crossing a muck pit. I managed to somehow dodge the muck on my way to GF but on the way back I landed deep into the muck sinking both my feet and hand in it. Ugh! 

The next aid station from this muddy disaster was around 6-7 miles and I was already running low on water. I was hungry but could not eat the Gu due to low water supply. This was the most grueling and slowest part of my run. A big chunk of my running time was spent on this part. Finally when I reached the aid station, I was so grateful for the supply of fresh water, boiled potatoes and Gatorade. After this fuel replenishment, rest of the 8 mile run (approx estimate without Garmin) was the quickest I did leading to a strong finish. The total time was 9:36, around 30 mins more than my estimate but I am happy that it did not turn out into a disaster.

The finish line festivities included an expo and hot meal (burritos) for runners. I wolfed down two veggie burritos and drank enough water to feel bloated! Overall, it was a fun race. I met new people, and old internet friends. One interesting acquaintance was Ben from France, who ran this year's Boston marathon in 2:58! We had a nice chat about training methods, French, and a lot of random things. After I crossed the finish line I tried to find him but only saw him cross the finish line two hours later. It's interesting that speed training for a marathon does not translate to longer distances and vice versa -- I can never get close to that marathon time with my current training. I also met several ultra veterans and got some nice conversation along the way. It was both an enlightening and a humbling experience that a runner could hope for.

Post-race (Sunday)
After a nice dinner and a good night's sleep yesterday, I feel great & mostly recovered. I should be out on the streets very soon!