Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Worm Invasion at the Track

It's been raining steadily in Chicago. In fact it's the first decent rainfall we've had in quite awhile. After waking up, I looked out the window at the wet weather, and decided to head to the track to have a lovely rainy workout. After getting my jogging suit on, I ran over to the track at North Park University. I needed to get in some speed work in preparation for my PR attempt at the Hot Chocolate 15k on Sunday. After running a warm-up lap, I started doing an interval ladder. First interval was 1.0 mile, followed by one at .75 mile, and 0.5 mile. It was dark out for these intervals as Daylight Savings time does not end until Sunday.

At the track, unaware of the worm invasion

As I was about to start my last lap of a quarter mile, the sky turned brighter. I looked down and noticed that there were a few worms near my feet:

The rescued worm couple
They were wiggling across the track, ostensibly having been flooded out of their homes, trying to find some grass or dirt to burrow under.

Acting as a good worm Samaritan,  I picked them up and flung them to the grass, where they would be in less danger of being trampled by runners, and have an easier time finding a home.

Then, I moved on and realized that there were literally hundreds of worms all over the track:

Even more worms! Worms everywhere!

I soon realized that it would take most of the day to rescue all of the track worms. I still needed to run one more lap, however, so I would need to be careful not to injure any worms as I ran. To be nice, a rescued a couple more worms and then got ready for my last quarter mile. I then took off running, looking down the entire time, making sure not to step on too many worms!

Hopefully, most of the worms will find there way to safety today!  Anyway, here are my splits from my track session:

1.75 mile warm-up
1.00 mile @ 6:00/mile, .25 walk
0.75 mile @ 5:56/mile, .25 walk
0.50 mile @ 5:49/mile, .25 walk
0.25 mile @ 5:23/mile
1.6 mile cool-down

Analysis. A decent workout with nothing spectacular. I'm still recovering from the Chicago Marathon and have not run a really fast workout in quite sometime. So this will be a good baseline to compare to my future speed workouts this winter. Also, the last quarter mile suffered as I was trying to navigate around worms!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Getting Ready for Hot Chocolate

The much maligned Hot Chocolate 15k will take place on Sunday. The main gripes with last year's race were the disastrous packet pickup, and the uninteresting/potentially dangerous course. The lines at the packet pickup were, according to reports, up to three hours long, outdoors in the cold. As far as the race course, it was on some of the most boring stretches of the city including the dark, concrete portions of lower Wacker Drive, and one lane of Lake Shore Drive against on-coming traffic (runners were separated by moving cars by those tiny orange pylons). For a 15k that costs nearly $80, these things are unacceptable. I know of at least two seasoned runners that make a point of avoiding this race because of its blatant failings. However the race attracts about the same number of "runners" as the Chicago Marathon (36,000). I say "runners" because the race is mainly in place for the casual/non-runners who seem to be attracted to the the race because:

  • They are in it for the "chocolate" part of the race, 
  • They are in it for the goody bag sweatshirt (you see them all over the city during the months after the race)
  • It takes place in early November at a time when not much else is going on
Luckily, my experience with the 2012 Hot Chocolate 15k was better than most. In a stroke of luck, I sold my Hot Chocolate goody bag sweatshirt on eBay, so I recouped most of my $77 entry fee. In another stroke of luck my neighbor was able to go to packet pickup so I was spared the three-hour-line pain. I also got a ride from the same neighbor. We drove from my house to Grant Park Garage and we parked directly under the start line. After the race I met Kelly for the first time then went out for Bloody Marys at a bar across the street from the race. So, in short a quite enjoyable experience!

Since my experience with the 2012 edition of the race was a 7/10 instead of the 3/10 that a lot of people experienced, I was willing to give the Hot Chocolate a second go. Besides being a sucker for massive downtown races, I was convinced once I saw the 2013 race map which shows that the course will be much more interesting, including running three miles of the Chicago Marathon stretch of Michigan Ave. (in reverse).  They have also eliminated the dangerous stretch on LSD. On top of that, the packet pickup will be inside McCormick place with an additional pickup day on Thursday. So, the race was obviously listening to the complaints and made appropriate fixes.
To see how big the race is check out this video I shot (about 15 minutes after I had finished the 15k in 1 hour 2 minutes!) of the masses of people still running the first portion of the race:

So after signing up for the race, I ran a test run eight miler by the lakefront yesterday:
Belmont Harbor

I took the pace a little too quickly to start (what else is new?), but reeled myself in by mile four. In any case, it was a gorgeous day for a run.

My splits

Ideally at the Hot Chocolate on Sunday, I'd like to break my 15k PR I set last year, but am not sure I can hold the 6:45 pace for that long. My only shot at a PR will be if I run negative splits, so I will focus on that and let the chips fall where they may. At the very least I'll be in it for the chocolate... :)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Need for Speed

After I ran the Chicago Marathon, I took an entire week off from running. In previous post-marathons, I have jumped back into running too soon, making my recoveries last weeks longer than they should have. This time, I'm trying to err on the side of relaxation by doing some light swimming, easy yoga, and light strength work. Last night I finally got back to running. Along with the Wurst Running Club Ever, I ran in the Fleet Feet Pint Night in Lincoln Square.

For once I arrived to the event early, but that only meant that I had to wait while some "Crossfit" promoter dude gave us a spiel about how cars in the 1970s aren't as powerful as modern cars. Luckily Declan was there for some comic relief. Finally, we were allowed out to start our run. I ran with Declan and Lynton (from the BRC) with Mo and Anne pulling up the rear.

Me, Mo, Declan and Anne before the Pint Night run
After running through various North Side neighborhoods towards the Chicago River, we neared the turnaround. I suggested we run a 400m sprint at the North Park University track which is just on the other side of the river. So, Declan, Lynton and I made our way over to the track. Lynton decided to take it easy, since he is running the NYC Marathon in two weeks. Declan and I, however were going to try a little friendly 400m "race". Declan mentioned that he hadn't set foot on a track since college, and since he was nursing his post-marathon aches and pains he would give it a go, but would defer to not over-doing it. Of course, since I am injury-free, I was ready to throw caution to the wind, and go for broke.

Once we reached the track, we took off, running a blistering pace. I grabbed an inside lane and took the turn with Declan proudly representing the WRCE in his dirndl shirt in one of the outside lanes. Declan was in the lead, his legs quickly shaking off their ingrained marathon pace, now turning over so fast they became a blur. I came up close to him and made my move to pass him (perhaps a little early). I saw a couple of soccer fans who were in the infield turn around to watch our "race". It was fun to have a couple of spectators, just like in a real race. I think Declan could have crushed me, but he was wisely being cautious and backed off. Since I had "kicked" way too early, I was completely gassed near the 400m finish and stumbled badly over the last 25 meters. After catching my breath, we made our way back over the river to find Mo and Anne, patiently waiting for us for the return trip.

After running 1.5 miles back, we arrived at the Fleet Feet store, got our free pint coupons and headed over to the Grafton for some beer and quality conversation.
Mo and Anne arriving via airplane
I guess the end result of the running portion of the event was that I realized how much I really miss running fast. Training for shorter distance races includes lots of fast miles with a day or two off during the week. I've missed this fast running while training for the marathon.  So, to give myself some much needed speed running, I came up with an in-between-marathon goal: A sub-1:30 half marathon in November. Right now, according to the conversion calculators, I am in about 1:34 half marathon shape, so I have a little work to do. My ultimate goal will be for me to go sub-1:25 next year so I can qualify for the New York City marathon. I am excited that I will get to do some faster long runs and lots of short, fast track work instead of long, slowish mile repeats all the time.

I really love the "euphoria" I get from running a marathon that lasts for hours afterwards. I also like the days after the race when the blogger community swaps marathon stories. In fact, I can't think of a single event which I have more fun before, during and after than a marathon. But, the downside of a marathon is that the training involves running lots of slower miles every single day. I'm ready for some speed...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chicago Marathon 2013 Race Recap

Race Highlights:
* Near-perfect marathon temps 50 to 55 degrees. 
* Meetup with fellow BRC team members
* Huge, enthusiastic crowd with a few blogger sightings
* Course 2nd best time and BQ time of 3:18:30 for 26.5 miles

My goal was to set a sub 3:10:40 course PR, and I came up a little short. However, I have lots of positives from the race. One of those positives is that I now know that I can train for a marathon in nine weeks, still BQ and have an excellent time running the entire city. 

I shared a cab with two of my neighbors (Tad and Stacey) to Grant Park. The cab dropped us off 100 yards from one of the main gates. We were there early enough that there were no lines at the security check point.
Tad, Stacey and Me Pre-Race
After clearing security, we wished each other well and headed in separate directions. I walked over to the gear check to wait for my fellow BRC members to show up. A few minutes later they were all there and we made a little campsite:
Camp BRC
Declan doing warm-ups at our campground
In front of Buckingham fountain
Declan getting a tattoo pre-race from Erin
BRC Team Photo (Erin, Annabelle, Ken, Erin, Me, Declan)
After we completed our pre-race rituals, we left our campsite and made our way over to the start corrals. I used the corral porta-potties and waited for Declan and Annabelle to arrive at the "B" corral. Luckily I spotted them and we got in a line to enter to the "B" corral. Unfortunately, the guards would not allow a runner with an "A" bib to move back to the "B" corral, so they told me to fight the surge of humanity and make my way over to the "A" corral. I was disappointed that I couldn't run with them. It would have been a blast: All three of us had the same goal pace!

The Race
After shedding my throw-away clothes, the corrals were herded closer to the start line. Then at long last we were off!

First Half
My goal was to run the first two miles at 7:45, 7:35. I actually ran them in 7:34, 7:13 despite a concerted effort on my part to relax and slow down. By mile 3, I had to use the bathroom again, and found a porta-potty with a green symbol by the door and darted in. Mile 3 was a 7:50.

Then, for whatever reason, I decided that I needed to make back the time lost in the porta-potty (even though I was basically still perfectly on track) and started laying down some 7:10s, which although felt okay, did cause my heart rate to go up more quickly. This could have been due to the fact that my legs were tight and were not loosening up as much as they typically do once I get in my cadence. It was harder to get turnover. I blame the short taper, but I did my best to tell myself that I could run the rest of the race at 7:10/mile.

I passed by Maggie and she shouted my name and got this great shot of me:
Hi Maggie! (source)
Then I side-fived my aunt and uncle who were holding these awesome posters near mile 8:
BRC support
They remembered the "T" 
I ran south through Lincoln Park still hoping to get my leg muscles to cooperate.
On N. Sedgwick St. in Lincoln Park
On top of drinking lots of Gatorade at each aid station, at around mile 10 I broke open my first GU. I quickly realized that the gel must have been about two years old as it was kinda mealy and had an bland taste. I debated whether it would make me sick if I ate it. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to eat only half of it. Luckily, I did not get instantly sick, but my stomach was starting to feel the effects of too much sugar. 

 Erica, yelled to me just around mile 13 and I gave her a wave. I basically averaged 7:15s for miles 4 through 13.1. Total time for first half: 1:36:17 (avg: 7:21/mile)

Second Half
The second half started out with a positive as Emily shouted my name and I waved back at her. However, by mile 14, I realized that my goal of setting a course PR (3:10) was likely out the window. Holding my current 7:15/pace was becoming more of a struggle. My legs were still tight and my stomach was not doing very well. Every whiff of bad air by a porta-potty or a garbage can made my stomach feel like it would be sick. On top of all that, my heart rate was about 10 bpm faster than it was for the first half just to hold the same pace. In order to go sub 3:10 for the race, I needed to drop down to 7:00s for the last 10 miles. That feat was merely a dream given my condition. So, I decided to see if I could handle running 7:30s which would hopefully enable me to at least run the rest of the way (i.e. not walk at all) and BQ (<3:25) since I had banked lots of time so far.

Around Comiskey Park, I suffered the indignity of the 3:15 pace group passing me. After that happened, I was determined to avoid letting the 3:20 group to pass me later on. This gave me motivation to keep my legs moving in a running-type fashion.
Trying to smile, trying to run
At about mile 20, I spotted Annabelle about 10 yards ahead of me. She had passed me without me noticing. I wanted to say hi to her, so I kicked up my pace a couple of notches. Once I reached her, I told her she was looking strong. She said that she was having leg issues and had to stretch every so often. She then took off and I spotted her the next mile or two taking stretch breaks, but still running too fast for me to catch up to her again. These two or three miles were a great distraction from my leg and stomach problems. Thanks Annabelle for passing me (and congrats on the PR)!

Upon reaching Chinatown at mile 21, I felt myself really slow down. I stopped looking at my splits and just focused on my overall time. I wanted to make sure I crossed the finish line by 3:23 (BQ -2). My legs grew heavy, my stomach sent some nauseous signals to my brain, and I decided to only drink water on the way in as I had overdosed on energy gels, shot blocks and Gatorade. My arms were starting to lose feeling in them as they had been in essentially the same position for over 2.5 hours. Even though it felt like I was running 9 minute miles, in retrospect my pace was actually about 7:55/mile for 21, 22 and 23.

In Chinatown: Hurting but still alive
I made the turn onto Michigan Ave. for the three mile homestretch. As I slowed to what felt like 10 minute miles, I kept waiting for throngs of runners to pass me. However, I only got passed occasionally, as most everyone was struggling at that late stage. Negative thoughts started creeping into my head, and I even questioned why I liked marathoning so much! I banished such thoughts and kept pounding my aching feet on the pavement. I told myself that all I had to do was to run straight ahead for the next three miles and I would essentially be done. I spotted the jumbotron at Michigan Ave. and Roosevelt Rd. which was about two miles away. No matter how hard I seemed to run, it did not look like it was getting any closer! It remained a tiny object that resided in a fantasy land that I could never get to. So instead, I started concentrating on the various mile marker signs off to my right. I passed the 40k sign, then the 25 mile sign, then the "1 mile left" sign, then the "800m left" sign. Before I knew it, I had passed the jumbotron, and turned onto Mt. Roosevelt and the 26 mile sign. I began my ascent up the hill slowly, but still running. I made the turn at the top and moments later I held my hands up high for my finish line photo.

Edit: Finish line photo Not available at this time...

  Total time for second half: 1:42:12 (avg: 7:48/mile)

My splits

Analysis: My official pace was 7:32/mile, but my Garmin shows that I ran 26.5 miles for a 7:27/mile pace average. I BQ'd by 6.5 minutes, which takes some pressure off of my 2014 spring marathon performance. Now I can just focus on a marathon PR in March!  My overall time was 8 minutes slower than goal, but given my nine week training cycle and short taper, I think I may have been too aggressive in goal setting. A 3:15 would have been within reach if I had paced for that and not a 3:10. I now see the value in having a solid base before training, as well as having an adequate taper so my legs can have some time to relax.

 Post Race
Once I stopped, my legs cramped badly and my stomach headed even further south. Luckily, I spotted Declan, Annabelle, Erin, and even Lindsay and my focus shifted to talking and walking with them instead of finding the nearest place to get sick! We made our way through the finishers' chute, and got wrapped in space blankets. We then got our medals and collected bananas, water bottles, ice, snack boxes and even beer. I did not have a beer as it would not have stayed in my stomach for very long if I had taken a swig. We got a group photo from the race photographer.
We all finished within a few minutes of each other
so we were able to get an official picture!
Then it was off to gear check.
Declan post-race with his blanket and icy head
I collected my stuff and changed clothes in the changing tent. It took me what seemed like 15 minutes to change, as I had some bad leg spasms once I sat down. Once I managed to stand up again, I met up with the BRC for the last time. Declan and I then made our way over to the family reunion area.
Ready to for the after party!
We met Declan's cheering section, and thanks to Declan I got into the VIP post-race area.
Declan's Cheering Section
I said goodbye to Declan and family and made my way to the Brown line and got this picture down Wabash Ave.
Runner leaving
All-in-all it was a memorable experience: My first marathon as part of a team, my first marathon on very short training, and a marathon in which I had my struggles, but overcame them to finish respectably. Ten weeks ago, when I was sidelined with an injury, I would not have thought that this day would have been possible.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Chicago Marathon Expo 2013 in Pictures

Today I attended the Chicago Marathon Expo with my new teammates from the Bootleg Runners Coalition. Warning! Lots of pictures with people in yellow t-shirts follow!

I bumped into Erin, and her daughter Alice at the Roosevelt Road Red Line station. After Annabelle arrived, we met the rest of the BRC at the Bongo Room in the South Loop. Besides getting breakfast, I got to meet the team and try on my cool team t-shirt.
BRC waiting for breakfast
Outside the Bongo Room after breakfast
I got a ride to the expo from some of the BRC members and once we got there, we picked up our race packets. Then we all donned our BRC t-shirts for a group photo:
Our group hit the expo stores and the running apparel purchases were fast and furious. The lines at the Nike apparel store were massive, but we all actually moved pretty quickly.
Long lines to checkout at the Nike apparel area
I snagged a couple of "pace tats" (3:10 and 3:20) from the official marathon pace booth (without registering for a pace group, shhh!)  
A true "bootlegger" with his haul
We went over to the Runner's World booth and got a pic with Bart Yasso of Yasso 800s fame.
Bart Yasso and the BRC (source)
We wandered around for a few minutes, and then we saw Sara who was working at a booth! I hadn't seen her since the Rock n' Roll Half in July, so it was nice to catch up with her for a few minutes.
Surprise it's Sara!
Then Erica appeared and we got a big happy group photo!
Erica (in pink) 
It was finally time for me to get off of my feet, so I left with KenErin and Alice. We walked all the way back to the Red Line. On our way there actually walked approximately the last 1.5 miles of the marathon on Michigan Ave. Instead of turning east up Mt. Roosevelt to Grant Park (finish line), we instead turned west to the Red Line.

This was the best expo ever. Now, all I need to do is to rest tomorrow after my 3 mile shakeout run. It's almost here.

Good luck to everyone running/volunteering and spectating on Sunday!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chicago Marathon 2013 Training: A Recap in Pictures

It seems like a lifetime ago (instead of just nine weeks) that I was wondering whether I would get out of injury jail safely or not. Well, here I am nine weeks later, practically injury-free and about to run my third Chicago Marathon. Since my previous post summarized my training in numbers, I thought I would take attempt to recap my journey in pictures.

Week #1
It all started the week of August 11th with seven short runs, followed by a 10 miler by the lake:
Made it to the lake and back in mid August for my first "long" run!
Week #2
Another handful of runs this week, each a little bit longer than the previous week, including this awesome run:
Fleet Feet Pint Night Run #2
Week #3
I got in my first track workout of the marathon cycle. I actually only did my traditional half marathon interval workout that day, but baby steps were in order.
At the newly renovated NPU track for my first track workout
Week #4
September got off to a rough start with a miserable, humid run by the lake. To top things off my Garmin also deleted the run data after I was finished.
Wurst Run Ever
Week #5
I ran my first 16 miler solo this week. However, as I was running it, I bumped into another runner who was doing his 16 miler as well.
Me and Declan
Week #6
Besides getting my profile in the Chicago Tribune's marathon section this week, I ran a refreshing 18.5 miles in two separate runs on a rainy Sunday.
Best run(s) ever!
I also got to run in my only "tune-up" race of this cycle: The Oktoberfest 5k. Afterwards I got to and hang out with the Wurst Running Club Ever.
Oktoberfest 5k (src)
Week #7
My second and final 16 miler took place this week and this time I ran the entire distance with Declan. We knocked out the run in a little over 2 hours. 'Twas a great day for run by the lake.
Second 16 Mile Run 
Week #8
My mileage started to drop this week for my taper, but my speed increased. I ran an 11 miler at just over 7:00/mile on a beautiful Sunday morning.
Another perfect day for a run in paradise
Taper Week:
The final week before the marathon began with an eight miler at an easy pace with Declan and Annabelle. As cool kids do, we color coordinated our outfits:
Lookin' good in blue!
So, there you have it, a depiction of my marathon journey. Speaking of journeys, I think I heard a wise man once say that "it's not the destination, but the journey." Allow me to spin it my way Mr. Wise Man: "The marathon finish line is one awesome destination, but the journey getting there ain't too bad either." Don't stop believin'.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Chicago Marathon 2013 Training: A Recap in Numbers

Now that I'm in the midst of my easy training week before the 2013 Chicago Marathon, I thought I'd look back on my eight weeks of marathon training with some stats:

Chicago Marathon Training Stats (8 weeks):

Number of days in training cycle:56
Number of days run:56
Number of training runs: 82
Average weekly run count:10
Number of 16 mile long runs completed:    2
Number of "tune-up" races:  1
Number of strength workouts:28
Number of yoga sessions:11

Now for some graphs....
Average pace was 7:54/mile over the eight weeks.
Average mileage was 44/week over the eight weeks
Analysis: So, how does this all this training mileage translate into a marathon finish time? Well, I made this handy chart which shows my weekly mileage training for my previous marathons and the corresponding finish times based on those numbers:
Previous average training mileage in relation to my marathon finish time
Last year my average pace in the last 3 weeks of training was a 7:55. This year my average pace over the last 3 weeks of training was 7:32. This probably means I am a little more fit than last year.

Prediction: If all goes to plan and the weather is nice, a sub-3:10:40 (sub-7:15/mile) will be mine! :).

Caveat: The weather was near perfect for the 2012 Chicago Marathon, so if the temps are a few degrees too hot on Sunday, I will drop the yellow line down a level and be happy with a 3:11 (BQ -14) to 3:23 (BQ -2).

Running Streak: BTW, my running streak will end this week (Thursday) at 60 days. It was nice knowing ya Mr. 60-Day Streak, but I need a couple of days of complete recovery before Sunday!

Conclusion: Numbers are nice, but all of this analysis could all go out the window if race day is hot, or I start off too fast like a usually do. We shall see...

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Chicago Marathon Training: Week #8

Fast Start
On Sunday, my final Chicago Marathon training week (#8) got off to a fast start. I was still recovering from my final long run last weekend, so the plan was to run 11 miles and then add three miles of recovery later in the afternoon.  It was nice and cool at 7:30 am when I hit the road down to the Lakefront Trail. After a one mile warm-up, I decided to see if I could hold a sub-marathon pace for the entire run. 
Runnin' by the lake
I ran about a 7:00/mile average pace for the next 10 miles, which felt fantastic and was not a struggle at all. If the weather was a tad cooler that day, I might have opened up the speed a little more.  However, it shows a little discipline that I didn't get overly aggressive on this long run, which kinda goes against my nature. This slow start long run shows me that that is how I run best: negative splits. I would like my marathon split regression line to have the same general slope as the one that went through this run:
Regression line sloping from left to right = good!

Total Miles: 11 @ 7:07/mile.
3 Mile recovery later in the day.

Track Work Thursday:
I was really cautious going into this track session. I had been running fast all week, so I felt that doing the Hanson prescribed six miles at 10 seconds below marathon pace was too much and might be tempting "injury fate". So I decided to just do four, but do my warm-ups and cool-downs a little faster.

At the track between my intervals
My splits:
1.75 mile warm-up
2 miles at 6:28, .25 mile recovery
1 miles at 6:18, .25 mile recovery
1 mile at 6:15
1.75 mile cool-down

Okay, these splits were substantially below my marathon pace. I guess I can't help but run too fast when I hop on the track. That's just how I train: Too fast. I am just thankful that I had the forethought to step away after four miles and not to push myself too too hard.

I matched my second highest training mileage of this cycle and my taper finally starts. I am running faster than I ever thought I would after just eight weeks. Next week, I am just going to run slowly and put in around 25 miles. If the weather is cool next Sunday, I should at least be able to get a course PR sub 3:10 marathon.

Stay tuned for my next post when I summarize my training and make a final marathon pace prediction!

Week #8 Total: 53 miles
Average Pace: 7:20
Other Training: 4 strength workouts and 2 yoga sessions

Eight weeks down, one to go!