Monday, February 24, 2014

Ugly Mudder 2/23/14: Hogging the Trails of Mt. Penn

Yesterday was our second PCS race of the year, far too few if you ask me because they're superbly executed and fun trail runs.  The Ugly Mudder is, in theory, just another one of their trail runs, 7 miles (give or take course conditions) on Mt. Penn in Reading.  Conditions are usually lousy, hence the name and general theme of this race.

I was looking forward to the race all month, but with an extra boost before race day, I found I'm at the lightest racing weight I've ever had at just under 160.  Holy crap, I think I've accidentally lost too much weight.  A bit of fear that I'd hit the wall early with a lack of body fat but eh, what am I gonna do?  All  week, I'd felt great but this morning I was inexplicably sore in my calves and just feeling tired and kind of miserable, I shook it off, knowing I've had lousy runs when I felt great and good runs when I've felt lousy, performance isn't always related to feel.  

My race plan was pretty loose due to the course conditions.  Conditions were pretty interesting.  Ron Horn, PCS' race director, let the corral of runners know he believed that course conditions were the "worst ever" on this morning during his always entertaining pre-race debriefing.  One of his volunteers suggested it's even "worse than that," whatever that means.  Ron notified us also that the course had been shortened due to the conditions, somewhat relieving.  He told us it was 5-point-something miles instead of the planned 7...

Actual weather conditions were pretty nice.  It was probably mid-40's at the start, a little cloudy which would open up during the race to warm up a little more but we were tackling some unbroken snow from the last few snowfalls.  Despite the recent break in the cold weather, the warmth of the weekend didn't have enough impact on melting away any of the snow.  Fortunately for me and 99% of the field, we'd have a packed track to follow.  A narrow track.

Kristen and I met our friend Josh before hand and we chatted some about race plans and all pretty much decided to throw them out the window and focus on having a fun run.  The reality was it was going to be a difficult course to navigate via single track and it was inevitably going to be a walking conga line at multiple pinch points and climbs.  

With the race start, we poured out across the start line onto a brief stretch of road where Josh and I tried to move ahead in the pack to avoid getting stuck in lines, we did some work to move up to the front 1/4 of the pack and he made out well a little further ahead, I'd never see him again.  He's a running coach and I'm just some dude so he's got some great ability while I'm still developing.  The first pinch point came fast, as soon as we turned off the road to the single track.  A few people ran around the pack, plowing their own tracks a little wider of the course, I submitted to the line and thought I'll choose my passes wisely later on in the course.  I think it was a strategy that worked well.  
Early on, a slow entrance to the trails
The narrow track, but beautiful scenery.
We stretched out along the trails, eventually forming packs and mashing our way through the slushy course.  As I've become used to them, I wore my Ice Trekkers (on my NB 810's) and felt pretty solid in regards to footing.  I had no issues on the runnable climbs and any descent was a lot of fun, taking long, gliding strides and "sledding" a little on each strike in the slush.

The single-file running was nice in that I could mindlessly pursue whoever's in front of me but I could only maintain the position for so long before feeling restless or bored so I changed my scenery as often as I could, breaking trail along side of the single track just long enough to get by a few runners and eventually far enough to find the next pack of runners.  You could see little patches of blood in the snow from the runners lowing through the unbroken trail marking the trail, I had a few scratches from the icy top surface too, so it's a nice little badge of honor to earn while moving through the packs. 3 miles of that and I suddenly felt a ton of energy, I was ready to go and I wanted to go fast!

I did what I could and cruised through the last 2.5 miles pretty easily, enjoying the race and scenery.  At about 5.5 miles, we approached the final aid station right below an abrupt drop in the course where the girl I was following decided to suddenly stop to contemplate her decent and with cat-like reflexes I hopped to her left and into a foot-first slide right off the hill, somehow making a quick work of the "obstacle" and trotting another 100' to the final aid station.  By "aid," I mean lager.  I pounded a beer and kept going on to the finish, invigorated.
The slide with fermented refreshment just ahead.
Is it weird that this is the only aid station where I stopped?
Finish of a much quicker race than I expected.
I did my best to continue forward progress among the field of runners but it was still a limiting factor.  My last few miles were quicker than I'd expected and I turned in a 1:16:37 for 6.37 miles (Ron must have misspoke at the beginning about the revised course distance, no big deal).  Josh greeted me at the finishing chute and said I did really well, only finishing 3 minutes behind him.  In those 3 minutes were 63 other runners.  Josh just missed placing in our age group and I felt like I cheated myself, sandbagging too much at the beginning.  I found Derek Schultz at the finish and chatted with him a bit; he's an awesome runner.  He turned in a 17th place finish, the final award position for our age group.  I was expecting him to be in the top overalls but he had some similar struggles with the course and had to deal with losing a shoe when someone gave him a flat tire.

We stuck around and shared a pitcher of a tasty dark German beer and watched the awards.  I love PCS races, they're really awesome and the people are fantastic. Happy training, folks, enjoy the race recap video!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Feel the Love 5K: A couple miles for couples

Bryn Mawr Running Store puts on an annual 5K race for couples called Feel the Love.  A little cheesy but hey, 'tis the season for mushy Valentiney stuff.  It was a fun race with a cool format: 2x 2.5K loops with a partner.  Each couple runs the same loop but in opposing directions so you get to see each other 3 times during the race.  Couples' combined times were used for the placing and individual results were still tabulated.

The race is held in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, a quick loop with a total 7 feet of elevation gain.   A stark contrast to our typical trail races and training runs, we both fully enjoyed the change in pace (quite literally).  We looked forward to the 5K for a little change up.  I was eager to see what kind of time I could put down since it's been a long time since my last official 5K.  The quickest 5K I had to date was 23:29 and that was a little time trial I did on my own one morning.  I can't find my last official race 5K time but I am pretty sure it was over 24 minutes.  I considered my recent training and what I thought would be an acceptable goal to set.  I thought that holding 7 minute miles would be great and figured I could easily do that for the first 2;  This would really be a test of maintaining the same pace I started with for the last 1.1 miles without letting myself slip.  Twenty two minutes would be a good goal to set.
The 2.5K loop
I had considered my cadence during the week prior.  I've become aware that it may be far more useful to maintain a higher turnover rate than longer strides.  Boning up on running cadence via intense Googling (over 5 minutes worth of research) I did my homework and settled on a target.  Any target is a great place to start, several sources indicate 180 is ideal so there's my target for this race: 180 steps per minute or 3 per second.  I'd tried counting my cadence manually during some runs in the woods by counting out loud: "one-one thousand, two-one thousand..." etc., trying to make it a good 3-beat cadence meter.  I found it a little tricky because I'm a simple man so I gave it up and let technology figure it out for me.

I don't always run with music, when I do, I use an iPod nano loaded with running songs.  It's more appropriate now to just call them pump-up songs because I've repopulated that playlist with truer running songs after this exercise with cadence.  Each song was picked less for how awesome I think it will be to go along with zooming around the trails or roads but now specifically for it's ability to help me maintain a proper cadence.  I downloaded a pretty awesome $7 program called... you guessed it: Cadence.  Cadence works as an extension of iTunes to measure each song's beats per minute quite well.  After analyzing my eclectic library of tunes, I sorted my iTunes library by BPM and after purging my iPod, threw a handful of songs on that were going to fit my raceplan.
Screenshot of Cadence
The race was in the afternoon, which I didn't complain too much about.  I prefer to get these done early and have a great full day afterwards.  We arrived about 30 minutes early, checked in, got some cool swag, and decided to stay warm in the car since it was only about 27 F that afternoon.

The pre-race couple, team Tired Feet. 
We lined up in our respective corrals as each departed from the start line in a different direction and our own races were off.  I lined up in the middle of my pack, Kristen directly beside me in the middle of hers and we were off on our first road 5K in over a year.

I don't remember which song I started off with but it wasn't working.  I was caught in a pack and could start off quite as planned.  After some patience and some maneuvering, I made my way into some daylight and cruised along as I fell into my pre-planned pace.  As is my habit, I didn't consult my Garmin during the race other than to accept its buzzing alerts for each mile covered.  I made the assumption my pace was on target.

It really didn't take too long to see runners coming from the opposite direction.  The leaders were running 5 minute miles, something I aspire to do, maybe once, maybe for just one mile.  Soon, I saw Kristen, we high-fived each other and continued on until the next time we saw each other.  I ran my race solely focused on keeping a steady pace, not mindful of my actual performance.  I was going to know nothing until I approached the finish line.

At about 2.5 miles I started feeling more labored breathing set in.  My  legs felt strong but I was getting winded.  I decided ain't nobody got time for that and just ignored it.  Sure, I enjoy longer races, but this is a road 5K, it's short but still supposed to be hard if I'm showing up to race in it.  I was in no danger of dying so I poured it on down the last stretch of road and through the finish in under 21 minutes.
Hooray for maintaining cadence!  Usually this looks like a hilly course profile.
My official chip time is 20:51 and I must admit, I wasn't overjoyed with crushing my goal but really just satisfied.  I have that sub-40 10K goal in the back of my mind and this was a huge step in that direction, I immediately recognized that while I've made great progress, I still have work to do.  At least it's work I'm glad to do.  I may have to plan a 10K time trial for next weekend.  With my race in the books, I grabbed a water, cheered on more racers and waited for Kristen to turn in her own PR and tell me how using songs for pace is her game-changer.  Happy to know it worked for both of us!

I'm sure you're dying to know what got my going on this run so here's the playlist, songs close to 180 or 90 BPM that I felt fit to run with.
Fun fact: Billy Idol's Dancing with Myself was my favorite of the race, getting me to the finish line ahead of schedule.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

NJ Trail Series Half Marathon 2/1/2014: Ramping up for 2014

Kristen and I completed our second race in the NJ Trail Series yesterday, our first was the Watchung Run, this nameless race was our first >10 mile race of 2014, both aiming for the half marathon.  After a few weak runs and tweaking my fueling habits, I was feeling good and scouted the course a little finding the course profile from another runner's Garmin data to wrap my head around the runnability of the race.  Similar to the Watchung course, it was another 10K loop.

After feeling crushed after Chilly Cheeks, I felt like I made some significant progress during the week to recover and adequately prepare.  I logged some quality miles and ate well, at least I think.  Mentally and mechanically I was feeling pretty solid for a much flatter course and to target my goals.  My primary goal was to keep my heart rate under control.  I'd been noticing that Garmin suggests most of my runs are "overreaching" and I am not training effectively at my HR goes above 150 bpm.  Without too much deep investigation on where my HR should be, I wanted to keep it under 150 on average, based on Garmin Connect and a little digging in the Triathlete's Training Bible, keeping it a little lower that I had been running at was a safe bet.  Before my next long race, I'll be measuring my target hear rate zones to dial in a little better.
My half marathon HR data,  average was 151
My secondary goal was a bit of a reach but I wanted to hold around 11-minute miles.  A challenging trail run Thursday morning made me believe that was a legitimate target.  7 miles @ 10:45 and felt good, sure, I think I could manage that in a race twice that distance.

We arrived about 25 minutes prior to the 9:00 start time, checked in, hit the porta potty and met the oncoming wave of starting runners as we'd missed the start.  Whoops!  We fell into line with the pack about .25 miles from the start, kissed eachother good bye and started pounding snow.  The field looked pretty small compared to their last race with maybe a hundred people here or so.   The longest distance event this day was the half marathon so I imagine this didn't interest a lot of the longer distance runners as it looked like less than half the amount of racers from Watchung.
Part of the 1K loop at the start before 2 10K loops
These courses are well marked with orange spray paint in the snow
Conditions were great, at 25 degrees, I layered lightly and ran on my NB 810's with Ice Trekkers again: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  My Asics long sleeve from the Celtic Solstice 5mi, a light down vest, running tights, shorts, a hat, running gloves and my Nathan handheld bottle were all I had on me.  In my pockets I carried a Lara bar and 2 packs of baby food.  Yes, baby food.  Gels are awesome but not Whole30 compliant (10 days in).  These things provide a small amount of carbs and electrolytes and they did a pretty good job keeping me going and avoiding bonking.  I enjoy that they're larger and I don't feel hungry as they fill you up a little more.
I avoided the prunes, assuming they'd facilitate the old saying "shit happens"
Baby food compared to a Hammer Gel
I may not have bonked but the race did go pretty slowly.  I felt pretty solid but to keep that HR down, I found myself taking the climbs really easily.  After the "halfway" point (after a 1K loop plus the 10K loop), I was not very pleased with my speed.  I gobbled down a few orange slices at the single aid station at the start/finish line, refilled my handheld and focused on running the remainder of the event.  I caught another runner, also named Aaron, and struck up conversation which is not typical of me but I thought I could use the distraction, conversation would keep me from moving too fast and a few miles would tick by a little quicker and it worked and we were about 2 miles closer to the finish before we broke the same pace and he took off ahead of me.
Somewhere pretty and downhill in Jersey
First running cap as swag!  I've got enough shirts.
Not quite 13.1, maybe I should have made it to the starting line on time...
Off my planned pace, I stewed a little but took in the beautiful scenery and knocked out another race for 2014, meeting Kristen at the finish line.  After the race, I stewed a little more, displeased with my speed.   I am looking forward to a quick 5K next weekend and a lot of time to figure out improving my training.