Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Small world...

Hey everyone... a little late getting out this post, but better late than never. First, a training update: last Saturday and Sunday, I had a couple of nice, easy runs. Five miles on Saturday at around an 8:45 pace, and four miles on Sunday at an 8:40 pace. On Monday, I took advantage of the day off and put in an epic (for me) ride. Around 41 miles in 2:40. The first major hill showed up around 9 miles, and based upon my current level of fitness and the gearing on the bike (39x23), I decided to skirt the first hill. Over the next 15-20 miles, I got into a pretty good rhythm, maintaining a 17.5-19 mph pace on the flats and rollers that abound in the Tualatin River valley.

Then the trouble started... I had a T in the road where I could either take a left to a direct downhill toward home, or a right to a set of hills that I knew were going to be a challenge. I took the right, and the fun began almost immediately. A nice speedy downhill was quickly followed by two pretty significant hills that I forgot were there. How significant? Well, in cycling shoes, they each take about 5 minutes to walk up... the 39x23 was not happening. But after I got up the second hill, things got a lot better. The next big hill wasn't so big, and I was actually able to keep a good 90 rpm cadence up it. And when I crested the top, I immediately hit 40+ mph on the downhill - while riding the brakes, since this was an incredibly steep hill with lots of pucker factor. It gave me enough momentum to get up the next huge hill without pedaling at all. A slightly technical descent, and then a nice easy ~10 mile pedal home.

After all that fun, I took a rest day on Tuesday - and took the bike in to get a new rear cassette (12/27, so I can hopefully start to actually pedal up those hills). I'm definitely looking forward to trying some hills on Friday or sometime over this weekend. I also took another rest day today, since I had the weekly trip down to Arizona for work.

During my flight to Arizona, I got to chat with a coworker that I hadn't talked to for a while. Even though he's a close enough friend that he ushered at my wedding, and I knew he had run a marathon and a few halfs and 10ks over the last 10-15 years, he surprised me with the fact that he's completed a variety of tri's, including Wildflower. We had the opportunity to chat about training strategies, refueling (Gatorade, Gu and salt tablets, oh my!) and the wonders of the "natural break" during and/or after the cycling leg. It was great to be able to chat with someone who had accomplished the same goals that I'm hoping to this summer, especially when I had no idea he'd enjoyed the 6-7 hours of a half-Ironman. Small world indeed.

On a completely unrelated topic, I did have to brag a little bit. Last Friday, my wife got up at 4:45am to get in her morning workout - and Jonathan Roche, the inventor of the No Excuses Workout program, took note on his Twitter account:

Kinda cool to see your spouse recognized for hard work and dedication in the cyber world. :)

The plan for the next few days is get in a little base training Thursday and Friday - hopefully a run Thursday morning and an easy ride Friday morning. Then we'll see how the first long run since the marathon goes, with 10-12 planned for either Saturday or Sunday. Definitely looking forward to testing out the legs and see if the running endurance is still there 4 weeks after Eugene!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Triathlon training begins

The last few days have been good for training, but I have a challenge coming up as we shall see...

After recovering from the back issues I was battling last week, I got back outside on Friday morning. I got up early to put in a chilly 5k - cold enough that the stocking cap came in handy. Saturday I went for the early wake-up again and got in another 4 miles, and the back (and legs) felt fine. After helping my brother-in-law assemble some furniture at his new condo, I had some time in the evening. Now what was it that I had on my to do list? Oh yeah, get the road bike ready for a ride.

A little background: I came into this road bike via inheritance. My uncle, a very avid cyclist, passed away unexpectedly from a brain aneurysm four years ago at the age of 56. At the time, he owned a small fleet of bicycles - a top-of-the-line road bike, a TT bike, a Specialized Epic Comp road bike (yes, I realize the only Epics out there now are MTBs, but apparently they use to have an Epic road) and his old Peugeot road bike. My aunt sold his top-end bike, as it was still relatively new, and my cousin got the TT bike. But when my aunt passed last September, the Specialized and Peugeot were not spoken for.

It was a couple of months before that I started riding my roaded-out mountain bike (mainly because I had my wonderful runner's knee and wanted some exercise) and somehow got the crazy triathlon bug. And I'm thinking - what am I going to do for a bike, because there's no way I'm riding 56 miles on a cheap mountain bike with road tires. Well, when going through the estate, my cousins let me pick up the Specialized, which is a great bike. And I got the Peugeot as well, of which I have some fond memories. Back in middle school, when I first started running and cycling (before I quit, restarted, quit again and restarted again), my aunt & uncle would come visit nearly every summer. Bill and I would go for a ride - sometimes the 10.5 mile loop in the countryside near home, once a 50+ miler down the local highway. And what was he riding? It was always that Peugeot - so that bike will always serve as a reminder of what was and what can be.

So Saturday night, there I am in my home office, wrestling the Specialized off the trainer it had been attached to all winter. I got out my spiffy bicycle maintenance book to figure out how to adjust the shifters (having problems shifting to the large chainring), adjusting the saddle (angle was a bit off), adjusting the cleats (this will be my first time using clipless pedals outside) and making sure I have the tires pumped full enough (one guy at the bike shop I always go to recommended that "a guy like me" try to pump up to 115 psi rather than just 110 psi....). I even took it for a brief spin outside after, just to make sure it'd be ready for the morning.

Come Sunday morning, I'm up at 5:30am. Yeah, that doesn't happen often. I want to get in a solid ride before heading off to church. I eat breakfast and get out the door by 6:30am, and decide I'm going to ride a route I rode a couple of times last fall - one with a gnarly hill about 14 miles into the ride. How gnarly? According to, it's got 485 feet of climbing in just 1.5 miles or so. That includes a couple of false flats. Last summer, I barely made it up the first 80 feet of the climb before realizing heavy rider + heavy bike = not getting up the hill.

The first 10 miles of my ride on the Specialized, and I'm cruising right along. The ride is smooth, it's so much more responsive than my mountain bike (a little too much, sometimes - need to work on the bike handling skills!) and I'm enjoying what's turning out to be a beautiful day. But on the couple of small hills I encounter in the first part of the ride, I realize that this bike is geared for certifiable studs only (I later confirm that the rear cassette is a 12/23 and the front a 53/39). So I decide to skip the big hill in favor of a route I hadn't rode before. Well, it turned out I still got to enjoy a good 200 foot climb followed by a descent that had significant pucker factor - mainly because I haven't been riding 37 mph on a city street with traffic before! After that was another 200 foot climb at a pretty steady grade... there I was in my granny gear in the bike lane, struggling to make it up (note to self - get up out of the saddle next time!). But I did make it up, and had a nice and enjoyable ~2 mile descent at a 25+ mph speeds. And despite later missing a shift and popping the chain off the chainring, I managed to make it home, get showered and still make it to church.

While it was a great ride, hopefully next time I'll be smart enough to not only get up out of the saddle and "dance on the pedals" for a little more uphill momentum, but I'll take a nice warmdown too. Sitting down for the entire climb made the outside of my calves incredibly tight, and coupled with the lack of warmdown, made me almost immobile by 8pm. Thus, Monday was a rest day... even though it was already scheduled to be a rest day, there was no way I could have run had I wanted to.

This morning I did get up for the early run again, and managed a nice 3.5 miles in between the overnight rains and the morning rains (and as I type this on my lunch break, I see the noon rains getting pretty heavy). Even though I was sleepy, it felt great to be out there - but the sleepiness will mount this week.

Remember the challenge I mentioned? Well, there's actually two of them. The first one is how do I work in the swimming that I'll need to get into tri shape? I'm sure I'll figure that one out assuming I can find some Friday or weekend time. But the bigger challenge this week (and likely for several weeks in June) is how to keep up the schedule while traveling? I suspect it means lack of sleep. Tomorrow is the usual 6am flight to Arizona, which for me means waking up at 4:30am. Then a full day of meetings when I get there... my last meeting is a 8pm-9pm teleconference. That means that tomorrow is an automatic rest day, and if I want to run Thursday it's either waking up early (have to be on site for an 8am meeting) or running when I get home (assuming the flight lands on time at 7pm). And if I do run while I'm in Arizona, how pleasant is it going to be to run at 5:30am when it's already 78 degrees out, or something ridiculous like that? This schedule is definitely going to be a tough nut to crack, but I've got all the motivation I need... I've got that half-Ironman on the calendar, now only 89 days away. :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Training update - 5/13/09

Unfortunately, there's nothing new to report on the training front. This has been a very frustrating week. I did get in a run last Saturday morning, which allowed me to work the kinks out. There was a bit of tightness in my right knee (which was the one that had runner's knee last year which shut me down for a couple of months), so I decided to take a rest day on Sunday. Afterall, it was Mother's Day, and we had a pretty busy day planned. The girls made Christine breakfast after she got back from her run, we did the card & gift thing, then went off to church. After that, we had about an hour and a half at home for lunch and some homework before going off to the in-laws for a great Mother's Day / birthday (for the Mother-in-law) celebration. A little bit too much good food (pork tenderloin, corn, zucchini, strawberry short cake), but nothing that a good week of running will take care of... right?

Well, Monday morning I got a late start, which was fine because my meetings were once again concentrated in the 2pm - 9pm timeframe. But as I was getting out of the shower, I twisted wrong as I was picking up my towel - and the next thing I know, pain is shooting up my back from just below my ribs to between my shoulder blades. I go meet a colleague for lunch thinking it will go away, but apparently not. It got worse as the day went on. So I went back home, sent out an out-of-office memo to those who needed to know, and crawled into bed with some painkiller (codeine-flavored tylenol).

Tuesday when I woke up, I was still in pain - but wonderfully hung over from the codeine. I set up a chiropractor appointment, but then I made the mistake of going into work. While standing up and lying down both felt fine, sitting in an office chair (even my spiffy ergo-friendly one) was excruciating. After an hour, I went back home and laid around until the appointment. Our naturopath / chiropractor generally does a good job, and I felt fine after the appointment - for about an hour, at which point the pain was coming back. At least this time I had her guidance of using arnica for the inflammation and an interesting valerian root / passion flower remedy as a muscle relaxant. After using those plus a heating pad, I actually feel somewhat human as I write this Wednesday night.

So for now, running is on hold... I do hope that I feel good enough to go out for a run either tomorrow afternoon (there's a hole in the schedule from 4-6pm!) or Friday morning. Wish me luck!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Eugene marathon race report

Last weekend was a blast - I got to spend a relaxing weekend with Christine and the girls, sandwiched around a good run. It was a truly amazing event, and I hope my words can do it justice.

We drove down to Eugene Saturday afternoon. After a few days of pretty good weather (considering it's spring in Oregon), a Pacific weather system decided to move in for the weekend. I packed well: running jacket, cap and gloves - but it wasn't cold enough to justify long pants. On the two hour drive down, we drove through some very heavy rainstorms. All the while I'm thinking, "I'm going to be running through THIS tomorrow? This has the potential to be miserable!"

Fortunately by the time we got into Eugene and got to the expo, the really heavy squalls had past. The expo itself was great - a good range of exhibitors, easy packet pickup, and importantly, I joined up with the Clif Bar Pace Team. Specifically the 4:15 group. On my long runs, I had been training at a 9:35ish pace... and bonking and cramping around 18 miles. I figure that I can back off to a 9:44 pace and have enough left in the tank to make it to at least 22, maybe 24 miles, then use willpower to get through the last few miles. Nice idea, but it didn't quite work, as we'll see later.

For dinner, we went to McGrath's fish house. I truly carbo-loaded before running Portland in 2007, and I found out that my body doesn't really take well to carbo-loading. For me, it basically leads to frequent appreciation of where the course organizers have placed the portajohns. This time I figure that since we're eating a pretty healthy mix of carbs and lean protein at home, I should do the same the night before the race. After a decent crab cake appetizer and a nice salmon dish with potatoes, mission accomplished. Afterwards, we went back to the hotel and vegged out until I turned in around 10pm.

The alarm goes off at 4:30... wow, it's early. Only an hour earlier than the usual wake-up time, so fortunately it doesn't seem too ridiculous. Also, typical of some runners, I was scarcely able to sleep through the night, so I wasn't completely groggy but did get enough sleep to feel rested. After my usual breakfast of Trader Joe's Os, I start downing Ultima replenisher drink at 6am to get some electrolytes into the system.

6am we start to make our way to the race area. There's no parking close by, so Christine drops me off at 6:20. By 6:40, I'm safely in the 10:00 and faster starting corral, I've found my pace group, and Christine and the girls come find me. Which is great, for a couple of reasons: 1) it was awesome to get some last minute encouragement from the loved ones; 2) my Amphipod race number belt managed to destroy my bib, so I gave the belt to Chrsitine rather than carry the extra gear for 26 miles. On the bright side, there were a couple of folks in the pace group who donated a couple of pins so I could pin my bib on my shirt (thanks, Wendy and whoever else!).

7am and the gun goes off as expected. Since we're toward the back of the fast corral, we don't get to the line for about two minutes. But once we do, we're off and running - and immediately the whole concept of a pace group comes in handy. Nearly every race that I run, from 4 miles to marathon, I go out too fast in the first mile. Having a pacer there holding us back was great... instead of bolting out of the gate too fast, I race the first mile in 9:50 - within 6 seconds of the goal pace, and on the slow side. But then the big downhill comes on mile two. The pacer (Star) constantly talked to us, giving pointers on how best to run downhill to save our quads for the important miles. And downhill we fly... second mile goes by in 9:19. However, we still have a bit of momentum and even more downhill - mile 3 in 8:41. At this point, I'm starting to get a bit worried, but I'll see how it looks once the downhill ends.

During mile 4, I start to get in my groove. That wonderful feeling that you can run forever. I'm running a 9:30-9:40 pace on the flats, and it feels easy. I also start to notice the crowd a bit more. The crowd was hard not to notice in the first two miles around the University, but now we're in the residential section, and there are people (and occasional bands and street performers) out to encourage us. The only downside is that on the other side of the greenway we see runners coming back from the turnaround at 5 miles. And we continue to see them. And even more runners... it makes miles 3-5 seem like they go on forever.

After the turnaround, we get more running tips from Star. She points out that most of the group gets ahead of her every time we pass a band or a radio truck - not only are downhills our enemies, but music subconciously makes us speed up unless we're very intentional about running a slow pace. She also gives us one of the tidbits that will probably stay with me the rest of my life: running a marathon is really three races. The first 10 miles, you're running with your head. You're pacing yourself, you're using your mind to keep your body under control on the downhills and when you pass those bands that trick us into speeding up and wasting the energy we'll need later. The second race, miles 11-20, you're running with your legs. This is why we train, this is why we have the long runs leading up to the marathon. This is where the endurance pays off, and our legs, now accustomed to the pace, take us up to mile 20. The last race, the last 6 miles, you race with your heart. Your head is telling you that you want to (or need to) stop. Your legs are begging "no more!" I keep this advice in mind not only because it's wisdom from someone who's run 106 marathons, but also because I know that I'll need it later.

Miles 5-7 are pretty much cruising, then onto a greenway through Amazon park for the 8th mile. At this point, I realize that our pace group is being rude and taking up the entire path. Yes, we need to move over, but I think - who are these crazy yahoos sprinting past us on the grass? Star reminds us that we'll see them later, and they probably won't be running. Especially since if they've been behind us for 7 miles, why are they running a sprint at mile 8? Hopefully for their sake, they're all running the half marathon. :)

Mile 9 is back up that hill that we saw at mile 2. Wow it's steep, but the wonders of the pace group again - Star reminds us that we need to take shorter steps and down worry about slowing down up the hill. I'm really digging this pace group... until we pass 8 miles in a little less than 76 minutes. Can you say 9:30 pace for the first 8 miles? And I was bonking at 18 miles on a 9:35 pace? This is suddenly looking like it could be a long day - but it also could be a major PR, so I figure I'll stick with the pace group as long as possible.

The marker for mile 9 is back in the start area, and another pacer joins us. Around mile 10, he points out that people who use GPS or Nike+ during their marathons actually log about 27 miles during the race, darting back and forth across the road, to the water stations, and not cutting the tangents as closely as they could. That thought enters my mind that I actually need to run 27 miles in 4:15, which is actually a much speedier pace (9:27). Hmmm... starting to worry just a bit. At mile 11, the second pacer (name was Jim or Ron - but I can't remember for sure) sidles up and chats with me for a while. He's just a rookie compared to Star, as this is only his 46th marathon, having started doing this crazy marathon stuff in 2001. Pshaw - only 5-6 a year? What does he know? :)

Around mile 12, I start to float out in front of our group. Not too far - about 100-200 yards, which means I can still hear 90% of Star's commentary. I do hear her promise us a story around mile 17, so I'm going to make sure I don't get too far away from the group. I do pass through the half marathon check in under 2:07. At this point, I'm feeling pretty good, so I'm not sure whether I should be happy or worried. :) I have been keeping myself well-hydrated up til now. While I did miss one water station around mile 3 or 4, I've hit all the other ones, and had two, sometimes three, cups of water at each. And most of the water has been going down the hatch, although there were a couple of noteable spills. And I've been keeping myself well-fed too. At mile 2 I broke out the first pack of Clif ShotBloks. Three blocks (100 calories) every two miles, so I'm taking in a good amount of energy. I'm also taking four Hammer Endurolytes every five miles, hoping to stave off the cramping that I encountered back in Portland.

By mile 15, two things are starting to happen. First, I'm starting to feel a little bit... tired. Exhausted. Not sleepy, but worn out - strangely, like I've been running for two and a half hours. I'm still out in front of the group by a hundred yards, and I hear Star telling everyone "if you're starting to feel tired, that's perfectly normal - you've been running for over 15 miles". So all systems are still go, and miles are still clicking off between 9:37 and 9:48 pace. But also, the sun is starting to peek out. Remember that rain that was so nasty on the drive down, and was supposed to be here all weekend? Well it was drizzling for the first two miles, so I felt pretty secure in my jacket and hat. But now it's been more or less dry for two hours, and I'm still wearing that jacket. Yeah, it's unzipped almost all the way down, but it's still on. There will be good and bad results from that....

By mile 17, I've rejoined the pace group. We're all running together on the Willamette River trail. For me, no more running out ahead, and besides, I want to hear Star's story. But by the time she's getting to the good part (it's about her trying to run an aggressive pace at a marthon in 90 degree weather 6 weeks after being dumped by her boyfriend) we're at mile 18, and I realize I'm headed for bonkville. So I drop off the pace and am now running miles of 9:58-10:04. And by mile 21, I slow down to 10:19. Mile 21 is also important, as it's the river crossing that will put us on the south bank, and it's pretty much a straight line back along the river to the finish. But finally, around 21.5 miles into this thing, the legs and head win out over the heart - I decide I'm going to walk for a while. In retrospect, maybe - just maybe - I could have slowed down to a nice 11:00 or 11:30 pace and kept running, but I think the walk break - about three quarters of a mile - rejuvenated me enough to bring it home in decent style.

While I was on said walk break, I did pass someone that was either unconscious or pretty darn near it. She had someone holding her, wrapped in a blanket, and a couple of other runners had just called the paramedics, who I could hear coming from somewhere close by. Note to self: do not end up like that.

At the same time this is going on, I start to notice something. The crowds, which have been amazing all along, are really starting to use people's names (for those of you that don't know, you usually have the option of putting your name on the bib along with your number). While I'm walking, I get people yelling "Great job, Mike, you're doing great!". That's enough to inspire the heart; a little after the marker for mile 22, I get back to running at a nice trot, around a 10:00 pace. I even get into a groove - run 4-6 minutes, walk a minute. And lo and behold, I'm making progress. And people are continuing to cheer me on. And I'm remembering Star saying that you run the last 6 miles with your heart. Well, mind and body got the best of the heart at mile 21.5, but now the heart is clearly winning and carrying the day.

By mile 25, I've got that goofy smile plastered across my face, and I can't get it off. I'm not going to make my goal pace of 4:15, but I'm probably going to break 4:30 and take at least 40 minutes off my PR. And I'm having fun! One more walk break around 25.5 miles, and I realize that I'm running the rest of this thing. Who cares that it's uphill... my mind could clearly see that it was uphill toward the finish, but my body didn't feel it - the heart was pulling me along. Around that last corner, and I can see the finish banner. A few more steps and I see Christine and the girls taking pictures and cheering me on! A couple more steps, and I hear them call out my name over the loudspeaker as a finisher of the Eugene marathon. Wow! There's even a small bit of video of me finishing around 4:28:06 "gun time": Crossing that line at a normal running pace was an experience like no other!

The aftermath: well, it took me probably ten minutes to get my bearings, as I was completely out of gas - no sugar left in this body (I stopped eating around mile 20 because I was getting nauseous), so no energy for the brain to run on. And once I stopped after the finish line, my legs didn't want to move anymore. And I could barely put anything back into my body. I did drink some water and some SoBe stuff, but could only eat two Famous Amos mini-chocolate chip cookies for the first hour or so. But Christine got me safely back to the hotel, where I was finally able to eat the rest of my Famous Amos cookies and take a shower. Two hours in the car later, and we were safely back home with me not looking forward to climbing up the stairs, but very much looking forward to an epsom salt bath - which works wonders for reducing muscle soreness.

This was an amazing, incredible experience, and I did learn a few things:
  1. Star's three races of the marathon. Incredible wisdom.
  2. Slower pace group next time. I should have run with the 4:30ers and then left them behind around mile 10-13. Probably could have run a 4:20-4:22 had I run negative splits, but I left too much out there the first 10 miles.
  3. Ditch the jacket. Unless it's raining cats and dogs, don't worry about a little cold and wet - there'll be enough heat generated by running to keep me warm, and when that sun came out, it was just brutal. Or at least tie the jacket around the waist next time. I'm pretty sure it didn't cost me much, but it did probably make me sweat a little extra and make the bonk come a little earlier
  4. Bandaids for those sensitive areas. Christine mentioned that they saw a lot of men with two bloody spots finishing. Well, as soon as I took off my jacket, I realized I was one of those men too. (Fortunately all the during and after-race pictures are of me with my jacket on!) I put on plenty of Glide, but apparently it wasn't enough. Next time, bandaids or athletic tape or something. It didn't hurt during the race, but the shower after was killer.
  5. Eugene is an amazing running town. The crowds were incredible. The people during the last five miles along the river were amazing - some of them were clearly spectators, but some just seemed to be out for a day at the park and decided to cheer us on anyway. And the volunteers were amazing too. I do hope I get to run this one again, because it can give the Portland marathon - also an amazing event - a run for it's money.

There are probably a lot of other things I could have written about - but having almost a week to reflect, these are the things that stick out. I'm definitely looking forward to the next marathon (Portland on October 4th), as well as the next chance I get to run in Eugene. Who knows, maybe this fall or next spring I'll finally break that 4:15 goal? :)

So just what is this blog called?

OK, yes, I've changed the name of this blog. I fully expect that at some point I'll be posting on the challenges of sticking to a training program while working 45-60 hours a week in a grey carpeted cubicle, but at the same time, I realized that there are going to be a number of posts on here (hopefully interesting ones!) that will have all to do with running (or cycling or swimming or...) and nothing to do with career and work. With that in mind, I put my engineering mind to brainstorming to come up with a name. What is this blog going to be about? Running. My experiences with running. So very creatively, I came up with a new name... Running with Mike G. Enjoy... and with any luck, there will be a race report from last weekend coming soon!