Daytona 50 Recap

Standard

I spent most of March and April working on heart rate training, designed to help me keep my heart rate down as I ran at comfortable speeds for longer distances. In effect, this was the beginning of my training cycle for a December race, the Daytona 50. I had previously run 6 marathons and 15 half marathons but had no idea what to expect in nearly doubling my longest run ever.

Fast forward past several months of training, back-to-back long runs, 3am alarms, on-course training, and over 1400 miles run since May 1st. On December 10th I drove to Ponce Inlet to meet up with my friend (and crew for the race) Denny Krahe. We left my car at the race finish line and drove to the start in Marineland, FL for the 11am runners meeting with race organizer and ultra-runner Dave Krupski. Besides the meeting, the final hour gave me the chance to get my final preparations ready and familiarize Denny with my plan. I was ready. At least I thought I was. Just before noon we heard the National Anthem (with an impromptu flyover from about 15 geese in a perfect V-formation) and then counted down to the start, exactly 6 hours after the 100-mile runners started their race 50 miles away in Jacksonville Beach.

daytona50-start

The 2016 Daytona 50 is under way!

About 0.02 miles into the race I realized that I had everything I needed EXCEPT my nutrition items for the first 11 miles. I had left those items in the cooler in Denny’s van. Lucky for me the very start of the race circled the parking lot so when I got close I dropped out of line and ran to the van to get my food. We’re off to a smashing start! I settled in and headed into the wind for a little less than a mile to the turnaround point, gave Dave a high-five and headed south for the next 47 miles. It didn’t take long to shake the crazy start, and I just stayed at a pace that felt comfortable. I did vary from my training pattern in the first 11 miles because I skipped my every-other mile walk breaks for 1 minute. I was running at a good heart rate (130-135) but my pace was slightly faster than I planned.

After about 3 miles I saw Denny next to the sidewalk trying to get my attention. I didn’t expect to see him until the first aid station around mile 11. While driving by he had noticed that I put my sunglasses on top of my head and was there to swap out the glasses for my hat that I had kept in the van. Awesome idea! Wait, if he could pick up on simple clues like this I think I’m in good hands for the rest of the race. I stayed pretty steady with my pace, liquid and food intake through the first aid station, hitting ten miles in 1:40:03, right at 10 minutes per mile and about 5 minutes ahead of expectation. I gave the credit to the tailwind. Denny was waiting for me with a fresh Gatorade bottle and a fresh Propel water bottle for my hydration belt, as well as a quarter of a PBJ sandwich. I told him I was good and was quickly on my way, hardly even breaking stride.

culver-d50-bib

From the aid station we had to cross A1A as the Flagler Beach to Marineland Trail (pronounced sidewalk) continued from this point on the inland side of A1A. The next aid station was about 9 miles away and I had everything I needed with me so I had told Denny to meet me at that aid station. Here I returned to my tried and true run/walk plan of walking for a minute to start each mile. At around mile 17 I saw my dad standing next to where we were running and stopped to say hi for a few seconds. From the start through the second aid station that was my slowest mile because of the stop, but still under 11 minutes. I was feeling strong and running ahead of expectations. That can’t be good.

The second aid station had a timing mat and was somewhere around mile 19.5-20. I crossed the mat at 3:15:12 and quickly caught up with Denny. I swapped bottles, grabbed a sandwich and fresh bags of jelly beans and Combos, plus a small cup of Coke from Dave’s wife Alex who was (wo)manning the aid station. I told Denny that my back had started to tighten up a little and that I needed to catch up with him at some point before the next aid station because I would need my nighttime gear. We agreed on meeting 5 miles down the road and I was off once again. My legs felt good but I knew my back would present an issue before long. Still, I kept to my plan of walking for a minute of each mile and kept a pace of just under 11:00 per mile until I crossed mile 25 in 4:20 and met up with Denny soon after. It wasn’t time for the night gear yet so he gave me fresh bottles and a sandwich and we agreed to meet around 5pm. During mile 27 I started adding additional walk breaks as I was having more back problems and some unsettled stomach concerns just to add to the drama. At some point during mile 28 I saw Denny again and he helped me put on my reflective vest equipped with blinky lights and handed me my headlamp. I went on my way, planning to meet him again at the third aid station, still 3 miles away.

Not long after leaving Denny I found a gas station and headed for their bathroom hoping to fix my uneasy stomach. Mission unsuccessful. I decided to cut back on the liquids and stop eating sugar for a while, thinking I might give my stomach a chance to settle itself. I pulled into the next aid station in Ormond Beach just before mile 31 and took off my hydration belt and tossed my headphones into the van. Perhaps losing the belt would ease the pressure on my back. I wouldn’t be needing the headphones in a few miles because Denny was getting ready to park the van and pace me to the finish. I had a mini orange from the aid station selections and headed back out on the course after crossing A1A for the final time, now carrying my belt bottles. The plan was to make it to mile 35, resupply with Denny and then have him join me running. My pace was now in the 14:00-14:20 range so he had plenty of time to get ready.

The mile 35 meetup went as planned and he dropped off the bottles I had, handed me a sandwich, and we were off. We had about 3.5 miles to go on A1A before we started the first beach segment. It was good to have conversation, but these first couple of miles with my pacer is where I dipped into the dark area of uncertainty. I’ve never run 32 miles before and now I’m past 35, so how far can I actually go? Maybe I can make it to 50, but maybe I can’t. I even had a thought of “maybe I don’t want to,” but I knew that there were a handful of people tracking my progress and cheering me on and I really hate the thought of letting other people down so I pushed through.

screenshot_20161215-223528

We stayed around 15:00 miles from mile 35 through the final aid station at mile 43 where we left the beach and returned to the roads. All that we had left was about 3.5 miles south, a mile around the lighthouse, and then 2 miles on the beach heading north to the finish line. I was feeling more comfortable about finishing, but not yet convinced it would happen. We stayed at the aid station for about 3 minutes. I didn’t get any food, but they had Mountain Dew! A shot of that and we were off. It was now about 8:40 and I was gaining on 9 hours running. I’d never done 6 hours before so I was testing myself pretty well. We came across a couple of people in front of their homes offering us water bottles, which was quite nice to see. One asked us, “How many more of you are there?” I told him that there might be another 150-200 (including the 100-milers), but that some might not be around until tomorrow morning. By his reaction I knew he wasn’t expecting that answer!

Around 9:30 we first saw the lighthouse up close. At this point I knew that I could finish, I just didn’t know if I could continue to hold the blazing 15:20 pace that we were putting down. Denny stopped at one point to top off my bottles (he was carrying extra liquids in his back pack) and he quickly caught up to me. He also mentioned from time to time that he had extra Combos and I should be eating. I didn’t feel like eating but knew I needed the calories. Mile 48 brought us back onto the beach for the home stretch.

Since it was just after 10pm we could only see lights here and there along the beach but couldn’t tell where the finish was. We knew it was in front of us somewhere. After a half mile I saw a red light and announced that the red light might be the clock at the finish. When Denny agreed that it could be I got an energy boost and our running segments got a little longer and a little faster. I started getting butterflies in my stomach because I was nearly done with a 50 freaking mile race! Denny looked at his watch and realized that 10:30 was a possibility for my finish time if we picked it up a little. He said, “Stay with me and you’ll make it” and was I just out of it enough to go along with whatever he said. The 50th mile was faster than any mile I had run in the past 5 hours! I crossed the finish line in 10:30:15 and was greeted and given my finisher’s medal by Alex Krupski. I was slightly disappointed that I failed to meet my best-case scenario goal of 10 hours, mostly because I didn’t follow my own plan, but I was overall thrilled that I finished and overcame my obstacles.

daytona-50-medal

Without the help of Denny Krahe I can’t say for sure that I would have finished this race. I can say that I would not have finished it in the same time or condition that I did. Thank you Denny for giving up your day with your family, driving my supplies around, making the stops quick and easy, and, of course, pacing me when I needed it most. Thanks also to Dave and Alex for putting the race and training runs together. Also, a big thank you to the volunteers and others that helped make this race a reality, and the amazing experience that it was. I’m no world-class ultra runner but I finished what I started – I am an Ultra Runner!

 

daytona50-medal

The morning after, sunrise at Ponce Inlet, FL

 

Advertisements

Ultra training part 2

Standard

Long runs. Just mentioning them leads to a variety of responses, depending on who the runner is, their ability, and their goal. As I prepare to enter the ultra world, there really isn’t any part of my training that is more necessary than the long run, especially since I didn’t do enough of them before any of my marathons, and in my opinion, paid for it.

As discussed in my last post, on August 27th I ran with some of the people signed up for the Daytona 100 and Daytona 50 on the actual course. It was later in the day than I normally run (a big deal in the Florida summer) and it may have been tougher on me than necessary, simply because I have done many of my long runs on the treadmill. I have since reconsidered the value of training in the heat and have been doing more of just that.

However, my first long run following the debacle that was the on-course group run needed to be a solid effort in order to boost my mental strength. After all of the struggling that I did on A1A and on the beach I spent way too much time questioning my ability and my desire to press on for the 50-miler that was just 3 months away. I felt that a solid treadmill long run would confirm that I could indeed complete this mission that I’ve signed up for. A week after the group run I climbed on the treadmill, equipped with water, Gatorade, PBJ, and Swedish fish. Doesn’t everyone do that? I ran the first hour at 6.2 mph all the way through. For the second hour I stayed at 6.3 mph, and for the third hour I sprinkled in a few minutes of 6.4 here and there as I was feeling like I wanted to go faster, but even by the end of three hours I was only at 19 miles (too early to push). For the 4th hour I stayed at 6.3 mph, putting me at 25.3 miles in 4:02. I was nine-tenths of a mile from a bunch of things I had never accomplished before.

I restarted the treadmill again and ran another 8:56, completing my first treadmill marathon in 4:10:56. This was the first time I stayed on the treadmill over 4 hours, the first time I did a training run of 26.2 miles, and the first time I ran 26.2 without taking walk breaks. I did have to stop every hour to reset the treadmill, but honestly that’s more of a nuisance than a break. Oh, and my marathon PR is 4:31:37, and this run was 20:41 faster than that PR! Mission accomplished: I managed to turn my thoughts in a positive direction and felt a renewed confidence that I might actually be able to complete this craziness.

Fast forward one week to 9/10. My return to doing long runs outside started at 4:45am. I had made a plan to take a bottle of water, a bottle of Gatorade, 2 Clif Shots, and some Swedish fish with me and keep backup supplies and additional food in a cooler by my front door. I knew my pace would need to be slower than the treadmill marathon because of the extra heat and humidity so I settled on about a 10:15 pace and decided that after each mile I’d walk for one minute while I took on fluids and calories. This seemed to work really well and I made it back to the house after about 90 minutes and 8.5 miles. I swapped out water and Gatorade bottles and grabbed a quarter of a PBJ sandwich and headed back out.

Another 6 1/4 miles and 70 minutes or so and I was back at the house for more fluids, more PBJ, more fish, and some ice water over my head. The sun was just starting to come up and it felt like the temperature was jumping every minute. Back out there I went, running for another hour, now taking walk breaks after each half mile. In total I ran 20.05 miles in about 3:45, a pace of over 11:20/mile. A week ago I ran 6.15 miles further at a pace that was more than 1:40/mile faster, and felt so much better after. It’s amazing the extra toll that 75-80 degrees and 95% humidity will take on the body. I did, however, learn some things about my “aid station” setup that I could improve upon and I learned that the run/walk schedule that I was trying seemed to be good for me; I think I’ll stick with it.

One more long run to add in here and then I’m pretty much caught up. Last Saturday had the same basic plan: Running near the house with my own personal aid station set up at the front door. I wanted to get out there closer to 4:15, but managed a 4:30am start, and this time I was running with my new headlamp for the first time. I usually run on sidewalks under streetlights so a headlamp isn’t critical, but I know I’ll need one during the 50-miler as I’ll be running on the beach at night and there just aren’t enough streetlights on the beach!

kimg1171

For this run I decided to go two miles before my first walk break, and kept the pace at 10:13 for those first two. Perfect! I stayed with walking for one minute following each mile from that point on and returned to the aid station after 90 minutes. Swap, sandwich, and go! This time out was about 85 minutes and I was right at 16 miles when I made my second aid station stop. Back out on the road and watching the sun come up I knew that things were going to get more difficult. After about mile 18 I started taking walk breaks after about 3/4 mile running. Around mile 20 I was down to 1/2 mile run to 1 minute walking. I stopped back home for a quick refill on my water at about mile 21 and then managed to run another mile-plus without stopping (only because I knew this was the end). In all I did 22.36 miles in 4:06 (11:00 average pace).

The bright spot here is that I can do long runs in this heat, just not quite as well as I’d like to. Considering this 50-mile race will be in December I’ll have the chance to do several more (and longer) long runs, and the weather should start to become more conducive to running soon, in theory. For my long run this week I’m going to try an earlier start and a longer run in the neighborhood since my second on-course group run was cancelled. Next group run will be in 4 weeks and it’ll be 30 miles of the 50 that I’ll race in December. That could prove to be my most important training run of the year!

Ultra Training part one

Standard

It’s been a while since I’ve really had anything to post but I think it’s time to get back behind the keyboard and document this process called ultra training. It’s new territory for me, and from the reactions I’ve seen across social media, it’s not familiar territory for very many people. A few months ago I decided to jump into the ultra world when I saw a race advertised that looked too good to pass up. When I signed up for the race, the hardest part was deciding between the 50-mile and 100-mile distance. Seriously, I was just seconds away from clicking on the 100-mile option for my first ultra, but I opted to play it safe and chose the 50. Now race day is less than 3 months away and I’m getting into the meat of my training.

dsc00893

The lighthouse in Ponce Inlet

The race I’m training for is the Daytona 50 (part of the Daytona 100), which is a point-to-point race down the east coast of Florida. The 100 starts in Jacksonville at 6am, while the 50 starts in Marineland, FL at noon. The finish line for both races is on the beach in Ponce Inlet after circling the second biggest lighthouse in the country. 50 miles…. sounds like an enormous undertaking, but by race day I will have devoted close to 9 months getting myself ready for it. This post covers part of the experience, and once I get caught up then I’ll try to be a little more timely with my posting.

My training started in March with a long stretch of heart rate training. You can see my updates here, here and here. Much of the heart rate training was done on the treadmill simply because it was easier for me to track progress if as many factors as possible are consistent from day to day, and being inside was my way to control the weather differences. In May I started bumping up my long runs and my weekly mileage, first hitting 40 miles per week in early May and 20 mile long runs on July 23rd. By the time it’s May in central Florida the heat and humidity are already off the charts (even before dawn) so I continued most of my long runs inside while moving about half of my short runs outside. Here’s the reasoning: I needed to stay outside regularly in order to stay used to the heat and humidity, but I found it difficult to make it to 20 miles or more in those conditions. Knowing the troubles I experienced in my six marathons I felt that becoming comfortable with the distance was top priority and I could move the long runs outside if/when it cools down. I also kept one 5-6 mile run inside every 10-14 days for a progress update on the heart rate training.

14089179_996213477158229_2172705795089440830_n

Now for the fun part: On August 27th there was an opportunity for anyone registered for the Daytona 100 or 50 to run part of the course as a group run. There would be aid available on the course to help out as well. Even though the selected part of the course covered in this run is not part of the 50-mile race, I signed up and made my way to St. Augustine on the 27th, parking at the designated end of the run. We carpooled up to Jacksonville and started our run at the race’s actual start line. I quickly learned that I was the only member of the group with no ultra experience. There was good motivation to do well on this run since my car was parked 28 miles away. The bad part of this experience was that the start time was 9am. In August. In Florida. It was 82 degrees and cloud-free when we started running. Here’s the part where running more outside would have been beneficial.

I ran fairly conservatively (I thought) through Jacksonville, around 10:10-10:40 per mile. Since my long runs for the past three months had been in the 9:30-9:40 range and I had done so much heart rate training, I assumed that taking this run about a minute per mile slower would be about right. You know what happens when you assume, right? By the end of the 4th mile I was averaging 165 bpm and peaked over 170. I still have 24 miles to go and it’s going to get hotter? I’m in trouble. For the next couple of miles I stayed with someone who had run this course last year and was taking walk breaks. I’m not a run/walker, more of a run until you’re dead and then walk as needed, but I needed to find a way to survive this run. We were doing 5/1 and after 3 miles of that I slowed it down even more and let the veteran run ahead of me. Mile 8 was 14:03 with 14:46 at mile 9.

This was exactly why I wanted to do this run. Not to destroy myself physically, but to learn what’s working and what’s not. The hard part is going to be applying things I’ve learned about running in August to a race in December, assuming that it won’t be quite as warm. So I continued down the road under the impression that this road would never end. Around mile 12.5 I saw a friendly face, Dave Krupski’s (race director) wife. She was at the edge of a parking lot with a cooler full of water, Gatorade, some snacks and ice. Lots of ice. I explained to her that I was struggling with the heat and she said that they weren’t worried about how long they’d be out there and that I should keep going as far as I could. I started through the parking lot and just before crossing the bridge onto the beach I spotted a couple of showers intended for rinsing off after being in the ocean. I spent a good 30 seconds letting that water cool off my head, and soaking the rest of me pretty well.

14068145_996213437158233_9177340435657949507_n

Sunscreen wasn’t working, still 2 hours to go!

Next up was the bridge to the beach. There were quite a few people walking on the bridge and most of them looked at me like I had lost my mind. I wasn’t prepared to argue. Onto the beach I went and headed south. The sand here was very well packed and was almost as firm as running on the road. After the first quarter mile there was no one on the beach in front of me as far as I could see. And the sun was still blazing away.

14068087_996213457158231_2829745940303717056_n

Hello? Anyone there???

 

I’ve been in a place during a marathon where I was physically spent and questioning my ability. After about 2 miles of beach isolation, seeing no one in front of me and no one behind me I was in a place mentally that I had never imagined. I was not only considering giving up the run, but dropping out of the race as well. This was crazy. And it looked like it would never end. I was just about out of food and each mile was taking about a year. From miles 12-16 I ran only mile 14 in less than 15 minutes. Mile 17 took me over 20 minutes. I was seriously out of gas. At about 18.3 I saw Dave’s wife again, waiting next to another cooler. I explained my situation and again she gave me some positives to look at and told me that the tide was on its way in so the course was being adjusted back out to the road (we were supposed to stay on the beach until we finished, mile 28).

 

I let her talk me into continuing over another bridge and back to the road. She said that the next cooler was 4 miles away and if I was still in bad shape that I could wait at that cooler and Dave would take me back to my car. I regretted my decision after about 5 minutes. The sun was relentless. I kept up a pace of one minute run and one minute walk as best I could. About 2 miles after I got back on the road I started wondering if a person would find me before the vultures did. I needed to stop and kept hoping that Dave would drive by. Eventually he did, just before I got to that cooler, just before mile 22. He asked how I was doing and I replied with “front seat or back?” I packed it in and gave up for the first time ever. As we drove Dave said a lot of things that I will try to remember and incorporate in my continued training for the Daytona 50 and beyond. Dave would know what works and what doesn’t after all, he’s run 25 races of 100 miles or more, including Badwater twice. The thing that Dave said to me that stuck with me the most…. If you can last 5 hours in this heat you’re doing well. Apparently the same training run last year had two finishers out of about a dozen people.

Final numbers for the day: 21.93 miles, 5:06:57, end of run weather:

14063967_996213507158226_6166403249082824815_n

Heart rate training update

Standard

It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update on my heart rate training, but I’m still at it and the results are beyond what I ever hoped to get out of this. During this training phase I have been able to fully understand why I have struggled in the past in the last quarter of the six marathons that I’ve run. Put simply, my heart rate was too high for too long and I was completely out of gas. I realize that there are some people who can run faster and longer than me and have never had to do intentional heart rate training. I’m not sure how they trained their system to be as efficient as it is, but I’m not one of those people, probably because I didn’t start running until I was 44 years old.

I started my heart rate training on March 15th and did 9 runs as a trial, then took about 3 weeks away from it to train for a 10k and half on back-to-back days. I needed to work on a little speed which is not allowed using the Maffetone method. I returned to my heart rate training on April 20th and have been averaging about 4 runs per week following the plan, plus a long run each weekend. The guidelines of the Maffetone method call for EVERY run to be in your specific heart rate zone 100%, but with the Florida heat I would end up walking 8-10 miles of my long runs, if not more. The plan also calls for a 2 week specific diet that is beyond clean eating. Though I have greatly improved my diet I’ll admit I did not follow the two-week plan. I’m getting better, but decades of bad habits must be broken piece by piece in order to be successful.

OK, on to the training. My goal heart rate zone is 132-142 beats per minute. I’m pretty good about staying in this range (once I get up to 132) but I do tend to push the top end toward the end of the run. Most of my HR training runs are 5 miles and I keep a spreadsheet for every run, the 5-mile total time, 5-mile average time, and the BPM and time for each individual mile. I’m a data analyzer and I look for patterns and exceptions so I can learn what works and what doesn’t work. In addition, almost all of my runs are early in the morning and are fasting runs in an attempt to teach my body to burn fat for fuel (a main purpose of HR training). I also try to do most of my HR training runs on the treadmill just so I can compare apples to apples as far as the weather is concerned.

Day 1 of my training back in March was only 4.5 miles because the pace was getting slow enough that it was difficult to keep running. If I started walking then my HR would dip too low, so I just went as far as I could and stopped. Please note, I am not calling anyone else slow if he/she runs at these paces. I’m simply stating that the pace is too slow for me to continue “running”. My miles for day 1 were 10:27, 11:12, 11:45, 12:00, and 6:02 for the last half mile. These splits were completed at 138 average BPM, 11:27 average pace, and the total time was 51:27 for 4.5 miles. For comparison, my easy runs have been typically run at a 10:00 pace.

About 7 weeks later for my 22nd run in my HR training zone (including the 3 weeks away from the plan) and broke into new territory: my average pace for 5 miles was 9:59. I had improved by one minute and 28 seconds per mile while staying at the same heart rate, 138, over the course of those miles. The individual miles were 9:43, 9:43, 9:54, 10:12, and 10:21 and I finished in 49:53. I couldn’t believe that I made it so far so fast. However, the next 5 runs that I did were in the 10:04 to 10:24 per mile range. Several factors may have come into play here, such as elevated stress, lack of sleep, not warming up enough, etc., but sticking with it is the key.

Let’s fast forward another 22 runs to yesterday. Five miles completed in 46:47!! Running within the same  HR range I ran miles of 9:12, 9:07, 9:15, 9:33, and 9:40 for an average of 9:21. That’s 2:06 per mile faster than my first attempt in March, and the 8th time that I ran all five miles in less than 10 minutes. Now it’s turning into a “how low can you go” thing.

New day, new times. Today’s run: five miles completed in 46:11, again at 138 BPM average. My mile splits were my best times in 45 runs for each and every mile: 8:57, 9:00, 9:10, 9:29, and 9:35 for a 9:14 average. I finally managed to dip below a 9:00 mile! Today’s run was 7 seconds per mile faster than my record run yesterday, and I’ve been sick for the past 5 days.

In addition to my running I have been helping myself out with some cross training on the spin bike, recumbent bike and outdoor bike, plenty of stretching, and a lot of core work. I do abdominal workouts at the gym 3-4 days per week, just completed a plank-a-day challenge of 30 days, and am now doing a push up challenge. I’ve still got about ten pounds to get rid of, but piece by piece this is coming together. I plan to keep about 3 HR training runs per week through the summer because the progress is incredible!

 

Progress is occuring!

Standard

Happy Star Wars day! It’s been a week since my last update on my Maffetone-style heart rate training and I am happy to report that the results are encouraging. How they will translate to long distance runs and/or races is yet to be seen, but as of today I am happy.

To quickly review, I did about two weeks of heart rate training in March just to try it out, knowing I’d have to give it up for a few weeks because of a couple of races on my calendar. My objective with this training is to adjust my pace as needed in order to keep my heart rate in the target zone, which for me is 131-140 bpm. My first run was 4.50 miles, completed in 51:27 (average 11:27 pace). My fastest mile was 10:27 and I quickly fell to 11:12 and eventually to 12:00. For comparison, I typically do my long runs (15-20 miles) at a 10:00 pace, so this was really slow for me. Walking is only an option for a few seconds at a time unless you’re walking fast enough to keep your heart rate in the target zone; falling below the zone will slow your heart’s adaptation (the point of this training).

I made some decent progress on paper in those two weeks in March, but my last HR training run at that time showed me that it was mostly on paper. My pace was improving rapidly, but the weather was consistently getting cooler at the same time. For my last run it was almost 70 degrees with 93% humidity and my pace slowed way down. At that point I decided to take most of my runs inside on the treadmill in order to gauge progress better by eliminating the weather variable.

You can find more background on my training as well as results from last week here.

Over the past week I ran every day, twice outside and 5 times on the treadmill. As could be expected, my slowest pace (10:56) came on Monday when I ran outside, and my fastest run was yesterday on the treadmill (9:59). Not only did I break the 10:00 average barrier for the first time yesterday, I also recorded my fastest times for every mile except the first (out of 23 runs). Today’s run was even a little faster through 3 miles but I had to slow down more than expected for miles 4 and 5 and finished at a 10:04 pace. I think the slow down was due to pushing hard on the leg presses after yesterday’s run. Either way, my times for this week have been MUCH better than the 11:27 that I started March with, and this week’s average pace was 17 seconds per mile faster than last week’s average.

That’s progress! My schedule has one more month of heart rate training right now, with plenty of room to add another 2-4 weeks if I continue to see this type of progress. I admit that at first I was a bit skeptical and frustrated at the pace that I was running, but since my pace has picked up at the same heart rate I think I’m liking this idea right about now!

What I’ve learned so far

Standard

In March I completed about two weeks worth of heart rate based training, giving the Maffetone method a test run. I had to take a break from it with the Storm the Campus 10 mile race and the Star Wars half marathon weekend, but now my race calendar is clear and I’m diving head first into about 6 weeks worth of heart rate training as I build up my weekly mileage and get ready for marathon training. I have already learned a few things that might come in handy for anyone considering the Maffetone method, so I thought I would share my findings so far.

First, the plan indicates that you should not be overly concerned about any numbers (like pace or time) except keeping your heart rate in the target zone. Phil Maffetone has obviously never met me. Numbers are my way of life and I just can’t ignore them. I am tracking my daily runs mile by mile as a way to look for trends and I fully realize that not every day is going to show improvement, or even stay flat; there may be some days that are worse than the day before, but overall the trend should be in the right direction. The plan also says that you should see some progress as you compare runs that are 2-3 weeks apart.  In the first two week trial run I definitely saw my pace improving, though some of that appears to be due to the weather. My first couple of runs were in the 70-71 degree range, then upper 60s, mid-60s, mid-50s, and one run at 46 degrees. Then my final run was at 74 degrees and I struggled to find a pace slow enough to keep my heart rate in the zone. At this point I learned that the only way to determine if the training or the weather was responsible for my improvements was to control the weather. The only way to do that is to take most of my runs inside for the six week training.

The next thing I learned is that I suck at following a restricted diet. The Maffetone method includes a two-week “carb cleanse” plan where carbs are supposed to be eliminated from your diet, and not just the obvious stuff like bread, pasta, desserts, and potatoes. The plan calls for the elimination of fruit, processed meats, milk, yogurt, protein bars, peanuts, and even diet soda. I’ll let you look at what you are allowed to eat if you’re interested (here), but let’s just say not much of it was already in my diet. However, I decided that I needed to do this in order to teach my body to become a better fat burner. I made it through the first day with 5 eggs, two salads, chicken, celery, a slice of provolone, and a ton of water. When I was looking for something for dinner I grabbed a bag of veggies out of the freezer and realized I couldn’t eat them – 6 grams of carbs. Another bag had 10 grams of carbs, then I found 3 grams, 5 grams, 7 grams…. Wait a minute, except for potatoes and corn veggies are OK to eat. But no carbs allowed and the veggies have carbs. Then I checked the Romaine that I ate for lunch – yep, 3 grams of carbs. I was sabotaging my own plan (pronounced torture) without even realizing it. And if veggies have carbs, what can I eat? I am now in the process of searching for answers to this dilemma, and am happy to report that my diet needs work again.

Third, and perhaps most important, I learned that there are different ways to attack the need to stay within your target heart rate zone. Let me also add that no matter how much you despise treadmill running, trying to stay at a specific heart rate is much easier when you have absolute control over your speed and can adjust it in small amounts. I am tracking my time and heart rate for each mile of each run separately, allowing me to compare each mile from one day to the same mile for another day. Until today I had been attempting to stay as close to the top of my zone as possible throughout my runs, allowing me to go a bit faster, and I did see improvements in the early, middle, and later stages of my runs. For example, my first mile was 10:29 on March 15th, and a couple days ago it was 9:28 – over a minute improvement at the same heart rate! And miles 2-5 have shown even more improvement, getting close to 2:00 better during the fourth mile.

Today I switched things up and decided to go a bit slower than I needed to for the first mile, while still remaining in the 10 bpm window that I need to be in (131-140). I got on the treadmill and set it for 10:00 per mile. I was just over 130 for most of the first mile, 135 average for the second mile, and 138 for the third. I had never done the third mile at that pace while staying in the zone. Then I dropped the pace to 5.8 mph, about 23 seconds slower per mile and thought I’ll keep this pace until I am over 140 bpm. I never had to adjust the pace again and I ran another 3.3 miles! Miles 4, 5, and 6 were completed in 10:23, new best times for all of those miles. My heart rate for those three miles was 137, 137, and 136. That makes it look like I probably could have finished the 7th mile at a 10:23 pace, or almost 2 minutes faster than my best 7th mile time. Starting the run off a little slower brought overall improvement to the run, especially in the later miles.

I am going to repeat today’s test either Saturday or Sunday, but I am pretty confident that I am making some progress and there may be some really great things coming out of this style of training. If I have confused you with all the numbers I apologize. I’m better at handling numbers than explaining them. If you have questions about this style of training you can leave questions for me in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, or you can always send them to me through Twitter (@rilla6969) or Facebook (rilla6969). Here are the two links for the Maffetone explanations:

The Maffetone Method for training

The two-week carb-free test

 

Racing season is coming to a close

Standard

As much of the northern half of the country is looking forward to the warmer weather and the beginning of racing season, highlighted with next Monday’s Boston Marathon, those of us in the sunshine state are saying goodbye to racing season. Yes, there are a few races available May through September, but not many comparatively, especially if you’re looking for distances from half marathon through ultra. Overnight lows of 70 degrees-plus for 3-4 months straight pretty much eliminate the possibility of long, competitive runs.

As I look back on the past six months I see a number of highlights, and overall a season that I am happy with. My first race of the season was the Marine Corps Half Marathon in Jacksonville, FL where I posted my current PR for the 13.1 distance. I had set a goal time of 1:45 but finished in 1:48:19, beating my previous PR by just 38 seconds. Still, it’s a PR and a great start to the season.

Marine Corps Done

Marine Corps Half finish line

October’s other race was my second running of the Lighthouse Loop Half in Port Orange, FL. Severe anxiety and stress joined me at the starting line that morning, and after three miles at a pace that would have given me that 1:45 time my heart rate was over 185. I backed it down, took some walk breaks, and finished in 1:59:00.

LLoop1

Lighthouse Loop Half bling!

Medal 2 SC

Space Shuttle medal #2 from Space Coast marathon

Thanksgiving weekend I ran my fourth marathon and grabbed my second PR on the Space Coast Marathon course (first was my first ever marathon, but still). I bettered my 2014 time by 16 minutes, but still did not have a good handle on the 26.2 distance. Even with 20 and 22 mile training runs, getting past 17 miles in the race is something I struggle with, and have always gone to walk/run by that point, if not before. Goal number one for the remainder of 2016 is to become better at the 20 to 26 mile distance. I will run a marathon without stopping to walk. If I can’t then that 50-mile race will be a long December day.

 

f6e279d6-4b44-4b4d-a548-94c3df619000

Finishing marathon #5 in Cape Coral

2 weeks later I drove to Cape Coral, FL for another marathon, hoping for the nice cool weather we had race morning the previous year. At the start of the race it was 66 degrees, but by the finish we were in the low 80s. This definitely did not feel like December! The paramedics were treating runners just past the finish line by the time I got there. Again my first 17 miles went pretty well, but at that point I switched to a 1/1 walk/run and finished in 4:50.

 

 

 

 

KIMG0734

Disney bling! Everyone needs some of this.

January brought me two races, both at Disney World and both in the same weekend. I elected to “only” do the Goofy Challenge this year, where last year I finished the Dopey Challenge. My plan was to run a steady half between 9:30 and 10:00 per mile in order to save something for the full the next day. Mission accomplished on the half (2:07:14) with very even splits. The full, however was the most difficult of the six marathons that I’ve done. On that race day the run/walk intervals started as we were leaving Animal Kingdom, or around mile 13.5 for those of you not lucky enough to have run this course. Goal time: 4:30, actual time: 4:57. Still, it’s six marathons attempted and six completed.

KIMG0763February brought me a couple of races, starting with Best Damn Race in Safety Harbor, FL. Beautiful morning for a race and I finished about 66 seconds behind my 13.1 PR. Happy day! The next day I ran a virtual 10k with a couple of friends. We completed our 6.2 miles at Disney’s Boardwalk area (hotel area between Hollywood Studios and Epcot). The pace was nice and easy which was fine with me!

FinishLine1

Best Damn Race Orlando with Joy

Two more races during March: First was Best Damn Race Orlando half marathon which I ran with a friend. She was recovering from strep throat so the goal was to finish. Mission accomplished. Later in March I ran my first relay event – the Sarasota Half with another friend. I was somewhat disappointed with my time for the 6.9 miles that I completed, but I achieved two PR’s that day. My first relay half (automatic PR) was done in 1:57:08. I also achieved a heart rate PR – when we sprinted for the finish I hit 196 bpm, breaking my assumed max HR of 192.

1053232_10102282919662763_3102056101847342091_o

Sarasota Half Relay with my teammate Krissy

RPW_8271-S

UCF Storm the Campus AG award plus U, C, and F medals

April will finish with 3 races, although only one is complete. The third annual Storm the Campus 10 miler was my 50th race since my first race on November 1, 2013. I was trying to break 1:20 for ten miles, but finished in 1:22:20, good enough for second place in my AG. Races 2 and 3 for the month will be this weekend as RunDisney heads back to the parks in Orlando for the inaugural Star Wars Dark Side weekend. I’ll be running the 10k on Saturday and the half on Sunday. Can’t wait to run in the parks again!

After the Star Wars races this weekend I’ll be doing 6 weeks of heart rate training, where none of my runs will take me above 140 bpm. I’ll also be increasing my weekly mileage slightly from about 33 to around 40. After that I’ll continue to increase my weekly mileage and my long runs throughout the summer, peaking at 58 miles per week in 4 runs per week by mid-November. After a 3 week taper I’m running my first ultra, a 50-mile oceanside run from St. Augustine to Ponce Inlet on the east coast of Florida. Yes, I have a goal time already for this and no, I’m not ready to share it yet, but you can bet it’s not what you’d expect for a first time ultramarathoner.

Best of luck to all of you as you enter your racing or training season. There are plenty of PR’s still to be had out there – grab yours!