Saturday, November 24, 2007

Feeling Well

I'm starting to feel like a runner again. I've had 5 runs for 34 miles already this week with a long run on the docket for Sunday. This will be my first 40+ mile week since June. I'm on the road again, so I've had some variety. 2 different desert runs in Phoenix, a nice run along the coast in Carlsbad, CA, and 2 runs through the hills in the north part of San Diego, including a 500' hill climb; sweet! I'm heading for Toulouse on Monday for a few days, so I probably won't get the same out put next week. But I have my cold weather gear with me and hope to get a run or two in between meetings.

Hope you are having a fine weekend. Take care

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Death March

What's that you say? "Don't take off too fast in the beginning; run your own race". Sorry, I didn't quite get that. "Stay focused on your objective", "Take it easy on the down hills" .... "blah blah blah" ... I've heard it all before. Heck, I've said it all before; but for some reason, I ignored the universal truths of racing and took off way too fast on the "Rails to Trails" 11 mile trail race in Prescott Valley, Arizona on Saturday.

I screamed down the big 2 mile hill in the beginning, dropping 500' to the valley below, started fading early (why wait), got passed by what seem to be 90% of the field and dragged my sorry butt to the finish line (see picture to the left) some 97 minutes after the starting gun.

The race is a point to point course starting on top of a hill 500' feet above and 2 miles from the Peavine trail; heads east past Watson Lake for 4 miles; joins up with the Iron King Trail; continues east for another 3 miles and veers into residential streets of Prescott Valley. The course continues for another 2 miles through the streets before ending up at the Prescott Valley Convention center. The course is simply beautiful. Both trails are former narrow gauge railroad beds converted into hiking/biking trails. The trails are compact dirt and are well maintained. There are no loose rocks, branches or other crap to slow you down, nor does the trail cross over any roads, so there is no traffic to dodge along the way. It is essentially perfect running conditions. Of course Prescott Valley is at 5100'; not exactly Immigrant Pass, but high enough for a flat-lander like me to be feel the effects.

I didn't mean to race this weekend, in fact, until I ran into one of my trimmer friends (read: one of my faster / leaner friends - pictured to the left) on Wednesday afternoon, I didn't even know there was an 11 mile race in Prescott Valley this weekend. Anyway, who ever heard of an 11 mile race. Friday night, I decided to take him up on his offer and we left at 5:30 AM the next morning for the 90 minute drive up to Prescott Valley. The temperature dropped from from 65F to 45F on the way up the hill and I was happy to see that the race organizers had convinced a local car dealership to let them use the inside of the show room for registration. It was the only time I've used an indoor rest room with flush toilets, marble counter tops, fancy soap dispensers and hot water prior to a race start.

Immediately after leaving the parking lot at the start, the race heads down hill, and I mean down hill. My buddy is a lot leaner than I am and a much better runner, but for some reason, bone-head-Phil ran with him all the way to the bottom. Even though my lungs were screaming that I was going tooooooo fast (down hill mind you), Mr. Macho just kept right on running and yapping as if I could do this all day long. Once we hit the bottom of the hill and entered the trail head, it was painfully obvious that I'd blown it big time and I bade him fair well. No sense on killing myself, besides, I had the car keys, so there was little risk that I'd be left at the finish line.

I still wasn't too worried, I had two miles under my belt and although there weren't any mile markers on the first 5 miles of the course, I figured I had slowed down enough and locked onto the next runner in front of me for what seem to be an easy 8:30ish pace. However, after only a mile or so of running together, we hit an up hill grade and for the second time in 3 miles I had to let a runner go.

Immediately, 10 or 12 runners passed me so I picked up the pace again to hold on to the last guy in the group. We ran by Watson Lake and the group of 12 dwindled to 4 as the faster runners continued to motor on down the trail. 3 guys and 1 women running along with me holding onto the back for dear life.

This is a very small race, with only 140 or so runners. It was so small that I envisioned that the entire field had passed me back on mile three and I was now in sole possession of last place. Now there is nothing wrong with last place; by definition, someone has to finish last, but the thought that it was me wasn't particularly appealing. Finally, somewhere near mile 6, at the start of the second up-hill grade, I could hear huffing and puffing and heavy foot-falls behind me. I wasn't alone and I wasn't in last place, yet.

At the top of the hill, the woman that had been chasing me down caught up to me. I wasn't wearing my Garmin nor where there regular mile markers on the course, but there was a sign indicating Mile 6 near the bottom of the hill and another one at the top marked Mile 7. My time between the two was 8:48. I told the huffing and puffing lady that we had just done a heck of a lot of work to run an 8:48 mile, hoping that I'd found someone interested in running with me and pushing me along. Unfortunately, she took the news of our pace rather badly and after exchanging a few other pleasantries, she dropped back again. Oh well, I still had the small pack of four directly in front of me.

Actually, the pack of four in front of me had been reduced to a pack of one as the three faster runners had broken away from the 4th on the hill and continued along the course. There was now only me and a 30 something looking guy. I pulled up next to him and started chatting about running and races (what else do we ever talk about during a race). He was from Chicago and hadn't run the Chicago Marathon, but did have some idea that the race was halted due to poor contingency planning on the part of the race organizers. As we continued to talk about races he told me that this was the longest he had ever run; not his longest race, his LONGEST run.

This info hit me like a brick as I realized I was hanging onto someone who had never run 11 miles in his short life. I'm trashed and I can barely keep up with a guy that doesn't have an 11 miler under his belt. That was just too much information. I somehow screwed on some courage and picked up my pace and dropped the newbie. He was about at his limit anyway and dropped back quickly, leaving me totally by myself.

I struggled for the last 2 miles, somehow willing my legs to continue. I could tell I was slowing down again. My right foot had gone numb a few miles back, but the feeling had returned and I knew I was getting close to the finish. I could do this. It wasn't going to be pretty, but I could hang in there. Then two runners (one pictured to the left) blew by me. 800 meters to go and I dropped two more places in the overall standings. Worse, I thought I remembered that Mr. 91 was 54, so I'd just dropped to last place in my age group, or, at best, dropped one more position in the M50-54 age group. At this point, you could have stopped me with a feather.

I knew I'd started out too fast, I trashed my legs on the big down hill early on and now I was getting passed by my peers who had run a much smarter race. Oh well ... it was still a fun run. Somewhere on those last 800 meters as I watched 91 continue to open the gap between us and totally unable to respond, I remembered something Steve Walker had said on his pod cast after the Bay State Marathon earlier this year. He was talking to someone at the end of the race, describing how great he felt and how much he had enjoyed the race; all-the-while describing his experience with hitting the wall in a marathon for the 16th consecutive time in some graphic detail including the associated dizziness and nausea. It occurred to me that we runners really do somehow block out all the negatives and keep racing over over and over again for the love of the sport, for the camaraderie it brings us and for the extreme highs we get at the end of the race.

I limped through an 8 mile recover run this afternoon (temperatures were considerably higher than 45F .. closer to 85F), but I loved every inch of it. I'm taking a working vacation this week, so I should be able to get in several good runs. For those of you living in the USA, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving week. For the rest of you, I certainly hope your week goes well and that you continue to run strong.

Take care.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Running Free

Over and over again, I’ve counseled folks to dump the electronics and just run their recovery runs; tonight, I finally took my own advice. No Garmin, No HR Monitor, not even a sports watch; just me and my dog and 6 miles running through the moonless night on the dark paths along SR51 in north Phoenix. 3 miles out; 3 miles back. How long did it take? What was the average pace? What was my average HR? Who knows? Who cares? It felt great. I think I’ll make it a regular habit.

Last night I ran a 4 mile hill run. With the Carlsbad Marathon looming only 9 weeks from now I’ve got to get in some serious hill work. When I ran this marathon last year, I was totally unprepared for the hills and tore up my quads but good. My small neighborhood is nothing but hills, but for some reason, I’ve never thought of using it for a hill workout. It’s always just seemed to be way too steep. In actuality, it wasn’t so much as the hills are steep and keep coming, but instead, I was just too scared of running slow. With the fear of running slow behind me (just look at my average pace in the past 6 months), I headed out for two 2 mile loops in the hills. I struggled through the first loop at 10/mi, but finally got into the groove on mile 3 and started to enjoy the climbs; trying to keep up a constant pace up and down the hills. Other than a little knee pain, I was no worse for wear at the end.

Have a great week.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Inspiration - Part II

I realize that most of you have already seen Ryan Hall's kick-butt finish during the US Olympic Marathon Time Trials; however, I just can't get enough of it. The quality of the attached video is very poor; however, watching Ryan run sub 4:40ish miles over the last 10 miles of the marathon is something to behold. His legs whirl around with an incredible stride length, yet his upper body sits quietly as he speeds by spectators. There isn't any wasted motion in his running. In fact, I think we need to come up with a different word for what he and some of the other elites are doing when they clock in at sub 2:10. If what I do is called running, certainly what they are doing is something altogether different and deserves its own word.

I went out tonight and did my best to keep my upper body quite and just enjoy myself. The temperature was just above 80F a couple of hours after sunset as I started running north along the trail that parallels the SR51 freeway. I knew something was different when I passed the 1 mile mark at 8:37. Lately my time at this point has been closer to 9:50. I slowed down a little for fear of blowing up and continued north for another 3 miles to the overpass running over Union Hills road, hit the lap button on my watch, turned around and started running the 4 miles back to my car.

I knew I had averaged something just over 9:00/mi on the way out and wasn't about to slow down; but was surprised when mile 5 clicked by in 8:30. My right foot had fallen asleep on mile 4, but I started getting some feeling in the foot again on mile 6 and kept picking up the pace. I was breathing hard and was way outside of my aerobic zone; but so what - it felt good to be running again. I'll feel the effects of over doing it in the morning, but it was worth it.

Outbound pace: 9:09 (not bad)
Inbound pace: 8:25 (go team)
Total Distance: 8.4 miles

Hope your week is going great

Take care.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


We all pick up inspiration from odd sources. I had the experience yesterday when I volunteered to work the hydration station at my club's 50K event on Saturday. To keep costs down (we are a small club), the race consisted of 10 5K loops in a local park. The cool part of this arrangement is that I got to see everyone every 20 to 30 minutes. I got to see the really speedy people at the front (who I never see) as well as the back-of-the-packers. Whereas, I have nothing but respect and admiration for anyone that sets out to run 31 miles on a Saturday morning, there were two people I found particularly inspirational.

The first was the #1 women finisher, #2 overall. She had a remarkably economic running style, with very little vertical movement or torso rotation … just straight ahead running. Lap after lap she cruise through the aid station, took a couple of cups of Gatorade or water and headed off for another lap. No expression on her face other than a slight smile; not a bead of sweat anywhere nor any sign of fatigue. She was just a running machine.

The picture below is her coming through the aid station at 45K; looking exactly as she looked at 5K, 10K, 15K … and so on. She just kept getting faster and faster and faster. She ran the last 5K in 23 minutes. I was glad I wasn't trying to keep up with her. She made running look too simple. Just put one foot in front of another and repeat for 4 hours and don't waste energy with excessive motion

Her husband showed up with a bouquet of roses and her kids while she was out on the last lap. Somehow, he new she was going to win as well of when she'd finish up the race … now that’s confidence in your wife.

The second person I thought ran an inspirational run was the guy who came in dead last. Now, I realize that someone has to come in last in every race, but I’d never had the chance to watch anyone work so hard for 6 hours. When he got to the Aid Station at 45K, he was the only runner left in the race. He had been beaten by everyone. He had been lapped by the field and 5 runners had lapped him twice. He was now leaving for a solo 5K. But he headed out again for that last lap with a great deal of enthusiasm despite his overall position. He knew he was going to finish his first ultra. Unlike the woman pictured above, he hadn't come into this event believing he was going to be the first place for his gender. He just wanted to prove to himself that he could run 31 miles; and after 5:59:00, he met his goal. Just amazing. He demostrated that, with a little confidence and a lot of preparation people can do amazing things.

As for me, I had a nice 10 miler this afternoon with my black lab. The temperatures are still high, but at least the temperatures are closer to 80F instead of north of 90F. I was back over at one of the desert parks in North Phoenix running an 8 mile loop followed by a shorter 2.5 loop to get the total mileage up over 10 miles. I stopped for a few minutes after 8 miles to give my dog some water. The poor animal was thoroughly confused when I tossed his bowl back in my car and headed back into the desert. He runs here a great deal and knows the drill. He knows the turns we take and knows the pace. Heading out for another lap was way out of the ordinary. He got back into the swing of things after a few minutes and was leading the way once again.

Race Shout Outs:

My buddy Lisa hit another PR this morning at the Phoenix New Times 10K, shaving nearly 3 minutes off her previous best.

Last week, Robin completed 33 miles of a very tough 50 miler when her stomach failed to get onboard with her race strategy. This woman is really hard core. Her race report is well worth reading.

Have a great week. I posted few photos from my run this afternoon. It gives you some idea what Phoenix use to look like before we allowed residential development to blade every inch of the desert for over-priced master-planned communities.


Still looking cool and collected after 3 miles

Running towards the McDowell Mtns in Scottsdale AZ

Finally, some real shade.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

US Olympic Marathon Trials

Boy wonder, Ryan Hall, powers through the last 10 miles of the US Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials blowing away the competition and Ryan Shay dies in the same race, 5 miles in. It was an incredible day in US marathon history. Unfortunately, what little coverage our sport gets in the US, it was all centered on Shay with only a few inches on Hall. However, the picture to the left says it all. Hall took control of the race after 16 miles and ran the second half in 1:02:45 – That’s an average of 4:47/mi.

I didn’t do as well this week. I think I screwed up something in my right knee when I took the tumble on the tread mill last weekend. 2 miles into my 8 miler on Tuesday night, the top of my right knew started hurting something fierce and I pulled up and walked 2 miles back to my car. I layed off the leg on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and then missed a 5 miler on Saturday when the day got away from me.

That left a 12 miler this afternoon as my only other mileage. I only got in 8 miles before the sun went down and it got way too dark to run through the desert. As the sun was setting I stepped over 3 tracks recently left by rattle snakes and wasn’t interested in sticking around to find an owner of one of these in the dark.

The run itself was less than appealing. I sort of ran/walked through the first 6 miles and then inexplicably, I got a burst of energy on the last 2 miles as the desert cooled quickly with the setting sun and ran all the way to my car. Fear of snakes will work wonders on my energy levels I guess.

I hope things went better for you this weekend. Have a great week.

Take care.