Spring 08 Wrap-Up

June 16, 2008

Another post I’ve been meaning to do for a while…

Before the start of this year, I decided to dedicate it to qualifying for the Boston Marathon. This is a daunting goal, as my age group would require me to run a 3:10 marathon. My marathon best was a 3:54::59. I did think I had the potential to reach a 3:10 marathon, however, since I’ve run well at shorter distances, with a PR of 1:10::53 for 10 miles (7:04 pace), faster then the 7:15 pace I’d have to run to qualify. I’ve also looked at race performance calculators and they all predict me running at or close to a 3:10 marathon when I’m capable of running at that PR pace for 10 miles.

After running the JFK 50 miler last November, I knew that I would a) need some time off from running before I could put in a good season, and b) really need to concentrate on speed to get back to my old 1:10 form. Because of the need for rest after the 50 and it being winter, which inevitably means losing some quality training time (say, if the track’s covered in snow and ice…I’ll still run out there, but of course I won’t be able to run as fast), I knew that I wouldn’t be able to put together a qualifying marathon in the Spring. I instead decided to shoot for a qualifying marathon in the Fall, but build for it in the Spring by getting back to 1:10 form, and then running a half marathon, to see where I was at. I would then take a little bit of time off/light 2-3 weeks, but stay in reasonably good shape, and go right into training for the Fall marathon season.

That was my goal, and I sought to achieve it with a modified version of the program I’d use for my BQ attempt. I’ll post that on here soon, but in short, it meant alternating alternating weekends of back-to-back long runs with track work, and having a rest week once every 5 weeks. One of the back-to-back longs runs was a “long tempo run”, and the other was a long run on trail, where I only timed myself, and didn’t worry about pace. I also lifted weights, after I hadn’t been able to with a previous hand injury. I progressed from machine weights to dumbbells to power lifting & plyometrics.

During this training, I incurred two injuries: a relatively minor one (that didn’t keep me from running, but did slow me down) in the left calf region, and a more serious one in the left hamstring, which forced me to curtail my mileage & drop out of the Cherry Blossom 10 miler. The calf injury was definitely caused by weight lifting. I simply did too much weight too soon w/ calf raises. When I was younger, it never seemed to be a problem, I could add & add weight, and if I could lift it, it wouldn’t hurt me. I guess it’s a sign of getting older – I’m a geezerly old 24 😉

The hamstring injury also could be attributed to weight training, but it’s more complex. Two days after significantly increasing the weight for squats & deadlifts, I did a long tempo run of 10 miles. These runs had been going spectacularly well, with my last 10 mile run coming in at a 1:13::36, and I was consistently improving every 2 weeks. I was foolishly ambitious with this run, and wanted to see if it was possible to break my old racing PR in a training run. I felt some soreness in the glute & hamstring, but nothing usual, just the normal recovery from some hard lifting. I kept pushing throughout the run, and knew that I was coming close to breaking that PR, but in the final miles I knew I wouldn’t reach it. I came in at a 1:11::48. The next day I ran on the Appalachian Trail for 2 hours, 45 mins. I was still pretty sore, so I went particularly easy. A week later, while running on the track, I experienced some hamstring & glute trouble at high speeds, so I went slower. It got worse from there, and I reduced my mileage, speed, and I stopped weight training for my legs. I dropped out of the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, but was able to put enough running in to do the Frederick Half in 1:38::20

In spite of these two injuries, and running the half marathon in a 1:38::20, when I hoping more for a 1:30 (which many race predictors would indicate is where I’d have to be to run a 3:10 marathon) I still consider my Spring 08 season a success. I proved to myself that I could get back to running 10 miles in nearly a 7 min/mile pace. After a couple of years of ultra running, I wasn’t sure I could get back to that speed. While a 1:30 would have given me more confidence, I still feel like I gave myself plenty to build upon for the Fall.

Lessons learned after the break.

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I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, but I wanted to put a few miles in the Vibram FiveFingers over a period of time and give myself a chance to get used to them before giving them a full review. I’ve also neglected my blog the past month because I’ve been busy with work and had been out of town a couple weekends (congratulations to a certain doctor on her graduation and new apartment!). But alas, here we go:

Well, they won\'t win a beauty contest

I felt the biggest difference the first few times I ran in the Vibram FiveFingers KSO (Keep Stuff Out). It was quite a stimulating experience. I felt the ground better then I thought I would (not quite the same as being barefoot, but much closer then I expected). I was naturally inclined to run on the balls of my feet, rather than the heel strike I’ve come accustomed to in my running shoes. This was a great sensation. I felt like I was running on a couple of springs, rather then in shoes. My feet muscles, Achilles tendon, and calf muscles worked together to act as this spring. Of course, the days after my initial runs left these groups sore, like they got a good work out. It also left them stimulated, like I’d learn a new way of doing something.

These initial runs were short, slow, and run on a grassy, mildly hilly course. Typically just 1 mile was enough early on for my feet & calves to feel like they got a good workout. I also didn’t want to chance a foot injury from trying to do too much too soon. I noticed a big difference on hills – powering up them on the balls of my feet is good running form, and something that I’ve worked on, so it came very natural to me. Going downhill felt unnatural. I was more tempted to use my heel here, not necessarily to initially land on them, but to land on the ball of the foot, then slide down onto the heel.

After a couple of weeks on the grassy course, I decided I’d try a mile in them on the W & OD (paved) bike trail. I definitely felt the pavement more, which is one of the advantages of the FiveFingers – you’re more capable of sensing what punishment you’re submitting your feet & legs to. And punishment indeed it was. I wanted to try running more quickly in them, and I couldn’t avoid the temptation of the speed that naturally came with the springiness, so I went at a quick, but not all-out pace and in my offseason form, ran a 6:57. The speed and the hard surface combined to be a much greater shock to my lower legs then any of the runs before, and left my calves & Achilles sore for about a week. That’s a lesson about adjusting to these – start slow, short, and soft, then gradually proceed to longer, faster runs on harder surfaces.

A lot of the sensation and the benefits that come from the FiveFingers could be achieved by running barefoot. You’d get better feedback from your feet, but the trade off is you’d have to develop tougher skin. In the FiveFingers, you don’t need to do this because they act as a tough layer for your feet. Not only do you adapt faster, but you don’t have to worry about the risk of puncturing the skin of your feet with anything sharp.

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