Posts tagged ‘Marathon’

November 4, 2014

Back of the Pack

The Caveboy and I volunteered at the start corrals on Sunday for the New York Marathon.  I have always been impressed with the organization, attention to detail, and general panache of NYRR’s events.  Having glimpsed the world’s largest marathon from behind the scenes, I am blown away.  I also feel like I got to see another side of New York, from the camaraderie of the runners and volunteers to cheering crowds along the route.  It really was a great experience and as much as I would have liked to have been running (30 mph winds aside), I’m glad I got to see it from the other side first.

Our day started at 3:45 and we were on a bus from Brooklyn to Staten Island by 5 AM.  Once there, we checked in, got our jackets, credentials, and coffee, and met our corral teams and leaders.  The corral system for the marathon works slightly differently than for other races, with a color, gate, and wave number assignment to sort runners into their appropriate pace and start groups.  At first I found this somewhat odd, as runners used to the normal system were confused about why their bib number was higher or lower than their slower/faster friend/family member.  Once things got going, though, I realized that dealing with a single color, letter, and number was MUCH simpler for the international crowd present.

Our job was primarily to ensure our runners were in the right corral, keep them entertained while we held them there for half an hour, and then release the waves to the starting line at the appropriate time.  In the brief periods between waves we tried to clean up the piles of clothing cast off and get it into the Goodwill bins and make sure that there was no trash or clothing on the roadway that might trip up the next group.  The high winds made the latter nearly impossible, but we did manage to keep things running fairly smoothly throughout.  I was again reminded of what nice people runners generally are.  I typically try to avoid small talk with strangers at all costs, but I had a great time chatting about race experiences, shoes, Garmins, and of course the bone-chilling wind.  When I saw someone who looked particularly nervous or grim I did my best to get a smile out of them.

We released the final wave around 11 and we then walked up to the start to cheer the last group off.  Aside from being fun, it was also part of Operation Run Back to Brooklyn.  Due to the bridge closure for the race, the only transportation available back to the city was to the finish line.  The marathon course came within a mile of our apartment, though, so we had worn running clothes in the event that we were able to get home in a more efficient manner.  Credentials out, we followed that last runners onto the bridge, picking up more cast-off clothing along the way, and once we were well past the starting officials, we started jogging.  We were able to blend in with the pack after a few hundred yards and ran the first 7 miles of the course back to Prospect Heights.  The spectators were amazing and I actually felt guilty when people would high five me as I ran by.  The thing that really got me was that we were in the very back of the pack, and people were still lining the course to cheer everyone on like they were the lead group.  Also, New Yorkers know how to do this well.  Right around mile 6 three Brooklynites were handing out tissues to many red-nosed, wind-burned faces.  Everyone was hugely encouraging, and no one inappropriately yelled “You’re almost there!” which is a first in any  race I’ve run longer than a 5K.  I can only imagine what things were like at the finish line.

Running with the back of the pack was really enlightening.  I noticed in the corrals was that the slower the waves got, the more fun they were.  Obviously I understand that the more competitive runners are going to be more focused and serious at the start.  Still, everyone is there to run their best race, and I appreciated the generally increased spirit of fun that Waves 3 and 4 seemed to bring to it.  I honestly can’t fathom what it feels like to start a 26.2 mile race knowing that it will be 7 or 8 hours until you finish.  That so many people do it with such enthusiasm and laughter really is inspirational.

October 29, 2014

Catching My Breath

After my first full week off running in I don’t know how long, I very happily hit the road again on Saturday.  I had to fill my time somehow (other than catching up on laundry and  putting some effort into cooking again), so during my down time I started reading Budd Coates’ Running on Air.  The Amazon’s description promises that the book will “help runners at all experience levels improve their performance, prevent injury, and experience the joy of running” through rhythmic breathing.  Breath control has long been one of those facets of distance running that I relegated to the “Only Useful for Fast People” category and have thus ignored.  In general my M.O. has just been to belly-breathe as deeply and slowly as possible for any given pace. I’ve struggled with pretty major side stitches several times this season though, and I’ve been starting to think that maybe I’m doing something wrong.

There is also little science available on the causes or treatment of side stitches.  I’ve tried all of the usual recommendations–exhaling like I’m blowing up a balloon, running bent over, running with my arm stretched over my head, applying pressure to the spot–all to no avail.    Given that they don’t constitute an injury and seem to come and go mysteriously, it’s understandable that there is not much solid research, but you’d think some triathlete PhD candidate in need of a thesis topic would like a good mystery…   In any case, the severity and recurrence of mine lately has compelled me to learn as much as I could on the subject and figure something out.

The general theory of side stitches seems to be that they are caused by a spasm in the diaphragm muscle.  At their worst, I have experienced a few that felt like a full-on cramp, which would be consistent with that model.  They most often occur on the right side of the body, and there are several conjectures as to why that is.  One is that since the larger portion of the liver sits to the right of the midline, the weight of the organ pulls more on that side and causes a strain in the muscle.  Another theory is that right-handed runners are more likely to exhale on their right foot consistently, again creating a greater strain on that side.

Running on Air takes a more comprehensive view of the breath and running and, while it is not expressly concerned with side stitches, I found Coates’ description of the mechanics of breathing quite helpful in (perhaps) identifying my problem.  When we breath, the diaphragm essentially operates the bellows of our lungs.  On the inhale, the diaphragm goes into its “working” mode, contracting downward to fill the lungs with air.  On the exhale, it relaxes and rises to the neutral position (or past it) to force the air back out.  According to Coates, significant core stability is lost on the exhale as a result of the muscle relaxation, and the footstrikes that occur during this phase produce the greatest impact and potential for injury.

I have always used a very long exhale when I run, thinking that this would help keep my heart rate down.  When I get side stitches, I tend to try to draw it out even longer.  If Running on Air is correct, however, my approach is probably exacerbating the problem by subjecting a cramping muscle to even more tension and stress.  This was certainly borne out in Baltimore, when running downhill with the side stitch became nearly excruciating at times.  Coates’ method favors a longer inhale and short, strong exhale synchronized with footfalls.  This rhythm reduces the amount of time that the core is unstable and also ensures that the exhale begins on alternating feet.

I’ve been using Coates’ method for all of my runs this week, and the results have been interesting.  This pattern is comfortable, but MUCH faster than the breath I’m used to, and I’m curious to see how that translates on harder efforts.  I’m on my second week of marathon recovery and only starting to return to real workouts, so I only have one tempo run and some fairly brisk Central Park hills for data at the moment.  Still, the only time I’ve felt the side stitch start to pull has been when I’ve lost my breath rhythm.  In every case, as soon as I’ve gotten back in sync it has quickly subsided.  I find the 5-count somewhat difficult to internalize (maybe it’s all those years of marching band), so I have to consciously count to myself to maintain the rhythm.  (You can forget listening to music, too.)  I do find that tying my breath directly to my footfalls has made me much more aware of my pace and level of effort, and also makes me feel more fluid as I run.  I’m curious to see if that awareness continues once the breathing patterns becomes more automatic and ingrained (assuming that happens).  I also suspect that with time the faster breathing rhythm may actually strengthen my diaphragm and intercostal muscles.  Overall, I’m very encouraged.

September 20, 2014

Taper Tips

And I thought Run Less, Run Faster was deranged for including an interval run during marathon week…

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June 13, 2014

Week 2


The theme of this week has been all about second-guessing.  It started on Monday when I decided to reread the cross-training section of RLRF in the hopes of figuring out how hard I was supposed to be doing those sessions.  I soon realized that I own the first edition of the book, and the app is apparently based on a more recent edition.  The book advocates mostly hour-long, lower-intensity aerobic workouts.  The app, on the other hand, has me doing 20 or 30-minute workouts with frequent, short bursts of high intensity.  I’ve read the studies on the effectiveness of this type of training, so I’m fine with the theory behind the change.  My concern, however, was that at the intensity I was doing the cross-training, my poor undertrained non-running muscles were going to end up chronically sore or injured.  Since the book was no help, I then searched for “Run Less Run Faster cross train intensity,” thinking that Google would surely know what to do.  What I found was a number of articles and blog posts dissecting the ways in which the RLRF cross-training approach is flawed, and advising runners to use the program as I had been all year–substituting easy runs for the XT days.

That, of course, had me at hello.  The only thing keeping me from swearing off the spin bike in perpetuity is that my SI joint had started to ache after last week’s long run, and I’m worried that I could be starting down the path to another IT band injury.  In any case, I now had competing theories that 1) Cross-training prevents injury caused by excessive running mileage and allows greater aerobic training volume overall, or 2) Cross-training causes injury by replacing necessary ‘time on the legs’ with sessions that overwork under-developed muscles.  I ran my best season ever this year by going with door #2, but I do need to seriously consider the risk of injury if I increase my mileage.  It was quite the quandary.  Luckily, I didn’t have to figure it out until Wednesday.

Tuesday I did the 4×800 intervals at pace and was happy that they were way less difficult than the 16’s last week.  My SI joint continued to ache a bit after the speedwork, though, which was how it had all started last time as well.  I’ve been doing a strength training routine that’s supposed to prevent IT-band injuries every day since the Brooklyn Half, but since the problem seems to be rooted in my SI joint, I decided to research exercises for SI-joint stability as well.  I found what seems to be a solid routine here, which I’ll now be alternating with the IT-band days.  My hope is that strengthening the area will take care of the problem altogether, but I don’t want to exacerbate things before I’m able to build strength. On Wednesday morning I was still unsure whether to run or cross train when I left for the gym.  In the end I decided to run easy until I felt any sort of twinge, which took about 3 miles.  At that point I switched to the bike and did the 20 post-warm-up minutes of the XT workout.  (Either best or worst of both worlds, depending on how you look at it.)

Thursday’s tempo went well, particularly since the paces are much slower than I was used to in the half marathon training.  After 7 miles, though, my SI joint was definitely aching and a few hours later my glute on that side felt sore and a bit tender.  I decided that this morning’s session would definitely be on the rowing machine, which would hopefully give me fresher legs for Sunday’s long run and also give the SI a break.  (Oddly, as sore as it was yesterday, it felt 100% fine today, which is strange, but somewhat encouraging.)

I’m still not completely sure what to do about the cross-training.  I’m leaning toward eliminating one day of it in favor of an easy run, or I may just keep it flexible, and just decide based on how I’m feeling.  I’m also thinking that since it seems to be the speedwork intervals that particularly set off the SI, I may rework the schedule a bit to compensate.  I’ll need to really look at the tables to judge, but the marathon plan seems to preference faster interval sessions and slower tempos that run closer to race pace.  I’ve always found faster tempos to be hugely beneficial, so I may change it up so that those are more in line with half marathon paces, and then take the intervals down to a less punishing level.  On the up side, next week the Caveboy and I are running the Queens 10K, so I’ve made the weekday training essentially a repeat of this week, with the race instead of a long run.  That gives me the option for a break after the 15 miler this weekend if I need it, and I’m going to book a massage right now.


May 28, 2014

Hacking the Marathon


I’ve been working on the training plan this week, starting with setting my priorities for the marathon.  Obviously, getting to the start and finish as happy and healthy as possible are the most important things.  Rather than framing the race as the ultimate test of my training or some kind of referendum on the season, though, I’m trying to approach it from a broader view.  What kind of runner do I want to be at the end of this season, and how do I use this training as a means to get there?  

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past several days, trying to take a mature and objective approach to a mid-season evaluation.  I thought about what worked, what hadn’t, and what I could do better.  And it was intensely boring.  Eventually I realized, though, that what I was really trying to do was hack my training, and that sounded hardcore and awesome.  In that spirit, I recognized the following:

1. I love structure, but I start to get stressed out when I just can’t fit everything in.  

2. I run best when I trust my training 100%.  My schedule needs to allow some flexibility so that if I miss a workout or need a little extra time to recover that I don’t start to panic.

3. I like having numbers and data that I can use to evaluate my progress.

4. I tend to underestimate the need for, and benefit of rest.

In understanding how I work best and where I’m most likely to falter, I am aiming to create a training plan that plays off my strengths.  I know I will need a schedule that is highly structured (RLRF), but also has some slack in the system.  Given the choice between pushing through a scheduled run when I’m not feeling up to it or missing an important workout in favor of rest, I will always choose to push myself.  If I’m going to stay healthy, I need to give myself permission to take a day off when I need it.

With that insight, I returned to defining my big-picture goals for this year.  I’d like to get stronger in a way that I can quantify.  That means weight training, complete with logging weight, reps, and sets.  (Data, hooray!)  I’d like to be a bit leaner going into the marathon.  Again, this will probably take some dietary hacking, but shouldn’t be too difficult to quantify.  Third, I want to continue to build my confidence and work on my mental game over the next few months.  This one will be harder to measure, but I can at least be deliberate about the steps I take to get there.  If I can toe the line in Baltimore having accomplished those goals, the race will be a victory lap.  There’s just one teensy other thing that I want, and that’s a sub-four finish.  And that is totally doable.

May 22, 2014


I love laying out a new training plan.  There’s something incredibly satisfying in looking ahead to the next big goal lurking out there in the mist, and then breaking it down into an actual executable plan of action.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been using the Run Less, Run Faster plan all season, with solid results.  I bought a used copy of the book, which is by Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss years ago.  My copy happens to be signed by Scott Murr to the previous owner with an inscription that reads something like, “To Tom, stick with it for the long run,” which Tom obviously didn’t.  

The story goes that the idea behind their training plan came during a stint when the authors switched from running to training for a triathlon.  They reduced their running mileage significantly to accommodate their swimming and biking, keeping the overall training volume about the same, but found their their running times actually improved.  After doing some studies on other athletes with similar results, they concluded that by alternating focused, quality runs with (non weight-bearing) cardio cross training, the body was better able to recover between running workouts.  (You can hear an interview with Scott Murr discussing RLRF on a recent Paleo Runner podcast here.)

The plan is somewhat unique in that you start by selecting your goal race time (with some guidance on how to choose something reasonably attainable), and work backwards from there.  Each week of training includes an interval run, a tempo run, and a long run.  Add in your two cross training workouts and that’s it.  The specific workouts to be executed are hyper-detailed with distances and paces for every day, all specifically attuned to get you to the goal race pace.  The book itself is largely a collection of these tables that map out paces at various distances.  Happily, RLRF is now an app, and by plugging in a recent finish time it will generate a personalized training plan pretty much instantly.

The approach appeals to me for a number of reasons, not least of which is that I almost feel like I have a coach when I’m following it.  I also appreciate that at 6AM, I don’t have to make decisions about what I’m trying to accomplish with my workout.  I can easily tell if I’m on track for my goal or not, and by the time I get to race day, I know what I can expect from myself.  I’ve also been able to break through mental barriers that I never thought possible.  Tempo runs in the 7’s?  I would never have even thought to attempt it, except that my google calendar told me to.  The only real complaint I have about the system is that I hate cross training.  Up until now in fact, I have been doing more of a RMRF plan.  Every time it said cross train, I did an easy run.  I know. I really tried to do it properly a few years ago, but I found that I really missed the easy days.  When you’re only putting in “quality” workouts, you don’t get the chance to space out and watch the scenery go by.

I am now, however, trying to craft a bulletproof plan to get me to the finish line of the Baltimore Marathon in October, and I’m willing to consider desperate measures.  Like cross training.  In my first and only previous attempt at 26.2 (for which I also tried a Run More, Run Faster plan), I ended up too injured and overtrained to race.  I know my biggest challenge in facing the marathon is getting myself to the start, strong physically both and mentally.  I feel like I’m ready, and that this is my year.  I know that in order to do this, I’m going to have to train holistically.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what a mind-body training approach might look like.  It’s got to help me continue to get mentally strong, but without pushing myself to the breaking point.  I think it may involve some regular massage.  And maybe I can even make friends with a spin bike in the process…


August 6, 2011

78 Days to Race Day

The first blog post seems like a lot of pressure, but since no one will probably read this, I won’t worry too much.  As the title suggests, there are 78 days left until November 6–the New York Marathon.  I’ve run 5 half marathons in the last three years and decided in a fit of optimism last spring to enter the lottery for New York. I haven’t done a serious race in about a year now, and I’m finding the speed is a little rusty this summer.  Or maybe it’s the oddly high humidity in SoCal this year.

I went Paleo several months ago and feel great, but I’m now trying to negotiate race training on a relatively low-carb diet.  It is definitely still a work in progress.  This weekend’s experiment will be… Pumpkin.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something.

I ran an unscheduled 3-miler this morning to try my first non-treadmill run in my new New Balance Minima.  I don’t think I’ve been heel striking for a while now, so I haven’t had to do too much adjustment to my stride.  Unlike my first foray into barefoot running, which involved a pair of ballet slippers and a dirt trail, I haven’t had to deal with any major calf pain this time around.  I do feel like I’m working a little harder in the Minima that I would be in my 769’s.  I’m guessing all the smaller stabilizing muscles are getting more of a workout than usual, or I could just be having an off day.  Either way, I’m soaking up the rest of my “rest” week (How is 8 miles after work restful, exactly?), and then it’s back to intervals on Tuesday.

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