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Archive for October, 2009

Progress report

Now that October is in the books and November is upon us, I thought I’d do a survey of my progress in training for the half-marathon.

In the month of October, I ran on seventeen of the thirty-one days, taking a total of eighteen runs (including the warm-up jog I did before my 10K), and ran 79.49 miles for the month. On those runs, I burned an estimated total of 11,793 calories.

Those are pretty heady numbers, but I think they only tell part of the story.

At the beginning of the month, I hadn’t yet cracked an eight-minute-mile pace on any of my initial runs, none of which had been longer than four miles. Granted, I was also not quite two weeks into my training at that point, but I was still a bit slower than I wanted to be as I was beginning to build strength and endurance, while also feeling my way as I started running serious hills for the first time.

I continued to run around a 8:10-8:20 mile pace for the first half of October, occasionally going a little faster (and sometimes a little slower) as my mileage increased. Then, in the middle of the month, I finally cracked the eight-minute barrier by more than a hair, and ran my first race in what was a blisteringly fast time for me (still the fastest average pace per mile I’ve managed so far).

In hindsight, running that race seems to have been about the best thing I could’ve done in terms of training mentally (and physically), since it gave me a major boost of confidence. My times since the race have been significantly faster than in my earlier training, as I’ve been quite a bit faster than eight minutes per mile, with the exceptions of the two clunkers I put up on the past two Fridays, when I was running for a second consecutive day and my legs felt at their weakest. And it’s not only been continuing to run at a clip that’s fast for me, but also the fact that I’ve sustained a sub-eight-minute pace as my mileage has increased and inched closer to the half-marathon distance. I think probably after last weekend, when I ran ten miles and kept my pace under eight minutes, I started to feel like I really had a chance of cracking the eight-minute mark over the half-marathon distance.

So, my confidence has swelled over the past month, and my performance has improved substantially. Then, there are the physical benefits. My weight has gone down about six pounds from the end of September, but more importantly, I feel like my legs are getting a lot stronger. They ache less when I run during the week, and my body isn’t disagreeing with me as I push it to run faster and farther than I’ve generally run in the past. Also, there’s the effect all this running is having on my attitude and overall mood. It’s probably a good way to help relieve stress, but I also find it’s invigorating to go for a brisk run shortly after rising in the morning, and I think it helps to put me in a better state of mind for the rest of the day (assuming I’ve gotten enough sleep the previous night, which remains one area of my training where I need definite improvement).

So, I’m now about four weeks away from race day, and I feel like I’m in pretty good shape, both figuratively and literally, to run a half-marathon and break 1:44:48 (which is 13.1 miles at eight minutes per mile). That’s not bad, considering I estimated my finish time at 1:52:29 (just a rough estimate off the top of my head of what I thought I could achieve, really) when I filled out my half-marathon registration earlier this month.

Of course, there are still a lot of unknowns. I’ve never run the half-marathon course, so I won’t know with certainty where the uphill sections are, and where I should try to make up time. I’ve also never run with several thousand other people; there were more than 800 people running the 10K, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what I’ll experience at the half-marathon. And there’s still the unknown of how things will proceed over the final weeks of training. I’m not at all worried about finishing the race, since I’ve run at least that far twice previously, before I had begun to run regularly or train systematically. But, I suppose there’s always the possibility I get sick or roll an ankle or have some other unforeseen mishap interrupt or impair my training.

Still, barring some unforeseen complication, I’m full of optimism about my chances at the end of the month.

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To read the scuttlebutt out of New York (I’m including you, NYT), you’d think Yankees fans had been waiting a lifetime for another chance at a World Series title.

(Actually, in the case of these tykes, they have waited a lifetime. But they can get back to me about being long-suffering Yanks fans after they hit puberty in a few years.)

It’s just the latest manifestation of the arrogance I associate with New Yorkers, and one that grates on my nerves in the worst way.

Fortunately, the Onion skewers this New York state of collective delusion mind perfectly in a story about another long-suffering fan base down in Philadelphia.

The last time the Philadelphia Phillies brought a World Series title back to the City of Brotherly Love, the nation’s financial sector was in complete ruin, the cost of a gallon of milk was only $2.74, fans watched the Fall Classic while huddled around their slightly-less-streamlined high-definition television sets, and Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard was just 28 years old.

This week Howard, 29, hopes to lead the Phillies to their first World Series championship in more than 360 long days and end a title drought that has been punctuated by several embarrassing losses, including a 2009 opening-day defeat by the Atlanta Braves and a June loss to the Atlanta Braves. During its infamous dry spell, the team has also come up short twice, winning both an NLDS and an NLCS title but having absolutely no World Series ring to show for it.

To put into perspective just how long the Phillies have gone without a championship, the earth has almost made one full orbit of the sun since the franchise last paraded through downtown Philadelphia holding the famed Commissioner’s Trophy.

Wow. Has it has been a long time. Just ask this guy:

“Truthfully, I never thought I would live to see the Phillies get to another World Series,” longtime fan David Oswald said. “When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last November, the doctor only gave me eight months.”

Amen.

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Week 6, Run 3

Well, that was humbling. Just as I was beginning to swell with confidence about my progress and prospects, I go and turn in a clunker of a time.

I’m still trying to figure out what happened. The weather was nice by the time I went outside to run: dry, a bit overcast, and a comfortable 59 degrees. It was a welcome change from the wet weather I endured yesterday, and the cold temperatures that have been chilling the last several runs.

Of course, while I knew I was in line for more hospitable temperatures, I wasn’t expecting the brisk head wind that blew straight into my for most of the first three-quarters of a mile. Still, despite the wind, and a few seconds lost to waiting on traffic at an intersection, I made my first split at 5:45, which was only about fifteen to twenty seconds behind where I wanted to be. And I even managed to make up a little bit of that on the next segment, clocking the second three-quarters of a mile in about 6:20, even with the wind at my side and the big hill to slow my pace. I was hoping the third segment would see me make up a little more time, since, presumably, the wind should now be at my back, but for whatever reason I didn’t seem to feel it (probably the tree cover denied me any edge), though I continued to make good time, reaching the 2.5-mile mark in a little more than twenty minutes.

I was hoping when I started to try to get close to thirty minutes for my overall time, since I ran this route in 30:49 on Tuesday. I thought I could at least shave a good chunk of time off that mark, even if I didn’t quite break thirty minutes. So, at the very least I was hoping to reach my final split in under twenty-seven minutes, which would leave me a shade more than half a mile to go, with a pretty flat stretch left to run. I didn’t quite hit that mark, but I was around 27:28 or so for that final split, which made thirty minutes a virtual impossibility, but still meant I was making good time.

And then, inexplicably, I seem to have run the final half-mile or so in almost six minutes. I didn’t feel like I was going particularly slow, though I must’ve been plodding along. My legs felt a little heavy, but they had felt heavy from the beginning of my run, and it hadn’t seemed to have made an appreciable difference in my pace. I was back into the head wind, but I’m not sure it was quite so strong, and regardless, the wind hadn’t slowed me that much at the start of my run. Still, I was shocked when I reached the end of my run and saw my time — 33:12 — was way beyond thirty minutes. At first I thought it said 32:12, which seemed slow enough, because 33:12 seemed impossibly lethargic.

Again, I’m puzzled as to what happened. I might not have felt very strong by the end, which wouldn’t be surprising, given that I also ran yesterday and I often experience a dip in performance on Fridays. But I still find that explanation less than convincing, since none of that seemed to affect me over the first 3.5 miles. The best explanation I can imagine is that my mental focus must have wandered in that last stretch, which meant I started to think about something other than trying to finish strong. It’s nice to enjoy a sort of mental respite while exercising, but, at least for me, it seems to come at the expense of performance. Probably this is an indication that I’m someone who shouldn’t listen to music on an iPod while running. Or maybe I’d just need to listen to music with a fast tempo.

In any event, I’m surprised and disappointed, but it’s a minor setback. I’d be much more concerned if I thought my slow time today was a sign of a physical problem, or if I had been laboring all the way and had been going slowly throughout my run. It’s just a good reminder of the importance of the mental component, and how concentration really seems to matter for me.

Today’s stats:

  • Distance run: 3.98 miles
  • Time: 33:12
  • Average speed: 7.2 mi/h
  • Average pace: 8:18/mi
  • Calories burned: 580

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Week 6, Run 2

‘Twas wet this morning when I went for my run. It wasn’t a heavy rain, but it was a bit steadier than a sprinkle. On the plus side, the temperature when I left was about 48 degrees, according to the thermometer on our balcony, so it wasn’t bone-jarringly cold. And the raindrops made me feel like I was hardly breaking a sweat, even if I was getting quite wet.

This was the first time I had done a run entirely in the rain, and it was also a good bit longer than the last time it rained on me. If nothing else, it was a good experience to prepare me for the possibility of having to do a long run in the rain. The wet conditions didn’t really bother me too much (except for when I stepped in a puddle around the four-mile mark while trying to run around a school bus turning in front of me). Occasionally I’d catch a raindrop in the eye, but it didn’t sting, and the discomfort was fleeting. Probably the worst part about running in these conditions is that my shirt got much wetter than it does when I’m only contending with sweat; the moisture-wicking technical fabric is no match for constant rain. I suppose if I did a longer run in similar conditions I could wear a windbreaker or light poncho to keep my shirt dry (or at least drier), but I always imagine I’d feel uncomfortable running in anything more than a shirt and shorts. (Note: I may change my opinion on the matter if and when the day comes that I have to run in freezing or sub-freezing conditions.)

In any event, the weather was nothing more than a minor nuisance, something I’d change if I could, but nothing that seriously affected my run. I set out hoping to break thirty-nine minutes, and my split times were strong all the way, making it quite easy for me to achieve my goal. I was pretty strong on the hills, though perhaps not quite so fast as normal on the descents, especially the steeper declines where I tend to pick up a lot of speed. And I probably didn’t finish so strongly as I often do, kicking it into a higher gear over the last few blocks or so, but I kind of felt as I was running that I had been going stronger than normal throughout my run, which might have been why I didn’t feel like I was going significantly faster over the stretches when I did try to speed up over the last mile and a half or so.

Today’s stats:

  • Distance run: 5.00 miles
  • Time: 38:37
  • Average speed: 7.8 mi/h
  • Average pace: 7:42/mi
  • Calories burned: 728

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Week 6, Run 1

After running a pretty brisk ten miles on Sunday, my legs felt pretty good the rest of the day and into yesterday. I had some aches, especially in my calves, but nothing was howling at me, and I wasn’t finding it painful to do mundane things like walk up and down stairs (in contrast to when I pushed myself to do long runs over the summer without having properly prepared myself physically).

Nonetheless, I was still feeling some residual soreness in my calves when I got up this morning. But my thighs and hamstrings felt fine, and the dull aches in my calves were more a mild nuisance than a crippling weakness. I decided not to coddle my legs, and instead to keep pushing myself so my legs will continue to get stronger, especially since my mileage is going to continue increasing the next couple of weeks.

While my calves might have issued muted cries of protest, my head and the rest of my body ignored it. I had a very fast split of 5:25 for the first three quarters of a mile, and I managed to do the next three quarters in a little under seven minutes. The big hill on the second segment slowed me a bit, but I could really feel like my legs are getting stronger, since it was starting to seem less intense and laborious, even if my time might not have been significantly better than what I’ve run previously (I don’t really remember).

I was really enjoying my run from that point, since I knew I had already tackled the worst of it. Moreover, I was still feeling pretty good, and enjoying the sense that my legs are getting stronger. It was nice as I was running on a long, gradual incline, to feel like I could find another gear to increase my pace. I posted good splits for roughly 2.6 miles and 3.5 miles, and still had something to give at the end, since I felt like I was sustaining a slightly quicker pace for the home stretch of about half a mile.

My time ended up being really good, too. At the outset, I was hoping to crack the eight-minute mark, which meant finishing under thirty-two minutes. But thanks to good split times along the way, I broke thirty-one minutes. My previous best time for the four-mile run was 32:07, and I eviscerated that personal record quite nicely (though in fairness I haven’t run this distance in almost three weeks, so my time was bound to be much faster).

Today’s stats:

  • Distance run: 3.98 miles
  • Time: 30:49
  • Average speed: 7.7 mi/h
  • Average pace: 7:42/mi
  • Calories burned: 581

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Anze the GiantLet the paeans to Anze Kopitar’s greatness be composed now.

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Week 5, Run 4

Brrr! We’ve had a bit of a warm spell the past week, by which I mean the temperatures have been in the 50s in the morning when I’ve gone for my run. We’ve also had some wetter weather, but I’d trade some light rain for the (relatively) warmer temperature.

I’d been a little apprehensive about my long run this week, since I had been seeing rain in the forecast, and while I don’t mind the rain on my shorter runs, I didn’t really wanted to spend ten miles getting drenched.

So, I was relieved when I got up this morning and saw no rain … until I saw the outside temperature was a robust 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Sure enough, when I walked out the front door, it was chilly. But at least I was going to stay dry, and I knew it wouldn’t take long before the exercise got my blood pumping and made me feel warmer.

My legs had suffered from a lack of freshness earlier this week, and I still felt the odd ache here or there when I set out this morning, but it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t feel like I quite had the spring in my stride I’d have if I felt completely rested and fresh, but I did feel better than I had since probably last Sunday. It helped, no doubt, that I’ve gotten quite a lot of sleep the past two or three days, so my body had more opportunity to rest and recover.

And I could tell that my legs were stronger when I hit my first split at 5:35, which was a sign I was starting at a good, brisk pace. I felt myself laboring slightly up the big hill that followed, but I still hit the second split at about 12:30. The third split (about 2.5 miles) was around 20:30, and I managed to clock in under twenty-eight minutes for about 3.5 miles. The route I mapped for today was basically two big loops of a roughly square course about a mile to a side, followed by a shorter interior loop to tack on the extra couple of miles to hit my target distance of ten miles. I managed to get through the first loop, plus an extra half-mile or so, in around thirty-five minutes, which I knew was a sign that I was a shade under an eight-mile pace. And I hit about 5.5 miles in just under forty-three minutes, again keeping myself right on pace for my target time of roughly 1:21:00.

Of course, after I hit the 5.5-mile mark with a good time, I was a little fatigued from having ascended a big hill for the second time, and I sort of let my mind wander for the next half-mile or so. The problem, I think, is that when I was thinking about whatever was going through my head (I don’t remember what it was), I wasn’t focused on the task at hand, and I unconsciously let my pace slacken. I was just over fifty-one minutes around six and a quarter miles, which meant I was a few minutes slower than my 10K time of last week. So I tried to suck it up, stay focused, and forge ahead over the last four miles. I seemed to be making decent time, but since this was a new route, and since I don’t run distances longer than five miles very often, I wasn’t entirely sure where the mile markers were at this point. In any case, I could only estimate my pace over this last portion of my run.

When I got to around eight and a quarter miles or so, I was at about sixty-six minutes, which was going to make it tough to break 1 hour, 20 minutes. But I at least felt like I had something in the tank today, unlike, perhaps, the middle of this week, and I kept pushing myself to finish strong. When I checked my watch one final time, with just under a mile to go, I was at a little more than 1 hour, 14 minutes. At that point I just kept willing myself to run a little faster, trying to put one foot in front of the other just a little more quickly. When I got to the final straightaway, I made myself go even harder, going fast until I hit the front step and stopped my watch.

Evidently after I hit the stop button on the stopwatch, I changed the mode back to the regular clock, so I couldn’t see my time right away (and was initially concerned that I hadn’t stopped it). I cycled through the modes till I got the stopwatch, noticed that it had, in fact, stopped, and then saw the time of 1:20:18. I knew that was just fast enough to be under an eight-minute mile pace, since my course was a little longer than ten miles.

Man, that felt good. Just a shade under three miles further, and that would’ve been a half-marathon distance. I’m really starting to think not only that I should aim for cracking an eight-minute pace in the half-marathon, but that I can actually pull it off. I’m now midway through my training program, five weeks away from the race, and I’ve made considerable progress in terms of my endurance and speed. Plus, since my mileage tapers off in the final couple of weeks before race day, I should feel a lot fresher and more rested physically, which I think will make a big difference. I’m increasingly optimistic about my chances of putting up what would be a very fast time for me.

I just think about the first time I ran longer than 6.6 miles, which was about two months ago, when I started a run thinking I’d do five or six, maybe seven, then felt pretty good and decided to push myself to do a half-marathon distance, and wound up running about 13.5 miles in something like 2 hours, 27 minutes. Then I look at my time today and think about how that’d be like running an extra three miles and change in more than an hour. Yes, I’ve come a long way in a relatively short time.

Today’s stats:

  • Distance run: 10.13 miles
  • Time: 1:20:18
  • Average speed: 7.6 mi/h
  • Average pace: 7:54/mi
  • Calories burned: 1524

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