Friday, July 25, 2008

Take a Break for Safety's Sake

It used to be, in high school, that I denied every ache and pain during my runs and workouts. Like many young runners (not pertaining to literal age, but instead your “training age” in terms of seasons) I was naive and thought I could run through it all. R&R was not an option to me. I didn’t accept the fact that recovery is a key element to training. Without it your body starts to break down and burn out. I would train for cross-country and straight through indoor and outdoor track. There was the 1-week off in between that coach asked for...but I thought that would only hinder my ability to achieve the goals I set for myself. (I wanted to go to college for free. Not for the education mind you, but instead to be on a Div.1 team and receive all the perks - told you I was naive).

I didn't realize the importance of rest, in the way that my tendons, ligaments and bones could take a beating but also recover, heal and continue to grow. My junior year was full of tendonitis that I just ran through. Eventually I couldn't compete the way I wanted. I was forced to take time off. Senior year I didn't learn from that lesson...I finished that season by dropping out of the 1500m at the Indoor Track NY State Championships with less than a half mile to go and so many watching. Several coaches and athletes expected me to finish at 3rd place or better.

I thought I could redeem myself during my last spring season. I still had that lingering tendonitis in my ankles from the year before. But just thought it was better to run through that. However, tendonitis can put a lot of stress on bones as well as muscles. The tendonitis got so bad in my left ankle that the muscles started to compensate for it until my tibia just hurt to the touch and pain radiated from my ankle to my knee. My solution was to get it taped instead of resting. For those of you who may not know: taping offers stability of the ankle making it less susceptible to sprains/strains, also decreasing the severity of an injury...but I was already injured!!

So after weeks of long runs, workouts, double days, weekends, races, etc., my times eventually suffered and I started limping around the hallways of my school. I still thought I could muscle through the season! It took some time but I finally gave in and got an x-ray. Sure enough there it was; a stress fracture along the base of my tibia. The doctor asked me how I was still walking. I explained that it was more of a hobble. Then I cried. I knew I couldn't complete my very last high school season.

After high school and a few collegiate tribulations I can finally say that I've learned my lesson. IE: Brendan and I ran a 5k race on the 6th of this month and it was terrible for us both. We were experiencing fatigue, muscle soreness, our form was falling apart and our racing strategies went out the window by mile 2. This year was rugged due to switching our training style in the middle of the year and our legs were paying for it. So, afterwards, I did what I never thought I would do. I suggested 2 weeks off. Sure, I have taken the necessary breaks since high school and college, but this was different. This was a realization I discovered on my own without the aid of a mandatory training schedule or a coach. I had to tell Brendan, and myself, that enough was enough. We were going to burn ourselves out if we kept this pace up. He agreed and thought it was the best solution. It’s been 5 days since our first day back from our 2-week break. And we are feeling great.

Sure I believe in muscling through now and again…it all depends on what kind of pain you are experiencing. Is it muscle ache from a workout you haven’t tried before? The burn you feel when you push closer towards the finish? Or is it an acute flash of pain that comes around when you pound on that pavement step after step? There is such a thing as healthy pain. It lets you know that your body is working hard and giving you feedback you need so you don't seriously injure yourself.

Then there is the pain that’s telling you that its time for a break. It has to do with your tolerance and as you know; everyone is different. But the point is that you should learn your own limitations and what your body can handle. I'm not saying that taking 2 weeks off is necessary for every pain you experience. I'm saying to play around with the idea. Take a day or two off. Go for a swim or bike ride instead. Take a light jog on a field of grass rather then going out on those roads or unstable trails.

Change it up before you decide to take a break. But if you are sure that taking an unplanned break would help you with that nagging knee problem then don't be afraid to do so. It would be so much more worth it than it would hobbling across a finish line...if in fact that nagging pain will allow you to reach it at all.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

5k training table

This Blog is for an eight week period of training catered to racing two to four (5k!) miles, ideally over quick courses or track races. I recommend at least 4-6 weeks of easy running beforehand and then a race at Whitaker Woods on Tuesday. Not just because they’re free. Not because of the great terrain. No. You need an effort, to make sense of the pacing which is derived from a race pace effort (real or estimated) at Whitaker Woods. If it is a bad weather day it can be an estimated effort (what you would have done under perfect dry conditions) but be honest. This Blog is for milers who do the trail series and then want to take that great running and get some speed out of it. The fall presents many beautiful training days and perfect racing conditions.

The table is setup so that you can pick a week, or five day period, with two work outs, to be carried out a few days apart, or one larger one depending on time commitment and preference. You can pick A & B or C and racing substitutes, instead of augmenting, one of the work outs for the week. A week with a Friday 5k might have a Tuesday or Monday A work out. I recommend an A (over the B or C) work out between two and three days before an “ok” race and three or four days before an important one.

I suggest flying (running) starts to all your bouts.

I recommend, and science agrees, at least 48hrs between the A&B work outs and races 6k or shorter and at least 72hrs (and more like 5 days if you wanted to do a half marathon) between C work outs or any longer race you may do.

If this is falling on veteran runners, or people who just have a good knack for training theory, you realize that you can do substitutions. Try and look at what is really being emphasized and maintain the general gist of a week or work out. The same idea applies to extending this to a ten or twelve week period or shortening it to three or four. Remember a good Coaching plan has contingency plays all the time.
I can not foresee a turned ankle, friends coming in from out of town, a sick child and all the other setbacks which can happen to a training plan. I would say that for someone running between 4-7 days a week and 25-50 miles and who maintains consistent health and training than this would improve fitness. Is it the best way and to what degree? That depends on the individual. However, these are generally friendly work outs that stick to well developed USATF themes in their nature and periodization.




Peak 5k Training

8to12x400meters (VM) 1min(R)

3to5k(AT) 8to10min(R) 200or400(Gly)

2400to3200meters (AT) 2min(R) 3to5x800(VM) with 2min(R).

Peak 5k Training

3or4x1000(VM) 2min(R)

[Mile(AT) 2x200 (MP)] X 2to4 sets total. 3min(R) in between everything

5or6x1000(VM) with 3min(R)

Peak 5k Training

4or5x800(VM) 2min(R)

20-25min(AT) 8to10(R) 200(Gly)

6to9x800(VM) then one mile(AT) with 2min(R) in between everything

Peak 5k Training

3or4x1000(VM) 3min(R)

6to8x400(MP) 3to6min(R) in between

3000(VM) 12to15min(R) 200or400(Gly)

Peak 5k Racing

4to6 x 800(VM) with 3min(R)


1mile(AT) 2min(R) 5to7x800(VM) with 4min(R)

Peak 5k Racing

6to10 x 400(VM) with 3min(R)

2000(AT) 6to8min (R) 100or200(Gly)

4to5x1000(VM) with 7min(R)

Peak 5k Racing

8to12x200(VM) with 2min(R)


5to7x800(VM) with 5min(R)

Peak 5K Racing

2to3 days easy leading up to this, 2x800(AT) 2x800 (VM) All of this has 5min(R) in between

3to4 days easy


The training, VM, MP and AT are all done within windows of time. The following equations give the faster time for each window.

VM is VO max training and is done within a 4 second window. Take your best Whitaker Woods time and treat it as a real number pr. VM(in total seconds/400meter)=74+(pr-17)*3, so if you run a 20:39, then (20.39-17)*3+74=84to88seconds/400meters or 1:24to1:28 per 400meters.

MP is estimated mile pace. It has a window of three seconds. To get it (seconds/400meters) just take your best Whitaker Woods time, round to the closest whole number pr, and quadruple it. MP(in total seconds/400meters)=pr*4. If you run a 24:43, then it would be 24*4=96to99(second/400meters) or 1:36to1:39 per 400meters.

AT is anaerobic threshold. This has an eight and a half second window. Take your Whitaker Woods time as a real number (22:12=22.12=rn). AT(in total seconds/400)=79+4*(rn-16)

So for 22:12 it is 103.5to112(seconds/400meter) or 1:43.5to1:52 per 400meters.

Gly is Glycolytic training and is the pace you can keep up for 90 seconds. It isn’t a sprint but pretty close. Be honest with your intensity and remember low balling is safer.

R is Rest and can include anything from walking, standing, light stretching or easy running.

From these calculated 400 meter times you can extrapolate windows with acceptable paces for any of these work out distances.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Milers at Mt. Ascutney Challenge

Saturday July 12th at Ascutney State Park was the last of the 6 races in the LaSportiva USATF-NE Mountain Circuit.

I like to refer to Ascutney as either "exactly half of Mt. Washington" or "The 5K of Mountain Races". It's just as steep as Washington, same type of effort, but with it being 3.7 miles, easier to push it a little more and deal with the pain without having to worry about pacing like you do at Washington.

7 Milers made the trek to Ascutney for the race- Kevin Tilton, myself, Gabe Flanders, Max Thomas, Fab Pattison and Frank Hurt and Alexander Rowe. Good to see a nice turnout like that. Kevin finished 2nd, I was 15th, Gabe was 20th. Frank Hurt won his age division. Max was first in his age division. Fab finished 81st and a huge congratulations to her for becoming a Mountain Goat! That means she finished all 6 races in the circuit and gets to bypass the Mt. Washington Lottery next year! It's quite an accomplishment, with a huge time commitment and an impressive feat of strength to do all 6 races in 8 weeks. And one of her down weeks was running Mt. Washington!

Great to see so many Milers out on the Circuit this year, I'm hoping to see Frank Holmes be able to get to more races next year and win his age division.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Loon Mountain Race Video Courtesy of Tim VanOrden

If you wonder how steep the course is at Loon, this pre-race course setup video courtesy of Tim VanOrden shows it pretty well.


Monday, July 7, 2008

No Safeword at the Loon Mountain Race

Race day preparations for this year's Loon Mountain race started the day before the race as they always do, meeting Dave Dunham for a run at Lincoln Woods before heading over to Loon to flag the course and set up registration and the water stops.

As always, setup is an entertaining affair, as was the run, it being one of the few chances I get to run with Dave outside of a race (and then it's more of me running way behind Dave). We were joined by Tim VanOrden, who proved up to the rigorous task of providing as many stupid comments as Dave and I both do while we mark the course. Many know Tim on the Mountain Circuit as the Running Raw guy. He is also currently within a point of Dave for a spot in the top 3 in the spots in the LaSportiva USATF Mountain Circuit, which makes him a pretty great runner too (besides just being a nice guy).

When we got to Loon, we saw the sign announcing the race at the entrance (see photo Dave took, above). Loon always does a great job of publicizing the race. This time, their weekend events made for an interesting listing on the sign, having a Hot Dog Festival (complete with hot dog eating contest) the day before the race. I don't know of anyone who entered both the hot dog contest and the mountain race but if there was, that would make for an impressive double, some would say more impressive than a Pikes Peak double. Dave tried to convince Tim that if he ate the hot dogs raw, it would still count for his raw diet but Tim wasn't giving in.

The three of us loaded the supplies for the water stop on the gondola and then began our marking of the course.

The course at Loon was originally designed to be a European Mountain Race style of course, as the race's inaugural year served as a qualifying race for the US Mountain Running Team. It's a course that gets tougher the higher you go, not because of altitude but just because of plain steepness. The worst section of the course, both mentally and physically, is from about mile 4.5 to a little past mile 5 on the Upper Walking Boss ski trail. It's a black diamond trail that averages about a 30% grade the whole way, with some sections getting as steep as 45%. The majority of the runners in the race end up power walking this part. Mentally, if you are trying to catch someone in front of you, you will quickly realize that 100 meters ahead of you might translate to a few minutes of power walking/running time. Even marking the course, this section seems tremendously steep. The Wandersurface blog has a great course elevation profile here.

Having Tim along on course setup means some great video footage of the course so you can see the steepness . Go here to watch his video.

Race day morning, I left the house at 5:15 to go pick up fellow White Mt. Milers and volunteer, Tim Livingston and then we made the trek across the Kanc to Loon Mountain. I always enjoy that 45 minutes of race morning before registration opens. It's quiet, peaceful, and you know things will get hectic soon so you start going thru all of the Race Director mental notes in your head to make sure nothing was forgotten.

As runners came in to register, I was pleasantly surprised to see New England mountain racing legends Craig Fram and Eric Morse show up on race day. I knew this year's Mt. Washington winner, Eric Blake, was also racing. Combine those 3 with Dave Dunham, Kevin Tilton, Tim Van Orden, Todd Callaghan, Jim Johnson and Justin Fyffe, and I knew it was going to be a very strong mens field. We had a really diverse set of day-of registrations, with people from Illinois, Colorado, Ireland, and all of the Northeast coming in to register for the race. The Loon Race attracts a slightly different crowd than some of the other mountain races in the USATF-NE Circuit. This may because of its location, how well the mountain publicizes it or who knows, but it's always exciting to me to get a whole new group of people exposed to the sport of mountain running.

After the race gun went off, I headed up the gondola to the water stop and finish area at the top and waited for the first racers to come through. Eric Blake came through first, followed by Morse and Fram and others. They all looked strong but also looked like they were beginning to feel the effects of the warm conditions. Standing at the finish line of this race, you get some great visuals of people flying down the Sunset Trail off of North Peak and back to the last hill at the finish line.

The first woman through the 4 Mile point at the water stop was Masters runner and USATF-NE Points leader Nancy Cook. She was followed closely by Jennifer Johnson.

Blake ended up winning the race, setting a new course record formerly held by Paul Low. Eric's time was 46:01. An impressive pace considering the steepness of the course and the heat. He was followed by Eric Morse, Justin Fyffe and Todd Callaghan. Dave Dunham rounded out the top 5, followed by Tilton, Tim Van Orden, David Herr, Jim Johnson and Craig Fram. Incredibly, 5 of the top 10 runners were Masters runners.

On the women's side, Johnson ended up passing Cook to take the win in 64:15, with Cook finishing in 65:15, exactly a minute behind her. They were followed by White Mountain Miler Lynne Zummo of Intervale, NH. The women's course record is held by Vermonter Kasie Enman, who won the 2007 race in a time of 53:36. Enman was unable to race at Loon this year as she was in Mexico helping the US Women's Team win the 2008 NACAC Mountain Running Championships.

The youngest finisher of the day was 13 year old Patrick McDonough of Durham, NH, while the oldest finisher was 76 year old John Parker, who is a regular on the Mountain Circuit.

It's always tough for me to direct races and not get to race myself but, if you have to do that, one of the best places to be on the course is helping out at the finish line, where you get to see everyone's sense of accomplishment for completing a pretty tough mountain race. No matter what the place or the age, everyone who raced at Loon on Sunday knew they had done something pretty impressive to tackle the black diamond slopes without giving up. 170 people in all completed the race.

A big thanks to sponsors Inov8, Fuel Belt, Hammer Nutrition, Julbo and for the Glaceau Water crew for coming out to provide water to everyone before and after the race. An extra big thank you to all of the race volunteers who helped out. A special note of thanks to Tad & Sheri Thomas for cleaning up everything from the top water stop and getting everything down the gondola to the bottom. A race doesn't happen without volunteers and this one is no exception. There was some great high energy cheering at the water stop and the finish line.

For those of you bitten by the Mountain running bug and those looking to become Mountain Goats (finish all 6 races and get that coveted Mt. Washington bypass), it's on to Ascutney in Vermont for the last race of the Circuit. For everyone else, I hope to see you again at Loon next year.

Some great race pictures by Scott Mason are here and Jim Johnson/Kristin Wainwright's are here. Jim Johnson's blog has a great a race report and another good one at Wandersurface as well. Full race results here.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Long Plan

In running what you plan isn’t always what you get. I guess you could substitute a lot of words with running and have that make sense, never the less the statement remains true. This past track season of mine I didn’t get what I planned. An unexpected move and a quad injury, to name two primary setbacks, limited my schedule from a season with six or seven meets to only three 1500’s over four weeks.

My first race of the season, which I approached tentatively for about 700 meters before opening up, was a 4:04. I was excited. The next two kind of went downhill. I took out my second race even easier than the first. Killer humidity (7pm on the Jackson 10k day) and fatigue from exterior stress (I volunteered at the race in the morning and drove to Boston to race that day) were both factors in my pacing. While I finished the last 300meters in 46, that doesn’t change the first 1200. The last race I felt beat and dealt with awkward muscle pain. All in all, they were both 4:06’s, and if that’s the three races from my season, I’ll take them.

I try and look at the track season as a big speed builder for the summer 5k’s. The transition from the shorter to short running takes a few weeks (3-6 I’d say). I wanted to race Bridgeton’s 4th race but that fell through at the last minute. This Sunday is the unplanned debut for a 5K right next door to my new home in Massappequa. That’s where the race is. Not my new home. That’s in Farmingdale. Glad I cleared that up. I guess I feel trepidation as the race approaches.

I was feeling kind of burnt out and the last two weeks I trained on the roads. I dropped my workouts from three (or two if I'm racing) to one or two larger ones a week. I ran for effort or tempoed over established routes. Intensity based training is cool. Instead of 2-5xmile at my 5k race pace (plus or minus 7-10 seconds per mile) with 3-4 min rest, I do 5x 5min hard 3min easy after I get 20min into my run. In the case of 5x5min hard 3min easy, hard is supposed to be the same intensity as its track “doppelganger” and easy is walking for 90 seconds and jog/running for the next 90. Workouts on the roads, except in very certain circumstances like a USATF certified course, fail to offer the reliability of confidence offered by their track counterparts.

I try to elicit the correct intensity associated with the workout through each bout from start to finish. The track offers you reliable splits superior even to a GPS. The track tells you what you cover not a recording of what you have covered. The latter, offered by GPS, could be compared with the former to see how well you can run the shortest distance. Regardless, the roads over the last two week’s point to good feelings but nothing quantitative besides time spent.

Either way the long runs of the winter and the speed of the spring will come around for the August and early September races. I look forward to Cigna on the 14th of August. This upcoming Sunday’s 5k will come and go, as well as Cigna and the rest of my later races. Maybe they will go as planned maybe not. In both cases several things will happen. They will become the wrap up of my 5k season, this year’s racing, and the foundation for the next year. No new revelation here. However, when you dwell upon that, unplanned becomes a word that doesn’t really fit anymore.