Tag Archives: fitness

Race report: 2018 Marine Corps Marathon

I had an idea earlier this year: “I should think about trying to run the Marine Corps Marathon.”

Like many of the ideas I have, this one was of questionable value, but it happened this past weekend so I thought I’d write about how it came to fruition.

In truth, I’d always thought that, in the unlikely event I ever ran a marathon, I’d like it to be the MCM. The “unlikely event” part went away back in 2016 when I ran Rocket City, but I didn’t have any burning ambition to do another one. Then I saw that the Marine Corps had added a new race: the Marine Corps 17.75K (1775 was the Corps’ founding year). Finishing it granted automatic entry to MCM. I entered the lottery for the 17.75K and, to my surprise, got in… but the race itself fell on the same day as the funeral of my beloved Aunt Norma, so I didn’t get to run it. I begrudgingly entered the lottery for MCM, not expecting to get in… and then I did.

Training

I strained a hamstring 2 weeks before the Chattanooga 70.3— so since late April, I have been intermittently unable to run more than a couple of miles. My coach has kept me on the bike to continue to keep my cardio base, along with some weight work, and the hammy seemed to be getting steadily better. Two weeks before MCM, I’d planned to run the London Royal Parks 13.1, which went swimmingly. I was encouraged that my hamstring didn’t hurt, and that I felt good during and after that race… to a point.

(skip the below if you’re not a runner or don’t care about running shoes)

See, last year I had a persistent, nagging problem with my right knee’s IT band. Skipping the boring details, let’s just say I eventually figured out that it was caused by my shoes, so I switched shoes but then started having a different problem with my calves. Welcome to distance running! I finally found a pair of Nike Structure 21s that seemed to work really well for me… until I started doing runs of longer than about 8 miles. Then I started having soreness in the outside of my left foot… so back to the shoe store I went, returning this time with a pair of On Cloudflow shoes. They seemed to work really well, except that after the London race I felt the calf pain returning. I waffled for a solid week before my coach finally suggested I run the marathon in them anyway, since they worked fine during the race. This seemed reasonable… after all, who cares if they’re sore after the race? That’s what I planned to do.

(ok, it’s safe to start reading again)

Coach Jon didn’t follow the usual gospel of having increasingly long runs as marathon prep— my longest scheduled run was 15mi, the week after London. I made it through 10 before my hamstring was bothering me too much to continue. For the 4 or 5 weeks preceding the race, I kept seeing people in the MCM group on Facebook talk about their 18, 20, 22, etc. mile runs and so I was a little nervous about being undertrained. However, I knew that, barring a serious injury, I’d be able to complete the race and cross the finish line, even if it wasn’t in the time that I had wanted, so I wasn’t unduly nervous (or so I thought at the time!)

Travel and arrival

My friend Ashley had deferred her MCM entry last year and decided that this would be her year to run it as well. Our mutual friend Erica came along as cheerleader and sherpa, so we loaded up the airplane on a cloudy Friday morning and set out from Decatur. 

 

In the plane

taken while the weather was still nice

We flew into Potomac Friendly (so named because it’s in Friendly, MD). I’ll do a separate Flying Friday post on the flight itself, which was the most difficult flight I’ve ever flown. The weather was, shall we say, not awesome, but I got plenty of solid time in IMC, all hand-flown because our autopilot is down for maintenance. I picked Potomac because it’s one of the so-called “MD3” airports that are closest in to downtown DC (the others being Hyde Field and College Park). Potomac is a small airport with a short runway, but it has inexpensive fuel and is a short drive from downtown (by DC standards). We parked the plane and then Ashley’s BFF Candice picked us up and drove us to the runners’ expo at the Gaylord convention center. 

The expo was fun. Packet pickup was quick and efficient. Each runner got a clear plastic bag (to be used later for gear drop-off) with a mock turtleneck race shirt, a race patch, and a very nice printed race guide. All the major vendors and sponsors were at the expo, including Brooks (the main running-gear sponsor), Carb Boom (the nutrition sponsor), USAA, and so on. I managed to limit my expo spending to one T-shirt, one Christmas tree ornament, and one coffee mug, mostly because I’d already bought a race jacket directly from Brooks. There was a lot of other stuff I could happily have bought, though!

at the logo wall

proud to say I had the only Waffle House shirt in the place— thanks, Anna

Candice suggested Succotash for dinner, and it was superb. The chicken and waffles were the best I’ve ever had. Portions were generous, which is good because it was fairly expensive. (Drink prices are ridiculous, a trend I noted throughout DC, but what are you gonna do.) 

On the advice of my friend Ingrid, I’d booked a room at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, because it’s easy walking distance to the start line. Thankfully I had stashed away enough Marriott points to get it for free. My expectations of the “Ritz-Carlton” brand name were sky high, so I was a little disappointed that the hotel is basically a nicer-than-usual Marriott property, not the oasis of luxury I’d pictured. The staff were extremely friendly and pleasant, and it was marvelous being right next to the Fashion City mall, which has both a DC Metro stop and a Starbucks. 

The day before

There’s a tremendously active (and welcoming!) Facebook group for MCM participants, and they’d scheduled a shakeout run on Saturday morning. I took a Lyft over (funny story for another time about when Lyft thinks you’ve been in an accident in one of their vehicles) and met the group near the Smithsonian metro station. The weather was windy, rainy, and cool— low 50s— but it was a fun run anyway. I hadn’t brought any rain gear, so I was pretty drenched by the time we got done, but in a good way.

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After another Lyft ride back to the hotel and a quick cleanup (and a giant coffee), we met up for a little sightseeing. First (because hello, have you met me?) we went to Port City Brewing to give them a try; after all, their motto is “We put the ‘ale’ in ‘Alexandria.’” Good beer and a nice atmosphere, but they didn’t have any food, which was a bit of a problem. Then it was off to Georgetown for lunch. Candice had suggested an Italian restaurant called Filomena. Let me just be clear and say that this was, unequivocally, the best-decorated restaurant I’ve ever been to and had the best Italian food I’ve ever had.

When you walk in the door, the first thing you see is the room where the pasta is made. In our case, that included an Italian grandma giving us malocchio

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Don’t mess with grandma

Besides the food, Filomena is famous for their elaborate holiday decorations. There’s a discreet little sign at the entrance cautioning parents that they may want to consider their kids’ maturity levels before entering the restaurant proper. Here’s a small sample…

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at this point I was so hungry that no amount of demon decoration would spoil my appetite

The food! I ate a large plate of cannelloni with Italian sausage, plus what seemed like a loaf and a half of table bread, then the remaining half of Candice’s lasagna. I only stopped because I was in literal fear of bursting. This wasn’t just ordinary gluttony, of course; I’d had a very light breakfast and a late lunch, with the intention of having a big lunch and a very light dinner, all with a goal of not having to rush to the porta-potties on race morning. (Look up “ileal brake” if you want to know why this strategy works.)

Neither Ashley nor I wanted to do a lot of walking pre-race, so we drove over to the Navy Yard and explored a bit, then I made an early night of it— I watched maybe the first 15 minutes of the Saints game and then was out like a light, but not before doing one last gear layout to make sure Flat Paul was good to go:

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Race day

Normally I don’t have race nerves. This time, I did, but not for any good reason; I woke up about 4a and tossed and turned for a bit, mostly just because I was excited. Then it was time to get up and get my race prep on. I’d already mixed up 4 bottles of Gatorade Endurance and stashed them in the room fridge, and I’d loaded up my belt with 7 Gu packets. I didn’t do a good job of prepping for breakfast though; I ended up eating a Payday bar, a protein bar, some applesauce from the runners’ expo, and a Gu. The DC Metro opened at 6, so promptly at 6 I was lined up for the turnstile and then took the train to the Pentagon station.

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the first of many lines for the morning

The layout of the race is such that the start is on highway 110 between the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. When I got off the train, I followed the giant herd of runners to the runners’ village, where I checked in the provided clear plastic bag of post-race gear. One neat thing about this process is that each race bib has a UPS sticker on the back with a truck number (mine was 19). To check your gear, you take your bag to the matching truck, then the trucks move to the finish area. Simple and quick. I had plenty of time to mill around the runners’ village, which was pointless since there was nothing there— so instead, I headed out to the start line area, another 10min walk away. It was a scenic walk, though.

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For the first time this year, MCM was using a corral start, but they only had 3 corrals. I wanted to try to grab on to the 4:30 pace group and see how long I could hang on, but they were in the next corral up. Even though I got to the front of my corral, the polite yet firm young second lieutenants stationed there weren’t letting anyone move up a corral. (Somehow Ashley managed to sneak through though.)

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my people at the head of the green corral

This positioning turned out to be pretty much perfect— to my left was a small tower. The event announcer kept up a continual patter leading up to the 745a start for the wheelchair and handcart division, which was immediately preceded by an MV-22 flyover. After their start, we had a few more minutes before the 755a main start, which was filled by another MV-22 flyover and two parachute jumps: one mass jump and one pair carrying a large American flag. Both were aiming for a blue smoke grenade, which was at the small tower near my position, so I had a great view.

Promptly at 755a, the starter fired the howitzer and it was race time.

The race

Some race reports tediously go over every single mile. I won’t do that here (but you can see all the race data, my mile splits, and so on here if you’re interested.) Instead, I want to capture some impressions.

First, the crowd. As in London, I was running with and near people at all times, and it was amazingly energizing. The spectators were a spectacle in themselves. The variety and quality of supportive race signs, and the volume of cheering, far exceeded my expectations. Any time the course ran through a city area, the sidewalks were packed— the only time we didn’t have large crowds were when we were on the open road or a bridge. Take a look at the picture below, taken on Rock Creek Parkway, and you’ll see what I mean.

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Second, the course itself. What a gorgeous tour of our nation’s capital.

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Third, the wear blue Mile. Words can’t capture the emotions of running this part of the course. I took my headphones off and silently read the name of each fallen American to myself as I ran by, not in any particular hurry. It was a tremendously moving part of the course and I’m getting a little teary just thinking about it as I type this.

Overall, I felt really good for the first 14 or so, then started to flag a little coming out of Hains Point. My average pace got a bit slower, and in Crystal City (starting about mile 23) I took a couple of walk and stretch breaks.

And, of course, because this is the Marine Corps Marathon, it ends on a hill. Seriously.

A note on race gear and strategy

I have been really frustrated lately by my Stryd pod. When I use it with my Garmin Fenix3 HR, I get power dropouts just like I did with my Stages power meter on the bike. When I use the Stryd app on my Apple Watch, the pod often disconnects, and when it’s disconnected the app thinks you’re not running— so in London, the app recorded my run as 10ish miles. So I did what any reasonable person would do: I ran with both the Garmin and the Apple Watch. (And my phone, although that was for music and cheers.) This turned out to be a good strategy, because the Stryd app on the Apple Watch just flat-out stopped recording my run when I rebooted my phone, which I didn’t think it was supposed to do.

My original plan was to try and hold a steady power with the PowerRace app on the Garmin. This was torpedoed when I discovered the dropout issue. My backup plan was to set the Garmin to give me an alert if my heart rate went over 150 and then run based on that. I’d also set a 5:00 run/1:00 walk interval timer, just in case I needed it late in the race… but I didn’t, so that was awesome.

My original goal was ‘beat my previous marathon PR.’ My A goal was to go 4:30 or better. I didn’t quite accomplish that, mostly because I ran an extra mile. That’s right. I managed to turn a 26.2 mile race into a 27.2 mile race. At my average pace of 10:49/mile, that cost me just under 11 minutes. However, I also took lots of pictures on the course, stopped for a few stretches, and even drank some whisky, so I am not at all dissatisfied with how things turned out.

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The finish line experience

After running up the aforementioned hill and through the finishers’ corral, each finisher is presented the coveted race medal by a Marine. I got a fresh-cheeked second lieutenant newly sprung from Quantico; he hung the medal around my neck, shook my hand, and called me “sir.” The corral dumps runners out at the base of the Iwo Jima monument, a perfect photo spot.

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Ashley had finished the race before me (of course), but she found me for some photo opportunities.

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Post-race

Surprisingly, I had very few mobility or soreness problems immediately post-race. None of us wanted to walk around a whole lot, so after a badly needed hot shower and some coffee, we met fellow complete human Zach at Farmers Fishers Bakers, another excellent Candice selection, for a celebratory dinner. Once again, I was in bed by 8 and asleep shortly thereafter.

In the following days, I’m delighted to say that I’ve had zero hamstring pain, zero side-foot pain (except some mechanical wear on my toes—no lost toenails etc), and felt great in my recovery work this week.

Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I am eager to run this race again next year.

Oh, right— I didn’t mention my finish time yet. 4:55:20, so a solid 14 minute PR. If I’d cut a few more tangents and taken a few less pictures, I could easily have gone sub-4:45, and with a bit more training 4:30 is within striking distance. That’s my goal for the Rocket City Marathon in December. See you there!

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Training Tuesday: riding bike courses with Rouvy

I got a smart trainer (a Wahoo KICKR SNAP) last November but didn’t really start trying to use it until a couple of months ago. Since then, I’ve had a few different experiences getting it to work with various accessories and features. I now have it working reliably with three different programming sources:

  • I can manually control the trainer using the Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer. This lets me set the trainer to hold a particular effort level so I can just steadily pedal, or to load interval workouts that I’ve created or been assigned in TrainingPeaks.
  • I can drive the trainer using the Zwift app. This allows me to ride through a video-game-looking world with other virtual riders; there are courses that cover London and Richmond, along with a mythical island kingdom known as Watopia.
  • I can ride Sufferfest videos, which I love doing, and the app can control the resistance of the trainer according to whatever workout I’m supposed to be doing.

However, there’s one programming source I hadn’t tried yet– I wanted to experiment with riding a real-world route. Specifically, I wanted to ride the IRONMAN 70.3 Chattanooga bike course on the trainer, so that I could see the course and get used to the hills, but the weather was bad on the course-preview-ride day and the logistics didn’t work out for me to get there another time. I figured I’d try doing it in software.

First I downloaded Bkool, because a friend of mine had recommended it. After signing up for the free trial, I found that the app would crash immediately after sign-in 100% of the time on my iPad. Thank goodness for free trials.

Then I went to poke around the DC Rainmaker site and found this typically thorough guide to trainer apps. After reading it, I downloaded 2 more apps: FulGaz and Rouvy. Like Bkool, they both have free trials.

I tried FulGaz first and was really impressed with how pretty it was– but it didn’t have the Chattanooga course, so that was that.

Next I tried Rouvy. Signup went flawlessly and I found the Chattanooga course, loaded it, and started riding.

What I didn’t notice is that it was the Chattanooga 70.3 World Championship course. I couldn’t figure out why it was so damn hilly and tough. Eventually I did figure it out. But that’s another story.

Below are a few screen shots from a ride I did the other day along the route for stage 1 of the 2017 Tour de France. Rouvy shows three or four views, depending on how the course is set up. The first view is the default, showing you a Google Maps-based view of the area, with a data pane on the left showing pace, power, etc. You can see that I’m at the very beginning of the stage, which started in Dusseldorf. You’ll see this view any time there’s no video associated with the course.

The course view shows you what you’d see if you were actually riding on the course. You can see power, pace, and so on in the left pane, and there’s a helpful horizontal scale that shows you the current incline (0.7% in this case) along with the upcoming incline. The video is synchronized to your pace, so the faster you pedal, the faster you appear to be riding. Different routes have different video quality, depending on what kind of camera the rider used, whether it was stabilized, and so on.

Rolling through Dusseldorf

The next view is all data. I don’t really want to look at this view when riding, but it’s there if you like it.



The fourth view, shown above, shows you a real-time strip-chart-style view of your 3 key metrics: heart rate, pedal cadence, and power output. You also get the profile view along the bottom to show you the terrain you’re riding over.

Everything I did with Rouvy worked flawlessly: when I finished my rides, they were automatically uploaded to Strava and TrainingPeaks, the auto-pause and auto-resume features worked well mid-ride, and I didn’t have any problems with video dropouts or freezes, application crashes, or other ill behavior.

I need a few more rides with it to make sure, but I love the idea of being able to ride a real course, with video when I want to see it. Typically if I’m doing an interval workout I’ll use a Sufferfest video and stream it to the projector; if I’m doing an endurance ride I’ll put on Zwift (so I get some variety in the route and terrain) and leave it on the iPad while I watch Netflix or something on the projector. The ability to ride a real route, with high quality video on the projector, might be enough to get me to change that habit.

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Training Tuesday: Reykjavik Midnight Sun 10K race report

I just came back from presenting at Office 365 Engage, where I had a terrific time. More on the conference in another post. As a new conference, the organizers’ budget was somewhat limited, so they gave me a 1500 EUR limit on airfare, which meant I could only afford a convoluted itinerary on JetBlue and Icelandair. However, Icelandair offers free stopovers, so I decided to take a couple of days after my trip to sightsee.

As is my habit, I spent some time looking for interesting places to run before my trip. The folks in /r/visitingIceland were very helpful, and I found https://runninginiceland.com, which led me to the Suzuki Midnight Sun run: 5K, 10K, and half-marathon distances, all starting at or just after 9pm. I immediately signed up online for the half.

Logistics

The race website was clear and easy to follow, and I got multiple mails in the days leading up to the race recapping the race routes, where to park, and so on. The race organizers sell race medals and shirts separately, so you don’t have to pay for them if you don’t want them. Packet pickup was on race day only, from 4p-845p, at the Laugardalshöll sports hall; it was well organized and smooth. I got in, grabbed my race number, bought a race shirt, and was out again all within 10 minutes. I made a game-day decision to move down from the half distance to the 10K because of a lingering hamstring problem, aggravated by the 9.5 miles I had already walked while sightseeing Friday; the race staff easily handled the changeover. In addition to the booth selling race shirts, the expo had a small table selling various Adidas goodies. One thing I particularly appreciated is that Laugardalshöll has plenty of bathrooms.

Men’s room? Right this way

The Airbnb I stayed in also hosted two Americans who were running the race, although I didn’t meet them until maybe 2 hours before the race start. We drove over 45min or so before start time, easily found a place to park, and joined the large crowd avoiding the wind inside the hall.

The hall before the race

 

Weather

Friday’s weather was pretty good for running: it was about 10ºC and mostly overcast, but a bit windy: a steady 30km/h wind from the north, with occasional higher gusts. I was sightseeing all day and got rained on and fairly wind-blasted during the day, but the rain had thankfully stopped by 9pm. I wore shorts, a long-sleeve tech shirt, and a light rain shell, which I took off about halfway through the race.

Race start

The RD started with a brief announcement that there were nearly 3000 registered runners, 1200 from outside Iceland, from a total of 52 countries, making this by far the most international event I’ve run in. The half marathon and 10K groups started together. As you can see from the race maps, the two courses follow a common path for the first few km, then the longer distance runners split off. The corral had pace signs and runners were encouraged to group according to their projected pace but there were no pacers.

The race start. Big crowd!

The course

Scenic, mostly on paved paths and some on residential streets. The course runs through a pretty valley and along a stream with a couple of waterfalls, like this one.

Oh, just an Icelandic waterfall

I saw two mother geese with goslings and a few rabbits along the stream, which was cool.

Not shown: large quantities of goose poop on trail

The first 3km has a few small rollers, with a larger and longer climb (maybe 30m elevation change?) from 4km-6km. There was one water stop, which had water, Powerade (a race sponsor), and 2 portajohns. The course was well-marked, with each km indicated and plenty of volunteers to keep runners from going off course. I didn’t see any split timers on the course and there were no on-course timing mats.

My performance

Because my hamstring had been hurting, and my right IT band had joined the party after my warmup run in Haarlem, I planned to take it easy and treat this like a training run. My 10K PR is 54:37 and I didn’t have any ambition of setting a new one on this run. The first 5km or so were fine; the hamstring was quiet and I held a good pace (modulo the time I spent in the portapotty at the rest stop– that cost me 2min or so). About 7km in, my left calf started to tighten, and this progressed into a numbness in my left forefoot. This has happened occasionally around the same distance in both my right and left feet since I switched to my current Brooks Adrenalines, which means pretty clearly I need different shoes. Anyway, it’s damn hard to maintain a good pace when you can’t feel one of your feet, so I slowed down and even walked a few stretches. About 9km it had loosened a bit and I was able to run more normally.

I ended up running a 1:02, well off my PR for the 10K distance. Strava data.

The finish

The finish line featured a traditional chute, right after which volunteers handed out race medals for those who’d bought them in advance. The recovery area had free water, Powerade, and half-bananas. There were a couple of booths set up where you could buy (delicious) Icelandic hotdogs and other snacks. The race also includes admission to the pool complex nearby at Laugardalslaug, so we headed over there. The logistics of using Icelandic public pools are worth a separate post. Suffice to say that you must be fully comfortable with locker-room nudity, large crowds, and crowding in the hot tub… but it was lovely to be able to have a good thermal soak after a long run.

Wrapup

My race experience was a 9/10: a high-energy fun crowd, beautiful course, and the unique aspect of running a race at a time when it would normally be pitch dark all combined to make a great memory. I’d love to go back and run the half, or (better yet), the Reykjavik marathon. Highly recommended.

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Training Tuesday: running with Stryd PowerRace

Engines are generally most efficient when they run at a constant speed within their design range. That’s why you get better mileage on the highway than in town; it’s why gasoline-powered generators don’t typically have multiple power settings, and and it’s why airplane engines are designed to run for very long periods of time at a steady constant power output. It turns out the fact holds for endurance athletes.

It’s well documented that one of the most effective ways to train for cycling events is to monitor your power output using a power meter. The idea is simple: when you’re riding outdoors, your speed and heart rate will vary widely due to factors you can’t control. On a flat road with no wind and cool weather, you might go 25mh at a certain heart rate. Into a headwind, or uphill, or in an Alabama summer, you might be working just as hard but only going 10mph. So trying to control your workout by pace or heart rate is needlessly difficult and may not give you the results you want. A power meter measures how hard you work, not how fast you’re going or how hard your heart alone is working. Without going too deeply into the complexities of training with power (see this free e-book if you want to know more), the basic idea is that you build your training plan so that you try to put out a certain amount of power, no matter what the road and weather conditions are. I started doing this a little while ago and it’s really useful– my coach will say “make X watts” or “your race target for the 70.3 distance is Y watts” and I just pedal hard enough to hit that number. My speed may go up or down depending on wind and hills, but my effort stays constant so I don’t accidentally work too hard trying to go fast into the wind (for instance) and leave myself unable to sustain my pace later in the race.

That’s the theory, anyway.

The folks at Stryd have built a similar tool for runners: the Stryd power meter is a little pod that clips on to your shoe and measures the amount of force you produce when you run. Since running uphill or into a headwind is harder than running on level ground, or in still air, they intend their product to be used by people who want to control their pace through power management. The problem is that the cycling world is much further along in embracing power, so it’s hard to actually see what your running power is, much less pace to it. Garmin watches can display power data from Stryd pods, and Stryd has a nifty web app called PowerCenter that gives you a bunch of analytics.. but what I wanted was a real-time, on-the-wrist alert that would tell me when I was making too much power, or not enough. Garmin (and many other manufacturers) allow you to set alerts that will buzz or beep when you go outside the predefined pace, speed, heart rate, or distance targets. I wanted one for power… and now I’ve got one.

Stryd recently started beta testing a new app called PowerRace. It’s very simple: you plug in your race distance and your power target, then start the app. It will beep and turn red if you go outside that range. It purposely doesn’t show your pace or elapsed time.. the whole idea is that you only look at your run power and adjust your pace to keep it where it’s supposed to be. Here’s what it looks like in action (“AP” stands for average power, and “HR” is heart rate):

PowerRace in action

I played around with the app a bit and couldn’t get it to work reliably but Gus Nelson of Stryd was kind enough to do some live troubleshooting with me via Google Hangouts and we got the problem sorted out, so I used it for this week’s Cotton Row 10K.

Executive summary: it worked flawlessly and gave me useful cues when I was going too fast, or too slow. I got a 45-second PR, which would have been more if I’d set my power target higher. I hadn’t done the recommended power test, so I was guesstimating what my power level should be; I could have gone a bit harder.

Cotton Row is a tricky course: it’s got a big hill about mile 3 and many a runner has come to grief by blasting across the start line and burning up too much energy.

The Cotton Row course

You may also want to check out the live version, where you can see more clearly the ridge that we run along between miles 3 and 4.

When I compare last year to this year, here’s what my mile times looked like:

2016: 8:55, 8:53, 9:35, 10:20, 9:23, 9:19, 7:18

2017: 9:00, 9:21, 9:55, 10:04 8:42, 8:37, 7:08

So I went out 53 seconds slower this year on the first 3 miles but then finished 46 seconds faster, with an average power of 289W. I targeted 285W, so I did a good job of holding my average. The times aren’t what I would have expected. My perceived effort was about the same, but it was more consistent. For proof, check out the power curve:

Cotton Row data

The red line is my heart rate; the purple line is power. You can clearly see where I walked aid stations or where I took a break to regulate my power output; you can also see my finishing kick.

So what’s the bottom line? I really like the idea of training and running with power. It’s a proven technique for the bike. I did a good job of holding in my power target range, and did get a (small) PR, but I probably could have done just as well by running by feel alone. I think the missing ingredient is that I don’t really know what my target run power is. Once I have that dialed in I will be better able to fine-tune my pacing. I’ll keep using PowerRace and see how it goes.

 

 

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Training Tuesday: 2017 35.1 Challenge

The second weekend in April here in Huntsville features two marquee races: the Heel & Crank duathlon (run by Team Rocket, our local triathlon club) and the Bridge Street Half Marathon, sponsored by our local Fleet Feet. Two years ago, the sponsors joined forces to offer a “35.1 challenge”– do both races back-to-back and you get some kind of swag, plus bragging rights.

In 2015, I completed the challenge,  barely: the duathlon was fine but the 13.1 was a bit of a grind, and I was super sore for the following week. Last year, I signed up for the duathlon and the challenge, but stupidly forgot to register for Bridge Street. One thing you should know: Suzanne Taylor, the RD for Bridge Street, absolutely does not allow transfers, deferrals, or late registrations. Period, full stop. So I didn’t complete the challenge.

This year I made sure to register for all 3 events. Dana had planned to return to the 13.1 world after a long layoff by running with our friend Teri… who managed to catch a stress fracture to her femur (how do you even do that?) just in time to be sidelined for the race. I told Dana I’d run with her instead, at whatever pace she wanted– like a really slow and not especially scenic date. Therefore, my plan ended up being to treat Heel & Crank as a legitimate race, then run the 13.1 more like an LSR. I ran that plan past my coach, who gave me a big thumbs up, so I was all set.

I also planned to volunteer for both races– for Heel & Crank, it was race-morning packet pickup, and for Bridge Street it was day-before packet pickup.

Prerace

Duathlons are easy to prepare for– it’s basically a bike ride (so you need bike gear) plus running shoes, with none of that pesky swimming stuff. I packed everything up Friday afternoon, made sure the ELEMNT was charged, and so on. I didn’t eat anything special for dinner; in the morning, I had a protein shake and a poptart, plus a dose of BeetElite, and headed out to the race. This was the first year for a new RD, and he did such a good job lining up volunteers that they didn’t need me; that gave me a chance to enjoy visiting with friends instead of working. I got transition set up, walked around chatting with people, and waited for the race to start– it was really nice to have plenty of extra chill time, instead of my usual MO of screeching into the parking lot at the last minute and then being harried. My friend Coop was kind enough to buy me a hot chocolate at JaVa.Mooresville, a really good coffee shop that coincidentally happens to be the only one anywhere nearby. It was about 55 degrees and clear just before race start.

Run 1

The run course at Heel & Crank starts on a paved street, which after 0.3mi or so turns into a hard-packed dirt trail. It’s an out-and-back; some of the trail is shaded, some isn’t. It’s almost completely flat. As you can see from the map below, a good portion of the course runs alongside farm fields, which add a lovely pastoral feel– you can literally see the grass (or whatever) waving in the breeze, when there is one, which there was. I settled in early on and tried to hold a steady pace, finishing with an 8:41/mi average in 24:37.

Heel and Crank run course

T1
Transition was completely unexceptional– I dropped my headphones, swapped my hat for a helmet, changed shoes, powered up the bike computer, and choked down a pack of Gu chews. Out the gate in under 2min, which for me is lightning-quick.
The bike
The course overlaps some of the familiar Jetplex course, so my plan was to ride it at a steady pace, in aero as much as possible. This doesn’t sound like a terribly complex plan, but I am still getting used to my tri bike, so I figured anything more complex would be pointless. I made a weighted average of 177W, certainly nothing to write home about, but overall good enough for a 6-minute CR and a PR on one Strava segment.
T2
T2 was even faster– helmet-to-hat, headphones in, shoes on, and out the gate.
Run 2
I was really leery of blowing up by going out too hard on the first half of the run, so I tried to keep my HR caged around 150. I actually ended up averaging 151 for the run; I possibly could have pushed a little harder on the outbound leg, but I was feeling good on the return and was able to hold right around 7:05/mi for the last half mile or so. For reference, my mile PR time is 7:11, so I was well pleased with this. Run 2 was done in 27:26.

Wraup and post-race
Overall, my times were good enough for a 1:52 finish, a 15-minute PR for this race. To say I was pleased would have been a massive understatement. I celebrated with a big plate of the post-race pancakes for which this race is famous, plus a glass of Rocket Republic Scotch Rocket served by my fellow cubano Warren. It was a pretty successful day for the Cubans, in fact: the relay team of Tony, Craig, and Warren placed second, and Lance won the Clydesdale division. I’m sure if Julio had been there he would have won something too. Hats off to first-time race director Paul Erickson and his staff of volunteers for putting on a fun, safe race with excellent post-race food and drink.

I headed home, showered, and went over to Dana’s. Dinner was a giant bowl of Nothing but Noodles‘ finest mac-and-cheese, always a solid pre-race choice.

Race day
We woke up about 530a, with a goal of getting to the race site about 630a. This turned out to be easy. One of the nice things about Bridge Street is that it’s held at an outdoor mall. There is plenty of parking and tons of porta-potties, as well as some nice indoor bathrooms. We wandered around to chat with people for a while, then queued up near the 2:30 pace group for the gun start.

Pre-race

After a rousing rendition of the National Anthem, the cannon went off and so did we.

I wish I had kept better notes on the race itself. The Bridge Street course winds through Research Park, which is pretty flat and not all that scenic for the most part. The course starts in front of Barnes and Noble, runs west for a bit along Old Madison Pike, runs north on Jan Davis and then on Explorer, loops around West Park, and then turns south again. Perhaps the most interesting part is the Double Helix path near HudsonAlpha, which is marked with educational signs about the human genome. It’s also interesting to note the incredible funk we smelled while running past one of Adtran’s buildings; it smelled like someone had bred a skunk the size of a VW Beetle, wrapped it in shrink wrap, and then boiled it in 10W40 motor oil. Truly a scent I will remember for a long time.

The Bridge Street course

It was cool at the start, and we made good time through the course. Dana had planned to do 4/1 run/walk intervals, running for 4 minutes and then walking for 1, but she pretty much ignored these intervals and ran most of it, holding right around a 10:44 pace. I just stuck with her (well, except for once when I let her go ahead while I hit the porta-potty, but let’s not get into that). We crossed the finish line in 2:23:50, quite a respectable performance for Dana’s return to the 13.1 world. We collected our medals and breakfast coupons, then found our friends to hang out and visit a bit.

race posse unite!

The race organizers had thoughtfully arranged for a free breakfast sandwich (which was about the size of a Clementine) at Bar Louie, which we supplemented with a genuine brunch (and, in my case, a couple of ice cream sandwiches). I also grabbed my 35.1 award, which now occupies a prize position on my dining room table until I can figure out what wall to hang it on. Kudos to Suzanne Taylor, the folks at Fleet Feet Huntsville, and the zillions of volunteers who chipped in to put on the race– Bridge Street is one of my favorite races because it’s so well organized, supplied, and staffed.

swag life

All in all, it was a weekend well spent, and I felt fine the next day, at least until I started doing squats… but that’s a story for another time.

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Training Tuesday: Havana Triathlon race report (25 Feb 2017)

(The Garmin Connect app doesn’t work on Cuban government wifi, so I can’t post course maps, etc. The final race results aren’t up, and since I didn’t have my phone I don’t have any pictures from the race itself, so this report is all you get for right now.)
Summary: great experience, awful performance. 8:12 for a 70.3 is nothing to get excited about. I guess I was not as well prepared as I thought, but there were a couple of other external factors. First is the fact I was sick. I didn’t realize how sick until today (Tuesday), 3 days post-race, when I’m feeling normal and comparing it to how I felt the day before and the day of the race. I had been sniffling and snuffling all week, since maybe 2 days before we left, and was regularly taking 12hr pseudoephedrine for a solid week before race day… not a great setup for the race. I was short on sleep ( people here don’t really get their nights started until midnight or so, so we’ve had significant traffic noise and street noise each night), averaging about 5hrs of real sleep each night for the 4 days pre-race day. I also ate poorly, out of necessity, the day and a half before the race. Those aren’t excuses, but they were definitely factors.

Prep

We spent the entire day before the race getting registered, dropping off our bikes and transition stuff, and so on. I logged about 10 miles of walking. This was not a good idea. Race registration was at the marina; it took about 2 hours to get through packet pickup, then we had to drop off our bikes. The best word to describe the race was “disorganized.” There was a lot of mis-information and non-information, and the whole experience really made me appreciate how hard RDs have to work to put on a smoothly running race. This is only the 3rd year for this race so I am confident that they will improve.

This was a point-to-point race: all our bike stuff went in 1 bag, and all our run stuff in another. We dropped the bike bag off with the bike and gave the run bag to the organizers, who staged it at T2 for us. This put a very high premium on making sure the right stuff was in the right bag, which for the most part I got right. However, that process adds some mental stress, even if you’re a heavy checklist user, as I am.

I had a small lunch (shrimp pasta in an interesting but odd not-tomato sauce) and a good but small dinner (grilled chicken, rice, black beans, a few slices of fried plantain) and got to bed about 830p, where I slept for maybe 5 hours total.

Pregame

I got up at 410a, had breakfast (small pack of honey roasted peanuts, a protein bar, plenty of water), and met the others downstairs for our van ride to the marina. The organizers had told us that we’d have access to our bikes so we could fill bottles, etc, and this turned out to be true. They had also said we’d have access to our run bags, which was not, so I started the run with no water… more on that later. There were nearly 800 participants in the race, for which the organizers thoughtfully provided two (2) portapotties. With no toilet paper. That was awesome. Luckily I had some Kleenex with me.

There was a great deal of confusion over where the swim was supposed to start. Nothing was marked, and none of the volunteers seemed to know what was what. Once the sprint swim started, the RD eventually herded everyone to the right area and collected our after-race bags. Before the swim, I put my glasses, street clothes, etc. into that bag for access later.

Weather and conditions

It was mid-70s at swim start, with a water temperature of about 76. The wind was calm until later in the day– it started to pick up about 11a and reached its peak when during the run leg on the Malécon. The forecast high temperature was 85. I don’t know how hot it got, except that the temperature sensor on my watch registered a max of 105. When it’s on my arm, it reads about 15 degrees higher than ambient FWIW.

Swim

The RD said wetsuits were optional, so I swam with my sim shorts. The plan was to jump in the water at the land side of one of the marina’s berthing lanes, swim down that lane, across the mouth of the adjacent lane, and back down the next lane, for a total of 2100 yards or so. I don’t have good data from the swim– my watch showed I swam 1375 yards in 48:08, but the other guys with me all had correct distances, and the race results aren’t posted online so I can’t cross-check. I felt pretty good on the swim overall, at least until last night when Lance told me he saw two of the yachts in the lane we were in pumping gray water overboard as we swam past. One interesting note: when I jumped in, I forgot to hold my nose and so pumped my sinuses full of marina water. My nose was fine for the rest of the race, go figure.

T1

T1 took 11:08. FAR TOO LONG. This consisted of a 1/4mi or so run from the swim exit to the bike area. Our bike bags were hung on numbered hooks, and volunteers were checking numbers so that by the time each athlete got to the hook, they’d pulled the correct bag. ITU rules don’t allow setting up transitions in advance, so I had to dig through my bag to get socks, shoes, chamois cream, a shirt, sunglasses, bike computer, and nutrition, then get it all put on or tucked in pockets, then run out to the bike and set it up the rest of the way.

Bike

The bike course started with a couple of short climbs that I wasn’t expecting. I’ll put the route map on my blog later when I have Internet again (or you can look it up if you follow me on Strava), but basically we rode around a residential district, then up Linea (one of the main drags) and through El Tunel Linea, then turned around and reversed the route and diverted onto the main east-west autopista. There were tons of volunteers and cops managing both vehicular and pedestrian traffic; they had shut down our side of Linea for racing, so all the traffic was squeezed into the opposite side of the boulevard. I give the race organizers full points for this.

Havana is not what I’d call a polluted city but there is much more vehicle exhaust than Americans are used to– lots of poorly tuned 2-stroke gas engines and big diesels. Riding through that was not my favorite. In addition, there are tons of road hazards. I would describe the overall road conditions as fair– the worst of the roads we rode are no worse than some of the hot spots on Redstone Arsenal or the area near my house (I’m looking at you, Burgreen Road). There are lots of potholes, sunken manhole covers, and so on, and none of them were marked, but they were easy to see.

On the autopista, the course was a series of very long 1-3%climbs and short, quick descents out to about 35mi, then a turn back into the city. As the day wore on it got hotter and windier, with a moderate cross headwind on the way back in.

There were 5 or 6 aid stations with bottled water on the bike course. I drank probably 6 bottles of water on the bike, had a Honey Stinger waffle each hour, and had a small banana (maybe 5″ long) at the turnaround rest area. At the first rest stop (maybe 20mi in) I stopped, put on my arm sleeves, and soaked them, my head, and my jersey with water. That helped a bit. At the turnaround rest stop I stopped again and drank an incredibly tasty can of the local equivalent of orange Gatorade– muchas gracias to the volunteers who thought to have that on hand.

After the highway the route took us back up Linea and through the tunnel again. (I did shout “TUNNELLLLLLLLL” each time I rode through it, like the kids and I used to do when driving through tunnels, so that was fun). There were several groups of uniformed schoolchildren along the route who went nuts whenever they saw a cyclist, so that was really fun.

I tried to stay in the prescribed power range but on the back half of the bike course was trying to make up time and started pushing harder. This was a critical mistake. 3:41 on the bike, when I was hoping for 3:15 or better, was rough.

T2

T2 was set up right near the US embassy and Monte de las Banderas, a local monument with some Fidel-era slogans. Racers biked in and handed their bikes to a handler, who racked it, then ran down the chute to get their run bags. I did that, found a changing tent, and started trying to change, but I was in a fog– I put my belt on backwards, couldn’t get my shoes on the right feet, and went the wrong way leaving the chute. There was no water in T2, so I started the run with empty bottles. 8:05 in T2, most of which was spent sitting trying to catch my breath. I was so hot I actually had goosebumps. I’m lucky it wasn’t longer.

Run

I ran for, maybe, half a mile and then my legs just gave out and I walked. Occasionally I burst into a dispirited sort of trot but I was having trouble moving my legs. Eventually I shuffled through the first aid station and got some water in my bottles, on my arm sleeves, over my head, and down my back. I wish I could say that I magically revived but no. I nearly quit about a dozen times but kept shuffling to a 3:20 finish. That is by far the worst half marathon I’ve ever run, both in terms of time and of quality. There is no way to dress it up or make it look better.

Oh, did I mention that there were no bathrooms on the bike or run courses? No? Because there weren’t. I barged into a restaurant on the Malécon for my run potty break. Twice. Hope they didn’t mind.

The finish

All my friends finished before me, so I had a great welcoming committee as I crossed the finish line and got my medal and finisher’s shirt. I plopped down and collected myself for a few minutes, then Craig and I took a cocotaxi back, which was like riding inside the Devil’s lawnmower, with lots of exhaust and swerving. Warren was kind enough to ride my bike back for me and put it away. 

Post game

Literally all I could do when I got back to the apartment was sit in a chair, stretched out. I couldn’t really turn my head because my shoulders and neck were so tight, and I didn’t even have the energy to banter. I have never felt so sick or tired after a race. I eventually straggled upstairs for a shower and a half-hour nap, which helped. The thought of food was absolutely repulsive, so when the posse went out for dinner I went to bed instead about 830p and slept for maybe 7 hours total. The next morning, I got up and picked my way listlessly through the excellent breakfast buffet at the Parque Central hotel and then shuffled through the Museum of the Revolution (more details on both of those in a later post), then went back to the apartment for a big long nap. I didn’t really start feeling normal until Monday afternoon but am now fully recovered. Lots to learn from the overall experience, including a) don’t race when you’re sick and b) make sure your race prep is strong. Onwards!

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Training Tuesday: What I learned from my gait analysis

Like most runners, I’ve gradually accumulated a catalog of minor aches and pains as I run. Distance, pace, and terrain all influence how you feel during and after a run, and so do accumulated injuries– once you sustain an injury, you’re generally going to be more susceptible to re-injuring the same part. One solution: quit running. HAHAHAHAHAHAH I know, right? Not gonna happen. Another solution: see a professional to figure out what’s causing my issues, then fix them. I liked that plan better, so I embarked on a two-pronged strategy.

First, I visited Andrew Walker at PhysioWorks HSV to address a problem I’ve been having with my left Achilles tendon. Andrew put me through a battery of static and range-of-motion tests and told me, in summary, that I am a hot mess: poor left ankle mobility (which explains the foot cramps I get on long swims), excessive external rotation of my right foot, and some muscular imbalances in my glutes and hamstrings. Now I’ve got a set of targeted exercises to address the muscle imbalance (more on that in a future post). He also said “you know, your running cadence is low”. He then explained that increasing your running cadence significantly decreases the dynamic load on the ankle and knee joints by reducing impact forces– I was sold.

The following week, I took advantage of my coaching team at CHP to have Nickademus Hollon do a video gait analysis. Matt shot video of me running towards and away from the camera as well as left- and right-facing lateral views. Nickademus sent me back a 20-minute annotated video pointing out several issues with my running:

  • Too much external rotation of my right foot. this is caused by the same issues Andrew spotted with my right hip and glutes.  The excess rotation is putting extra stress on my right knee and IT band, which explains the soreness I often have after long runs.
  • My cadence is low (but I knew that already). Apart from the impact-force increase caused by the slower cadence, this also causes me to “overstride”, or take steps that are too long. The longer your stride, the more you’re in the air, which means the harder you land and the more energy it requires for you to push off again. Because I’m pushing off so hard, I’m putting too much energy bouncing up instead of forward– so write down “excessive vertical oscillation” on my list.
  • I’m crossing my arms over the midline of my body. When my arms swing, my hands are crossing close to my bellybutton, which causes my torso to twist. This both wastes energy and imparts extra torque to my hips, which is contributing to the right-foot rotation.
  • I’m heel striking.

While this seems like a long list of problems… well, actually, it is. The good news is that there are really only two things I need to work on to improve my form. First, I need to raise my cadence. The standard value that most runners aim for is 180 steps/minute. I normally run at about 150, which explains the overstriding problem quite nicely. I’ve started running with the iSmoothRun app, which includes an audio metronome that will warn me when my cadence drops below my target of 160. After a week or two at 160, I’ll move to 170, thence 180. Second, I need to concentrate on keeping my arms from crossing over the midline. This just requires mindful attention; there’s no real technique involved other than “don’t do that.”

Once I start to ingrain those two changes in muscle memory, and after a few weeks of PT exercises to strengthen the underprivileged, I’ll do another gait analysis to see if anything’s changed. I am betting that these changes will pay off, though, and I look forward to seeing the results. Ne

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