Free Form Training Runs Add Spice to the Daily Routine

Today was President's Day, one of 10 Federal holidays that I get paid not to work.  The banks, libraries, post office and stock market were also closed, though I know many people that worked anyway, including my real estate agent, the guys across the street putting a new roof in, the FedEx guy, the workers who made our sandwich at Subway and my boss (no, he doesn't work at Subway).

Perhaps coincidentally (to the fact that a new roof is going up across the street), I discovered a roofing nail in my car tire yesterday. The tire remained inflated overnight so I decided to drive the car to a local tire shop where I found more guys who had to work on this fine holiday. Twenty minutes and $20 later I was off to the gym for my standard 20 minute workout.

At this point I was about an hour into my "quick" errand to fix the flat tire but I wanted to slip a quick run in while I could without my wife knowing (shhh....don't tell her...she doesn't read this blog as she hates the fact that I run).  But I figured I could get away with a 40 minute run and quickly slip in for a shower before she shes me.

So I took off on my run, with no plan in mind. These are usually my best runs, the ones where I have no idea where I'm going. So I head south from my gym and decide to figure it out as I go. About 10 minutes into the run, it dawned on me that it had been probably 10 years since I ran up a particular hill in Newbury Park.  This was the perfect opportunity to do so.

In Google Maps this area is called the Potrero Open Space, accessible at the crest of Wendy Drive (there is parking available). I accessed the trails from Reino Road and found a trail that took me to the top of the hill and back down towards Wendy Drive. There were some challenging, rocky hills that I had to walk up but once I made it to the top of the hill, I was rewarded with panoramic views of Newbury Park.  Instant gratification!

I do plan to do this trail again very soon, now that I'm reminded how cool the view is at the top! But next time I'll have to bring the video cam!

All told, I ran about 46 minutes, got a nice hill/trail workout in and was able to slip in to the shower without my wife noticing the sweat and dust on my legs.  I rewarded myself (and my wife) by taking the kids out the rest of the day.

On a side note, still no races on the calendar for me, but I'm doing about 35 miles per week. Just enjoying running for the sake of running at the moment!

Been Running Since May 5, 1993 and Tallying Mileage Ever Since

Since running the Santa Barbara Marathon on December 5th, my training has been pretty sparse.  I took the first 3 days post-marathon off and ran only 10 miles the entire week.  Then more recently, my bad back problem made a reappearance and I was hobbling around for a week, walking like an 99 year old man, beginning on Christmas Eve.  Thanks to my stellar chiropractor I was back in action after 2 treatments.

On New Year's Eve, after dining on sushi with my 6 year old and reading Power Ranger stories to my 4 year old, then after a couple glasses of bubbly, I updated my 16 year old, 6,100 row Excel spreadsheet that tracks my daily mileage.  In fact, I updated the spreadsheet while celebrating the New Year with my Twitter friends.

Yes, my obsessive compulsive side forces me to jot down how much time and how many estimated miles I run each day in my daily calendar book, then periodically (used to be weekly, then monthly, now annually) I updated the manual scribbles from my book into the monster spreadsheet.

If I lose this spreadsheet, I lose a big part of me. This 1.3 MB spreadsheet is the Bible of my running. I used to study it like I was studying for an exam. It was fun to see trends...weekly mileage, how I did in a race after running at a certain level, etc. Now it is more chore than anything. But it is something I must do.  It is a 16 year running journal and I'm determined to maintain it.

My running began on Cinco de Mayo 1993, the day after telling a marathon runner co-worker, in my drunken stupor at a chili cook-off, that I would run next year's Los Angeles Marathon. While I don't remember the specifics of that first run, I look at the spreadsheet and see that I ran 3.2 miles that day.

Something I DO remember about that first run is that I had to stop because, as I recall, my ankle hurt. So I ran a few blocks, stopped, started again, stopped, and so on. I see in the log that the next day I did not run, but the day after that I ran 3.2 miles again.

How did I know it was 3.2 miles and not 3 miles or 3.5 miles? Well for many years, in my youth and without wife and kids and life's goings on consuming my time, I would literally drive the course I ran and track it on the car's odometer.  I drew a map of my neighborhood and tracked distances for various courses, streets, turnaround points, etc.  But I was really into it back then.

Today I measure most all of my runs by time, not by actually measured mileage. I have a pretty good gauge on my running speed and generally can estimate fairly well what my pace is, be it 7 min/mile, slower or faster.  Obviously it isn't 100% accurate, but based on the 42,900 miles I've run between May 5, 1993 and December 31, 2009, I think my pace estimate is pretty well dialed in.

So here's to a Happy New Year and New Decade 2010 and may you resolve to track your mileage in a monster Excel spreadsheet like me!

For the record, I logged 1,971 miles in 2009 over the course of 14,346 minutes (or about 239 hours). Wow, that is a lot of time spent running! But I love it!

Obsessive-Compulsive Running and Running Streaks

My last post to this blog was at 10:08 pm on Monday night.  It was kind of a negative post.  I shut down the computer, laced up the shoes, and went out for a run.  I love the cooler temperatures this week and my body has reacted positively to both the cold and to the work of my chiropractor.  So after 2 weeks of back pain and a 5 week downhill spiral in my training, I think I'm back to FEELING GOOD AGAIN!

Runner's World recently mentioned Ron Hill, who is a 3-time Olympic Marathoner who won the 1970 Boston Marathon in a (then) course record of 2 hours, 10 1/2 minutes.  Hill is now 71 years old and what really got my attention is the fact that he has running streak of nearly 45 years!!

I was born in July 1964.  Ron Hill has not missed a day of running since December 1964!

Heck, now I'm feeling guilty that I took 5 days off when I had the swine flu earlier this month!  I could have run just 1 measly mile each day!

Nah!!  I'm not THAT obsessed with running (though my wife would argue that point).

Ron Hill has been able to run at least 1 mile each day at ANY pace, so he was able to continue to continue his streak after bunion surgery, wearing a plaster cast crutch), by running some miles in the 20 minute range.  He broke his sternum in a 1993 head-on car crash but luckily had already run earlier that day.  But for the next month he sneaked out of the house while his wife was out shopping or was still asleep.

This dude is crazy and obsessed with his running!  I love it!

I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive with my running but I have my limits. Call me a wimp, but if I'm REALLY sick I'll take time off.  If I'm injured to the point I cannot run, I don't run.  On rare occasions I am simply

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Back at It, Almost Recovered

I'm not real happy to report that last week's mileage was only 28.5 feeble, slow miles as I battled a combination of lower back pain, hot weather and general tiredness and lazyness. My longest run was a slowpoke 5.5 miles.

Six weeks until the Santa Barbara Marathon and at this point I'm not really sure I want to run it.  My mileage and training has been hampered by illness and injuries but we shall see. 

Truth be told...the back spasm was less of an issue than my general inability to wake up and run.  I am so looking forward to the additional hour of sleep this Sunday as Daylight Saving Time goes away until the spring.

In the latest Runners World magazine the publisher had a nice discussion about his own training and how he's doing all the right thing in preparation for an upcoming marathon.  Something that hit home with me was his insistence on getting to bed early enough so that he could wake up for his early morning run.  He mentioned he was dedicated to the task, with the occasional exception of his hometown team playing late.

My commitment to this "comeback" marathon has waned of late I think in large part to my inability to train properly.  On the other hand, MY SLEEP HAS BEEN INADEQUATE for most of the last 6 months.  Probably 75% of that is my own fault...staying up late with this website that I love, writing, corresponding...and then winding down at midnight with the TV on.  Not good at all for the training...

So here I am at 10:15 pm...writing this blog post and planning on a 20 minute run afterwards.  Shower and get to bed by midnight. 

Do as I say, not as I do...

Slowing Things Down as We Age

Before I get to the main topic, my mileage last week (week 20 of my training for the Santa Barbara Marathon) was 48 with a long run of 13.1 miles in a half marathon race.  I've been hoping to achieve 60 miles in a week at some point but this week also looks to be on the light side.

On the topic of mileage and training hard as my age advances, I came across another interesting article in a recent Wall Street Journal.  The article, "Older, Wiser, Slower" touches on this issue of training too hard as we age...something I find myself constantly struggling with.

Just 10 years ago I was running 70, 80, 90 miles per week in my marathon training.  I was in my mid-30s, single, no kids and in my distance running prime. 

Today I can barely contemplate running those kind of miles, as my life has changed and time is so scarce.  But on top of that and maybe more importantly, my body has aged and can only take so much hard core training and competition.

I ran 5 or 6 marathons in the 2:35 to 2:40 range in the mid to late 1990s. Today that seems impossible because not only do I not have time to train that hard (nor the time to recover from such training), but my body just won't let me do it!  I'm constantly battling and re-battling injuries, new and old.

So the article basically tells us we have to acknowledge our limitations as we age and literally slow down or risk really hurting ourselves.  Overuse injuries, lack of rest and stressing ourselves out about our training can kill us! 

Type A runners can do a number on themselves attempting to compete at a fanatical level year in, year out and can lead to either complete burnout (and abandoning exercise altogether) or doubling up our training in pursuit of the past.

I am a member of the Conejo Track Club, which is a local group of runners, the majority of which are in their 50s, 60s and beyond (I ain't quite there yet). It is motivational and encouraging to see this wonderful group of runners and friends continue to stay active through the years.  Their times slow down, many stop running but continue with walking long distances and others move on to other forms of exercise...cycling, skiing, hiking, etc.

Take a lesson from these aging athletes.  Slowing down as you age is a natural progression that allows you to stay in the game. 

Tuning Up For a Marathon by Running a Half Marathon

Yesterday I ran the Point Mugu Half Marathon* at Naval Base Ventura County. After 20 weeks of training, mostly mileage buildup and long runs, it was good timing to gauge my marathon fitness level by running a half marathon.

Now it wouldn't be prudent to run the half marathon within a month of the marathon date. Since the Santa Barbara Marathon is on December 6th, that wasn't an issue.

The marathon is the "main event" in my training schedule, so I didn't treat yesterday's half marathon too seriously.  If I had, I would have tapered off my mileage for the event to gear up for a top performance.  For a full-blown competitive half marathon performance I might taper off the mileage for a week.  For yesterday's race, I ran light (only 4 miles) the day before the race.

Running a half marathon as a training run provides the opportunity to practice the important skill of taking in fluids on the run.  The art of grabbing a cup of water/sports drink from a volunteer and drinking its contents, is a good one to practice.  I hate stopping during the middle of a race.  It ruins my momentum. So it is important to know how to grab that cup and down it efficiently.

In this race, there were 6 or 7 water stops. I grabbed liquid at all of the stops except the final one (which was only a mile or so from the end of the race).  Each stand had both water and Gatorade.  I was running alone pretty much the entire race, so as I approached the stop, I yelled out " Do you have Gatorade?" This triggered the Seabee volunteer to have a cup ready for me.  Worked fine for me.

The approach that I use to consuming the liquid is to squeese the top of the cup, turn it sideways, and pour it in.  Makes it much easier to drink "on the run."

OK, so back to the race itself.  I'm happy to report that I finished in 3rd place overall in 1 hour, 23 minutes, 53 seconds.  Not a bad showing for the race, particularly given I have done no form of "speed work" on a track or otherwise. 

The "rule of thumb" I've been using for years is, assuming you do adequate long runs, take your half marathon time and multiply by 2.1 to get your full marathon approximate fitness level.  For yesterday's performance, I take 64 (rounded up) minutes x 2.1 = 176.4 minutes = 2 hours, 56 minutes, 24 seconds (.4 minutes x 60 seconds = 24 seconds).

So, all else equal, yesterday's half marathon performance indicates I have the ability to run a sub 3-hour marathon.

Another rule of thumb for estimating marathon time is to take your 10K time and multiply by 4.7. So if you can run a 10K in 45 minutes, assuming you've done your marathon (e.g. long run) training, in theory you are fit to run a 3 1/2 hour marathon.

These are just rules of thumb, but they have always worked pretty well for me. It is also fun to work backwards based on your desired marathon time.  If you're looking to run a 4 hour marathon, divide 240 minutes by 4.7 to determine a 51 minute 10K should get you close to that goal.

That said, I'll we doing 3 or 4 5K and 10K races in these final 11 weeks pre-marathon, interspersed with 2 to 3 more long runs.

* The Point Mugu Half Marathon course has its pros and cons.  Race was completely flat as the entire course is within 1/4 mile of the Pacific Ocean.   Very low key race with less than 100 competitors.  Most of course is nowhere near cars and traffic!  Miles 5 through 9.5 (approximate) were directly adjacent to the ocean!  Race entry fees were extremely low.  Within a minute after the start of the race we were blessed with a live performance of the National Anthem by a Naval band. Well organized, well marked course. And, the entire race was under overcast skies, which was quite nice!

The cons I suppose were that other than close proximity to the ocean, the course is a bit lacking in terms of scenery (in fact, it was quite swampy and smelly over a few sections of the course). Around mile 7 or 8 I heard some target practice going on, which had the unintended effect of pushing my pace to get outta there!

Listen to Your Body...And Do What Feel's Right

So today was a comeback of sorts for me.  I ran the Bulldog 25K in Malibu Creek State Park, Calabasas. 

Well, technically I didn't run the Bulldog 25K "race" today.  But I did run the Bulldog 25K. Huh? I was signed up for the 2-loop Bulldog 50K but called it a day after the first loop.  And am very happy about it.

If you've been reading this blog, you may recall that my last long run of 20 miles took place on 7/26, then I took a week's vacation, but 5 days after returning threw out my back in a big way. The last several weeks I've visited a local chiropractor 6 time and, finally, after repeated treatment, am finally past my latest injury.  In the meantime, my training over the last 4 weeks has been light and my fitness level dropped.

So while a month ago I fully intended to run the full Bulldog 50K as a training run for the Santa Barbara Marathon in December, today I was THRILLED just to be able to get out there and run!

Years ago, before my life was overtaken by rugrats, I won the Bulldog 30K (now the 25K) 2 times in 3 years and was 4th the other year running with injury. The nice folks organizing the race sent me a complimentary entry this year.  I figured, what the heck, let's try the 50K.

My training was not geared towards this 50K as some of my runner friends, especially the trail runners, avidly pointed out. The Bulldog 25K is a challenging (some might say BRUTAL), run that starts at Malibu Creek State Park off Las Virgenes and has a net elevation climb of 4,000 feet. There are 2 4-mile climbs up Bulldog Mountain (elevation 2,528 feet)! The 50K is double the net elevation gain...and pain!

Given the fact that I hadn't run longer than 6 miles over the last 4 weeks and I'm coming off an injury, it really didn't make sense to run the 50K, which at 31 miles is nearly 5 miles longer than the marathon distance...heck, I've never run over 26.2 miles.

But, I figured I could nail down 15.5 miles, even on the brutally hilly course. My goal was to start the race I see how I felt. It took the 2 climbs to the top of Bulldog Mountain for me to realize that I didn't have 50K in my today...and if I tried, I'd probably injure myself.

So I pulled off my number after 25K with a time of 2 hours, 12 minutes. The time was a little slow for me as I walked up many of the steep hills (as do many others). The race volunteers looked shocked at my departure as I wasn't hobbling in pain or anything.  And I'm pretty sure I was in the top 3 to 5, after having battled a bit with the lead woman in the race who was like a billy goat swallowing up the steep uphills! But I'm happy to be back and to get a good 15 miler in!

If you are looking for a challenge, check out the Bulldog races. They are well organized, the volunteers are very good and they have their act together! The Bulldog 50K has been run since 1992 and is one of the few "ultra" (i.e race longer than the traditional 26.2 mile marathon length) runs near Ventura County.

The 50K starts at 6:30 a.m., which generally means you have to wake up at 5 a.m. to start preparing, drive there, register, etc. I'm not real good about waking up at 5 a.m., but I got there at 6 a.m. and the parking lot was packed with several hundred people.  One might expect to see a cast of crazy offbeat characters willing to put there bodies through this 31 mile fire road early on an August morning. But not at fact, these people were very mainstream looking for a challenge.

Time for some ice...and maybe a beer.

You Can Beat But You Can't Cheat the Heat!

Let me first say that last week's mileage was 51, only 1 mile more than the previous week even though I managed to get a 15 miler in. I took Sunday off, which is a rarity for me. I was pretty beat up from the Saturday long run and the day off helped me out, as did yesterday's massage! As I get older I am more and more convinced that regular massage is one of the most important things you can do to rescue your body from the pounding of long distance running!

We're getting into the hottest time of the year now. If you're training for a Fall marathon and are increasing the length of your long runs like you're supposed to be doing, how are you going to handle the heat? Let me ramble a bit.

You are a night owl and can't wake up early. Well this is a problem, especially given most marathons start early in the morning. Your options are a) run in the heat; b) do your long runs at night; c) as part of your training start getting to bed earlier and run early; or d) do some long runs at night and some in the morning. I think your best bet is choice d) as it is a compromise and doesn't completely tweak your schedule. Choice a) could be problematic if you're doing 20 milers when its 90 degrees outside.

You wake up early but the heat is really, well, hot. Some of you may have no problem getting out the door at 5 a.m. to run 20 miles at say 10 minute per mile pace. That means you'll be on your feet until around 8:30 a.m. But between the heat and 200 minutes on your feet, you're concerned about your well being. Carry plenty of cold fluids. Perhaps create a 6 to 7 mile loop that passes by your house. Leave extra bottles filled with ice/fluid at your house so that you can replenish each loop.

You are like me and tend to wake up around 7 a.m. Assuming you get out the door by 7:30 a.m., you'll be out and about until 10 a.m. or so in the blazing heat. It is 85 degrees outside at 8 a.m. Keep your expectations in check. Mentally your goal is to run, as slowly as you need to.  You are running for TIME, not distance.  While your intent may be to run 20 miles, don't "sweat" it (so to speak) if you don't come close to that goal.  But if you can stay on your feet for the time "equivalent" of 20 miles (e.g. 200 minutes if you run at a 10 min/mile pace), you done good!  That said, your best bet is...get yourself to bed and outta bed earlier than your norm.

How about 20 miles on a treadmill? A 60 year old runner friend of mine has the mental fortitude to do this.  I don't.  It is a test of will to run 20 miles on a treadmill and frankly I'd prefer to have dental surgery or even a colonoscopy to this prospect.  But if you can wing it and have fluid handy, then go for it!  If you have your own treadmill, turn a large fan on, find a football game, 3+ hour movie (Forrest Gump?), load up a tray with fluids, and get that 20 miler in without the heat.

Running 20 miles in the early evening.  I used to do this.  Take off work early and start my long run at 5 p.m.  Not particularly enjoyable for me at the time, but it did the trick. The ground is still hot and it can be 85 degrees at this time of day during the summer.  You could also run long later at night, but that gets a bit dicey when you can't see the roads clearly.

Can't fit in 20 miler due to the heat.  It is not particularly healthy running in 90 degree heat.  Some of you shouldn't do this for your own health.  But if you have a hard time fitting in the 20 miler when the temps are lower, your backup 10 miles in the a.m. and 10 miles at night.  That's right! Split your run into two.  While not the optimal training plan, splitting your run into two parts enables you to get in the mileage you need for a marathon.

Not motivated to run 20 miles in the heat?  Don't run alone.  Make some runner friends and train together.  Always helps!

Let's keep the training momentum moving along all summer!

I Know the Real Reason Why Palin Resigned!

On June 29th, Runner's World published its August issue with the article, "I'm a Runner: Sarah Palin," The article has an extensive interview with the ex-VP candidate about running!

Four days, later, Palin hastily announced her resignation as Governor of Alaska.

No one seems to know exactly why she is resigning. I listened to her speech and couldn't figure it out. I've read everything from she's preparing for a 2012 Presidential run to she's burnt out and wants to be with family or today's comment from Palin's ex-almost-son-in-law Levi Johnston that he thinks she's leaving to make some money.

Well I read the RW article and am convinced that she's quitting to train for a new marathon PR! She ran the 2005 Humpy's Classic Marathon in Anchorage in under 4 hours (3:59:36). Palin then goes on to say "It wasn't necessarily a good running time, but it proves I have the endurance within me to at least gut it out and that is something."

So there you have it. While Palin is pleased about running a sub-4, I'm certain she is about to go into stealth training mode for perhaps a sub 3:30 performance!? Go for it, Sarah!

I reviewed her performance on my favorite marathon events website,, and she finished 63rd overall out of 203 finishers and was 15th out of 63 women finishers. Nice job!

She made a few statements in the article that may ring hollow now that she's resigned: "You get bummed and burned out sometimes in running and in politics, but if you're in for the long haul and you're in it because you know that it is a good thing, then you get out there and you do it anyway" and "He (dad) used to tell us to call on the rock during a race when we were hurting and we were tired and wanted to quit." Maybe she couldn't find a rock.

Here are some neat additional photos of Sarah Palin in her running gear (though oddly none of them actually show her running).

Well enough of that. Another ex-Governor, Eliot Spitzer, was also profiled in Runner's World back in late 2006. He ran a 3:58:43 New York Marathon in 1983 at the age of 24. Palin's got him beat as she ran her sub-4 at age 41. In Spitzer's article, he says "My wife doesn't mind when I slip out at 5 a.m." ...hmmm, slipping out to do what...?

How about these other marathon performances by well known politicians:

  • George W. Bush ran the 1993 Houston Marathon in 3:44:52 at age 47.  Nice job W!
  • John Edwards ran the 1983 Marine Corps Marathon in 3:30:18 at age 30.  Well done.
  • Al Gore as V.P. ran the 1997 Marine Corps Marathon in 4:58:25 at age 49. Oprah did the race in 4:29:20 in 1994.
  • Mike Huckabee has run 4 marathons with a best of 4:37:34 in Little Rock at age 50.
  • Michael Dukakis ran the 1951 Boston Marathon in 3:31, good for 57th overall at age 18.

Sarah made a comment that rings very clear! "Is running nonpartisan? 'Oh, thank God, it's nonpartisan. It doesn't matter your background, your demographics, your race, your political affiliation—it's such a uniting, healthy, fun, awesome activity.'"  WE AGREE WHOLEHEARTEDLY, SARAH!  Running is an AWESOME activity!  YOU BETCHA!