Nov 26, 2010

NYRRC Knickerbocker 60K: 9:39:something

I suppose that if 37.2 bone-crushing miles of hilly asphalt wouldn't serve as a wake up call, nothing will. Time will tell if this wake-up call stands a test of time that will produce real results, but, from the very first mile, I just felt... heavy. And I crashed early, and basically walked the last 20 miles - a few isolated instances of running, but mostly - walked.

The day was otherwise great!

With friends, trying to stay warm before the race

I forgot how awesome a running venue Central Park is. There were a million people there! And they were so fast! The people who run in The Park are real deal.. people routinely whoosh by at sub 6-minute pace.. it's really cool to see.

And they were also so excited! I've never run an ultra with so much crowd support. Most of them presumably had little or no idea that an ultra was going on in the park that day, so I guess they saw "60K" on our race bibs. I've never seen so many people cheering in any race, NYC Marathon notwithstanding. People were giving me high-fives, and way-to-gos, and great-jobs all day long!

Anyway, Laps 1 and 2 were pretty typical early-ultra miles. Walked all the hills, except when I didn't. In laps 3 and 4, I really did walk all the hills. In Lap 5, my friend Moses, who recently completed the NYC marathon, rode his bike down from New Jersey and hung out with me for an entire lap (which must have seemed excruciatingly slow for him.) It was great to talk to someone for an hour! That would turn out to be my last sub-1 hour lap. Lap 6 is the first time I felt unable to run, and I basically walked the entire lap. In the past, walking a lap like this has allowed me to recover enough that I could start running again; not today. I walked all of lap 7, too.

At the end of lap 6, a volunteer told me that I had 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the race - that there was an 8:30 cutoff. Under normal circumstances, 12 miles in 2:20 would be no problem - but not after 25 miles and especially not when I felt so... fat.

Anyway, in the first half of lap 7, I figured that I would take a DNF after 8 laps, due to missing a cutoff. But at some point in the loop I thought, "that's lame" and realized that, aside from having an official finish, there is absolutely no reason or excuse for me not to complete 9 laps. So when I finished lap 7 and the same volunteer told me she was wrong, and the cutoff was actually 8 hours and not 8.5, I didn't really care. On lap 8, I was largely on my own. Still walking most of it, here is actually where I ran more than about 15% of the loop. So when I came around after the 8-hour cutoff, most of the volunteers were gone, but a few people and all the equipment were still there.

One asked, "Are you finished?"

"1 more to go."


... and he gave no indication that I wouldn't be finishing the race. The volunteer who had told me about the cutoff was gone. At this point I really thought I could do the last lap faster, but despite my best effort, it turned out mostly a walk. The sun set and it got dark on this lap. I snapped a photo with the moon in the background on the home stretch.

Home stretch: 1/2 mile to go.

When I got to the point where I could see the finish line, I couldn't see anybody. The timing mat, the tents, the barriers - all the equipment was gone. Maybe the volunteer was right.
It wasn't until I was actually at the finish line when I saw a man waiting. He walked up to me, looked at my watch, and asked if I had my time. He wrote it down on a folded up piece of paper. Cool! I'm going to get an official finish after all! I asked if I was the last person, and he told me there was one more person on the course. I thanked him for waiting and said goodbye.

"Wait a minute, I've got a plaque for you." And he handed me this totally unexpected and ultra-cool plaque!

Cool Plaque!!

New entries for Steve's blog are published on Mondays and Thursdays at 10:00am NY time

Nov 4, 2010

On treadmills

Two years ago, the attitude I had towards treadmills, also known as dreadmills, also known as hamster wheels, also known as "devices that take all the pleasure out of going out for a run" was.. rather negative. I avoided them at all costs. I never seemed to get a decent workout on them. I always quit early due to boredom. I clearly remember looking into the windows of a gym on a nice spring day, seeing people running on treadmills, and wondering, "what's wrong with them?" It was so nice outside that I couldn't see why someone would take their workout to something so.. boring.

That opinion has undergone a gradual but dramatic change. First, I went from "never use" to a "necessary evil." Then to a "tool in the toolbox." Then, this past winter when it was cold and dark all the time, an "excellent safe way to run." And now, after yesterday's run, I see treadmills as a vital training tool, where I can get a unique workout that I can't get elsewhere.

Simply stated, their benefit lies in the fact that I manually, deliberately set the speed. And then, the treadmill, not my body, dictates the pace.

When I'm going outside for a run on asphalt, I'll wear my GPS watch and monitor my pace. I've noticed that, without thinking about it, as the miles tick off, I notice the minutes per mile creeping up as I get farther and farther into the workout. I can deliberately push the pace back to what it was in the first mile, but that's mentally taxing and difficult to sustain. As a result, my outdoor runs typically have a positive split.

On the other hand, when on a treadmill, I dial in the speed and the belt moves that fast whether my body wants to or not. In order to slow down, I have to make a deliberate mental decision, and turn the speed down manually. When doing so, I'm reluctant to turn it down too much, and also for not too long - effectively giving me a recovery period at a pretty fast pace. Also, I tend to have a negative split on the treadmill.

These benefits started to dawn on me this past spring when I was doing a lot of treadmill training, but I forgot about them as the weather started getting nice I shifted my attention to outdoor running to take advantage of it. Treadmill running became less and less prevalant, and as a result I can count on one hand the number of times I've run a 'mill between May and October. The outdoor runs were often on trails, and while they usually weren't easy, they *were* always very enjoyable.

And, perhaps not coincidentally, I noticed a dramatic and devastating speed decrease.

For the first time in months, I visited the gym last night for a treadmill run, mostly because it was getting late and I didn't feel like running in the dark. I started it at 5.5MPH, and added 0.1MPH every minute for ten minutes, so I was at 6.5MPH for a while. At 20:00, I was pretty tired, so I dialed the speed back to 6.0MPH and decided that it would be only for 5 minutes. It was hard but, at the end of 5 minutes of 6.0, I did feel better than the end of the previous 10 minutes at 6.5. What I did next was speed it back up to 6.5 again, and held that until I hit 30 minutes/3.1 miles (5K.) I was spent at this point. Then I did the treadmill-programmed cooldown, which at 3.5mph wasn't very pleasant for the first minute, but it backs off 0.5mph every minute for 5 minutes and I felt fully recovered by the end.

On the drive home, I reflected on the fact that -
* If I ran outside, the entire run would probably have been below 6MPH - maybe even below 5.5MPH.
* I don't feel like I can run a 30-minute 5K right now, but I did it on a treadmill
* I would have dealt with traffic, cold, and dark
* There definitely would not have been a thorough cool-down
* The only bright side was that, perhaps I would have gone longer - but overall, I wouldn't have gotten as good a workout.

The fast-paced recovery periods must be a critically effective tool in my experiment-of-one. I am no exercise physiologist, but I seem to remember something about "active recovery" that really forces the body to adapt to higher-intensity training, or at least faster running. This it also makes a lot of sense that if I force my body to recover at a somewhat intense pace before diaing in the speed again, then the body's natural recovery speed will adapt to that intense pace such that I can, if I want, run longer distances at that pace.

And, now that winter is nearly here, I think I'll be doing a lot more treadmill running anyway. For the first time in a while, I'm genuinely excited and hopeful about the direction of my training, and I have treadmills to thank for it.

Steve is taking a break from writing regular updates to his blog