Friday, December 30, 2011

Year-end Stats

This is the first year my annual average pace has slowed since I started recording GPS data...and I began the year far faster than I ended it. This is the second consecutive year my total mileage has declined. I am definitely concerned because I read somewhere that the average age a marathoner peaks is 38.

That said, I still believe I can improve my pace. After all, I have not been running all of my life...and I recorded official personal bests in the 10Km and both the half and full marathon this year. I would love to get my annual average down to 8:00 per mile, but that will require a lot of effort. At the moment, I am having issues averaging 9.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

17 Mile BRB Orbit

Not great, but not bad considering how little I ran during my tour of Southeast Asia.

Garmin Data

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Running In Saigon

Frustrated that flooding prevented me from running on the streets of Siem Reap, I have been itching to get out on the streets of Saigon. I would have run yesterday if we hadn't booked a full day trip to the Mekong Delta...which required an early departure so we could stop for ca phe sua da before catching the bus from Saigon Tourist.

Concerned that daytime temperatures are significantly warmer (and traffic crazier) during the day here, I wake up at 5am to make sure I am outside by 5:30. It is raining lightly when I first step outside, but the sky is lightening. Perhaps the reason will stop. This is probably the last time I can run during our trip given how long it takes our clothes to air dry (and Valerie does not want to pack stinky running clothes for our long flights home). I take my chances and cross the traffic circle.

I warm up by orbiting the traffic circle's island. Actually, the one in front of the hotel is more of a hemi-circle. I then cross over to the river side of the main street here assuming that I would have fewer intersections to cross by following it south as far as I can. Note that I do not have a hotel provided running map. I will be making this route up as I go along. I have looked at Google Maps, so I know there will be a bridge roughly a half mile from here. I just don't know if I can safely run across it, turn before it, or if I will have to turn back the way I came.

The sidewalk on the riverside of Ton Duc Thang starts wide as there appears to be a park to my left (along with a couple of riverside restaurants). However, barriers prevent me from crossing into the I continue close to the street. This stretch soon ends and I see stairs up to the bridge...and I can see the sidewalk on the bridge has a railing dividing it from the traffic. I decide to cross the bridge. Unexpectedly, this may be the safest stretch of my entire run.

The steps descend to Nguyen Tat Thanh near a pink government building of some kind with a warship clearly beyond. As I continue along street level, I pass Saigon Port (where the ship is docked) and soon come to the first intersection. To the right, this street appears to be a major avenue, but to the left it seems a quiet side street. I do not expect much cross traffic, so I have no issue crossing it...but figure I should see if it brings me to a road that brings me closer to the water.

The neighborhood here is a bit more sketchy, but there are some cafes and food carts here...likely will get busy during lunch given their proximity to the port. I find it amusing how some Vietnamese just seem to stand in front of their homes doing hardly anything. I wonder what they must be thinking about me as I run by them...I can feel their stares. This street dead-ends at a gate, so I must turn back.

I continue south along Nguyen Tat Thanh, but the sidewalk area varies in width. I must watch every step for puddles, mud, potholes, planters, parked scooters, pedestrians. Ocassionaly a scooter pulls out or crosses to park on the sidewalk ahead of me. My pace suffers as obstacle avoidance becomes my primary concern. A pair of buses loading passengers and some rather large flower displays placed adjacent to them push me to the limit, but I manage to get through the crowd safely and without having to divert into oncoming lanes of traffic.

I cross another quiet side street no longer feeling compelled to explore it. The road continues alongside a wall with no ideal stretch of sidewalk to regain my pace. Some low hanging branches cause me to such from time to time and there are still puddles and muddy patches to avoid,but I am feeling much better now.

I come to a fork in the road. One road remains at street level to my left. The other two options lead to bridges. I figure this is as good as any point to turn back.

Traffic is increasing, but, as I have remained on the same side of the street, I am now going with the flow. Should I need to step in the street to avoid something on the sidewalk (or due to lack of sidewalk), I will have to look back first to make sure I don't step in front of a vehicle.

The buses have departed, so the return run seems less eventful even though more businesses have opened and placed stuff on (or have scooters parked upon) the sidewalks in front of them. I even pass a banh mi cart...surprised how early some of these start serving.

Before crossing the bridge back to the hotel, I decide to check under see if there is a nice walkway to run along the canal. It does not look all that nice, so I go back to the bridge.

I continue north past the hotel to see how far I can go without encountering a major intersection. I make it as far as a shipyard. So many vehicles, mostly scooters, flow in and out of or around the entrance...many using the sidewalk beyond it as an additional lane...that I decide to turn back. My run will total more than 5 miles, so this is sufficient distance given how infrequently I have run since arriving in Southeast Asia.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Not Treading Water in Siem Reap

With the streets around the hotel submerged due to flooding from the adjacent river and the rain refusing to stop long enough for these waters to subside I reluctantly decide to use one of the treadmills in the hotel's fitness center.

Hoping to avert boredom, I turn on one of the TVs.  The first one has sound, but no I switch treadmills and try the other.  This one works, but I fail to find anything worth watching.  I leave it tuned to a channel showing 2012...and start my run.

I hate running on treadmills.  I feel like I am going nowhere fast.  I set the pace to 12km/hr to guarantee I complete 10km before Valerie's massage is done. This machine's display is annoying because I can only display distance or time...not both.  I leave it on distance.

Around 1.1km, I lose my footing and  accidentally pull on the emergency stop cable (which I had clipped to my shirt).  Great.  The machine has completely reset, so I have no idea how long I have been running.  I set my distance goal for 8.9 km and start again at 12 kph.

I accidentally swat the emergency stop cord with my arm around 3km into the run.  I decide to not clip it to my shirt when I continue.  But before I do, I look too se what the temperature in the room is set to.  The humidity is really getting to me.  Sweat pours down my face and my shirt is sticking to my chest.  I find the thermostat..the air conditioner is not even on!  I flip the switch, set it to 25, and restart the treadmill with 7km as my distance goal.

By 5km, I feel the temperature has reached a more pleasant level...but the damage has already been done.  I am struggling to maintain the 12kph pace.

Another hotel guest looks in the window of the fitness center.  She appears to be staring at me, perhaps in total disbelief that someone is actually running here. I haven't seen anyone use the fitness center since we've arrived.

As I approach the 7km mark, I decide to stop.  I probably could have continued if I was willing to reduce the pace...but didn't want to do so because I can still easily compute my total running time.

35 minutes.  Not bad.  12kph is roughly 8 minutes per mile, a decent pace considering I hadn't run in over a week.  If I had run outside, I surely would have been compelled to run further.

That said, I would have really loved to have run around Angkor Wat.  Perhaps I should return here for the (half) marathon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Running in Ha Noi

At 5am, I start getting ready to run. I am really curious to see if I can tolerate the heat and humidity...and for how many miles.

I am out the door by 5:30am, but it takes time for my Garmin watch to acquire the GPS signal. The sun may or may not be is overcast and a tad foggy. As expected, it is very sticky and warm.

I run thru the parks that neighbor the Metropole en route to the lake. Many people are already out and about working out in one form or another. Certain individuals appear to be doing nothing more than simply moving their limbs. At least they ARE moving. A larger group has gathered by the statue of King Ly. Someone on the steps appears to be leading this group and music accompanies their actions, though I would hardly describe it as synchronized. Amusing to watch as I run by.

I decide to circle Hoan Kiem Lake clockwise...the direction Valerie and I walked yesterday afternoon. The surrounding streets are one way (though scooters view this as merely a suggestion) in the opposite direction, so I can see the traffic coming should I need to avoid people on the sidewalk. Most of the people here are either trying to follow along with the group in the park or do similarly stationary activities. There are a number of walkers...with only a few exceptions they are flowing opposite of my direction. I am constantly avoiding people near the lake, so I decide to stay closer to the street on subsequent laps. A lap is barely more than a mile long (and it would be far too dangerous to run anywhere else), so I plan to do at least four.

After my second lap, I decide to reverse my direction and go with the flow. I notice that I am taller and quite a bit faster than anyone around me...even though I am only averaging between 8:00 and 8:30 per mile. I am not entirely sure this is the better way to go. I soon notice quite a few runners going in my original direction.

On my fourth lap, I decide to stop take photos at various locations I have noted along the way. I am pouring sweat and really feel the heat on my back when I stop moving. The sun momentarily breaks through the fog as I am on the far side of the lake. This will be my last lap for sure.

As I run back through the parks, I am a bit surprised to find the large group by the statue still working out. Not only that, their leader seems to be orchestrating some kind of synchronized laughing as part of the routine. So surreal. A lot of people are playing badminton within the park and on courts that are located upon the sidewalks. A miss hit birdie could easily end up in the street.

I return to the Metropole having logged fewer than 4.5 miles, so I do one complete orbit of the hotel before calling it quits. I would run longer, but Valerie and I have to be ready to meet our tour guide for breakfast.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

21.5 Miler Ahead of Trip

With interest in doing one half or full marathon before the year ends, I've stepped up my training. In the past month or two, I've managed a couple of 16's and, last week, ran an 18 miler. Though I usually ramp up using a very specific schedule, I attempted a 22-23 miler this morning, but fell slightly short with a still respectable 21.5 miler (at an average pace of 8:43/mile).

There are two reasons I wanted to run more than 21 miles this week. For starters, I really wanted to see how feasible running to work would be. If we had showers at the office, I would definitely consider doing so at least once a excuse to add a mid-week 10+ miler would probably do wonders for my training. I long said I wanted to try running to Naughty Dog (basically a marathon from my house). This run took me around an hour-and-half, less time than it took me to drive to Santa Monica on some mornings...and today's run proves I could actually consider commuting to and from Big Red Button! But my primary reason for today's effort was to squeeze in one last long run before my upcoming trip.

For the rest of the month, I will be touring Vietnam and Cambodia. The weather forecast suggests temperatures that will feel like they are well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, but never cooler than the 80's overnight. Frequent visitors to this my blog know I do not run well when temperatures inch over 80. I also have no idea how much time I should devote to running given that this is a tour. Chances are I will not attempt a long run while I am there because I do want to have energy for hiking...and taking a lot of photographs (I will be carrying 15lbs of gear on my back most of the time). When possible I will wake up before sunrise and run outside, but suspect I will spend more time on treadmills in the hotel fitness centers. To balance the loss of long runs, I will probably run daily at far shorter distances (i.e. 3 miles) than usual. I'm not sure what I'm going to do while I'm on a junk sailing around Ha Long Bay though...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Hills Are Alive 10K 2.0

Despite going to bed later than planned, I have no problems waking up when my alarm goes off at 6am. A quick glance outside is encouraging...the marine layer is present. Hopefully it will not burn off until after the race.

I have some cereal and coffee for breakfast. I am a little concerned that my stomach is upset. Yesterday, I ate a late and heavy lunch that had me feeling too full to eat much for dinner. I even ate dinner unusually late, a departure from my normal pre-race routine. And these are not the kind of runs I need to be doing right now. Crossing fingers I feel better as race time approaches.

I am out the door by 7:15. It is the perfect temperature for a nice warm up jog down to the course. I stop to take pictures along the way. Not having to stress over traffic or parking really helps me stay calm before a race. As I press the crosswalk button to cross Palos Verdes Drive North, I almost put my hand on a spider. Now I am a little stressed.

I arrive at Ernie Howlett Park with plenty of time to spare. My mile long warm up jog was faster than my race pace: 6:57. Didn't my 5:55 first mile on Thursday's workout serve as a warning to not go out too fast?

I meet up with John and his neighbor Sally (who I met at the PV Half) and hang out near the start. This is John and my second time running this 10K, but first time running it on the same day. He came close to catching me at the Palos Verdes Half Marathon, so I have a feeling he might be able to beat me.

I notice a lot of kids (PenHi's cross country team?) are running today. The announcer introduces a 91 year old who has run this race many times before and will be doing so again today. Broad age range.

The starting horn blows. Since we don't have timing chips, I start my Garmin watch before I cross the line...I hear John's Garmin beep at almost exactly the same time as mine.

As we come around the first bend, I feel that traffic is holding me back. I try to find space to advance along the right side of the trail, but lose my footing on the uneven path. Somehow I manage to stay on my feet without breaking my stride.

I check my pace. My watch is in "history" mode. I touch its bezel to toggle it back to "training". The timer reads 00:00:00! Crap! I press start, this time waiting to see the timer increment before looking back towards the course. Bummed that I will be unable to compare this data with my previous attempt, I briefly consider running back to the starting line.

The rest of the run is uneventful. The sky stays overcast, the course remains cool. The tunnels are darker than I remember...the trails dustier. I skip water from the first station (near mile 1), but grab a cup from the other three. I note my breathing is a bit heavy after the first sequence of hills, but I get it under control before entering the Botanical Gardens. The incline within and immediately following the exit from the Gardens remains a challenge. I smartly manage my pace on the long uphill gravel sweeper remembering that there's an additional climb I need to save myself for...though perhaps I could have pushed a little harder as I have plenty of energy left for a solid push down the last hill. During my sprint toward the finish line, I finally overtake a lady who had been slowly pulling away from me for much of the race...a minor victory.

I see my wife waiting for me at the finish line. I also see John. How did he get past me without me seeing him?

As I stop my Garmin, I realize I have absolutely no idea how fast I ran my race. I did not see the official clocks when I crossed the finish line. My watch reads 47:23 at 6.13 miles...less than a tenth of a mile short of a 10K, but I suspect I missed recording more mileage than that. My data from 2008 suggests this course is 6.4 miles long. John mentions recording a similar distance today.

John's time is in the 47's as well, but his watch has captured his whole race. He also does not recall passing me. Regardless, he ran a great race. I am not sure I could have run this course in the 47's...I rarely cover 10K distances in under 48 minutes even when there is little elevation change!

When the 10K results finally get posted, I am satisfied to see 49:05 by my name. 7:54 per mile. 7th in my division, 39th overall. Not bad. Better than my last race here by over a minute. And this is the first race I have run where I can directly compare my time with a previous event...this course has not changed.

John's 47:53 is good enough for 7th in his division.

Next year, I think I move into John's age division. We both plan to run it. In other words, I can't let him out of my sight.

My Garmin Data (edited)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Palos Verdes Half Marathon 2.0

Since I resumed running back in 2007, I have yet to repeat an event ...until today.

The Palos Verdes half and full may be the closest marathons to my home (and one of the more reasonably priced), but I would never have guessed either would break the streak. I seriously did not want to experience another meltdown on the Peninsula as I did three years ago.

My attitude started to change less than a month ago when John, a video game industry colleague, told me that this year's event would feature a new, flatter course. He planned to run PV as his first half marathon and encouraged me to join him. How could I resist the developer of Resistance?

I checked out the course map on the official website. I realized that, with only a few exceptions, I had already run upon these roads many times before and, in some cases, within much longer workouts. Two weeks ago, I included the few remaining ascents and descents in a 13+ miler. The new route felt much more like a home course...and yet I still hesitated to register.

I had lost a lot of speed since I achieved my PR at the Surf City Marathon. I had not only taken a full week off for snowboarding in early March, but had also come home with a cold. My calves needed more time than expected to recover from a late March six miler that I ran in Five Fingers. I had spent all of April trying to resume my normal routine. For awhile, I averaged between 9 and 10 minutes per mile...far off my annual average for the past two years.

Even this past week, I have only averaged in the 8 to 9 minute range.

In other words, I do not expect this to be a fast race, but I do expect to best my previous performance. And, no matter what, my time will be a PR for this particular course. This certainly takes some pressure off.

As does living five minutes from the shuttle stop. I drive up to the Promenade, find a parking spot right away, and join a relatively short line of people waiting to get transportated to the starting line. Buses arrive frequently, so I am seated before I become too aware of this morning's cool damp weather.

The bus drops us at the staging area between the starting line and the all-important port-a-potties. This is almost too convenient. Though it was a tad damp earlier, the weather now seems perfect--cool, overcast, no wind. I take out my smartphone to capture some shots. I have time to kill.

I meet up with John. He introduces me to one of his Manhattan Beach neighbors who will be running the half marathon today. I also meet Ryan, an Insomniac coworker who is using this event as training for an Ironman Triathlon. Why are none of my close friends running today? Where's Valerie?

I plan a late pit stop to make sure I do not repeat a certain issue I experienced during Surf City. I time the line perfectly, giving myself just enough time to go, walk back to the starting area on Palos Verdes Drive South, snap a picture of the starting corral, and find John and Ryan in the crowd. I do feel a touch of pre-race angst, but this is definitely the most relaxed I have ever been before a race.

The horn sounds.

There may only be a few thousand running today, but it still takes time to reach the initial timing mat. I forget about John and Ryan and immediately start looking for opportunities to advance along the right side of the road. After making my way through the initial pack, I get up to speed quickly...perhaps too quickly. I am totally experiencing race day euphoria. I wish I could somehow harness this feeling on training days.

The route's first turn takes us down Calle Entradero. This initial descent encourages me to run faster. I glance at my watch as I pass the first mile marker. 7:53 is well ahead of my average pace over the past month. Considering I have only run a few miles within the 7-to-8 minute per mile range over the past week or two, I grow concerned I may have started too fast. Fortunately, the first climb provides a natural brake.

The route turns north on Palos Verdes Drive West. Despite my better judgement, I pick up the pace. The elevation change here is minimal to downward trending. I complete the second mile even faster...7:49.

I spot my dad as I approach Paseo Lunado. I had told him in advance that this intersection would be a great location for spectators because the route crosses this street three times. Thankfully he did not rely upon the time estimates I provided because he would have arrived here too late. He videotapes me as I run by and on to Paseo Lunado.

When I ran here two weeks ago to scope out the course, I was uncertain whether the course turns down an alley or Via Pacheco (the online map does not list all of the street names). I am glad to see I guessed correctly. Knowing that Via Pacheco has a slight incline that starts to steepen just before turning down an alley helps me pace myself accordingly. And yet I complete the third mile in 7:35!

The alley drops sharply on to Via Caleta, increasing my pace yet again...but I am not worried. If you think about it, running a 5K in 24 minutes is not that fast. I carry the speed on to Paseo del Mar, but let it bleed off as I continue towards my second encounter with Paseo Lunado...and my dad.

Shortly after the mile 5 marker, I approach the a hydration station. I figure this is as good a time as any to consume my first Cliff Shot. Unfortunately, a couple things go wrong at this station. The volunteers are not prepared with fluids, only fruit and other snacks that I am not interested in (especially not after consuming the Cliff Shot). As I approach the final volunteer, he turns around to grab fluids. I run past, but, realizing I need to water to chase down the gel, decide to turn around and collect a cup of fluid. To make matters worse, this station only has Gatorade...which does not go well with my shot. I kick it up a notch as I turn myself around, hoping to make up for lost time.

Fortunately, this next stretch of Paseo del Mar is very familiar territory. I include it on ten and eleven mile home of my shortest "long" runs that I do on weekends. I usually detour on to a trail that runs along the cliffs, but don't mind sticking to the road for this race. The incline is a bit gentler...and seems easier than normal. I do not slow down nearly as much as I would have expected. Before I realize it, I have already turned south on to Palos Verdes Drive West...and my pace gradually increases yet again.

As I continue past Paseo Lunado on Palos Verdes Drive West, my dad catches up to me in his Prius and videotapes me with one hand while attempting to steer with the other. He is doing a fairly decent job of matching my pace, but I grow concerned he might be getting a bit too close to the curb. I tell him to watch where he is going. I shift my focus back to managing my pace.

After the 8th mile marker, I am surprised to see the course turns down Calle Entradero. I could have sworn the map shows us continuing straight on Palos Verdes Drive West. As the course flattens, I encounter a fairly strong headwind accompanied by light drizzle...and I start to worry that I will be facing this weather for the remainder of the race. As the road starts to turn back towards Palos Verdes Drive South, I face an additional unexpected challenge: the steepest incline of the entire race. I have run up far steeper and longer hills, but this one seems to be affecting me more...probably because I did not see it coming. I just hope I will be able to regain my pace once I reach the top!

I am relieved to be back on Palos Verdes Drive South. I can see the Starbucks at Golden Cove sounds really good right now.

The road straightens as I return to the start/finish line, but I still have three miles to run. Ahead I see what seems like a endless climb. It is not steep, but worrisome when combined with a headwind. As I run by Terranea, I realize I do not know exactly how far the course continues along Palos Verdes Drive South. The online map shows the route pass Wayfarer's Chapel, but does it reach the roller coaster ride known as Portuguese Bend?

I try to ease my present concerns by shifting my focus ahead. What goes up will come down. I think about how my legs will naturally accelerate over the long descent, how my heart rate will drop. The wind will be on my back. I tell myself I will finish strong. And then I realize I am running downhill again...meaning I will face at least one more incline before I finish.

Shortly after the turnaround point, John spots me from the opposite side. I cheer him on, happy to see that his race also appears to be going very well. Then it dawns on me. If I slow down on the final climb, he may catch I attack the hill.

I feel my pace drop, but I continue to push taking comfort in what lies ahead. As soon as the hill crests, I kick in the afterburner. There's less than a mile to go!

I am flying down to Terranea. A quick glance at my watch shows my pace accelerating towards 6 minutes per mile. I can see the finish line. I start looking for my mom and Valerie. I just catch a glimpse of them and hear their cheers as I go running by. I turn toward the chute and spot my friend Pete just as he notices me. By the time he gets his camera ready, I have already passed him and crossed the finish line.

I remember to stop my watch when I reach the volunteers who are handing out the medals. My watch reads 1:42:06. I am shocked. I have beaten my half marathon PR by over three minutes! I also feel like I could keep running. I am not at all winded. Could I be experiencing runner's high? I meet up with mom, Valerie, and Pete. All mention having a hard time snapping my picture. What...was I supposed to slow down?

John comes down the chute shortly after, achieving an impressive 1:44:10 for his first half marathon. Took me five tries to break 1:45. He needs a moment to catch his breath and sits down.

Another runner I do not recognize approaches. He thanks me for maintaining such a strong pace and mentions that I probably did not notice him because he was drafting off me for much of the race. This is a first.

Results (official)
1:42:03 (7:47/mi)

77 / 1013 overall
15 / 78 male finishers age 35-39

Monday, March 28, 2011

Muddy Five Fingers

Between March 4th and last Friday, I did not run at all. This was partly due to a week-long snowboarding trip I took in early March (I didn't even bother to pack running shoes) and because I picked up the flu on the final days of that trip.

When I resumed, I slipped on my Vibram Five Fingers and only attempted my short 1.5 mile orbit. My calves really burned the next morning...though any pain hardly seemed justified after such a short distance.

Yesterday, however, I attempted my first trail run in the Five Fingers, heading up to Burma Road with some friends. Unfortunately, the previous night's rain left the trail slick and muddy...and I would have likely aborted it even if my friends had not turned back early. I did cover three quarters of mile downhill before turning back, so it still proved to be a valuable learning experience. Key lessons learned:

1) Running over rocks with the Five Fingers is not a painful experience
2) Individual toes provide a great deal of traction in heavy mud
3) The top of the Five Fingers does not keep out moisture or mud (my foot felt wet even before it sank deep into it)
4) Getting chunks of mud and small rocks inside the shoe is not fun...and they are quite hard to remove (largely because I still can't get my toes back into the shoe very quickly)

After aborting the trail, we continued running until we totaled over 5.5 miles for the morning...which is actually the most I have run in the Five Fingers yet.

I still get blisters on the bottoms of my big toes and my calves have been really burning all day today. Neither of these issues have ever plagued me with traditional running shoes...and, until I overcome them, I should probably avoid longer runs in the Five Fingers.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Too Much Too Soon?

While I felt great running on Wednesday, this morning's 3 mile orbit felt a little off. My calves started off a bit tighter than normal...not entirely sure if this was merely a side-effect from not having fully recovered from Sunday's marathon or if it was caused by altering my stride to accommodate the Vibrams. After all, favoring toe or ball strikes puts more stress on the calves.

Today's run itself felt pretty good for the first mile...not fast, but comfortable. Running uphill just seems easier in minimalist shoes. There is less weight to lug around. Toe / ball strikes come naturally.

The first downhill proved a bit more challenging. This stretch gets a bit steeper than any descent on Wednesday's run...and I could feel it was quite a bit harder on the feet. This was one area I really appreciate my Kayanos...the added cushioning and spring from their gel-packed heels help my legs relax over such grades.

By the next incline, I started to feel heat under my big toes. The Vibrams appeared tight and fit snuggly, but my big toes were definitely slipping a tiny bit.

The longer more gradual descent from this orbit linked up with the downhill stretch from Wednesday's 1.5 mile orbit, but this time I felt my calves with each and every stride. Either I pushed too far in the Vibrams or too quickly after the marathon...or perhaps a little of both.

I have been especially eager to try my Vibrams on my favorite trail, but now I am thinking twice about doing five miles over the weekend. If my calves still burn on Sunday morning, I may opt to run Burma in my Kahanas or even perhaps just do my home orbit in my Kayanos.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

First 1.5 Mile Orbit in Five Fingers

Three days after running marathon #4, I was itching to get my legs moving again...not just because my legs feel great, but also because I have been most curious about seeing what it feels like to use the Vibram Five Fingers TrekSports under more typical running conditions.

Remember that I did not want to risk my messing with my training routine by introducing something radically different into the mix a month before a race. Playing it safe allowed me to set another personal record on Sunday. I am now free to experiment.

I had only run on them once before...a mile on the track. I had run in flats before, so running without support on a flat rubberized track did not seem of any real concern. But my home orbit is all pavement, all hill.

I especially liked the idea of introducing my feet to the Vibrams during my recovery week because I figured I would not be able to go all out in them...which would potentially open the door for more injury.

That said, it is amazing how great I felt running in them this morning.

My legs had clearly recovered. Though they may have felt better the day after Los Angeles (I think the brutal open reflexology massage I had after Surf City caused more pain come Monday), my legs and feet had no issues...not even a blister...that would delay my return.

The Vibrams are so light on the feet, that my legs had an additional spring to every step, especially upon the steep inclines that start my orbit. I completely do not miss the support or extra cushioning as I pound the pavement. Unfortunately, I do not have the GPS data from this stretch to evaluate because I must have bumped some settings after the marathon that kept it from recording my pace or distance as I climbed the hill.

With the watch settings fixed, I resumed my run. My legs really started turning over fast as the hill crested...naturally wanted to run in the low 7 minute per mile range. I had to consciously decide to slow down for fear I might risk something as I reached the downhill stretch.

The only area where I really felt I needed to pay close attention to my running form was on the descent. I feared that I might revert to a heel strike on the down slope. That said, I felt no discomfort, even with an occasional mid-foot strike...and never came close to a heel strike.

When I was done, I was surprised how easily it went (a very comfortable 8:16 per mile). I felt fully recovered from the marathon. I felt I could have easily done my full 3 mile orbit in the Vibrams.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Surf City USA Marathon 2011

For once I attend a marathon where my wife and friends will actually participate! I may be on my fourth full, but everyone else braves their first half. They are notably anxious, but seem excited to be doing this together. An added perk is one invited us to stay overnight at her home in Huntington Beach. She and her family treated us to amazing homemade Bun Bo Hue and Italian-style seafood pasta. Consider us sufficiently carbo-loaded.

As soon as I realized our friend's place is just two miles from the start of the race, I decided I should walk and jog to the course. Being stuck in traffic just minutes before last year's Los Angeles Marathon forced me to run 1.1 miles from the 101-110 interchange uphill to the starting unplanned warm up that seemed most unwelcome at that time, but one that may have led to my PR. Not having to worry about traffic, finding parking, or securing a ride means less stress on a morning like this. Plus, my wife and friends can sleep in without worrying about me. Everyone else's race will begin at least an hour-and-a-half after mine!

Yesterday's pre-race Expo solidified my decision. Pacific Coast Highway was horribly backed up. Officials turned away cars attempting to enter the parking lot from Beach Avenue and, as we would learn the hard way, PCH as well. The next lot south was closed off, forcing us to circle back. Deterred from trying to get anywhere close to the event, we ended up parking near the intersection of Beach Blvd and Atlanta. Just to obtain our bibs and pre-race packets, we had to walk two miles (one there, one back).

My alarm goes off at 4am. I awaken immediately, perhaps due to how lightly was sleeping. Not only had I failed to fall asleep as early as planned (three first time half marathoners in the nearby kitchen apparently could not contain their enthusiasm), but I also received quite a shock around 1am. Valerie woke up and exclaimed, "Eric!" as if I had overslept.

I make coffee for myself, toast half a bagel (I ate four meals yesterday, so this seemed more than enough), put on sunscreen, and suit up. I wear a tattered old long sleeve Crash Bandicoot shirt to keep me warm until the race starts, one I don't mind discarding. I grab a bottle of water so I can pre-hydrate en route. I have plenty of time to get ready, but still leave the house ten minutes later than planned.

With the route I plotted on Google Maps firmly committed to memory, I start walking. It is dark out, but the streets are sufficiently lit. Though I tell myself the neighborhood should be safe, unfamiliarity and crossing through unlit patches are a bit disconcerting. I stick to the better lit sides of each street and cross fingers that Google's walking directions are accurate. According to the route, I can use Frankfort as a shortcut, but only if I can reach Frankfort's cul-de-sac from the intersection of Indianapolis and Beach Blvd. Thankfully, there is a sidewalk joining Indianapolis with Frankfort exactly where Google Maps suggested it would be.

Now just a little more than a mile from the start of the race, it is time to jog.

I take it easy as I head down Frankfort, but can tell my legs really want to run. The morning air is cool and moist (probably in the low 50's), but I am not cold, especially now that I am moving. I do not bother to monitor my pace as my thoughts drift ahead to the race. I almost forget to look for Huntington Street, but remember to do so just as I come upon the intersection. Who knows how far I would have gone had I run past it.

Marathoners and half marathoners emerge from cars parking along Huntington. Are the lots already full?

I reach the starting area on Pacific Coast Highway. I may have left late, but have arrived a bit earlier than planned. The starting corrals are empty. The officials are still setting things up. The sky is still dark with no sign of stars...apparently there is a marine layer this morning (I did not see any mention of it in the forecast). There are some runners milling about and stretching, but I could have easily slept for another twenty minutes.
I locate and use the nearest restroom near the need for porta-potties here. Everything could not be going smoother.

I am among the first to step inside my designated corral. I could stand at the front, right behind the elite runners, but decide to hang a few rows back because I know I will not be going out as fast as many in my wave. I turn on my old cellphone to snap a couple of pics, but shut it off immediately thereafter to conserve battery. The battery barely holds enough charge to last an entire marathon, so I must be careful how I use it or risk not having tunes.

Twenty minutes before the race, I make another pit stop...just in case. There is a line this time, albeit nothing compared to those I have stood in before other races. 20,000 will be running today, but only 2,000 are allowed in the marathon. It is simply not that crowded yet.

I return to the corral and have no problem finding a good spot, but the spaces soon fill. Ten minutes before the race I feel my bladder again. I tell myself it is just nerves and try to ignore the building pressure. I cannot leave now or risk missing the gun. The announcer welcomes us to the race...tries to engage the crowd, but everyone seems pretty mellow. People from 19 countries and all 50 states, 15 septuagenarians, 5 octogenarians, and 1 world record holder (106 marathons in one calendar year!) are participating. The sky turns a brighter shade of gray as a woman sings the National Anthem. Perhaps we will get lucky and not see the sun for the entire duration of our races.

The horn sounds and the tune "Surfin' USA" accompanies the rhythm of footsteps as runners head northwest on Pacific Coast Highway. Unlike previous marathons, I cross the initial timing mat just seconds after the horn. For once I could actually refer to the official course clocks, but I prefer to rely upon my Garmin Forerunner 405. Why calculate my pace in my head when I can glance at my watch and get instant pace updates?

Knowing a course is mostly flat is a double-edged sword because I feel free to let my legs dictate the pace. A glance at my watch suggests I will comfortably hit my first mile in 7:30. Even though I am targeting an 8:15/mile average, I do not want to slow down.
In Los Angeles, I was constantly having to shift gears to weave through a crowd of slower runners. Here, everything is already flowing smoothly. Is it bad that I am already thinking about setting a PR today?

I complete the first mile in 7:20. I try to relax my pace a bit. The first water station soon approaches. Having pre-hydrated, I figure I can skip this one. The cool weather should allow me to skip every other station. Besides, I still need to go. I pass a row of porta-potties and briefly consider stopping. I have already found my stride, so I grin and bear it. I turn on my Walkman phone and cross fingers that the music will serve as an additional distraction.

I complete the second mile in 7:28. I know I cannot sustain such a pace for even a half marathon. That said, the longer I can keep this up, the more time I can allow for a pit that may eventually prove to be necessary. For some reason my music stops. I did not start my tunes at the beginning of the race because I anticipated it might die before the end. My Walkman phone's battery is quite old, but should have lasted for more than two songs. I press the play button to no avail. If I remove the phone from the armband I risk losing my credit card, driver's license, some cash. Not good.

I take water at the next station, turn up Seapoint, and complete the third mile in 7:40. I figure my pace will naturally slow over the next mile because I should soon hit the course's one hill. We turn on Garfield and reach the incline. It is, as expected, not terribly steep...but it is definitely a hill.
Still, Los Angeles' course presented far more challenges than this. Training on the Palos Verdes Peninsula obviously helps. I don't think my pace will ever drop into the nine minute per mile range if this is the toughest hill I will see today.

When the 3:20 pace leader catches up, I decide to hang with him. I am pretty sure he needs to maintain a pace faster than 8 minutes per mile, but cannot do the math in my head to know by how much. A glance at my watch suggests I am running at a 7:45 per mile pace. I will keep this up until I feel like I am exerting effort to do so.

Somewhere between miles 4 and 5 on Edwards Street, we come to the descent. I am a little miffed because the course appears to double back on itself along this stretch and I mistakenly believed there was only one climb on the whole course. The hill does not seem very long, but it is perhaps a little steeper than the previous incline. Why I worry about this now is beyond me.

I down my first Cliff Shot as I approach the next aid station, grab water to chase it down, and enter the Huntington Beach Central Park. The lake catches me by surprise. I definitely do not know this area...which makes running through it all the more interesting. I come to a wall of trees, but can see runners on the other side. I notice one runner leave the course and cut between the trees. Lucky for them, I do not see any timing strips as I turner the corner that brings me back to their shortcut. Why anyone would cheat on a marathon is beyond me...especially those trying to qualify for Boston. If they cannot achieve what is necessary here, what makes them think they will have a good experience there?

At some point, the path becomes a dirt trail...unexpected and far too short. The course then crosses Goldenwest, continues back into the park (the park spans Goldenwest). I am disappointed to cross a timing mat at the six mile mark. I would have preferred to find it at the 10km split. I keep glancing at my watch until I reach 6.22 miles. I cross that milestone in 47:10. For some reason I feel my current pace should return a faster split. I know I have recorded a 10km split in the mid-43's during at least one training run. I must have been running really fast on that day. That said, I am still running way faster than I should.

This park has some nice looking restroom facilities. I have briefly considered stopping at more than one of these structures, but do not want to chance breaking my form. My running motion has been very fluid, my breathing very light and controlled. Without tunes to distract me, I have become very aware of everyone else's breathing rhythm. I must be in way better shape. Just then, I notice someone go off course to find a not-so-private tree. He had a chance for privacy. I guess he did not want to backtrack.

I complete my 7th mile and approach another water station. I start looking for my friend's son and daughter who are volunteering, but I am not 100% sure which station. I do not recognize my friend's children amongst the volunteers. I am fairly certain they are not at this station because they expected to also serve half marathoners...and the half marathon course does not come this far inland. I skip this station, figuring they will be at the next. Once again I cross Goldenwest, pass through the western half of the park, and emerge in a residential neighborhood. One more turn and I am back on Edwards, with its hill ahead.

I complete my eighth mile at the hour mark and begin what I hope is the last real climb on this course. My pace drops into the 9 minute per mile range briefly, but I quickly recover as the hill crests and turns on to Overlook Drive, a street atop the bluffs overlooking the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. It is actually quite foggy this morning, so I cannot fully appreciate the view. I notice some photographers along the course and try to position myself in front of their lenses. I also notice a skinny older gentleman wearing a green tank top has passed me. I am guessing he must be in his 70's. He pulls off his tank top to remove his undershirt and then replaces the tank top...all without missing a step. I find this odd because the tempe
rature is too cool to be removing articles of clothing.

As the road turns and descends towards Seaport Avenue, I pick up the pace. At the next aid station I grab Vitalyte for the first time this race (actually it is the first time I've ever had this brand of electrolyte beverage). Once again, I do not see my friend's kids amongst the volunteers. This particular station services the course in both directions, so it is possible they are facing the other way. I complete the 9th mile in 8 minutes flat, so the hill did not hurt my overall average by much. My thoughts soon turn towards my wife and friends. Their race should be starting shortly.

The course turns on to the northbound lanes of Pacific Coast Highway. I down another Cliff Shot as I approach the next aid station. I grab water, but do not see my friend's children. I decide to stop looking. I pass more porta-potties. If I can survive this long without going, I might as well hold it until after my half marathon split.

The course continues alongside the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. I am more familiar with this section of the course thanks to a couple of car club barbecues I have attended at Bolsa Chica State Beach. Running here reminds me of the first half marathon I ran (Silver Strand) easy flat course that appears to go on forever. A motorcycle cop soon approaches in the southbound lanes. He is followed by the current marathon leader. Some of us cheer him on the as he runs by.

A considerable amount of time passes before I see another heading in the opposite direction. I start wondering how much further the course extends to the northwest before it turn back to the southeast. It feels like an eternity since the last aid station. My pace is now hovering around 8 minutes per mile or slower. The older gentleman in the green tank top has extended his lead. I tell myself there must be a slight incline slowing me down...if only to convince myself that I will be able to pick up the pace once I reach the turnaround point. I see the 3:20 pace leader pass by in the opposite direction. How far behind him am I now? Does the turnaround correspond with the halfway point?

According to my GPS watch, I cross the timing mat located at the turning point in 1:34:49...and I still have nearly a mile to run until I reach the halfway mark. I start doing the math in my head. At my current pace, I should reach my half marathon split in around 1:42. Something about my estimation does not seem right. The fastest I have ever run a half marathon is 1:43:26...during a training run that included gravity assistance over the first four miles. For some reason, I decide to see how much under my PR I can go. Even with the extra effort, I complete my 13th mile in 7:59. I fear this will be the last in under 8 minutes.

According to my watch, I cross 13.11 miles at 1:41:30. Sadly, there is no timing mat in sight. I seriously wish all marathons would officially register halfway splits. Heck, all should register 5km and 10km splits as well. It would be like completing four races on one day. I grab Vitalyte at the next aid station. I seriously consider a pit stop, but, even though I have clearly peaked, I figure I should wait until I see my pace drop a bit more significantly before seeking relief.

Over a loudspeaker, I hear someone telling marathoners to move to the right to make way for a wheelchair. Apparently, this just affects the northbound runners...and suggests that the lead half marathoners may soon overtake them as well. I start wondering if any of the half marathoners will overtake me while I am still on Pacific Coast Highway.

As the two hour mark approaches, I notice the 3:30 pace group leader has nearly caught up with me. I try not to get discouraged, reminding myself that I would have to average 8 minutes per mile for the entire race to achieve such a goal. I down my third Cliff Shot with water and, as I pass Seapoint and the mile 15 marker, notice the pressure on my bladder has increased.

I scan the field of half marathoners running in the opposite direction on PCH hoping to find my wife and friends. There are a lot of runners filling the northbound lanes, so this is not exactly easy...but I soon see a familiar splash of pink and a white cap. "Go Valerie!" I exclaim. She acknowledges me too. How exciting! I hope her race is going well. (NOTE: She was probably a sixth of the way into her race at that time)

I see porta-potties ahead at the aid station just past Goldenwest. I cannot wait any longer. I immediately find a vacant one and try to be fast, but some things cannot be rushed. My pit stop lasts 45 seconds. To get back on course, I have to backtrack slightly to get around an aid station table and then get back up to speed. I may feel relief, but at what expense? The older gentleman I had been running with for many miles and the 3:30 pace leader are long gone.

The marathon course soon leaves the highway and turns back towards the north on the adjacent bike path. I am pleased that this is a paved surface since the one at Long Beach was concrete...really hard on the feet and joints. I should mention that I have not experienced any joint or feet problems thus far, not even a blister. The only real issue affecting my run has been...relieved. I complete my 16th mile in 9:08, but still have a comfortable buffer thanks to my unexpectedly fast first half.

That said, I can tell I am starting to slow down. I complete mile 17 in 8:27, mile 18 and 19 in 8:32, mile 20 in 8:41. Little drops are not enough to give my legs a significant boost, but, knowing that this stretch along the beach is an out-n-back, fear the subsequent little rises could slow me down...especially given their close proximity to the end. As long as I do not get much slower than this I should still achieve my PR, but I am starting to worry. I see the 3:30 pace leader heading in the opposite direction, but have no idea how much further north I must go. On a more positive note, I have finally overtaken the older gentleman in the green tank top.

I reach the final turnaround point. Two timing mats ensure that anyone who has tried to cut this stretch short will not earn an official finishing time. My split at this 20.9 mile marker is 2:49:02. I toggle my watch display to see that my overall average pace has dropped to around 8:06 per mile...still well ahead of my PR target of 8:15, but not by much. I toggle the display again to my Virtual Partner and see that I still have over three minutes I can bleed over the remaining 5.3 miles. In my head I figure that 30 seconds over the next 5 miles is only 2:30. If I hold my pace at 8:45 per mile, I should still finish well ahead of Long Beach.

I take my fourth Cliff Shot with water at the next aid station. I have one more in reserve which, if I stick to my schedule, I should not need until just before the finish line if at all. I complete mile 21 in 8:40, mile 22 in 8:38, but mile 23 drops to 8:43. Thanks in part to those little rises, I complete both miles 24 and 25 in 8:47. I feel like I have been pushing harder and harder, but going slower and slower. Some stranger coaches me to stand up straighter and use my arms to carry me to the finish. I adjust my posture and start pumping. I am starting to get really hungry. Maybe I should have eaten the other half of that bagel this morning. I decide to eat my last Cliff Shot with water from the mile 25 aid station and channel whatever energy I have left into one final kick.

My personal record is now far less of a factor than simply ending my misery. I am not hurting, just no longer enjoying the effort. The course diverts from the bike path and back to a cone lined stretch of Pacific Coast Highway, presumably to keep the marathoners separate from the half marathoners. I stop looking at my watch and start looking for the finish line.

Spectators line the sidewalks, but eventually spill into the street. Cones once used to define a lane for us marathoners now merely provide a barrier between the crowds and the rest of the highway. I must now intermingle with half marathoners as I attempt to sprint towards the end. As I enter the intersection of Huntington Street and PCH, I see the finish line. A sign points us marathoners to the lane coned off to the right and across two timing mats. The race clock reads 3:35:21 as I cross the latter. I do not need to see my chip time to know that I have achieved my goal. I beat my time at Los Angeles by over four minutes, a larger margin of improvement than between my previous marathons. I am obviously happy.

And hungry.

After I collect my finishing medal, I continue down the chute where I am handed a plastic blanket, a bottle of water, and a plastic bag full of edible goodies. I stop at the large boxes that immediately follow to use them as a table and open the bag. The offerings seem relatively light compared to what I am used to, but I do not complain. I tear into the fruit cup, consuming it quickly.

I glance at the time and assume that I have finished ahead of my wife and friends. Valerie thinks she will finish her half marathon in under 2:15, but, with no way to know exactly when her wave started, I can only roughly guess when she will join me. I watch people continue down the chute for the next fifteen minutes, but am unable to spot anyone I recognize. Picking out faces in the crowd is not easy because everyone dons the same plastic blanket. She might have an equally difficult time recognizing me.

I start wondering if she finished ahead of me or walked by while I was preoccupied with food. I look behind me and notice more food stations (explains why the food bag is so light). I decide to continue my search down the chute. I do not find Valerie or her friends, but do find a banana, an apple, and an electrolyte beverage. As we planned to meet near the food, I decide to go no further. I remain standing for fear Valerie might not see me if I sit down.

Forty-five minutes go by and there is no sign of Valerie or her friends. I figured by now everyone should be across the line, so I do a quick sweep of the area to see if I can find anyone. Not seeing anyone, I continue towards the end of the chute. I see lines for the finisher photos and hop into one hoping that maybe Valerie or her friends will walk by while I am in line. Still no one. As I have my photo taken, I overhear an announcement about proceeding through the intersection to a reunion area where you can meet up with your friends and start wondering if that is where I will find Valerie. I continue through the intersection towards the site of yesterday's expo and eventually find the family reunion area.

There are a few people standing here, but no one I recognize. I decide to take a quick look around the expo site before waiting here. The reunion area is so far off the beaten path, there is little chance I would find anyone that does not specifically look for it.

The crowd is dense, especially around the beer garden and the results tent. The line at the results is so long that I would not even chance waiting in it. Inside, I come across a guy wearing an Insomniac Games sweater. Hoping to meet up with John, Insomniac's COO (and someone whom I have been chatting with over Facebook since he came across my running blog), I introduce myself. Kevin, Insomniac's Animation Director, tells me that John picked up a running injury shortly after we met last weekend...and had to back out of the half marathon. It sucks to endure months of training only to get injured on the week of the event. I briefly consider asking if Kevin has a cellphone I can borrow, but realize that Valerie does not have her cell with her either. Trang has hers, but, now that I think about it, I would not know either of their numbers without my cell's contact list.

I return to the family reunion area and wait. Fifteen minutes go by. No one. I need to find a restroom, but hesitate to leave. I head over to the closest ones and decide against waiting when I see the lines. I wait for another fifteen minutes. This is intolerable! I head back to the restroom I used before the race and wait. Even though the sun has been poking through the marine layer, it is still cold by the beach...especially in the shade.

I return to the family reunion area and check my watch. It is 11:40 am. I have been on my feet since leaving my friend's house at 5:10 am. I finally decide to sit down. I do not want to move.

Noon arrives. I realize that my friend's family had noontime lunch plans and figure they must have returned home by now. I head back to the finishing chute to make one last sweep just to be sure no one is still waiting. The crowd has mostly dispersed,. They are not here. Race volunteers are offering extra food items to those who are still finishing and ask if I want anything. I gladly accept another banana, apple, and electrolyte beverage. Feeling abandoned, tired, frustrated, and hungry for real food, I decide I must walk back to my friend's house and hope that someone is there to let me inside.

The walk back is actually quite pleasant. The sun is out and the temperature is rising. I pass a lot of marathoners and half marathoners walking back to their cars or arriving at their homes along the route. I receive congratulatory comments from people driving down the street or standing in their yards.

As I ran half of this distance in the morning, the return trip seems a lot longer. My arms grow weary from carrying my goody bag. I continually sip from my post-race water to stay hydrated. My feet start to ache. I cannot wait to lie down. I enter my friend's neighborhood and walk up to the door. I knock, but there is no answer. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Just then, the door opens. It is Valerie. The family's lunch plans are not here, so she has been waiting behind for me. Apparently, she successfully met up with all of the friends...I was the only no show. This is the last time I go to a race without a cellphone.

Results (official):

03.0 Mile: 22:34
06.0 Mile: 45:29
12.2 Mile: 1:34:49
20.9 Mile: 2:49:02
Total: 3:35:16 (new PR)

300 / 2433 overall finishers
247 / 1464 male finishers
59 / 245 male finishers age 35-39

Official Photos

Garmin Forerunner 405 Data


I looked up the older gentleman in the green tank top. His name is Parks Williams (bib number 1706) and he is only 69 years old. He completed the marathon in what seemed like an impressive 3:46:51 until I realized that he finished 2nd in his age group. The 67 year old who beat him clobbered me as well with a blisteringly fast 3:19:43 (128th overall!!!).


When I ran the Long Beach Marathon back in 2009, I learned about the "California Dreaming Series". Run Long Beach, San Francisco, and Huntington Beach (a.k.a. Surf City) in any order, any combination of full or half marathon, and you could earn an extra special medal. I thought about running Surf City as a half in 2010, but it fell the morning after I returned from a planned week-long snowboarding trip. Since I thought I had to run Surf City within a year of Long Beach, I gave no thought to attempting the series and did not bother signing up for San Francisco.

I had no idea that this particular race still qualified until I signed up for it last November. Nor did I realize before then that any chance to complete this series would end with this race (I just thought it was something I could always attempt as long as I did all three within a year of one another). I am bummed that I completed two of these three events as full marathons and cannot use either to earn a shot at the special medal. Oh well.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Marathon #4 Training Complete

As I have learned in the past, I can predict fairly well how I might do in a marathon by reflecting upon my final month of training. Without further ado, here's a summary of my progress:
01/09-01/15: 45.49 @ 8:17/mi
01/16-01/22: 36.42 @ 8:27/mi (46.61 @ 8:15/mi)
01/23-01/29: 30.02 @ 8:06/mi (19.83 @ 8:21/mi)
01/30-02/05: 20.26 @ 7:40/mi
Average pace for month: 8:11/mi

Note the data in parenthesis as it indicates the true distance total / average pace for these weeks. The reason for this notation is that I swapped my long and short runs over the weekend straddling these weeks...and I have juggled the data as if I had run them on their originally scheduled days for consistency when comparing this data against my previous marathon attempts. An unexpectedly fast 14 miler during that particular weekend makes direct year-after-year comparisons especially problematic.

Remember that I showed steady pace improvement over the final weeks before my last two marathons. Fortunately, this past week suggests I did not peak too early.

Month before the Los Angeles Marathon in 2010:
02/21-02/27: 45.41 @ 8:47/mi
02/28-03/06: 36.16 @ 8:23/mi
03/07-03/13: 30.11 @ 8:08/mi
03/14-03/20: 20.17 @ 7:59/mi
Average for month: 8:24/mi
Average race pace: 8:22/mi

Month before the Long Beach Marathon in 2009:
09/13-09/19: 45.74 @ 8:51/mi
09/20-09/26: 39.09 @ 8:33/mi
09/27-10/03: 29.06 @ 8:24/mi
10/04-10/10: 20.29 @ 8:03/mi
Average pace: 8:33/mi
Average race pace: 8:31/mi

The good news is that, despite having gotten a late start on my marathon training schedule, missing a week due to illness, and consistently falling short of some of the longer distance targets, I appear to have gotten myself back on track over the final month...and my average pace implies I should easily match if not beat my previous personal record setting pace. I am slightly concerned that my feet are a bit more banged up than usual (a touch of PF in both feet, but not yet a factor while running) and that my right ankle continues to bother me over longer distances, but, again, these factors have not affected my stats.

Averaging 8:15 per mile at Surf City seems a reasonable goal. Ironically, it just happens to be the pace target I initially set (and have not yet changed) for my Garmin Virtual Partner!

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Next Day

I am fairly convinced that running one mile in the Vibram Five Fingers did not have any significant impact on the way my muscles feel this morning. I mean, my legs are tired and stiff, but no more so than I would expect after a weekend of running...especially following a couple of my highest mileage training weeks faster than my anticipated race pace.

I am eager to try my typical 3 mile orbit in the Vibrams, especially because it is on asphalt and features some demanding hills...meaning it would give me a better idea of what I can expect out of them. But I really do not think it is a good idea to chance running in them any more until after I run the Surf City Marathon.

I think I can afford to wait. After all, it is now less than two weeks away!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

First Mile in Five Fingers

This could be the most significant mile in my running history. I am well aware of this as I park my SUV in Peninsula High School's lot. I have already run three miles today wearing my trusty Asics Kayano 15s, but this will be different. There is no pressure to run fast. No need to go far. I am just here to try the Vibram Five Fingers feel what they were designed to do.

Part of the reason I have elected to run my first mile here is to reduce barriers to entry. PenHi's track features a rubberized surface. Though not as squishy as some, it should still be easier on my feet than asphalt. Additionally, the track provides the only flat surface near my home. While I do not expect the Five Fingers to cause issues on uphill runs (where I definitely favor toe-strikes), I cannot guarantee the same for downhill stretches (where I have a tendency to relax my stride). With my next marathon only two weeks away, I am not taking any chances.

Upon opening the door, I immediately notice broken glass on the asphalt...perhaps my biggest concern about using these minimalist shoes upon the road. Fortunately, I have noticed this obstacle and can safely step around it. I keep my eyes open for more shards as I walk towards PenHi's track.

I walk out on to the track as my Garmin watch locates the GPS satellites and finds my position. I hit the start button and accelerate to a comfortable pace. There's a natural spring to each step. I feel light on my feet. My feet do not notice the absence of cushioning or support I would get in my Kayanos, but immediately are aware of how much less clunky they feel.

As I reach the first straightaway, I see my pace is in the mid 7's per mile range. I am not exerting any effort to run fast, so this is a very good sign...especially given how much slower I ran during my earlier 3 miler.

My second lap feels even better. I sense my pace increasing and my stride seems stronger. Same is true of my third lap. As I glance again at my watch, I see my pace is now solidly in the mid 6's.

I am approaching 18 miles over the past two days. I should be tiring, but instead find myself cruising. As I round the final turn of my last lap, I have plenty left for a speed boost. Kicking it into high gear, my pace drops into the mid 5's. If I wasn't running a race in a couple of weeks, I might have been tempted to keep going.

I complete my mile in 6:49.71...not among my fastest, but faster than any I have run in over a week...and probably the easiest sub-7 minute mile I have ever run. Now I am really eager to attempt longer runs in these shoes. Of course, there's still a chance I will pay a price for this break in my regular training routine. Check back tomorrow morning to see how my legs and feet feel!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Fastest 14...and Valerie's First 10

With Surf City only two weeks away, you would think Valerie and I would be sticking very close to our training routine. However, Valerie has to travel for work tomorrow morning, so she needs to move her long run up a day. She is particularly concerned about how her week long trip will affect her training because she will not have any time to she wants to do her first 10 miler today (longer than what is recommended on her half marathon training schedule).

I am shifting my run because Valerie claims to need my encouragement. I have mapped an out-n-back that will allow me to stay with her for the first half of her run, but with a desirable extension so I can get my scheduled total. We are driving to start near the beach so that the route mimics the expected amount of elevation change she will experience during her half marathon. At the very least, this should give her a better idea of what kind of pace she is capable of achieving.

I am not used to skipping my short, fast run...which usually gives a pace boost to the subsequent long steady distance workout. My legs have been feeling the accumulation of distances since my peak training week. Thursday, in particular, felt a bit rough.

We run down from the parking lot to the bike path and continue along RAT Beach to the Redondo Beach Pier. I start slow, not just so Valerie can keep me in view, but also because my legs are a bit stiff. When I reach the pier (exactly 2 miles into the run), Valerie is not far behind and looking strong. I stop to take a photo of her. She does not stop...even though she doesn't exactly know where we are going.

I finally catch up to her again as the bike path turns right through the pier's parking lot. I yell to her, motioning her to join me. I prefer to run on the sidewalk just outside of the lot (partly because the GPS does not function properly within the parking structure). We continue our run past Kincaids, around the International Boardwalk, and down Harbor Drive. I wait for Valerie to catch up to me at Herondo. Again, she is not far behind and still looking strong.

I lead Valerie to the dirt trail that becomes Veterans Parkway and tell her I will stop at the 1 1/2 mile marker (which should be our five mile mark...and her turnaround point). No longer needing to give Valerie directions, I do not need to hold back. My legs feel loose now and my joints appreciate the softer surface. Time to up my pace.

I reach the 1 1/2 mile marker and take photos while I wait for Valerie to catch up. When she does arrive, she stops across the intersection from me. Apparently her Garmin already claims she reached 5.0 miles. My Garmin hit 5.0 exactly at the marker. Whatever. I walk back across the street, take a few photos of her, and check her watch. She is maintaining a steady pace faster than ten minutes per mile. If she can keep this up, she will easily finish her 10 miler before I can complete 14.

Valerie turns back and I press forward. I feel particularly good as I continue through Hermosa into Manhattan Beach. I am kinda surprised that I have felt no ill side effects of having consumed a Behemoth from the Grill 'Em All Truck during yesterday's lunch. Not once. I mean, here's a sandwich comprised of two full-sized grilled cheese sandwiches as the buns for a generous sized hamburger patty (with bacon, beer soaked onions, pickels, and sauce thrown in for good measure)...shouldn't some of this tasty monstrosity still be residing somewhere in my gut? Now I am starting to wonder if I have found the perfect pre-race food.

I reach my turnaround point at the 3 1/2 mile marker. I feel good enough to continue all the way to Fry's, but realize I do not need the extra distance. Swapping my long and short days has already disrupted my scheduled weekly distance totals...and puts this seven day period dangerously close to my peak training week (just one week earlier). I stick to the plan.

As I start back through Hermosa Beach, I realize I need to pee. I do not want to stop running now as I have really hit my stride. A quick glance at my pace suggests I could break my half marathon PR today. I figure I can hold out at least until I pass the restrooms around the International Boardwalk.

I decide to make that pit stop. Before continuing, I review my run history. I am still on track to beat my best half marathon time...and, if i can maintain my pace, by a surprisingly significant amount. That said, my legs are starting to tighten up...and I am feeling a blister that has been on the ball of my right foot for the past week. I must get moving!

After passing the Redondo Beach Pier, I run up George Ferth Way to the pedestrian path that overlooks the strand. Fearing the incline and path have killed my pace, I attack the stairs at Knob Hill. I skip every other step with barely a break in my stride, but am terribly winded by the time I reach the Esplanade. I have less than a half mile to go to reach my half marathon split, so I decide to consume what energy I have left to see how much lower I can set my PR.

I cross the 13.11 mark at 1:41:47...pausing to celebrate / record my victory and catch my breath. My previous best was in the 1:43's with gravity assistance, so this shows significant improvement...and suggests that, despite starting my marathon training a bit late, I may yet have a chance to PR at Surf City. I start wondering if I might catch Valerie before she finishes her 10 miler.

Having achieve this unexpected result, the rest of my run is gravy. Rather than continue to push, I just let my legs go as fast as they feel running. I finish the 14 miler with a 7:44/mi average pace...far faster than I figured I would have run today. I would have been happy with a flat 8.

I drive up to my mom's house to meet up with Valerie. She reached mom's just 10 minutes before me, completing her 10 miler in 1:38:23. Her average pace of 9:49/mi is faster than most of the runs she has ever attempted (at least those I have record of...because she may have run faster on Maui while I was wearing her watch). It is hard to believe this is her first 10 miler. I am so proud of her!

My data

Valerie's data

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Day 3 with Five Fingers

First time I wore them to work and kept them on all day long, but still no running in them. It has gotten easier to align the toes, but pinkies are still a challenge. Went for a walk...a half mile orbit that included a stop at the local Starbucks. Still feels a bit unusual to walk outside in them, but really have no issues.

The top of these shoes do breathe nicely (I am a bit concerned that the heat emitted by the PC under my desk will make my feet sweat...fortunately the AC is directly overhead and provides nice relief when it kicks in). All-in-all, I think I could get used to wearing them wear as an every day shoe.

And, yes, I did get some comments about them from my coworkers.

I commuted in the NSX, giving me a chance to verify their worthiness as a driving shoe. They definitely have the advantage of not having a clunky sole to get in the way of heel-toe driving and what little sole they do have grips the pedals really nicely. The individual digits do not seem as prone to slipping around the sides of the pedals as they did in the Pilot, but I am still a tad concerned how they will perform in heel-toe driving (which I can't really test during a commute).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 1 with Five Fingers

Only wore my new Vibrams for an hour, but not to run in. Still having difficulty getting my toes to line up, especially the pinky toes. I tried playing Gran Turismo 5, so I could anticipate any challenges working the pedals of a real car while wearing them (I play using Logitech's Driving Force GT, which has a brake and gas pedal). I actually like they way they grip the pedal and help anchor the base.

In many ways, the Vibrams are like driving shoes, the latter being essentially a glorified sock with a thin rubber sole...but I am a little curious about such things as toe-heel driving (especially given that the toes work independently in the Five Fingers). The driving shoe may still have an edge.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Tale of Five Fingers

Ever since Justin showed up to work wearing them a couple of years ago, I have had my eye on a rather unique five-toed shoe made by Vibram...and been following a growing movement towards natural running (using such minimalist shoes or going barefoot). That said, I have not been willing to part with the comfort and support I have been told I needed and grown accustomed to having over years of running.

In concept, what seems like a radical shift actually makes a lot of sense. The human foot is not designed to absorb impact on the heel. A quick attempt to run barefoot will discourage this behavior immediately. But, for some reason, shoes over the past couple of decades have made huge strides to assist, if not encourage such unnatural form. When I ran cross country and track in high school, I gravitated towards Nike Air for this reason. When I rediscovered running just a few years ago, I adopted Asics much for their ability to absorb impact as their arch support and room for my toes.

Around my second marathon, I made a conscious effort to shift my running form to favor ball or mid-foot strikes over the heel...and felt that the change indeed improved my pace and endurance. That said, Justin, now a former coworker, commented just the other day that I probably revert to heel striking whenever I get tired. He contends that my trusty Kayanos encourage this lazy behavior whether I realize it or not.

I have kept this in mind over subsequent runs and, while I am fairly certain I run upon the balls of my feet most of the time, he is probably right. There must be a reason why I still deal with pain in my right ankle with symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis not only persisting in my right foot, but also starting in my left.

One month before a race is hardly the time for changing ones running shoes, adjusting a running style, or even making slight tweaks to a training routine, but my wife and I suddenly find ourselves at REI each trying on pairs of Vibram Five Fingers TrekSports. My former coworker's recent comments and my wife's client's experience hiking in them have encouraged us to, at least, see how they feel on our feet. The first thing I notice is that traditional shoes have done far more than alter my running form...I can barely separate my toes enough to slip them into the digits of the shoe! My left pinky toe, in particular, appears way out of alignment...almost as if it has rolled under the others to conform to the shape of what previously seemed like a generously wide toe box of my Asics Kayanos. The salesperson encourages me to step on the climbing rock to see how the shoes feel. He immediately points out how my toes naturally wrap around the contours of the uneven surface and correctly notes that I am standing more comfortably balanced than I would wearing a traditional shoe. I am notably intrigued.

I had not previously given much thought to how adaptable the human foot is over uneven surfaces. The salesperson relates how he unexpectedly adopted a more cat-like posture when hiking over rocks and crossing logs while wearing the Vibrams. What would seem more challenging terrain for a nearly flat soled hiking shoe suddenly becomes a more natural path for someone wearing Vibrams. Toes and arches naturally wrap around irregular points of contact. Having run on my favorite trail earlier in the day, I immediately could appreciate the benefit. The trail had been etched by recent storms with exposed rocks and hard-packed grooves that often made it difficult to find stable footing. While I have long been concerned about how painful it might be to run over such rocks wearing the thin soled Vibram shoes, I could see how many additional ways I could have approached the rugged terrain had I been wearing them. My wife starts thinking about how well such shoes would work doing yoga since some poses require splayed toes to maintain balance.

By the time my wife and I had finished trying them on, we were convinced we should buy the Vibram Five Fingers TrekSports...if not to improve our running form for our upcoming race, to strengthen muscles that should further reduce impact on aching joints before our next one.

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