Track ‘speed’ work at middle age

I am training again for the Free Press Marathon, and this time I’m adding weekly track running workouts to the marathon training schedule. So far, middle-pack results — though probably not bad for an early 40s American male.

Tonight was my second try at an inconsistent bit of “speed” work. I’ve been running on the track at the local school, interspersing all-out runs the full distance with half or full distance recovery. Still working up to more grueling workouts. But, I did one I was proud of tonight: a 1:21:12 on the 400 meter. Don’t know if that’s good or bad for a person my age, but it’s the best I’ve done by about 6 seconds. I’ll take it.

When I put that time into a race predictor, it gets me just under 3:45 for the marathon. I put in a 3:53 at Bayshore in 2014. If I could improve on that, awesome. Realistically, though, the Free Press and Bayshore have a lot of differences. The chief ones affecting my time: The sheer number of people at the Freep is maybe four times as much, which slows things down for the first few miles, and the Freep isn’t flat as a pine board. It’s pretty flat, but not as flat as Bayshore’s course.

I haven’t really settled on a goal for the Freep. Finish, I guess. But there’s finishing, and there’s finishing. A 4:00 or less would be great. A 3:50 or 3:45 would rock. Hard.

Maybe this speed work will pay off. We’ll see. It’s still early in the process. It’s week 4 of training. Many runs between now and Oct. 18.

Longest pre-Bayshore long run

Encouraging. That’s the feeling I’m taking away from yesterday’s 20-miler, my longest training run for the Bayshore marathon.

This training cycle started well. I hit most every run. But I delayed this 20-miler a week, and ran almost nothing for a week in between after an awful experience on my second-longest long run.

Two weeks ago, I did an 18-miler and I think I just pushed too hard. The run went great. I felt fantastic and ran like a champion. For the first 13.1, I missed my half-marathon PR by 20 seconds. I felt like Meb out there. Of course, breezing through 7:40s for 13 is a lot different than running 5s for 26.2, but you get the idea. To each their own pace.

After 13, I slowed to not burn out. I downshifted to 8:15s, still feeling great. I finished 18 in 2:23-something. It was a lot faster than I set out to do and a lot faster than I plan to run at Bayshore. That was my mistake.

I got home, grilled dinner for the family and couldn’t eat. About every fourth really long run (15-plus miles or so), I get GI distress after. I haven’t cracked the riddle of why. I mean, I know all about how my blood has more important work to do in my legs, leaving the guts to fend for themselves. I know that long runs tax the body. I just haven’t figured out why some long runs end in a gurgling belly and others don’t. Maybe that day the heat played a role. I’m sure pushing myself the way I did played a role.

About an hour after the run, the rumblings got the best of me. I vomited. I’ve heard of this happening to runners, but it’s never happened to me. I’ve read the most important time to feed your muscles for healing is the two hours or so after a long run. For the first time, I couldn’t do that. I didn’t eat until maybe four or five hours later and I paid for it in recovery. The next day, my legs were sore and achy. The day after, I felt like I’d run a full marathon — not 18 miles.

I think it’s the worst recovery I’ve had. I didn’t run until almost a week later. Not ideal during marathon training, but you do what you must.

Fast forward to yesterday. It was cool, but breezy. I ran in the middle of the afternoon and the temperature sat in the mid-50s. Perfect. I consciously dialed back — slow and steady. I stuck to my planned pace of 8:45 as tightly as I could. I only really slowed after about mile 17, but even then managed in the 9-9:15 range. During that slower period, I fought off some negative thoughts (“Why aren’t you stopping, idiot?”). But I think a lot of runners work through negativity in longer runs.

In many ways, it was the perfect long run. I finished in about 3:58. If I can repeat that performance at Bayshore, I’ll have more than an hour to do the final and toughest six miles and still finish before the 4 hour mark.

My only major criticism was fueling. I thought I had more gels, but apparently used the last during that awful 18-miler. My gel of choice during this training cycle is watermelon and I really missed it during yesterday’s run. But, I had a handful of dried apricots and a granola bar. They did the trick, but I might have performed better after mile 17 with the electrolytes in the gels. Mental note: Buy gels in the next week.

When I finished, I had gas left in the tank — probably enough to have done a whole marathon yesterday. I didn’t have too much trouble with stairs. No GI problems, I even had enough energy (after a brief nap) to party with friends last night (surprise!, Mrs. Blocletters).

Today, the legs feel great. I did some yoga to work off the tightness. All said, I think a week off did me well.

Bring it, Bayshore.

Winter skin for runners

Cold is now trending in the upper Midwest. Not far behind—wind, ice and snow. Distance runners often revel in withstanding conditions other, more rational, humans won’t. Usually, I do too.

But last year I never toughened up to my usual winter skin. I can’t let that happen again this year. I won’t spend the winter getting dizzy running laps on the YMCA track until I lose count. Ever run a half marathon in tenth-mile bits and bites? Not recommended.

I haven’t run in a few weeks. I ran a 17-miler in California then. I’ll get back to it in a few days. In the meantime, I’ve deliberately underdressed as the weather back here in Michigan transformed from bad to worse. I took my hair down to scalp and skip the hat. I wear ankle socks everywhere. I need to feel the draft. I need to meet the cold face to face, introduce myself and give it a firm handshake.

Winter, bring it. Give me sub-zero degrees so my breath frosts my beard. Give me snow to crunch under my Skoras. Give me grey skies and short days so I need a headlamp to find my way home after a three-hour run.

Spring marathon season calls. Maybe it’ll be Bayshore. Maybe another race. I don’t know. But I’m committed to running like a badass through the winter. Who’s with me?

A year without a marathon

This year I haven’t run a marathon and it looks like I may not. I don’t have a race on the calendar, and I don’t have an answer when people keep asking when my next race is. It isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing.

My last race sucked. Balls. That’s the colloquial way to describe it. The most accurate, detached and objective way to describe it: I barely crossed the finish line in like six hours and forty-five minutes. Ultra runners on the same course lapped me and finished 50 miles in less time than I did 26.2. The wife worried. I suffered. I could only drag myself to the finish because at about mile 22 a saint of a woman at an aid station gave me a tube of Biofreeze, which I promptly rubbed over the length of the cinder blocks my legs had become.

I learned that I won’t do another full marathon on a trail unless the elevation change runs closer to zero. I also learned that the longer the marathon lasts, the worse the experience. In order to minimize that suck, I need to stick to roads or flat trails. Do they have marathons on rail trails?

I also learned that, while the validation of running races appeals to me, it sits on the sidelines compared to the satisfaction of actually covering the distances. I don’t require the motivation of a race.

During the 15 or so months since that race, I haven’t slacked off. I’ve covered the half marathon distance or more nine times. That’s a half marathon about every six weeks. That includes four sub-1:50 half marathons—pretty good for me, though my best sits closer to 1:42. It also includes three 18-milers, one of which I smoked (again, for me) at 2:31. The most recent was a leisurely 17-miler on Mission Bay and along the Pacific Ocean in sunny San Diego while vacationing. Heaven.

Those runs have taught me that my legs love half marathons. My body’s in good enough shape that I can cover that distance without training. Those runs also taught me that, even on flat roads, the suffering kicks in as early as mile 15. Another lesson: With the rare exception of an 18-miler at 8:24 pace, the longer I want to run, the closer I need to hew to an 8:30-9 minute pace. Every runner has a sweet spot. I think that’s mine.

At that pace, and with some training and preparation, I see no reason I can’t break a sub-4 hour marathon. I’ve come close. In my first marathon, I missed it by 70 seconds. I know my body a lot better now and my fitness has climbed since then. I will hit that threshold but I don’t think I’ll do it this year. I’m having too much fun just running.

Taper, baby, taper

This Saturday is the North Country Trail Run marathon. I’m excited about another notch in the marathon belt and stoked that my street team (i.e., wife and daughter) will be there to support me.

And I’m totally stoked about the ginormous medal they’ll hang on my neck at the finish line. The race newsletter describes it:

They certainly are not very much like the traditional race medal you receive. We believe the uniqueness of each medal only adds to their beauty and ruggedness. North Country also believes it is important to work with U.S. companies and hope to inspire other races to work with local artists and US labor to bring a greater percentage of race medal production back to the US. Last year’s medal weighed 11.5 ounces while this year’s weighs more than 16 ounces. And, no two medals are alike because each is handcrafted.

Wha? 16 ounces? That’s nuts. This one’s going to make diminutive 3- and 4-ounce medals from my other races. Rock. There are pictures on the race’s Facebook page. These neck-breakers are also American made. Mom would be proud.

Beyond the pre-race anxiousness and jittery feelings of whether I trained enough (or how well so much road training will translate to trails), I’m also excited to get this damn taper overwith. Seriously. I’ve run 3 miles in the last two and a half weeks. I keep thinking, Oh, wouldn’t today be a nice day for a run? And then my taper conscience kicks in. Why don’t you go stretch? Or eat some fruit? That little voice can get so annoying. I just want it to go away, and the only way to do that is to finish Saturday.

As an aside, I wish Daily Mile had a taper toggle so I didn’t get those sad emails asking me where I’ve been.

In non-running news, I’ve been deluged with spam at my blocletters email address. Spammers should die.


Also, I’m slogging through the Game of Fire and Ice series. About a third of the way through book two, A Clash of Kings. Love it. So much more reading than I’m used to. I read reams at work, so my eyes usually rebel at leisure reading. I’m still reading, and that speaks to how much I enjoy the story.

I can’t wrap up a post without the obligatory shot of girlie. This one’s at a nearby park. I helped her climb this green rope ladder, and she was so self-satisfied I had to snap a picture. I can’t believe she’ll be 3 years old soon. It seems like just yesterday I could easily cradle her in my arms. Now, she’s 3 feet tall and rising.

Running 26 miles will be totally worth it to see her at the finish line screaming “Go daddy go daddy go daddy go!”

Riding the pa-liptical

Riding an elliptical or as girlie calls it, the “pa-liptical,” doesn’t come naturally to me. It just doesn’t. Call it an inherent lack of rhythm. Call it a bias for running. Call it what you will, it’s not easy for me. But I’m learning.

We bought an elliptical a few weeks back of Craigslist. About the same time, I developed a pain above the medial side of my left ankle. And no, it’s not from lifting the elliptical and helping to move it downstairs (that damn thing’s heavy!). The pain, I suspect, is a minor overuse injury, so I prescribed myself a few weeks of not running.

That’s where the elliptical comes in. I still wanted exercise, but needed zero impact. After several uses, I’m finally getting the hang to it. It’s like running in sand: It’s difficult and you don’t get anywhere. But it keeps my legs moving and gives a modicum of aerobic action, so I can’t complain.

That said, I still can’t wait to get back to running. The ankle’s improving, so I’m optimistic. This weekend might be good. Waiting a full two weeks, which would be middle of next week, might be better. Either way, I think I’ll stick to an elliptical session a week or so; I think it’ll help build leg strength.

In other running news, I registered today for the North Country Run 2012 marathon in August. Stoked to renew the marathon card, and it looks like a fun event. Registration even includes a barbecue and beers at the finish line. How can you beat that?

Nice surprise

I forgot to post this weeks ago, but a neighbor who snapped a photo of me at the Detroit marathon gave me this print. This shows a rugged me (in bandana) coming off Belle Isle at about mile 22. I had dropped a water bottle about 100 yards earlier and almost didn’t pick it up for fear I couldn’t get up again.

Odds and ends

I finally feel like I’m much closer to mended than broken. The course of antibiotics ended Tuesday and I stopped having the weakness I think the drugs caused. In fact, I ran 7 miles Wednesday.

So, I’m encouraged. Running makes me happy, and not running or hitting bouts of weakness when I did frustrated me.

Other than that, I’m just trying to get back to the business of life. 20120301-230438.jpg

I found a fun iPhone app, which can make whole comic books a page at a time. Doubt I’d make a whole book, but making single panels is fun. Girlie has starred in a couple of them, like this one. She likes the PBS show “Super Why!” and has taken to wrapping herself in her blanket like a cape. She runs around the house cooing “I’m super!”

The results, of course, are adorable and perfect fodder for ComicBook. The app has a straightforward simplicity, like a comic book. I highly recommend it.

In other ruminations, I look forward to this weekend for not one, but two!, date nights with Mrs. Blocletters. We have a more formal event Friday and another night out planned Saturday. Apart from making our sitter rich, it’ll almost be like those carefree pre-parenthood days. We take ’em as we get ’em.

Oh, and one last thing: I doubt I’d use it, but I halfway want to give these people my money just for proof of concept. It’s another iPhone app, this one called Zombies, Run! It turns exercise into a narrated game based in the zombie apocalypse. How cool is that? I just saw it hit the App Store, and looks like it’s also available for Android. Need a little motivation to run? Being chased by zombies can help. It’s $8, so some may think that’s a little steep. But, I stand firmly in the camp that good software is worth sacrificing a couple Starbucks runs.

It’s simple: soap and water

I ran day before yesterday for the first time in two weeks. Two miles. Two little miles. I felt great out on the road, but also felt it the next day in my legs. I had gotten out of the hospital six days before that, one of those unexpected detours life throws at you. But Wednesday I felt strong and didn’t want to miss a window.

Long story short: I caught a bacterial infection. Longer: It involved four and a half days in the hospital hooked up to an IV getting antibiotics that made me weak and nauseated. Half my face inflated like a balloon giving me a constant headache. That required painkillers, which also made my stomach roil. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

Scared the hell out of me and my family. The scariest thing? I’ll never know where it came from. Sure, the doctors have theories. It came from daycare. It came from the YMCA. It came from a doorknob or a computer keyboard. For all I know, it came from the Black Lagoon. It doesn’t matter. What mattered is it came with a vengeance.

The best defense, the doctors say, is washing your hands. Thing is, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fastidious about washing my hands. And now that I’m a dad, I must wash my hands dozens of times a day. I often say about driving, I’m damn good at it (years of pizza delivery experience) but it’s the other people on the road I worry about. Same maxim applies here. It only takes interacting with one person who hasn’t washed their hands, or surface not sufficiently cleaned, to get such a horrid infection.

I try not to be preachy or freaky about hand washing, but I see it not happen all the time in public restrooms. I see it not happen at work and other places. Saturday, Mrs. Blocletters and I saw “Fela!” in Detroit. Before the musical (which was fantastic) I went to the restroom. Five men were there when I went in. In my time there, each one of them left without washing. After what I’d been through that week, I wanted to punch them: one sucker punch to the kidneys for each antibiotic my doctors had to try before they found one that this infection responded to.

So, my PSA for the day: If you don’t wash your hands, particularly after the restroom, that’s just nasty. Think about it. You touch your junk. You touch the doorknob on the way out. You go back to your keyboard. You shake hands.

Have you seen Contagion?

It only takes 30 seconds. Do it.