Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ultramarathon Training

I finally sat down and typed up my training play for the Little Su 50k in February (at the expense of something else I should have been working on.)  As I was not entirely sure the best method to train for an ultra, and wanting more tips in a centralized location, I picked up Bryan Powell's book Relentless Forward Progress, he runs the website IRunFar, if you have not been there I highly recommend you check it out.  In his book he dedicates a chapter entirely to training plans. Based on what I know about what I am capable of and my schedule, I have chosen a 50k training plan based on 50 miles per week.  I won't post the plan out of respect for his book, but I will share some thoughts on it.

Having never run anything farther than a marathon, and having only run 6 marathons, I purposely chose a training plan that mirrors a marathon plan.  As a marathoner I wanted something that was close to what I am comfortable with but still filled my need.  The biggest change with this training plan from that of a marathon plan is the B2B runs, that is back-to-back runs.  For instance, 6 weeks out from the race has a 20 miler followed by a 14 miler the next day, this is unheard of in most marathon plans as the day after is strictly for rest.  Basically the plan puts the emphases on the long run and subsequent recover run (B2B).  

However the mileage is not what I am worried about, I have run 40-50 miles a week since April, so my body can handle that.  What I am worried about is that I am running 31 miles, in February, in Alaska.  This means that in addition to the distance I have to deal with the cold.  What if my water freezes?  How do I keep my fuel warm?  How do I properly manage the cold for 6+ hours?  What if race day is windy?  How do I navigate the trail if it is snowing and covering the tracks?   These questions have been running through my mind since I signed up for the race. However, just like any training plan, this is what your long runs are for, to answer as many of these questions as you can.

As someones who has runs marathons one of the big struggles I have is to convince myself that a 50k isn't "just 6 miles more than a marathon", which is a very normal thought for someone moving from the marathon to a 50k.  Generally most people are fried at the end of a marathon as they run hard for 26 miles, but during a 50k the strategy changes (or at least that is what I am reading).  The plan for me is to finish. Sure I would like a strong time just like anyone else, however, the winter variable of this race and the added difficulty of running that winter ads makes simply finishing for a first timer like me an admirable goal.  With that said, my initial strategy is to take it easy, feel free to take walk breaks early (but be disciplined about the time), and not to let myself get too tired.  My strategy will most likely change as I realize what I have gotten myself into when I start to head out on 4 hour plus training runs in the middle of an Alaska winter.

One of the keys to training for an ultra (in addition to the mileage of course) is to run in the conditions and on surfaces that most closely mimic that of the race.  For me this will be pretty easy.  The Little Su takes place on groomed snow machine trails, so granted there is not a large dumping of snow the night before, the trail should be in pretty good shape.  I will train almost entirely on the coast trail which will have almost he same surface.  As for the conditions, the race takes place only about 40 miles north as the crow flies, so just running outside will be good enough.  The race has no significant hills so again, the topography of the trails by my house will work just fine.

With all that said, I strained my calf last week so I still have not officially started training, but it has only been 2 weeks and 2 days since NY so I am not in panic mode just yet.  I hope to be able to log a 14 miler on Saturday which will be the first test of my pack and how my water does/ The water will probably freeze but I need to get an idea of what my current system is capable of before looking at insulation options.

I also hope to have a posting about my 2012 race schedule and some thoughts about gear and specifics about this race in the next few weeks, until then enjoy some pictures I snapped while we were back east.

The driveway of the relatives house in southern GA.

Found about 1/4 mile stretch of dirt close the house.
Leaves on the ground make for some ankle busting terrain. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

ING NYC Marathon 2011 post race report

Wow.  If you choose to only run one marathon your entire life, run this one.  The energy, the crowds, the course, amazing.  There is nothing like running down the street with crowds five people deep screaming and cheering on the runners, and this goes on for all 26.2 miles!  I learned a lot during this race so here is my post race recap, enjoy!

We flew into town on Thursday evening with nothing planned other than making our way to the place we were staying in Queens.  So NY marathon tip #1, plan in advance how you are going to get to your accommodations from your airport and get a subway map.  We ended up taking the wrong subway train but a few nice New Yorkers helped us get back to where we needed to be so the detour was not as bad as it could have been.  Either way, it probably took us an extra hour when it was all said and done.

Friday was our expo day.  We tried to get up and hit the expo when it opened but we ended up moving really slow so we didn't hit the expo until about noon.  There was no line to get into the expo itself or to pick up race packets.  However, the Asics clothing was getting picked clean just midway through the second day of the expo.  With that said, NY Marathon tip #2, hit the expo early and tip #3, budget appropriately for clothing and gear purchases at the expo.  I was eyeing some limited edition Asics shoes, but by the time we got there my size was sold out.  There was still a pretty good selection of the clothing available, but it was going fast too.

The 2011 ING New York City Marathon expo

Getting my bib and race packet. 
Saturday my family and I planned to run the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5k in the morning and then didn't plan anything the rest of the day.  I wasn't interested in doing hours of sight seeing the day before a marathon, and I also didn't plan on racing the 5k.  I needed to get a 3 mile shakeout run in anyway and my family wanted the chance to run the streets of NY so I took it easy and jogged the 5k with my mom.  This brings me to NY Marathon tip #4, plan on sight seeing after the race so you are not running on tired legs.

We did post-race on Saturday night and I laid out my clothing and food for race morning. I set the alarm for 4:30 AM and tried to get to sleep.  I probably only got about 6 hours but I didn't feel tired on Sunday, most likely this is due to the nap I took on Saturday.  My parents got up with me to ride the subway down to the Staten Island Ferry for my 6:30 AM departure.  The ferry terminal was packed with runners, fun but crowded.  I missed the 6:30 ferry but made it onto the 7:00 ferry.  By the time I got to the island, got on the bus, and got dropped off at the start it was almost 8:30, the time I needed to be getting into my start corral.  So NY Marathon tip #5, get the start early.  Pack some food, warm clothes, a camera, some people even had sleeping bags.  The plastic bag they give you for baggage check is fairly large, so you can cram a lot in there, so feel free to bring what you need to the start (just keep in mind some items are restricted due for security reasons).  I would have liked to at least grab a bagel and cup of coffee, but since it took almost 3 hours to get from my location in Queens to the start area I had just enough time to check my bag and get into my starting coral.

Staten Island Ferry race morning

Inside the ferry terminal
The race start actually had much less waiting then I thought. I got into my coral at about 8:40 and waited only about 20 minutes before we were moved up to start area on the lower level of the bridge.  It took us about 15 minutes to be moved up to the start position, so at this point we only waited about another 20 minutes before the race started.  After a brief introduction of a few of the elite male runners the gun went off and we were on our way at exactly 9:40 AM.  I didn't carry a camera with me as I planned, but doing it again I would scrap a goal time and would plan on stopping to take pictures along the course.

Coming off the bridge at mile 2.5 we got our first glimpse of the crowds when a group of about 50 people on an overpass shouted "Welcome to Brooklyn!".  Then when we moved off the highway there were walls of people lining the course.  The crowd isn't as thick in some spots but basically there is solid people for about 20 miles of the course, the only miles that didn't have spectators was the bridges.

I happened to see my parents at mile 14 as planned which was great.  They also managed to take a nice action shot as well.  I was really bummed to not see my wife and I would find out later the entire story.  This brings me to tip #6, plan carefully and stick to your plan about where to see your friends and family along the course.  Also to go along with this is tip #7, sign up for the text message service (a small fee of $2.99). The text messages worked great according to my dad and when I crossed the mats he said he got the messages within just a few seconds.  I heard the mobile app was a little finicky so the text message seems to be the way to go.  As a runner you can also sign up for Facebook status updates on Asics' page which was great for my friends and family to see where I was at on the course via Facebook status.

Somewhere around mile 14
As you can see I ended up going with just a t-shirt and gloves which was perfect.  I had my iPod but due to the crowds and music I couldn't hear the music most of the time, so doing it again I would just ditch it all together.  At some sections of the course the street is narrow and the crowd is thick so you feel like a complete rock start as people are screaming and cheering as you run past.  The last few miles into Central Park were some of the best as the crowds had great signs and really help carry you to the finish on the last couple of tough miles.  I finished in 3:47:37, not the 3:30 I wanted but still a PR and I had a blast doing it!  My foot started to hurt pretty bad around mile 20 so that really slowed me down.  Had that not happened I think I would have been much closer to 3:30.  With that said, here is the full list of NY Marathon tips:

#1 - Know how you are going to get to your accommodations from the airport and get a subway map.
#2 - Hit the expo early, stuff sells fast.
#3 - Budget appropriately for clothing and gear purchases at the expo, think the $200+ range.
#4 - Sight see after the race, you can do some before but you want to rest your legs as much as you can.
#5 - Get to the start early, they have live music, coffee, bagels, etc.
#6 - Plan carefully and stick to your plan about where to see your friends and family along the course.
#7 - Sign up for text messaging notifications, my family said they worked great.
#9 - Plan on hitting the Monday morning race expo in central park for finisher gear and medal engraving.
#10 - Meet your family several blocks from the finish area to avoid the crowds.

This race was incredible, great organization, the crowds, the course, all of it was great.  On a side note my GPS watch said there was about 900 ft of elevation gain, so trust me, not a flat course!  I underestimated both the amount of runners and the subsequent crowded course and the amount of hills when I considered my goal time.  Doing it again, and giving others tips, don't shoot for a goal time or even a PR, run with a camera and have a blast!

Meeting point at Starbucks
Asics ad in the NY Subway

All 45,000+ runners are listed

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Final race of 2011 - NYC Marathon

As a write this sitting on our flight during the last leg of our journey to New York, I find myself surprised at the number of runners on the flight and just how much the race is being talked about.  I am definitely feeling the energy from the race and each day I get more and more excited (the cup of coffee I had this morning probably has something to do with my current excitement level).

 It is hard to believe that the race which I signed up for (lottery) 12 months ago, and found out I was accepted 5 months ago, is finally here.  I also can't help but think about the fact that even with addition of more and more trail running in the past few years that I still really enjoy road running.  Case in point, I am running probably the largest and most prestigious marathon in the world, the ING New York City Marathon.  A race that I am pretty sure I will not run again after this year.

Overall however, my excitement level is high and I am looking forward to feeding off the race energy (anyone who has run a big race knows what I am talking about) and having hopefully not just a very enjoyable run but also a PR (shooting for 3:30, this would give me a PR by 20 minutes).  I have had to constantly reassure myself that staying out on the New York Marathon course longer than I planned is not a bad thing should the day not go well for whatever reason.  My runs in the past few weeks have been discouraging at times but I can't help but wonder if this is mostly due to the drop in temperatures and the addition of snow.  I am realizing that 2-3 weeks of tapering after moths of training is not nearly as hard physically as it is mentally.  Despite these elements I did manage to do 3 miles at an 8:30 pace last night if anything to convince myself I still could run at that speed.

This will be my 6th marathon over the past 4 years and my second for 2011 (not counting Crow Pass which is about marathon length but not officially a marathon).  If you wish to track me on race day the beast resource is the marathon website (www.nycmarathon.org).  You can also head over the website and sign up for text messages or download the mobile app, both for a fee.  I will also have some race feeds tied into my Facebook account as well.  My start time is 9:40 AM as I am in the first wave or runners.  My bid number is 21203, or you can look up by last name.  I will plan on doing a post race report some time next week, until then wish me luck!

First run in the snow, October 30 2011