Monday, December 31, 2007

When You Stop You Slow

It's been a great holiday filled with visits by friends and family. It's also been one of over-indulging in calorie-rich foods. Can't wait for those temptations to go away on Wednesday.

After taking a full week off the week of the 10th, I put in a lowly 30 miles the following week and then 54 last week. I ended the week with a pretty difficult speed workout, my first hard running since CC Nationals on December 8th. Going from zero miles one week to 54 miles two weeks later was easy.

The week off had little if any impact on my endurance, but I did notice during Saturday's workout that taking time off will impact your speed much more than endurance.

I hooked up with coach Tom and Mike Sayenko and Mike Heidt, the other two Trials qualifiers from Washington for a tempo run around Green Lake in Seattle. It was a late start for me -- 3pm. Literally as I pulled into the parking lot ay Green Lake it started to rain as if on queue.

Our workout was a 10-mile tempo run witht he first 7 miles at 5:25 pace and the last three in 5:15s. Not having run hard for three straight weeks I didn't know what to expect. The wind was gusty in places and the rain was pouring. Temps were in the high 30s. A very chilly run. At mile 3 my shoelace came undone. So I reluctantly stopped to tie it and spend the next four miles catching up to Heidt. That meant running 5:12-5:15s from mile 3-10. While I was tight due to the cold and working harder to hit those times than I would have had to normally, I felt strong and felt stronger as I went.

I hit or beat all my splits and was very happy with the workout not to mention tired. The worst part was the two-mile cool down in the bitter cold. I had shed my jacket at Mile 7 and didn't get it back until I reached my car.

It was great running with the Mikes. They are younger and more talented but it serves as a good measuring stick for me.

Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Running Again

After taking a full seven days off from any and all running, I'm easing back into things this week. I feel completely refreshed and re-energized both physically and mentally. The key will be to not go crazy and truly ease back into things. I'm treating this week as basically another rest week. I ran 4 miles on Monday, rested yesterday and ran 6 miles today. I'll keep alternating days of running and resting and increasing mileage each day by two miles. That will put me at 28 miles for this week and 44 for the next.

Once the New Year hits I'll be running 6-7 days a week again buliding mileage back up into the 70s and 80s.

First race of the year will be the Club Northwest Resolution Run 5k on New Year's Day. I haven't run a 5k in more than 15 years so it will be interesting to see how that "sprint" goes.

So far this break has really provided me the renergizing that I needed after a very long and challenging season of running in 2007.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ragnar's Del Sol Relay

I know it's my rest week but I can't help but think about the 2008 season.

I've committed to run the Ragnar's Del Sol relay in late February as part of the Fast Running Blog (FRB) team ( They finished second in last year's race but they've put together a team this year that should make a serious run at victory and a course record.

I loved the 2007 Hood to Coast relay so much that when the FRB approached me about running on their team for the Del Sol, I couldn't resist.

Ragnar's has four relays they run throughout the country including one they just started this year here in Washington. They operate much like the Hood to Coast relays do and serve as a great relay opportunity for the myriad teams who get turned away by Hood to Coast each year.

If nothing else, these relays serve as very good back to back to back speed workouts and great prep for the upcoming spring track season. It's also a great opportunity to spend 24 hours with a bunch of freakish runners like myself.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Time to Rest

There is a time to run and a time to rest.

I've been running non-stop for more than 2.5 years. During that time I've run eight marathons, two half marathons and numerous shorter races ranging in distance from 8k to 15 miles. Just in the last 65 days, I've run two marathons plus two cross country races. I am spent physically. More imporantaly, I'm spent mentally.

I have not enjoyed running for the last few weeks. In fact, there were several days since the Trials that I ran simply out of discipline and not out of desire. That's not a great thing.

The good news is that I'm going out on a high note after a solid CC race in Ohio over the weekend. That's much better than going into a rest cycle on a down note or injured.

My last day of running was Sunday when I ran 15 miles in Ohio before flying back home. I won't run at all this week and next week I won't run hard and I won't run more than 10 miles in any one outing. I'm thinking maybe 30 miles next week, all of them nice and easy.

Assuming that is the rest and refreshment I need, I will start building up the miles again and slowly work in some faster workouts. So far, I haven't missed the daily run but it's only been a day and a half. My hope is that by next week, I'll be itching to get back out there again.

To really train hard and improve, you have to hunger. Right now, I feel like I just ate Thanksgiving dinner. And that is OK.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Race Report: 2007 USATF Club Cross Country National Championships

I've been a blogging slacker but who knew Ohio wouldn't have internet access. I just got back to Seattle late last night from West Chester, Ohio where I ran for Club Northwest in the USATF Club Cross Country National Championships. Here's my race report:

So this was my second cross country race in 17 years. Now I remember why I enjoyed cross country so much more than track in high school. Too bad I only had one year of CC in high school.

We previewed the course Friday and it was covered with 2-3 inches of snow which had been packed down by hundreds of other runners who had previewed the course earlier in the morning. But the temperature warmed and it rained all night long.

When we arrived this afternoon at around 12:30 the course was a disaster. It was windy, 35 degrees and threatening to rain. The Men's Open race was the last of four races and the frozen tundra of Friday was the sloppiest, muddiest thing I had ever seen. Pigs would have thought it too messy. Fortunately I bought a pair of spikes and put some 1/ 2 inchers in for good measure.

The course was two full laps around Voice of America Park in West Chester, Ohio plus a third lap that was slightly shorter. The start and the finish were slightly uphill, although uphill in Ohio is basically flat.

We warmed up as a team which is something I really enjoyed and missed from my high school CC days. An easy three miles was plenty. I joked with the rest of the guys that we marathoners aren't used to such a lengthy warmup. I felt pretty good during the warmups and the strides felt fine as well. But, I was a bit nervous. It had been so long since I ran CC in high school that I had forgotten a lot of the strategy that made it so much fun. Plus, every other guy on my team had run collegiate cross country, most of them for the University of Washington. So I was an old rookie.

One big difference from high school was that we had nearly 500 runners who started the race. The start must have looked like a scene out of Braveheart when the gun went off. Another first was that I didn't even wear my watch so I have no idea what any of my splits were. Time is irrelevant in cross country so it seemed pointless to wear a watch. With all the mud, I wouldn't have been able to see it anyway. Plus, I wanted to run off of feel.

By race time, it had warmed up, the wind had died to just a light breeze and the sun was trying to peek through. I ditched my skull cap but stuck with my gloves and the long sleeve tech shirt underneath the singlet. Good choice.

My goal was to finish in the top 100. That was a fairly random number and I picked it before I found out there were so many runners. My strategy from the start was to stay in the back of the front third and just pick people off who thought it was a good idea to sprint the first 800 meters. My marathon strength and endurance was going to be a huge asset on this course so I just needed to run smart and be patient. Any race that becomes a track meet will always be to my disadvantage.

When the gun went off, it was a crazy scene. The first 800 meters was nearly 100 yards wide but closed quickly after that to a pretty consistent 10'-12' wide. For the first mile or so it was so congested in the middle of the pack that I had to really slow down to avoid barreling into people. That was kind of distressing as it certainly impacted my time without saving me much energy.
By mile 2, it was still crowded but you could pass people if you were sneaky and determined. It was at mile 2 that we encountered our first hay bale. Yes. We had four hay bales we had to jump over each lap. Since they don't have hills in Ohio, they decided to make it a Midwestern steeplechase to add a little excitement. I only saw one person bite the dust on the hay bales. I guess running in muck for six miles can make hay bales look like brick walls.

At the end of two miles, I was starting to feel stronger. I had passed all of my teammates except one (he being Mike Sayenko who finished 29th in the Olympic Trials) and felt like I was at a pace I could easily maintain. I kind of wish I had worn a watch only so I could look back and see how consistent I was thorughout the race. I felt like I was getting stronger throughout which of course is the opposite of how I feel in a marathon.

I continue to be amazed at how many really good runners don't run the tangents. This course has many twists and turns and provided ample opportunity to make the race muh longer than 10k. The mud made tangential running a bit more challenging but the toll this course took on the body made it all the more important to make it as short as possible even if it meant running through a mud puddle. Fortunately, by running the tangents I was able to find what precious little grass there was left to run on.

At mile 4.5 you start the final, shorter lap to the finish. I was feeling very strong until I rolled an ankle in a mud hole. It sent a pain all the way up my leg but I kept going as the pain was brief and I didn't appear to have actually hurt anything.

By now the field was thin enough that you could pass anyone you had the energy to pass. With a mile or so to go, I felt fantastic and really focused on reeling as many people in as I could. I saw two guys in blue jerseys ahead of me and that they were two guys from a rival running club in Oregon so I passed them only to realize they were two guys from Boston Athletic Association. Oh well. A double pass is a double pass.

Then I saw one other guy I knew from the Seattle Running Company. He beat me at the Super Jock and Jill and there was no way I was going to let it happen again. However, I have a rule. I don't pass anyone unless I can keep them behind me so I waited for about a quarter mile and then blew by him. He put up no fight.

The finishing chute was nearly 400 meters long. This was new territory for me. Kicking at the end of a race was a distant memory from my high school track days. So I had no idea what I would have left. So I let it all loose with 400 meters to go and wound up passing ten guys in that final 400m. The last guy I passed tried to take me with about 10 meters to go but I found an extra gear and my chest crossed the line before his. One problem though. My time chip was on my back foot and his was on his front foot so while my chest crossed first, his chip beat me by .1 of a second. Now I know why they had us wear a chip on each foot. Oh well.

Using that extra gear I had came at a price. After crossing the finish I laid down and tried to catch my breath. I had all the energy in the world left but that last kick really put me in oxygen deprivation mode.

I finished in 34:13 which was good enough for 97th overall and 76th among scoring runners. I was the second scorer on my team beating out three guys on my team who are sub 30-minute 10kers. The winning time was 31:46 and then the rest were all in the 32s and higher. The slower, more tactical race definitely helped me out. I think if there had been hills it would have helped me even more but I gained a renewed love for cross country and a bunch of fresh experience.

I was very happy with my race. Cross Country is a very unique animal and I ran as smart as I did hard. In hindsight, I could have gone out faster and quite easily dropped my time into the high 33s, but experience will help me recognize that sooner and have greater confidence in my kick. I would also like to further test my ability to start a bit faster to get farther up in the pack, but do so without jeopardizing the rest of the race.

I'm taking two weeks off. I need a break. Two marathoner and two cross country meets in 65 days is a lot. The good news is that I'm finishing a training cycle that has lasted 2.5 years and I'm doing it on a high note.

I'm looking forward to Cross Country Nats next year as they will be just a few hours from my house in chilly Spokane, Wa.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Unfortunate Reality of Olympic Trials Changes

So I had the chance to think about the changes a bit more and after more thought, here's my take on each of the USATF changes:

Eliminating the 5k Standard -- It was a dumb move to add them in and a great move to take them out. The 5k distance has absolutely no relevance to the marathon. I would have liked to see them kill the 10k standard as well because I'm a believer that you should have to run the event you are qualifying for. But at least the 10k has a slightly greater predictive value to the marathon than the 5k.

Adding the Half Marathon Standard -- While this does go against my argument that you should have to run the event you qualify for, I'm supportive of this largely because a) it is much more predictive than the 10k and b) it is consolation to the marathoner who may not be able to make the new marathon time standard. In other words, it may be easier to make the 1:05 standard than the 2:19 standard.

Eliminating Aided Courses -- Despite the fact I qualified for the Trials on what the USATF has deemed an aided course (St. George), I agree with the decision. HOWEVER, I think it's wholly unfair to make some courses that don't meet the USA/World Record standard (limits net elevation loss and requires start and finish be within ~7 miles of one another) exempt from this new rule. The course either meets the record criteria or it doesn't. But instead, the USATF is playing god by picking and choosing which courses will be exempted from the list of non-qualifying courses. Already on the exemption list are Boston and New York. I'm certain the Twin Cities Marathon, site of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 US Marathon Championships will get an exemption as well? The explanation from the USATF is that NY and Boston don't generally yield fast times. That is actually a true statement, but let's be real. This is about money. I am no fan of a few people sipping mai tais at a meeting in Hawaii making arbitrary decisions as to which marathons are in and which are out.

Although they haven't named the courses on the complete exemption list you can almost guarantee that St. George, Top of Utah, Ogden, Deseret News, California International, Los Angeles, Grandma's and San Diego Rock and Roll will no not be on it. I'm no lawyer, but it will be interesting to see if anyone challenges this under antitrust laws.

Lowering Time Standard to 2:19:00 -- Any time standard is arbitrary by it's very nature. 2:19 is no less arbitrary than 2:22 except for the hundreds of marathoners who are close to 2:22 but nowhere near 2:19. On one hand, lowering the time standard could be an indication that US elite marathoners are simply running faster and therefore qualifying times are lowered to reflect that. But before we all get too excited about how great of a marathon nation we are, let's not forget that only seven years ago we qualified only one man (and only one woman) for the Olympic Games marathon. A good couple of years and a fantastic Trials do not a marathon nation make. Under the new marathon qualifying time, Brian Sell, now an Olympian, would not have qualifed in 2004 and would have likely given up running altogether. Jason Lehmkuhle, the 5th place finisher this year and second alternate for the Olympic team, would not have qualified for this year's Trials under the new standard. His time in Twin Cities in 2006 was 2:19:03. He would have had to either appeal or run another race to qualify. Trent Briney is the poster child for "sub-elites." He qualified for the 2004 Trials in a pedestrian time of 2:21:10 and finished in 4th place that year in a truly remarkable time of 2:12:35. He was one second per mile away from being an Olympian.

My point is that I hope we aren't raising the bar too quickly. As a country, we've had a couple good years and one great Trials. Perhaps we should get a few more under our belt before we start dismissing the Brian Sells (3rd place), Jason Lehmkuhles (5th place) and Trent Brineys of the world.

Monday, December 3, 2007

2012 Olympic Trials Marathon Qualifying Standard Tightened Significantly

Big news out of the annual USATF LDR meetings in Hawaii last week.

The committee has made four significant changes:
  1. Gotten rid of the "A" and "B" standards and moved to one standard. All who make the one standard get expenses paid for just as "A" standard athletes did in years previous.
  2. That new standard for men is 2:19:00
  3. "Aided" courses will no longer be considered qualifying races for the Trials. Basically, all eligible courses will have to be American-record eligible which means the start and finish must be within 7.9 miles of each other and courses that are signficantly net downhill courses will be excluded. There are two stated exceptions to this rule: the New York and Boston marathons since they rarely yield fast times. Ineligible are courses such as St. George, Top of Utah and the International/Sacramento Marathon. A complete list of exceptions will be published by the USATF soon.
  4. They dropped the 5k qualifier and added a half marathon qualifier of 1:05.
As a guy who qualified for the 2008 Trials on the St. George course, I will repeat what I have said elsewhere: I am completely fine with this. As long as the rules are fair and reasonable and well documented in advance, then I am completely fine with it.

More than anything, this change is an indication that American distance running has reached new heights. Ryan Hall and many, many others proved in November that this country is back on the world marathon scene. The Trials is a reward and an opportunity for the country's best to have a shot at running in the Olympics and the field of runners who qualify should always reflect that. With improvement in the overall US distance running field comes with it a need to tighten the standard it is measured by.

I have no idea if I am capable of a 2:19 under the new guidelines. I am not right now and don't know if I have the time or, frankly, the desire to put in the work necessary to *maybe* yield a 2:19. What may be more likely is a 1:05 half marathon esepcially since I am trying to focus the next six months on getting faster at shorter distances.

My friend and fellow Trials qualifier Paul Petersen has posted his thoughts on this as well: