Something has to give. In order to increase training time in one endeavor I typically need to decrease time in another. For example, this past winter I ran more and biked less. At least I thought that was the case.
I’ve broken the rules. By taking time away from other activities (mostly watching TV) I’ve been getting in some good (if brief) swiming and running workouts during my lunch breaks. Furthermore, by multitasking (walking while working, more on that below) I’ve gotten a few more low-impact miles on my legs.
So in March I was able to achieve the largest total walking volume of any month since I started recording it, the second largest total running volume, and a local maximum in swimming volume (more than all of last year). All with lousy Smarch weather.
Good month, or best month?
Fully recovered from Fuego y Agua and training hard for the Berryman 50 mile in May.
Avg per Workout
Weak, but at least the trend is moving in the right direction.
Avg per Workout
I swam as far in March 2013 as I did in all of 2012 combined.
Avg per Workout
I bought a cheap treadmill to go under my standing desk and I’ve been walking (sloooowly) a couple extra hours most days while I work.
I’m a data junkie. I have a log of every workout I’ve done for the past 11 years, not to mention years worth of GPS tracks. When I run or bike my GPS records my distance and time. Even if I have technical difficulties and the GPS malfunctions for some reason I’m still pretty good at estimating distance. I don’t have that skill with swimming.
My new waterproof iPod Shuffle has been great for my swim training. It helps me deal with the boredom of swimming laps in a 25 yard pool. I can just let my mind go while the laps fly by. But I still need to know how far I’ve gone. I just can’t not know. That’s where the Garmin Forerunner 910XT
The reason I bought this GPS watch was for running very long distances (it has much longer battery life than Garmin’s other GPS watches). I didn’t need it for cycling, I have a different Garmin GPS for that. I didn’t need it for swimming, I can count laps (though that does become difficult past 400 yards) and look at the timer clock on the wall. But now that I’m listening to music and swimming longer intervals (up to 1000 yards), not to mention I’m getting old, I can’t reliably count laps.
I really just stick to the basic swimming features of this watch. I tell it I’m swimming. In a pool. Which is 25 yards long. Then I swim. At the beginning and end of each interval I press the Lap button. The watch uses a built-in accelerometer to determine which stroke and which direction I’m going, from which it keeps track of how far I’ve gone.
(I tested the distance features a couple times last year and it was occasionally incorrect, but after a firmware update this year it’s always been correct for me).
One neat feature I’ve just started using is the distance alert. I have it set to notify me (the watch vibrates) every 200 yards. When I feel the vibration right before a turn I take a glance up at the wall timer clock to get my 200 yard split during a longer interval.
When I get home the data uploaded to Garmin Connect shows the distance and duration of each split, and duration, stroke type, etc. for every individual 25 yard length of the pool. If you’re into efficiency you can see your stroke count for every length. It’s a remarkable amount of data. I can easily pinpoint the lap that was 1.5 seconds slower due to a botched flip turn.
The downside is the high price. This has been my go-to watch for running for the past 14 months, and now I use it for my swims as well. I’m not sure I’d buy it for the swimming features alone (GPS would be overkill for indoor swimming), but since I already owned the watch I’m glad to be extracting even more value from it.
While a road 5K was right in my wheelhouse 10 years ago, I’ve been doing fewer and fewer as I advance in age. That’s not to say I’ve been doing worse at them. Thetwo road 5K’s I ran last spring (including this one) were my two fastest ever. But that was last spring. My last four foot races have been:
Melissa rightly pointed out I was a bit out of my element. And as soon as we started I was inclined to agree with her. The first 200 meters were just about as fast as I’ve ever started. I was sucking wind. Sure it’s been a while since I’ve done this type of race, but I knew this was all wrong. Fortunately the leaders eased off a bit and I got back on terms.
We ran the first mile in 5:30, which was a bit slower than I expected. Just then a guy emerged from the back of the lead pack and forced the pace. I was the second person to follow the move.
Then came the stairs. Which sucked.
It took me a minute or so to recover. Around this time I think the bike who was leading our way took a wrong turn and cut a short distance off the course. Well, at least the entire lead pack went the same way. I passed the number two guy and made chase for the leader. I narrowed the gap a little bit, but it held steady at five seconds for the entire third mile. It was frustratingly close, almost like I could reach out and touch the leader, but I couldn’t close the gap. He looked back (normally a sign of weakness or lack of confidence) three times in the last half mile. I just couldn’t come up with those five seconds.
I finished second place, again. While my time of 16:37 is the fastest I’ve finished a 5K, it probably would have been a few seconds shy of my fastest time if we had run the full distance. But I’m quite pleased to have run faster than last year regardless.
Last year I had been doing speed work leading up to this race, while this year I’ve done none. One difference in my training is that I’ve been spending a lot of time doing easy runs just below my aerobic/lactate threshold. This threshold has been steadily increasing over the past 12-18 months, and (I believe) taking my anaerobic threshold with it. So not only can I now run 7:30 miles without building up lactic acid (i.e. all day), I also have a little bit more top end speed.
I’ll just come right out and say it: of all the athletic activities I take part in swimming has always been my least favorite.
I started swimming long after running and cycling in order to compete in triathlons. When I joined the UIUC masters swim team it became a little more enjoyable. At least there were other people there with me doing the same workouts.
After my son was born I didn’t swim for over two years. Then after we moved to Saint Louis I’ve only ever swum by myself. Boredom ensued, so I avoided swimming. Last year I practiced just barely enough not to drown while racing.
But all of that has changed this year, thanks largely to two new (to me) pieces of technology. The first seems fairly ridiculous, but I swear it has made all the difference in the world:
That’s right, thanks to this waterproof digital audio player I can now listen to music while I swim. For a premium over the normal cost of a 2GB iPod Shuffle directly from Apple, there are companies who will purchase a standard Shuffle, coat and seal the inside of the device with waterproof material so the device itself will continue to function when submerged underwater, then resell it to you. Combine that with waterproof headphones and you get a swim workout that isn’t mind-numbingly boring.
There’s no bulky case. In fact, from the outside it looks just like any other Shuffle. I clip the iPod onto my goggle strap. The waterproof headphones have an extra short cable so they don’t drag while swimming. Then I tuck it all under a swim cap. You can barely tell it’s there.
Since getting this I’ve been swimming more frequently, doing longer distances, and improving at a dramatic rate. In the past three weeks I’ve taken 90 seconds off my 1000 yard time, and I think I’ll be able to take another 60-90 seconds off in the next month or two.
It’s worth every penny. Highly recommended.
As an added bonus, I also use this iPod while running. You might ask, wouldn’t a normal iPod work for that? Well, if you’ve ever seen how much I sweat you would understand why the answer is no. I’ve ruined more sets of headphones than I can remember, and I’ve been utterly terrified of ruining my devices as well. For the past year or two I’ve been carrying my (much heavier) iPhone in a waterproof case and combined that with sweat-proof Bluetooth headphones. I still continue to use this setup for longer training runs when I really want to have my phone with me, but for shorter runs (and potentially for races, where weight matters more) I’ve been using this thing (clipped onto my hat/visor).
If you would have asked me a week ago how I thought I’d do at this weekend’s Quivering Quads Trail Half Marathon I would have responded: DNS. I was looking forward to this race for quite a while. Never having run the trail before, I wanted to go out there and take a peek at it before race day. Last weekend was the first chance I had.
The trail is only an hour away, but despite the fact that all the snow here in the city had melted days earlier, there was still a good 6″ of snow on the trail. Now, I don’t mind snow (I’ve run in plenty of it), but this snow was like nothing I’d ever experienced. It was layer after layer of alternating crunchy and mushy. It was almost hard enough to support my weight when I landed, but then I sunk. As my foot rolled forward I sunk more. As I pushed off I sunk a lot more. I had planned to run the entire 13.1 mile course at an easy 9-10 minute per mile pace. After working my ass off for 3 miles, struggling to maintain 15-16 minute pace, I gave up and walked back to my car. This was the worst, least enjoyable run I’ve had in years. And I wanted no part of the race the following weekend.
I vowed not to change my mind as the week went on. But after a few good runs during the week, and some lovely warm weather at the end of the week I was having second thoughts. It was looking more and more like the snow would all melt and the course would just be exceptionally muddy. I’ll take exceptionally muddy over the crap I ran through any day. Race is a go. Of course, on top of the huge quantity of melted snow, it also poured down rain the day before the race, and it was raining on the day of the race. Exceptionally muddy turned out to be an understatement.
It’s just a matter of time before we learn how to fly
The race starts in waves of 25 runners based on a self-estimated finishing time for a road half marathon. I haven’t run one in 9 years, so I made up a time (1:23) that was actually faster than my old PR, but that I knew I could do. It was probably a bit conservative. What was funny was that the race numbers were ordered based on seed time. I was #9, and I could estimate roughly how fast everyone else was based on their bib numbers relative to mine.
We began with a 1 mile out-and-back on a (muddy) fire road. Everyone was soaking wet from head to toe instantly. By the ½ mile turnaround I was in a group of four (#1, #2, #3, and me) who had a small gap. We turned onto the (muddy) trail and got down to business.
I’ve done plenty of trail races, and I’ve had a few stream crossings before, but never more than 2-3. This race had, I’m guessing, somewhere around 25. And given the massive snow melt in the past couple days, the water was frigid. Early on the water was ankle deep and the streams were narrow. As the race went on (and the rain continued to fall) the streams grew wider and deeper.
After 2 miles we hit an uphill section where #1 and #2 pulled away a bit. At the top I moved around #3 and caught back up to the leaders. Now we were a group of three. I felt good. I was running fast to stay in contact with #1 and #2, but I wasn’t killing myself. I wondered how much longer I could sustain the pace. On a few of the uphill sections #1 and #2 opened a small gap on me, but I easily caught back up with them on the downhill sections.
Around mile 4 we hit a long uphill section and #1 and #2 pulled away from me like I was standing still. So much for being in the lead group. At the top of the hill I took some water at the aid station (#1 and #2 both skipped it) and I started to refocus. Then came a long downhill. I remembered back a few miles to how I so easily closed relatively small gaps on the short downhill sections. I began to wonder if I could possibly close the now-large gap on a bigger downhill. There’s only one way to find out. I bombed the hill, and by the bottom I was back with the leaders. But for how long?
When can I see you again?
This became the status quo for the next 5 miles or so. The two leaders opened a gap on me on every uphill section. I held the gap steady on the flats. I bombed the downhills to catch back up. It was clear these guys were stronger runners than me, yet I gained time on the downhills and some of the more technical flat sections of the trail.
By mile 8 I could barely see the two leaders, their lead over 30 seconds by that point. I put all my effort into one last kamikaze descent to come within 10 meters of them at the bottom, just as we reached the widest and deepest stream crossing of the race. I heard them shouting a bit at the crossing, but I wasn’t sure why. Moments later I found myself balls-deep in frigid snow runoff and it was suddenly clear.
Oh oh, oh oh
I can’t imagine what they must have thought of this guy who they kept dropping, yet was right on their tail again. After seeing me on the other side of the stream I think #1 had finally had enough of me and he took off. He gained so much time on us so quickly that I seriously wondered whether he had taken a wrong turn.
I yo-yo’d behind #2 for a few more miles. With slightly more than 1 mile to race I once again came within 10 meters of him before hitting an uphill and losing contact again. Once we hit the (muddy) fire road (now rained on for hours longer and trod upon by 350 people) for the final out-and-back, I could barely move. I had no hope of catching back up. The gap went out to a minute in the last ½ mile. I finished in 1:46:09 for 3rd place.
The winner also won the race last year, though he was over 10 minutes slower this year due to the trail conditions. The second place finisher also finished second last year. I don’t know what their seed times were, but #2 has a half marathon PR of 1:12 (!). These guys are so far out of my league I’m still a bit stunned I was able to stay with them for as long as I did.
Then again, my last two first place finishes were sloppy, muddy trail runs in the rain.
Maybe this is becoming my thing.
Update: Here’s an awesome video one of the runners made:
And here’s someone’s photos of the course during the race.