Thursday, March 31, 2011

Top Secret Training - Matt Larsen #3 Boston Marathon

The road to the Boston Marathon is now down to 3 weeks for many area runners. Matt Larsen checks in with how his training has gone over the past few weeks.

 Since I posted last, I have started coaching track. With this transition, I’ve made some slight changes to mileage and how I approach mileage, but I’ve still tried to stick with the same basic plan of attack in training. My primary focus has still been on one workout per week and one long run per week.  Recently I’ve noticed that in a typical week, either the workout or the long run will go well (but usually not both).  I’ll give you a few of the highlights and low lights of training, along with showing you my creative approach to chasing decent mileage while coaching high school girls. 

3/09/11- Pettit party- The plan was to run a three mile warm up followed by 5 miles at 5:30 and a 3 mile cool down.  I was coming off of being sick the previous week, but I was cautiously optimistic that I could find a groove.  On the drive down, I thought about my love hate relationship with Pettit Center running.  Overall, I love having the Pettit Center as a place to escape the nastiness of winter training.  I love running into old friends who are getting a workout in during the holiday season. And, I get a kick out of how the Pettit almost becomes like a trusty watering hole for the run-aholics who spend countless hours logging miles and miles and talking shop.  My love for the Pettit Center usually lasts through late January and early February, but as spring rolls around, and the weather is still crappy, I get impatient with dodging people, running in circles, always having dry skin etc. 

As  I warmed up for the tempo, I still reflected on the Pettit season coming to an end, and I saw what I thought was a sign about the night’s workout- I saw a lady grooving along on a run in a pair of jeans.  This awesome display had to mean that I would have a great workout that night.  I hate to disappoint you guys, but even with such a rare sight as an athlete maximizing her potential in denim, I still had a letdown of a workout.  I got through 3 in 16:30 and pulled the plug on the tempo run.  I chalked this rough workout to getting over illness- no worries- I still woke the legs up a little bit. 

3/12/11- I had a 50 minute run with 1 minute pickups every 10 minutes scheduled with the fit members of our ladies team, and they gave me a good run.  I followed that up with a 50 minute run with Coach Olson after practice. This has become one of my new ways of chasing mileage.  Both runs went well and the company was good. I was pretty hungry by the end of the run, however, and felt a little like bonking in the end. 

3/13/11- I needed 19 miles to get 70 in for the week, but I settled for 17 and a 68 mile total.  I ran with Eamon on a hilly course and felt a little run down.  I attributed the fatigue to the first week of track.  I was pretty run down for the remainder of the day, but was pleased that I was able to maintain respectable mileage. 

3/16/11-The weather was great, and I was meeting up at Hart Park with Matt and Eamon to run 3x2 miles with about 4 to 5 minute recovery in between.  I felt run down and was not excited about the idea of doing a workout.  I tried to wimp out and talk these guys into any easy 13 miler, but to be honest, that also seemed like a lot of work.  With feeling flat, I tempered the expectations to 5:40 starting pace with an opportunity for a pace increase as deemed doable.  We rolled the first 2 miler in 11:17 on the Parkway as we dodged some snow and mud.  I felt crappy and was almost longing for the flat Pettit Center that I had been cursing one week earlier.  The next repeat was run back toward the track on the Parkway.  We covered 2 miles in 10:57, and I was still a little fatigued.  I talked the guys into running the final repeat on the track and let them know that I would cover one mile for sure and assess the situation from there.  We went through and a mile in 5:25, and it felt pretty comfortable.  I completed the total 2 in 10:48 and felt much better on this than I did on the first two repeats.  I was very satisfied with a long day of work and a decent workout.  I got home to fill out a couple of brackets. I picked a risky final four of VCU, Butler, Kentucky, and UConn (hoping it would turn out well).  Then I went to bed. 

3/26- Plan was to get in 10 total for the day.  We had a meet, and I decided to run 5 before it and 5 after.  I got out the door at 6 am for a really cold 5 miler.  About 3 and a half miles in, I tripped on a blade of grass, but with a cat like reflexes, I executed a very smooth log roll and transitioned back into the run.  I hope that someone was able to see this display of agility as they started their Saturday morning.  Coach Olson, Irvine and I ran a nice five mile after a good meet for both our guys’ and girls’ track teams.  It was cold. 

3/27- Plan was to get in 20 with Matt and Eamon at a reasonable pace. We average just under 7 minutes for the first 10 and just over 6:30 for the second ten.  I felt smooth through about 16, but felt like I had to work for the last 4 or so miles.  I spent the remainder of the day on the couch watching to see how the NCAA picks turned out. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Race Week Workouts

Is there a magic formula for doing just the perfect race week workout?  There may not be an exact formula for the ideal race week workout, but there is a smarter way to train race week. The race week workout is important to stay sharp and to hopefully add just that little last bit of confidence going into your big race. Many times runners fall into the trap of doing too much just so they can feel at ease that they are fit and ready to go for their race.

For example let's say you have a 10k race on Saturday?  What day of the week should you be doing your race week workout? What kind of interval/workout volume should you log? What about pace of the workout?  Some general direction I can give is to make sure the workout is not too close to your just completed Sunday long run or previous weeks' race. The best day to do the race week workout would be Tuesday and as a backup day on Wednesday.  This should allow for enough recovery on both sides of the Long Run and before race day that week. It would be great if your workout goal would be to hit race pace splits, but make sure to give adequate rest between intervals. If you normally take 60 seconds rest in between 800m repeats race week take 2 minutes. If you normal volume of workout mileage is 4-5 miles drop that to 2.5 or 3 miles so you can still get in the work to stay sharp but not overdo it.

Error on the side of taking "too much" rest and doing "too little" volume and you will be fine for your weekend race.  Make sure to give yourself that best chance to race well and this does not come from doing 20 x 400m or some type of time trial the week of a huge 5k or 10k race.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Extra Recovery - Without a Day Off

There are times in your training that you just "can not" take a day off but you are tired and want max recovery before your next run possible.  Examples of this might be if you have to keep a running streak alive or if you have a training week where your mileage is too high to miss a day of running. 

There are a couple of different recovery tricks that you might want to try and still be able to log miles. Try splitting your 8 mile run day to a 4 mile run in the AM and a 4 mile run in the PM.  That way you still get in the mileage for the day but the training is split into what is supposed to be two baby easy runs. Another really good recovery trick so you can get around 36 hours of recovery time before your next run is to run in the morning one day and the following day of training log your mileage at night. That way you do not miss any mileage and you max that recovery time without having to take a day off.  This trick works especially awesome by doing your Sunday long run in the morning and then logging your Monday mileage at night.

Those two options sound very simple, but you would be surprised how many times I hear of runners just slogging through the same mileage every single day at the same scheduled time of the day.  Weekly schedules are tough to re-arrange but maybe first try these recovery tricks in your Saturday and Sunday training schedule.  You will recover much faster and get rid of stale running legs.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Boston week - wrap with John Zupanc

As you can see by John's Boston Marathon racing history snapshot today you have to be ready for anything when you step onto the line. It is OK to adjust pre-race goals based on weather, be a tad more patient early, or hopefully just get out there and roll.
 John's Boston Splits

1981  49 and NW winds cross to tailwind perfect day
2:27.11 A big pr by 5 minutes
205th place
This was a dream marathon, everything went perfect.
1985  75 to 78 with cross to tailwind HOT
2:27.13 Felt I was in shape to run 2:22 my pr at that time but had to adjust to heat
18th place
There was basically no one to catch over the last 10k, suffered but not like most.

1987  50 and nice
2:24.46  My best Boston time
36th place
This is probably a more typical half marathon split for me, close but not even

1994  Sunny, 53 and tailwind
2:35.56  I was 41 and my best masters time at Boston
143rd place
I was pleased with this effort

2004  75 with 84 at the finish, HOT, and a strong wind swirled around
3:05.49  I run better than most in the heat
476th place
Happy to survive

2007  A big NorEaster with rain all day, strong swirling winds and 45, COLD
3:12.41  I was very conservative early to not die in the cold, big negative split
Not sure of the place but an example of the extremes you can get at Boston

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Boston Marathon Race Course w/ John Zupanc - mile 14 - finish

Today is the 2nd part of the Boston Marathon course preview/review with John Zupanc. It is the 3rd part of the ThunderDome Running Boston Marathon series with Zupanc.

The first of my Boston gauges comes at mile 15.  From 15 to 16 miles is a rather long steep downhill that I monitor to see if I can respond to a downhill with a faster mile split.  I do not try to attack the downhill but see if I can actually move down it faster.  If I cannot respond with a faster mile I know the last 10 miles will be a struggle.  A sad thought but realistic.  I am constantly digesting feedback from my body through out the race.  I always keep up positive thoughts, even in tough spots.  In any marathon I have always gone through bad stretches and good stretches, I expect it and am ready for it.

The next gauge is immediately after this downhill.  From mile 16 to mile 17 is an equal uphill over the interstate and up to the Newton Fire Station.  If I can keep close to my 13 to 15 mile pace, essentially within 10 seconds or so, through that uphill I know it can be a great day.  In the old days when I was racing under 2:30, I knew there was less than an hour at this point and I would begin the long push to the finish at mile 17.  But now as a 3-hour guy I wait until 18 or 19 miles to begin that push.

Basically from mile 16 through mile 21 are a series of hills, about one per mile, which culminates with Heart Break Hill.  I never found that any one particular hill was a killer but that the combination of more uphill over these five miles is what grinds on me.  My goal is to make it through this stretch within 10 seconds of my goal pace.  Here is where you can really start to see racers coming back to you and that can be a huge motivation.   The distinctive wear from the early miles comes back and the mental game of reeling in the masses is a lot of fun.   During this five mile stretch I am pushing it for the first time in the race.  And in reality it becomes a push to the finish.

The crest of Heart Break Hill is 21 miles and a steeper downhill looms ahead.  This is my last Boston gauge.  If I can respond favorably to this downhill with an increased pace and maintain this momentum through 22 miles I am on my way home.  The course makes it way around a reservoir lined with, weather permitting, party happy Boston College students.  Just past 22 miles the course takes a left turn onto Beacon Street.  It is a long straight stretch with a gradual downhill throughout for the next 2 plus miles.   The famous Citgo sign seems a tiny spec in the distance that marks the 24.6 mark for the course.  I have rolled through this section with the confidence of a great finish and it is awesome.  But this long two-mile stretch has also been a death march that seems to never end.  A marathoner’s fate has been sealed prior to this point but the ramifications are felt here.  I always get a kick out of runners that say “I was on pace through 20 miles and then I just died home”.  Anyone can “get through” 20 miles but the fact is that the marathon is a 26.2-mile race.  This runners was not on pace through 20 miles, instead they were not patient and therefore out too hard.  And they felt the ramifications of those too fast early miles in the last 10k.  It is not possible to put time in the bank in a marathon as a reserve for later.  The withdrawal rate over the last 10k far exceeds anything you may have put in the bank in the previous 20 miles.

The last two miles continue along Beacon Street to mile 25 that includes a small but annoying little up down.  The course turns right on Hereford Street, a gradual uphill, then a left to the finishing gradual downhill straight of Boylston Street.  It is a long last stretch packed with screaming spectators.  The number pickup and expo is at Hynes Convention Center that is on the corner of Hereford and Boylston.  So you get a chance to see the finishing straight on Boylston when you get your number.

I always grind out the last four miles of the marathon with the same thoughts.  Basically I am talking to myself through each mile:  “ok you have the bridge loop left, you can do this”.  The bridge loop is a four miler in Oshkosh that I have probably done hundreds of times.  At three miles I am telling myself “you are at the first bridge, you will make it” or “twenty minutes, you can push for 20 minutes”.  At two miles it is simply 8 laps on the track:  “two miles left in a hard tempo run, one lap at a time”.   And finally at one mile to go:   “seven minutes, you got it, keep grinding, you do this all the time”.  Even on the best of marathon days the last four miles is very tough.  Racing is never easy, expect to suffer and therefore you will be prepared for it when it happens.

I hope this helps you to not only a successful Boston, but to any successful marathon.  Be patient, stay positive, and grind it home!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Boston Marathon w/John Zupanc - The Race Course through mile 14

Today John Zupanc checks in with a Boston Marathon course preview/review of the first 14 miles. Zup has raced the hills of Boston 19 times over the years with a personal course best of 2:24:46 coming in 1987. Check back tomorrow for the running of the 2nd half of the Boston course.
Racing the Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon course offers some unique challenges.  As a point-to-point marathon I have already discussed some of the logistical anomalies that exist before the race even starts.  The over-riding theme for any marathon, and Boston is no exception, is patience:  patience in your training, patience in the days prior to the race, and patience during the race.

When I get into the correct starting corral, I like to make my way to the far left side and as close to the front of the corral as possible.  I do this so that when the ropes drop to allow for moving up to the next corral that I move with this.   And by being on the far left side I feel less claustrophobic.  Because I am no longer in the front corral there is a delay between the gun and when I actually start to move.  At first it is a squishing forward movement, then a walk, to a jog, and finally to running.   I find it much easier to maneuver and avoid the idiots by being off to one side.  I choose the left side because of the slant it provides and because most people naturally like to hug the right side.  I know that later I will be predominantly on the right side so this gets me a different slanting early.  Depending on where you start will determine how long it takes you to get through the walk, job, and then run process.   Do not waste mental energy, or physical energy, during this time period by becoming impatient.  Do not press the pace during the opening miles to make up for any time you may feel you have lost.  There is plenty of race ahead to get this time back.

The opening four miles is predominantly downhill.  This is especially true in the first mile with a long steep downhill to get over anxious runners out too aggressively.  I make every effort to relax and let the opening miles just take me to a comfortable pace.  I check my watch for each of the early miles just to make sure I am not out below my pace.  I will pull back if I am faster than I should be and not worry if it is a bit slower.  I enjoy the crowds on the sidelines and keep an eye out for various other runners that catch my attention.  I look for bright colored singlets or distinctive wear that will be used for pace and motivation throughout the race.

At about 4 miles the course starts to flatten out a bit but always seems to have some rolls.  The course moves through the small towns of Ashland (4m), Framingham (6m), and Natick (10m).  I look forward to the lake on the right hand side of the course at around 9 to 10 miles, just before Natick.  At this point I should be in a nice groove, moving along with the field.  I do not look to be “racing” anyone at this time but keep on eye out to see if I am catching any of the distinctive wear mentioned above.  There is a nice downhill uphill combination just prior to the screaming crowd of Wellesley College women found at 12 miles.  It is unbelievably loud and definitely wakes you up.  The reverberations are a reminder that I am about to get to the 13.1-mile mark just ahead in downtown Wellesley.

It can be difficult but I do everything to try not to dwell on the fact that I am only half way done.  I know that wiser folks than I say the first half of the race should just glide by like a training run, “easy”, but I think that over simplifies things.  There will be moments that test you in the first half but overall you must feel in control.  I have raced over 55 marathons and maybe 5 felt “easy” over the first 13.1 miles.  If things are going well for me, I know that I can even split any marathon including Boston.  My best Boston races (really all my break through PR races) have been when the last 10k and the first 10k are pretty close.  From 13 to 15 the course is pretty flat.  I make every effort at this point to stay on the pace but not push the pace.  Again patience is the key to success.  No matter how great I feel at this point it is too early at Boston to put the hammer down.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Boston Marathon Blog week with John Zupanc

John Zupanc recently retired in December after coaching Cross Country and Track & Field at the University of Wisconsin Oshkohsh for nearly 30 years leading the Titans to four NCAA DIII Cross Country team National titles along with two Track and Field team National Championships.

Zupanc is a veteran racer of 19 Boston Marathons with number 20 coming this April. He has run a Boston PR of 2:24:46 and is a model of consistencey racing the challenging Boston course with 5 sub 2:30 efforts -- along with an outstanding 2:36:56 clocking as a 41 year old Master's runner. With Boston placings of 18th, 36th, and 50th Zupanc has gone into Boston fit, but there are more factors to consider before stepping to the starting line.

Nothing beats experience in road racing especially in the marathon and here are some race weekend tips that Zupanc has learned over 19 years of Boston Marathon racing.
Every major marathon has some unique aspects and Boston is no different.  Boston has the usual Expo for race packet pickup.  It is huge, of course, and generally I spend as little time as possible at these things.  There is just too many people and too much standing around on my feet. 

The morning of the race you have to stand in line to catch the school busses at Boston Commons to the start line in Hopkinton.  You are assigned times to get there but generally it is better to go earlier than later for a couple of reasons:  the line is shorter (it can take about 45 to 60 minutes to queue up to the busses), you do not have to fret about getting to the start on time (I have twice been on a bus that got “lost”) and you get a better camp location at Hopkinton High School.  The busses usually start at about 6:30am for the 10am start and 20,000 plus people have to get a ride to the start.  It is quite the operation.  Generally it takes about an hour from departure at Boston Commons to Hopkinton.  Be prepared for no bathroom the entire long and bumpy ride.

Once you get to Hopkinton High School you have to wait outside for the duration.  I have been in all sorts of weather from hot to cold and rainy.  You have to be prepared to sit around for at least 2 to 3 hours.  In the old days of the noon start you had even more time to sit around and contemplate the run back to Boston.  They do have baggage busses for your things but they want those packed and on the proper bus about an hour before the race start time.  Your bags are assigned a specific bus based on your bib number.  You have to pack your stuff in the bags they provide and you pick them up at the finish line according to your race number.

I like to get to Hopkinton early so I can get into one of the doorways to the high school so I am at least out of the rain, muddy/wet ground, or out of the sun.   I have a list of things I bring to the start (all this is carried onto the plane….I never check any bags…that is another Boston story) and most of it I leave in Hopkinton.

1-A cheap $2 air mattress from WalMart to use as a soft and dry place.

2-A cheap $1 fold up plastic rain poncho, again WalMart, in case it is raining to keep me dry while I wait in the assigned start corral until the race starts.

3-A complete assortment of throwaway clothes:  shirts, pants, socks, stocking cap, regular hat, gloves, and shoes.  I do not put on any race gear until the last possible moment especially if it is raining.  I wear the throw away clothes until about 5 minutes prior to the race if necessary.

4-A complete set of clothes to be used at the finish.  I pack this up the night before and have it ready to give to the baggage bus without having to be uncomfortable while I wait.  Do not put anything valuable in the checked bag, you hope you will get it at the finish but ….no cell phone, no wallet, no music device, nothing vital.

5-I do pin some money on my race stuff just in case something weird happens along the way.  I have never had to use it.  You do get free subway transportation with your number!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Running Routes - Get One

Here are my top 4 rules to running routes.

1. Make sure you have at least one running route that includes some hills.
2. Have at least one route exactly measured and where traffic is not an issue.
3. Have a winter & summer set of routes. 
4. Have a totally hard route so when your running friends come and play you can roll them.

I am open to a debate on the other side of this rule, but I really think that when runners run "on time" without a set course they run slower.  If you have a set course where you know exactly where you are headed, where the hills & turns sit ; you will get into a better rhythm and run faster.

When you set out to explore and just run around town on time it is easy to fall asleep, which is good, but not if you do it every single day of your training you are not running as fast as you should probably. For example on Monday I ran my normal 10 mile Miller Park route with a ton of hills in it for 10 miles at 6:25 pace without much effort, I followed that run up Tuesday with a brilliant 10 mile run at 7:19 pace "on time."  Mentally on Tuesday I was counting down every single minute which sucked too.

Your homework is to get out the door and make up a route you will be able to utilize and help get your training where it needs to be. I have stepped out the door and made up specific routes that I ended up using for ten years based on exactly where I ran that very first day. I had no idea I would be running those same routes for ten years.  Maybe I should have put more thought into planning but the routes seem to work.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Top Secret Training - Matt Larsen # 2

5 Weeks out from the Boston Marathon
In the last few weeks, I tried to stick with the same recipe. Some things went pretty well, and I had a few instances where I wasn’t as tough as I would have hoped. Life got in the way of my mileage goals following the workouts I posted on 2/15 and 2/16, and I ended that week mileage in the 30s. Last week, however, I hit the highest mileage in recent memory at 73. I’ll give you the low and highlights of the past two weeks.

2/20- long run- The plan was to do a shorter long run 14-16 miles. I woke up late and headed to the couch. During my extended time on my couch, I put thought into getting hydrated and having something small to eat prior to the run. I also then thought about running at Pettit center instead of running outside in the freezing rain. After about six hours of contemplating a run, I recognized that laziness won in the battle of lazy man vs. the driven athlete. The next battle soon became showering vs. not showering. Not showering won this battle. This was my laziest day of 2011. In the past, I would have been upset at myself for my lack of work ethic. I was coming off a pretty good stretch, however, and I had planned for a down week…. Just not this much of a down week

2/22- Pettit workout-The plan was to run a three mile warm up followed by 3 miles at 6 minute pace, 600 meter jog recovery, 3 miles at 5:50 pace, 600 jog recovery, 3 miles at 5:40 pace, and finally a 3 mile cool down to end things. I ran 3 miles at about 6:02 pace and jogged my recovery. I started rolling the second 3 miler and recognized that I was dancing around people in the Pettit and getting a little frustrated. I was riding solo on this workout, so I didn’t have my trusty pace cars…. It made a difference. As I grew impatient and sensed a third 3 miler wouldn’t happen, I tried to finish the 2nd three miler strong. I ran the last mile hard and glanced at my watch when I finished to see a split of 5:39 and a total time of 17:15. (I had hoped for and expected a better effort) I ended up doing my cool down and didn’t worry too much about the down day. I have been frustrated about workouts like these in the past, but I realized this time that I was a little optimistic to think I could do this on my own. I am also coming to the realization that even workouts that don’t turn out great can, in turn, give great fitness benefits.

2/27- Long run-Plan was to roll twenty with the first part outside and finish the last three a little faster in the Pettit. This time I had a partner in crime, Matt Thull, and that helped. We ran 13 outside slowly through some slop. We then ran 7 indoors and dropped it down a little in the end. I ended up finishing the last 2 miles in 6:20 and then 6:14 respectively. It felt pretty good and it was nice to have a Sunday that was a little less lazy than the previous Sunday.

3/2- Pettit Workout- The plan was to run 4-5x 1 mile repeats at faster than 5:20 with a 3 mile warm up and cool down. I had the benefit of Eamon M as a pace car and former college teammate Jeremy Burks also joined in the fun (Jeremy has been in his own very good groove runs and cross trains as he has had injuries related to heavy miles). The plan was to run 79s to 80s on the first quarter and see how 5 teens to 5:20 felt. We ended up running a 5:13, and it felt very good. Jeremy went on to do the rest of the workout on his own. It felt good to run with him again. Eamon and I ran the second repeat in 5:12 and this one felt a little more challenging. The 3rd repeat went out identical to the first 2 (I am very impressed with Eamon’s ability to pace). Coming into the second lap, I thought about how the workout was going well but that running wasn’t that fun. I rolled through ¾ in the same amount of time as I had run on the other two 3:54 but the effort was a little more. I then threw a surprise attack at Eamon as I accelerated on the final quarter….. I also said to him under my breath “this is my last one.” With about 200 to go, I thought I had gapped Eamon and looked over my shoulder to the right. He was right next to me- I hadn’t gapped him. We were heading toward the finish, and I, being the gentleman that I am, let Eamon have the step toward the finish line. We finished in 5:05. Eamon ran one more in 4:57. I would have done another one, but I didn’t want to make Eamon feel bad. I actually felt pretty good about the workout, but don’t have a great explanation regarding stepping on the gas to end the workout one repeat early. I am pleased, however, that the pace is getting a little faster.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Training - Rest Weeks

Ever notice when you take your foot off the gas and take a down week (lower miles a day  or two off) how terrible your legs feel that entire week. For example during that rest/down week where you cut mileage back to 35 miles compared to your 50 mile week, many times your legs just feel horrible.  You are not alone in that feeling.  Try this trick and you will be fine.

The down/rest week in training after two or three harder weeks in necessary. The problem is you may not feel the rest week is beneficial because of the way you feel out of sorts that down week.  Just be patient you will see the results the following week.  The rest/recovery results will be there and your legs will feel better and you will be refreshed mentally and physically...just not during the week you are actually resting.

If you are planning a down week for a key race.......try instead to take the recovery week the week before the race - not race week. Then begin race week as you would your normal training with regular mileage just tail things off on Thursday and Friday for a Saturday race. Seems opposite of what normally should work, but trust me on this one.