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bullseye!
I have two goals that I want to achieve within the year.  Break my 21K record of 2:05:52 and break my marathon record of 5:53:03. I am eyeing the upcoming Manila Milo Marathon to break my 21K record and the Run United Philippine Marathon to break my marathon record. I thought I’d chronicle that pursuit.  Who knows? Maybe somebody out there can learn from an aging (I’m close to 50 years old) runner.

The Milo Marathon is July 28. That gives me 8 weeks of training ahead of me.  Given that I am not sedentary and have been running consistently for several weeks, I suppose I can jump into one of these training plans midway.

(Photo courtesy of Nicole Cho)

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Rain running

Rain

It rained heavily on Tuesday, July 3.  It wasn’t the rain that one would associate with a typhoon, but it was an incessant downpour nonetheless.  Despite that downpour, I decided to do a run.

People probably think I’m crazy.

This was a rain that resulted in floods over Metro Manila and caused school officials to call off classes.  There were deep puddles of water in our subdivision and when cars would splash water on me as they passed me by.   But I was on the road, my music player strapped to my arm in a waterproof housing, and all I had was a cap to protect me from the drencher.  Dark clouds loomed over the horizon. The air was cool.  The rain drops were refreshing.

I love running in the rain.

I don’t know why people believe in that running in the rain results in colds.  My mother would strike the fear of God in me by saying that getting wet in the rain leads to pneumonia.   When I was in college, we would run in the rain and would hardly get sick.  Years ago, in my mountain biking days, we would get drenched by heavy downpours and would hardly get a sniffle.

So unless there is a thunderstorm, or the roads are flooded, I am not going to let rain stop me.

Long run

Yesterday I did my weekend long run, long being something around the vicinity of 20 kilometers. Running experts say that the long, slow distance run is crucial for any marathon run.  It has something to do with improving the body’s ability to utilize fat as an energy source as well as strengthening one’s mental fortitude to run for long hours.

I figured that I’d run for 25 kilometers.  That’s the farthest distance I’ve ever run in training mode.  I did a 32K in last year’s Run United 3, but that’s a running event and it’s easy to get swept by crowds and the festive, competitive atmosphere.  This LSD run would be a solo run and it had the potential to be a boring, tedious run.

One challenge in doing a long run is finding the appropriate route.  I could go around the park over and over again, but I’d probably want to shoot myself after the fifth lap.  I could venture outside my subdivision—at 5:30 am traffic should be light—but if I venture out too far I risk getting side-swiped by jeepneys and reckless drivers.    One tip to runners who run in busy streets: run against the traffic.  You really need to see the oncoming vehicles.  A few milliseconds of reaction time can spell the difference between life and death.

Ironically, it’s not the cars nor the trucks that give me problems.  The two-wheeled vehicles—motorcycles and bicycles—are the ones that give me pause.   They weave and they don’t always follow a straight line.  They see you coming towards them and they don’t know if they should move right or left.  Some of them focus only a few meters beyond their front wheel and they get surprised when they see you running towards them!

I figured I keep my pace really slow.  Something like 7:30 to 8:00 per kilometer.  I know that’s really slow.  And after the first 5 kilometers I began to get bored.   I decided to speed up to about 7:15.   Still feeling good.  At the 11 kilometer mark I was up to 7:00.  Then,  with 10 kilometers left, I decided to move up to 6:50.  I remembered my long run of the week before, which was a 21 kilometer run, where I struggled in the final 10 kilometers.  I remember a quote of Jeff Galloway: “As you push a mile or three farther on each long one, you push back your endurance limit.”  I repeated that line over and over again as I pushed past 21 kilometers.  The thought in my head was “For every kilometer I take, I push back my endurance limit!”

I finished my 25 kilometer LSD run in 2:57.  My problem now is that most running experts say that I shouldn’t run more than 3 hours.  They say that there is no physical or aerobic benefit from running more than 3 hours.  Maybe my next weekend LSD will be a double run.  I have never in my lifetime done a double run.

But I’m really tempted to go for 30K.  Maybe I’ll do that in the 2nd week of July.  A 30K with a 7:30 pace means a 3 hour 45 minute run.  Gulp!  That probably means I have to wake up at 4 am!

Tempo runs

Metronome

Part of my weekly training plan is to insert one day of speed-work so today I did a “tempo run.”  A tempo run is supposed to be a 20-minute run at a “comfortably hard” pace.  Running Times gives a good article on tempo running if you want to know more about “tempo runs.”

I opted to do a 10K run at my half-marathon goal pace, which is a 6 minute per kilometer pace.   It’s interesting how my fitness levels have progressed—I used to run a 10K race at that pace; now it’s my tempo training pace!  It’ll be interesting to see how fast I can run a 10K now.

I programmed my Garmin Forerunner to do a 1-kilometer warm up, followed by a 10-kilometer run at a pace of 5:45 to 6:00.  My first tempo kilometer was too fast; my Garmin watch beeped constantly to alert me that I was running faster than 5:45.  So I backed off.  Hmmm, I told myself, I’m comfortable running a 5:45?   But I wondered if I could sustain that pace.

For the first 1 to 2 kilometers, I was fumbling with the pace.  I would go too fast then too slow.  It was after the 2nd kilometer that my pace settled.  No longer was my Garmin watch beeping to alert me that I was off the pace.

But yes it was tough.  Not tough as in I wanted to quit, but tough in the sense that I was wondering if I could sustain that pace for an hour.  For sure it wasn’t an easy, comfortable run.  I was breathing heavily and my legs had a faster rhythm.   I focused on my form, trying to stay loose,  keeping my torso straight but relaxed, my head upright, eyes looking at just below the horizon, my arms swinging freely.   Once in a while I would inhale deeply, expanding my lungs as much as I could, and then I would forcibly exhale.  I don’t know if it truly worked or it was just psychological, but it did alleviate the fatigue and made the runs easier.  But it was still a laborious effort, and I wondered how in the world could I have managed this pace for 21 kilometers!

As I entered the last 5 kilometers, I was obvious to me that my fatigue level was nowhere near that of a 21-kilometer race.  In a half-mary, my legs weigh a ton, my mind is delirious with fatigue, and I would wage a mental battle to either quit or to push on.  I guess the tempo run also teaches the body to settle efficiently into a steady pace.

I’ll be doing this type of runs once a week until about mid-July, when I have to taper for the Milo Marathon.  I’m eager to see how all this affects my 42K run.

(Photo Credit)

Interval workouts on a Garmin Forerunner 610

Defining workouts through Garmin website

Here’s another reason why the Garmin Forerunner 610 is such a great workout and training tool!

I came across this article on improving one’s lactate clearance rate.  As you may all know, the buildup of lactic acid is the cause for muscle fatigue, so the goal is to train your body to run efficiently and facilitate the clearance of lactic acid.  The lactate clearance workout lets you run at a “fast pace” to spike the production of lactic acid then you ease into your desired pace to train your body to flush out the lactic acid at that pace.  I was eager to try out this workout.

I inputted the info into the Garmin Connect website, which is some personal portal where one can log and plan one’s individualized workout.   Once I entered the info, I clicked on the link at the upper right to send the info to my Forerunner 610.

Now the fun begins!

I selected the workout on my watch and started my run.  The screen changed to a two panel layout.  The top half showed my pace and the bottom half showed the number of kilometers left.  In one glance at my watch I can see if I am meeting my targeted pace and how many meters I still have to run.  As I near the end of an interval, the watch alerts me by a series of “countdown” beeps, and then, at the start of the next interval, it would display the interval info—“Run 1.5 kilometers 7:00-7:30 pace”—so I don’t have to struggle and remember if I have to do a fast or slow interval.  Plus, if I am running too fast or too slow, the watch vibrates and alerts me that I am off the pace.  “Speed up” it would display; or “slow down.”  I don’t even have to look at the watch—the vibration and the audible alerts me if I am off the pace and then it also alerts me if I am back at my desired pace!

If you couple this with a heart rate monitor, you can even tailor your workout based on your heart rate.  You can run a fast interval until your heart rate reaches a certain level (like 80% of your maximum threshold) and then ease down until you reach your “resting” heart rate and then repeat.  The watch will alert you as you meet your interval goals!

Great tool and it’s one purchase—albeit an expense one!—that I don’t regret.

 

Heat exhaustion?

Weekends are my LSD—long slow distance—days.  That’s when I log my longest run of the week.  Last week I did 17.5 kilometers.  I wanted to do 20 kilometers yesterday.  LSD runs are supposed to be the bedrock of any marathon training schedule.

But yesterday, everything went bad.  I usually do my running in the morning, but I woke up at 5:30 am hungry and I was hesitant to eat before running.  If I ate my usual breakfast, that meant I would hit the road at about 7:00 am.  I calculated a 2.5 hour run so I would still be running when the sun began scorching the pavement.  Moreover, my Garmin watch was out-of-whack, suffering again from that irritating “reverse-charge” syndrome.   I opted to move my LSD run to later in the afternoon, figuring that the temperature would be cooler.

At 3:00 am, clouds hovered in the sky, threatening rain.  A downpour during an LSD run would be glorious!   I strapped on my hydration belt and began my run.  All I had was one banana as my on-the-run fuel and one 200ml bottle.

And no, it didn’t rain.  I know it rained elsewhere and as a result the air was humid and sticky.  There was no wind to cool me down.  I began to feel my body temperature rise.  I welcomed the brief gust of air when cars would pass me by but it wasn’t enough.  At first I downed water by the mouthful, but at the 10K point I started to conserve water.  The thought that constantly entered my mind was the James Franco character is 127 hours.   My heart rate was elevated, not at cardiac-arrest level, but I was surprised that even at a comfortable pace my heart rate was close to maximum level (you know, that “220-minus-age” level).   I was running slow and I planned to pick up the pace in the latter half, but I ended up slowing down.  By the time I hit 12K  my water bottle was empty.  I blanked my mind, trying to disassociate myself from that heavy, sluggish feeling.  My legs were still strong, my breathing was far from laboured, but my body temperature was feverish.  I was thirsty, my mouth dry.  I had a throbbing headache.   At the 16K point, mentally drained, I gave up, frustrated with myself, and walked the rest of the way home.

At home I gulped down glasses of water.  I have never been this parched after a run.   I still felt feverish and the cold shower helped alleviate it.   I didn’t have any sports drinks but I had a few sachets of hydration salts so I mixed those with water instead.  I began to feel weak and sleepy.  With about three electric fans blasting at me, I  closed my eyes, lay down on my bed, and tried to cool down.  I began to feel muscle cramps and had to periodically sit up to stretch.

So what happened?

I figured I must’ve suffered from heat exhaustion. The weakness, nausea, cramps are consistent with the symptoms of heat exhaustion.  Heat exhaustion happens when your body isn’t able to cool itself properly.  The body doesn’t cool itself by just sweating.  It’s the evaporation of that sweat that cools the body.  High humidity can prevent that sweat from evaporating.  It was a good idea that I stopped running—I could have ended up with a heat stroke!

Lessons learned: in a hot, humid day, bring adequate water bottles and constantly hydrate yourself!

Cutoff times

There’s been some discussion about the cutoff times for the Milo Marathon. If this year’s event is the same as last year’s, then the cutoff time for the 42K is 6 hours.  That’s 6 hours after the official start of the race.  Which means that if you are somewhere in the back of the pack, you will have to finish the run in something like 5:45.  Gulp!  Given that I ran the Condura Skyway Marathon—my first ever marathon—in 6 hours does give me pause.  Can I shave 15 minutes off my time?  It would indeed be a frustration—not to mention a humiliation—to go through the effort of running 42K only to have no recorded time!

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Running in the rain

Rain

People give me funny stares when I say that I enjoy running in the rain. They probably think I am so obsessed with running that I risk getting a cold or succumbing to pneumonia.  Actually, I don’t think the two (running the rain and getting sick) are related.   You get a cold because you are exposed to the virus.  It may be argued that getting wet reduces your immune system, but getting wet alone is insufficient to get sick—you still need to get hit with the virus.

Now yes, when it rains there are more people getting sick but that’s because people will choose stay indoors more, and indoors is where infectious diseases spread because of increased contact between individuals, less ventilation, and the fact that bacteria and viruses like wet, moist surroundings.  On a bright sunny day everybody goes outdoors, where it is warm and dry, where there is obviously more space, better ventilation, less physical contact with large numbers of other individuals.

Anyway, back to running in the rain.  I enjoy it because it’s cool and refreshing.  The air feels pure.  I can run even if it is 10 in the morning.  As long as I’m dressed appropriately, it’s easier to run when it’s cool than when it’s hot.  There are outfits anyway that wick the water away.  My other essential piece of clothing is a cap with a brim that protects my eyes and face from the rain—it’s hard to run in a downpour where you have to squint to protect your eyes from the rain.  When it rains, the runs are almost effortless; under a scorching sun, the heat and humidity are energy leeches.  And running in the rain reminds me of my younger days when I used to play in the rain, and, with the mud and the sludge, you feel tougher that you braved and conquered the elements.  I really don’t mind if my shoes are soggy or if I feel the water seep inside.  The best feeling is that I accepted no excuse to go outside and pound the pavement.

So who cares if it’s a downpour?  Unless, of course, it’s a thunderstorm.  Or a rehash of Ondoy . . .

Training for the Milo Marathon

First of all, here’s a disclaimer to all those who found this post through Google or Twitter.  If you were expecting some training plan or some words of advice from an experienced marathoner, you will be disappointed.  I am pushing 50 years of age.  I am hardly an elite runner.  I can hardly even describe myself as an experienced marathoner, having just completed only one marathon, with an ignoble time of 6:01.  But if you wanted some honest anecdotal rants and quips about running a marathon from a normal, middle-aged runner, then read on . . .

A few months ago, my goal was the 21K and all my training was geared towards that distance.  My plan then was simple—just run about 4 or 5 times a week, do one really long run, and insert a few kilometers of speed work.  Now my sights are fixed on the next big marathon: the 2012 Milo Marathon Metro Manila elimination leg.

Assuming the rules don’t change, the Milo Marathon elimination leg will pose an interesting challenge for me.  Gone are my ambitions to qualify for the finals.  My objective for this run is not only to finish, but to avoid the cut-off time of 6 hours and hopefully not get swept off the course.

My biggest change in my strategy is to have a more structured training plan.  As I mentioned above, my training plan was haphazard and carefree.  I ran whenever I felt like running and ran a distance of whatever I felt like covering.  Now I have set weekly goals with the objective of upping the mileage week-after-week.     Throughout the web I have read advice that I shouldn’t increase distance or weekly mileage by 10% a week.  I also read somewhere that you should take a break once in a while (say, every three to four weeks) and cut back on mileage.   With this, I plotted my training plan.  It isn’t too detailed—just a weekly distance goal and the distance of my longest run.  This week, for example, my goal is to cover 45 kilometers and my longest run will be 13 kilometers.  Next week, I hope to cover 48 kilometers with my longest run being 15 kilometers.   My peak will be around middle of July, where I hope to cover 73 kilometers in a week with my longest run being 37 kilometers.  Gulp!

 

 

Learnings from my first marathon run


Now that I have finished my first marathon, it is time to look back, reflect on that experience, and find out what I should do differently to make my next marathon a less agonizing experience.

1) Build up mileage.  I’ve read here that a beginner marathon running aiming to finish and/or to break 4:30 has to handle 55 kilometers  a week.  I did some calculation: assuming I do 20K on a weekend, that means I have to do at least 35K within the week.  Hmm, 4 days of 10K is definitely doable.

2) Long slow distance runs.  Again, looking at the same source of information, my long slow distance runs should be 30 to 35 kilometers.  Gulp!  At a pace of  8:00/kilometer, that means I will be running in excess of 4 hours!  Now that is tough.  Not to mention damn boring.  If only we had more 32K races out there . . .

3) Start out slow.  I could comfortably maintain a 6:30/kilometer pace in a half-mary so, for my first marathon, I had figured that a 7:00/kilometer pace for a full marathon should be doable.  I was wrong.  I was depleted with about 20K left in the Condura Marathon, so for the next marathon I will have to hold back and run a 8:00/kilometer pace for the first 21K and then pick up the pace in the second half.