Friday, March 29, 2013

The First Mile....The Hardest Mile!

I feel amazing after the run the 30K last Sunday!  In the past, if I had run a trail run with that much down hill I would finally start to get my walking legs a couple of days after the run and wouldn't begin with slow running after 5 days.  I haven't had any problems this time around, with me being able to do my speedy Embarcadero run at 9:16 minute miles.  What is even more incredible about yesterday's run was that my pace for the final 3/5 of the run was all around 8:45.  

But I will have to say, that first mile-and-a-half was a bear.  There was a little bit of residual tiredness.  And mentally, knowing that I am going to be running a trail half marathon on Saturday, I could easily rationalize cutting my run short.  However, there is something I have come to learn about the first mile to two miles:  if it is not race day, the first two miles are just a warm-up.  

It makes since, on race day you are full of adrenaline and and your legs feel great.  However, you run the major risk of going out too fast and burning out too soon.  On training days, you don't have the adrenaline coursing through your veins, and at times it is just shear will power to get out the door.  Especially if you are running something flat and not challenging like the Embarcadero.

In fact, if you Google "why the first mile is always the hardest,"  you will find tons of links.  Some of the tips are:

I remember the training for our first few marathons, my wife and I would run a local paved trail, the Ironhorse, to get our long miles in.  Trail choice was dictated to being able to push one of our daughters and our son in the double jogging stroller while our other daughter would ride her bike.  It would make for interesting 22 mile runs to say the least.  But again, with the exception of an unnoticeable uphill grade for the first half of the run, it was flat.  We never did hill training in the truest since of what you are supposed to do.  And it showed in our San Francisco Marathon times.  

While we were training for these marathons, we would still face the issue of the first mile or two on our shorter runs when we were training for those marathons.  In fact, one of our favorite trails was a loop around the Lafayette Reservoir.  This is a 2.8 mile loop with some hills.  However, we found that the first loop was always the hardest, and we would hit our stride on the second or third loops.

But going back to the first mile.  The first mile will always be your hardest mile.  I remember someone I used to work with ask me about running.  He had witnessed my weight-loss as well as our entry into marathon racing.  He said he ran a 1.5 every other day but felt winded by the time he was done.  Now mind you he was a 4 pack a day smoker.  But I started to see a reoccurring theme with other runners.  Many runners stop right as I knew I was done warming up.

I know a lot of this goes back to conditioning.   But as you increase your mileage, for me, one constant is that if I can overcome the first mile or two in my training I am in it for the long haul.  In fact, there is a lot of times that I am feeling my best at mile 10, 15, or 20.  And I do not feel, even if I am real speedy, any run over 3 miles as a good training run.

So I am really confident that training is on target now.  My target for the half tomorrow, as I stated in the previous post, is to be under 2:30,  and to really shoot for under 2:20.  The Lagoon Valley Half Marathon is listed as one of Brazen's tough half marathons with over 2K feet of elevation.  So if I meet my targets I will be extreamly happy.  

At the end of it all, the first mile is always going to be the hardest, learn to accept it and you will be fine!  Now, I just need to tackle the first mile!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Canyon Meadows 30K

It has been awhile since I have actually run a race, and even longer since I have run over 13 miles.  So it can easily be said that I approached the Canyon Meadows 30K with cautious exuberance. This race, as well as next weeks Lagoon Valley half marathon, was to serve as a go/no go for the Diablo 50K. Considering that I waited at an aide station for 12 minutes to check in with my wife as well as the 7 minutes I was in the porta-potty, I am proud of my 4:04 hour finish time.

I have actually wanted to do a race in the Redwood Regional Park for quite some time. My wife and I had taken our kids on a hike over 5 years ago on much of the course.  At the time I was much heavier and was pushing a jogging stroller with two kids on it for 13 miles. On this trip, I slid on some eucalyptus berries resulting in a chip out of my shin when it slammed against the stroller.

The park is beautiful though, with redwoods on the valley floor and a nice fire road that circumnavigates the valley.  From here you can see Moraga to the east and Oakland and the Bay to the west.  I heard one runner compare the view to the Blue Ridge Mountains to the south.  I can definitely see why.
Oakland Hills or Blue Ridge Mountains, you make the call.

The race was done by Coastal Trails.  The raced director, Wendell Doman had laid out a 5 mile, half marathon, 30K, marathon, and 50K course.  Since the circumference of the valley is 13 miles, to get the additional miles, you do cover some or all of the trail more than once if you are doing anything greater than a half marathon.  That is OK though since there is nothing monotonous about the course. And while there is a fair bit of fire trail, Wendell has masterfully thrown in some awesome single track with some nice technical for good measure.  You are rewarded during the last 3 miles of the 30K with the redwoods on the valley floor.

Everyone at all distances started together at 8:00 AM.  This year included a record crowd of over 400 participants in all the different race distances.  You start out with a nice climb out the gate for the first couple of miles.  The first aid station was 4.7 miles and we made really good time getting there, even with a bathroom stop.  Once we got to the Chabot Science Center, my wife and I separated.  About a quarter mile the first bit of single track began, with a nice gentle grade through redwoods and eucalyptus.  The trail connected back with the main trail for another mile, then split off for some nice technical single track.  At this point I was more concerned with getting a nasty  dose of poison oak, but everything went OK.  
Yes this is this is Oakland, but no, my wife just wanted to take a nap.

At the bottom of the single track you found the next aid station, 6.2 miles from the first.  I spent a couple minutes here before continuing on.  The next 3.1 miles of the course took us through some of the redwoods and the bottom of the valley and then back to the start.  This is really the only negative of the course since it means that you face the finish before starting the final 5 miles of the course.  I waited here for my wife to check in and to see how she was doing before restarting the climb back up the first hill.

I began to feel how tired I was at the top of the hill even though I felt strong.  The cut-down to the valley came pretty quickly and then I was back on the forest floor for the grand conclusion through the redwoods.  By this time all tiredness had faded and I was recharged for the final 1.5 mile.  In fact, looking back at my Strava times, this was the fastest part of the run.

All in all in was a great race and I would recommend to the course to anyone.

So as a test for the Diablo 50K, I feel pretty good about the decision to sign up.  I know that I can complete it.  Also, normally after a run with that downhill, my quads are thrashed for a couple of days.  They feel great.  I really feel that the hill training clinic by Footfeathers that my wife and I took back  in October was definitely worth the money.  So let's see how I do at the next race this coming weekend.  It is the Lagoon Valley half-marathon.  My goal is to complete it within 2:30.  I would really be happy with a 2:20, which would be better than my first half-marathon, the flat Surf City half.  I think I have a good chance to do that.

So on to Lagoon Valley!!!!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Running App Review: Runtastic Pro

In my previous series on phone running apps, I wrote that I really didn't care for the free Runtastic running app.  I really felt that for a free app, it was really limited in its functionality compared to it's free peers.  I felt that whoever was making the application design, finance had a final say so that the Runtastic Pro application would be purchased.

Back in January, to my surprise, I got an e-mail that they would be offering Runtastic Pro for free for a limited time.  With that offer, I decided to see what the Pro version was like; even though I knew it was some marketing ploy to improve word of mouth about the product. Needless to say, Runtastic got me again with a bait and switch, with the app really costing $0.99 in the United States.  But I still gave it ago. 

I can say, there are some pluses about the app, down to what I find important:

  • GPS Accuracy
  • Audible cues (pace, time, and distance), with the option of choosing time increments or 0.25 to 0.5 mile increments
  • Meaningful metrics
  • Provide motivation
In all three areas, the app preformed in the fashion that I would need.  An added benefit was when my run was completed, the information from that run was automatically ported over to Map My Fitness.  This is handy if you are also trying to keep a food log and know what your calorie deficit is.

What is still disappointing about this app, especially this being their Pro edition, is that many of the features that it provides at a premium actually comes free with RunKeeper and Strava.  In fact I much rather use Strava from a motivation standpoint because at least I can compare my stats with previous runs as well as my peers on specific segments.  In fact I have gone back to Strava as my primary phone app.

So that being said, with the normal price being $4.99 on Google Play, and other much more capable and FREE applications out there, I cannot recommend this product. For me Runtastic was not "funtastic"!

You can find the reviews of the other phone apps I tested here:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Embarcadero, Wall Road, and Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

So on the last post, my wife called out that I made it seem as if with a 10 mile run and 8.5 mile trail run, I am ready for the Diablo Challenge 50K.  I would be remiss in saying that my longest run has been the 10 miler.  So in reality, no I am not ready right now for Diablo.  However, I am getting there and felt confident enough to officially sign up this past Friday.  This week my runs consisted of:


I am finally getting back closer to having the ability to run a 1:50 road half marathon.  My pace this week on my runs were in the 8:40 range which I haven't seen in a while.  And what is even better, my legs feel strong.  My typical run is a little over 5 miles, from Levi Plaza down and around McCovey Cove and back, running some of the piers.  You can't find any flatter run in San Francisco and it is great for speed.  I am now getting between 10 and 20 miles a week running the Embarcadero.

The problem last year, when we trained for the 50K is that we had run the Napa Valley Marathon a month and a half before and came out of it with injuries.  Even with the training for the 50K, I would probably say I got most of my miles running like I do on the Embarcadero.  Not this year!   We are definitely running hills.  That brings me to:

Wall Road and Secret Trail

So on Saturday my wife and I decided to run out Stage Road, up Dusty Trail, and then further up Wall Road.  The wildflowers are in full bloom on Mt. Diablo, with the orange poppies complementing the purple lupine and purple wild daisies (not really sure what they are but they look like daisies), as well as what looks like red salvia.  It was somewhat hot out, in the high 70's, which was good especially for the climb. 

When we set out, our heart wasn't in the run even thinking about turning around at four miles; however, we kept on going.  On a trail like Stage, we really don't find ourselves in the grove until after the first couple of miles.  Once we got on Wall, though, we were committed.  We even toyed with the idea of running the extra mile out to Rock City; however, decided to keep with the plan of running down Secret Trail. 

Secret trail is a nice single track.  There are some technical areas, with some deep ruts mid-way down, but it is beautiful.  The poison oak is in full view now and if you are not careful, you will find yourself with a nasty rash.  I love this trail though.  We kept on the 0.6 mile trail until we got to BBQ Terrace which brought us back to Stage Road.   The creeks are starting to dry up; however, with the rain we are supposed to get this Wednesday and a few possible storms between now and race day, there should still be some great creek running!  This run got us another 10,6 miles and 2,100 feet of elevation gain.  In fact, for the week, my wife had over 6,000 feet of elevation. 

In a couple of weeks we will be running Lagoon Valley with our kids (our daughters doing the 10K and our son doing the 5K with a family friend) which meant one more run with the girls.  On a lark, we decided to run:

Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve

There is this trail in Clayton that I have been wanting to try for some time.  It is the Mt. Diablo -Black Diamond Mines Trail, which connects Clayton with the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve.  My daughter had recently gone on a field trip up in the mines so I thought today would be a good day if any to try the trail.

You access the Mt. Diablo -Black Diamond Mines Trail off of Marsh Creek Road in the town of Clayton, CA.  The trail starts off promising with green hills covered by oaks. It is a mild climb for the first mile; however, about a mile out you loose the cover of the trees as you begin the climb.  At mile 2 you come to the gate for the Preserve.  You have awesome views of Rio Vista and the Delta.  There was a fire on Sherman Island and it was impressive to see the flames for far away.

Once you are in the preserve, you further climb for another 0.5 mile and are rewarded with the awesome views of Ponderosa Pine and sandstone.  You are really in back-country here.  We climbed further up until we had an awesome view of the Clayton Valley below as well as our neighborhood.  We could have kept on going; however, it was really time to head back.

It was slow going with the girls on the climb; but they knew that we would also have a fun run down the hill!  And fun it was, a non-stop run 3.5 miles back to the car.

Comming up.....

Next up is the first race of the year and the longest run, the Canyon Meadows 30K in the Redwood Regional Park followed by a half marathon at Lagoon Valley.  This should put us in a good place for the Diablo Challenge 50K.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Diablo Challenge 50K Training Report

With the Mt. Diablo Challenge a little over a month a way, I am starting to feel a little bit more prepared for it.  I was able to get a couple of trail runs in this weekend, on at 10 miles with "100 Mile Ryan" and the other at 8.5 with my wife, both being about 1,800 feet of elevation.  The runs felt good.  It was a beautiful weekend also, with temps in the low 70's.

The highlight to both these runs were that it covered the last third of the 50K.  Also, since it was on Diablo and we were running in the afternoon, we got the full effect of the warmer temperatures.  There is very little cover, so you are running for the most part in direct sunshine.

It was a great run with Ryan, while a bit warm.  I enjoy running with him because he also knows how to push just enough while knowing when I am up against my limits.  My wife started out a full 15 minutes and kept that distance until she stopped at Dusty Trail.  

I didn't realize how much uphill I had mapped; however, it certainly did its job, including running up Stage Rd. to the Ranch and across Buckeye Trail, a nice single track that hosts poppies and lupine as well as a nice little creek with fresh water.  Ryan drank from the creek and commented how fresh the water was.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that one of our family members had relieved themselves there a week before.  Oh well, we had fresh rain between the time of our runs so there would not have been any residual (sorry Ryan!). 

The first climb: 452 feet just under 0.5 mile!
On the second run, I ran with a heart rate monitor.  I have been doing this on my lunch time runs along the Embarcadero and have been trying to run MAF when it is on.  This means keeping my heart rate between 133 and 140.  When I run at lunch, I have been seeing my pace com down on these runs from 10:30 minute miles (after my injury) back down to 9:05.

The idea of MAF is that you need to slow down to go fast.  It is the idea that you can improve your pace over time by staying in the heart rate zone before you cross over into anaerobic.  This also serves the purpose of burning more fat and reserving your glycogen stores for later in the run.  This method is really good when you are trying to build or reestablish your base, which is where I am currently.  You will find that triathletes and ultra runners swear by this method.  You will find more information on MAF training here.

I really tried to stay in my MAF zone during the run.  In fact anytime I would cross the 141 threshold I would walk until my heart rate was back to the right level.  However, by half way through the run, I had added 10 minutes to my time over the previous day. A lot of it had to do with the hills and with the heat. My wife and kids were waiting for me to complete my run so I broke from my MAF training and just ran.  I was not concerned with how this might interfere with MAF, especially after listening to an "Ask an Ultrarunner" on Endurance Planet that specifically discussed the subject of MAF and Hill running.  You can find it here.

 The run was pretty nice though.  I even ran into the  Monte Vista cross country team walking up Dusty Trail.  It was pretty fun running down the hill as all of these teenagers were struggling climbing up the hill.

Once I was back on Stage Rd., I ran up the cut-off to Burma Rd. and then over to Sunset Trail.  I love this single track.  My wife has been running it for some time and swears by it.  It is very much a downhill roller coaster with a creek at the end but it is worth the run.

Sunset Trail:

I had finally caught up with my wife at the State Park boundary.  She had run down Little Yosemite trail.  It is nice that the sun is setting later.  It definitely means that we may be able to get some evening run in.

Being able to run in the heat was good also.  I will have to say, I can't believe we ran the 50K last year when it was so hot.  Since it has been in the 50's and low 60's, this past weekend provided quite additional challenge.  But that was good.

So I can say we are on track for the Diablo Challenge 50K.  On a side note, congratulations to Mr. and Mrs Notthat on their awesome performance at "Way too Cool".  You both smashed it!!!  Your kiwi training must have really come into play!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Trail Running Partners

I love running with my wife.  I will say that a hundred times and will never get tired of saying that.  We run at each others pace, we know how to challenge one another while also understanding when to back off when one of us is struggling a bit more than usual.  We run all of our long distance races together.

Up to this point I rarely have run with anyone else.  In fact, with one exception, I really haven't run with anyone else but my wife until recently.

To get prepared for the 50K and to build up my base, I have been running trail runs with my wife on one day and a couple of my guy friends on the other.  I have had an invitation to run with them over the last couple of years but have declined because running is really a family affair for me. 

I will have to say, to some degree I enjoy running with them, that is after the first 2 mile warm up.  Their preferred trails are over in the Briones Regional Park.  This is part of the lush hills to the west of the Diablo Valley.  It is full of green rolling hills, oak forests, and some pretty awesome single track.  The hills are more of a steady climb with some short drops and turns.  I am always afraid of getting poison oak during the run (getting my first exposure to it hear a couple of years ago).

You'd be quicker if you'd stop taking pictures of cows!
What is good and bad is that they are running at a quicker pace than I am up to. Good in that I am changing things up. Bad because with a month off due to the calf and toothpick injuries, I am the one lagging behind.  In fact, one of the guys runs the hills with so much gusto that I rarely see him.  That said, I do see my speed picking up and the last run was pretty fun.

I have read that to improve in your running, it is good to change up your terrain, speed, and even who you run with once in awhile.  Trail Runner Nation did a podcast on picking running partners, you can find it here.  Also, Inside Trail blogged recently when run with people on your favorite trails and the results.
 I do have to say that while I enjoy running with the guys, I still prefer running with my wife.  We run Mt. Diablo and Pine Canyon (Castle Rock Regional Park) and enjoy the time we spend together.  In fact I have taken this coming Monday off so I can run with her. In fact, I feel a bit bad when I am not with her, I don't enjoy the run as much.

Hey Bud, want to run with me?
Running with the guys is great because it has an element of competition and comrade.  However, it is this type of competition that had me getting "C's" and "D's" in P.E.  So my ego does take a hit.  And lagging behind definitely erodes the confidence.  Running with my wife; however, is about partnership and accomplishment.  It is time we spend together.  It is more tied to my why for running.

So how do you chose your running partner?
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