dog days

My summer running season began the second I crossed the finish line at the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon this May. After three hours and twenty-six minutes of giving everything I had to give, I was a wreck but fortunately not wrecked. I’ve learned the hard way that I have a bad habit of pushing myself one run too far and paying for it with an injury.  I planned, even before the race, to take time off for recovery. I would let my body tell me when it was time to come back. But my mind had a different idea.

Now, ten weeks later, I’m still having trouble getting back into my groove. My performance is ok and I’m not hurt, but dragging myself out of bed to go for my morning run is a big change from waking up ready to seize the day. Some mornings I turn off my alarm and convince myself to make it up later in the week. When I don’t run, I get stuck in traffic, doubling my commute. After a long drive to work with no run to loosen up, I start the day stiff and get home even stiffer.

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The American Tobacco Trail, Durham, NC: miles of forest and fresh air.

In retrospect, I spent over a year preparing for my race. I ran M2B in 2016 and crashed hard at mile 19. I was hoping to BQ and ended up missing the cut off by over twenty minutes. I vowed to return in 2017 and make my time. I turned my failure into motivation and a twenty-minute improvement became a gigantic goal. I lit a fire that continued to burn through my recovery, base building, training, and the race. When I finished, successfully, my year of motivation and hard work ended, instantly. I was left asking, “now what?”

My first week back was a smooth one since I put together my initial recovery plan before the marathon. The day after the race, I forced myself to walk. Just a mile or two at first, and eventually three miles by the end of the week. The movement helped untie the knots I felt through most of my body. One week later, I attempted a five-mile run and survived.

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Scrappy’s Peak, Griffith Park, CA.

In June, I focused on consistency regardless of pace or distance. I built my weekly volume to 25 miles and ran, with a little walking, three to five days a week. I tried a ten-miler but dialed back when I felt soreness deep in my quads. July was solid. I attempted to return to a routine. I ran consistently, hit my weekly mileage targets (40-45), and resumed my Saturday long runs. My final long run of the month was fourteen miles, pushing my weekly total to forty-seven. By the numbers, I was ready to begin a new training cycle.

At the same time, I was still suffering from a general lack of motivation. I expected some post-marathon blahs, but I was still having trouble getting up in the mornings and not looking forward to my runs. Usually, if I stay consistent and push through, my enthusiasm returns. But after eight weeks, nothing had clicked and I knew that I needed more work on my mental recovery. I kept to a schedule, continued grinding out my runs, and hoped that through daily repetition I would return to form.

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Blufftop Trail, Palos Verdes, CA.

I tried mixing up my runs. A work trip to North Carolina helped, especially since I stayed next to the American Tobacco Trail. Two mornings spent in the woods cleared my head and gave me a massive hit of fresh air.  When I returned to Los Angeles, I made sure to spend time running in our woods, Griffith Park, a much drier and browner experience. And I took to the Palos Verdes Bluffs for some of my long runs.

Last weekend, I ran “The Hills Are Alive,” 10K trail race. I planned it to bookend to my summer recovery. What’s nice about the race is that it is a fun run with no timing chips. With a dusty, hilly course, there’s not much of a chance to PR and a very friendly atmosphere. I ran well enough to top my time from last year and to feel optimistic for the fall season.

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Los Angeles River, flat and fast.

This week, I began training for the Manhattan Beach 10K and Palos Verdes Half Marathon. I ran my first speed workout: 5×1 minute repeats in the middle of a nine-mile run. I had not run repeats or a tempo run since May and I was not looking forward to the workout. I survived. In fact, it felt good to wake up my fast-running muscles. Later that day, I realized I was back to normal.  The summer grind added up to slow and steady progress. Coming back was not sexy- it took consistency, dedication and a lot of sweat. Now I’m ready for the fall. Time to focus on training and to set new goals.

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chesebro half marathon

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The Chesebro Canyon Half Marathon is part of the Great Race of Agoura Hills: two HMs, a 10k and a 5k with different start locations that converge at a shared finish line. Chesebro has the distinction of being a trail race with over 1000 feet of elevation gain with some technical single track sections. I raced here in 2015 and promised to return to the spectacular and challenging course.

After running three half marathons and my first ever marathon in 2016, I emerged from my recovery period focused on speed work and shorter races. I broke the 7:00 minute barrier for the 10K last fall then again (6:38) in February, which led to a sub 20 minute 5K (19:38) on St. Patrick’s Day. My new PRs gave me racing confidence but where I noticed the most improvement was in my training. My relaxed pace dropped by almost 30 seconds and I saw similar gains in my tempo and speed workouts. I wanted to test my legs at a longer distance and Chesebro Canyon was waiting.

To prepare for the race I added a heaping dose of hills and trails to my weekly runs, practicing going downhill as much as going up. My calves and quads were the most obvious beneficiaries (or victims) of my training. I started to notice an improvement running uphill especially my breathing and heart rate. Two weeks before the race, I ran the course as part of a long run and reacquainted myself with its rocky trails. I’m in striking distance of running a seven-minute half, but the hilly course did not favor a fast pace or even a consistent pace. I wanted to beat my 2015 time of 1:43:52, and I wondered if I could crack 1:40? I decided to keep things simple by running what felt like a consistent 7:30 effort.

Race day began at 4:30 am with breakfast- a banana and Cliff bar- and carpooling in the dark with some running friends. We arrived with enough time to warm up and find a spot at the starting line. We were still waiting for sunrise as the runners bunched up and the anthem played. It was 45 degrees but there was enough body heat to stay warm. Then we were off!

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I ran a very generous (-119 ft) first mile at my 10K pace then the course leveled and began to rise through the streets of Agoura Hills. I was unaware of the racers surrounding me. The roads were closed to traffic and the pack had plenty of space. I concentrated on maintaining a steady effort. Miles two and three were right on pace and I felt like I found my stride. Just in time- the road ended as we turned onto the Chesebro Canyon Trail and the start of our five-mile climb.

At its start, the trail was wide enough for two or three of us to run abreast. Of greater concern was the tree roots, stones, and erosion underfoot. I tried to remain upright to  hold a balance between controlled and reckless running. We were climbing almost 100 feet per mile and the pack rapidly began to thin. As we approached the halfway point the dirt road turned to a dirt track and then to a steeper single track. My pace was dropping by 15 seconds per mile, which was part of the plan, so I pressed on.

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The final climb was steep, narrow, and rocky. I found myself in a group of a half dozen other runners. We stuck together since passing (or getting passed) was difficult. The runner in front of me was starting to slow down, and when the trail widened a tiny bit, I surged past him. I noticed an Iron Man tattoo on his calf and congratulated myself for passing an Iron Man then wondered if he’d be coming after me later. Another runner began to fade but there was no way around him. Somehow I gasped, “excuse me, I’m on your left!” and he gave me just enough room to get by. I was right behind a younger woman- this is where I realized that most of the field was younger- and we stayed together for the last mile up. We were both panting and wheezing as we crested Palo Comado peak, then in a flash she took off and began sprinting down the hill. Humbled, I watched her go and let gravity help me recover.

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With five miles to go the race was far from over. I clocked just under nine minutes for my final mile up (203 ft) and I worried that I used up too much energy. Miles nine and ten convinced me not to worry. The descent rewarded me with two sub seven minute miles. It also rewarded the Iron Man as he barreled past me! I was feeling recharged and ready for a nasty little half-mile hill before the 11-mile mark. Since I was prepared I passed the Iron Man again, this time for good. I also caught my uphill partner but just like before, she took off when we reached the top of the hill.

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Back on paved roads, I gathered myself for the final two miles. Twelve and thirteen followed a nice and even downhill route with a slight rise and little zig-zag at the end. Somehow, I found another gear and began to accelerate. This had never happened to me before- I’m usually hanging on for dear life at the end of a race- and I wasn’t sure if I could maintain the effort. I decided to give it a go and held myself to a 6:45 pace. As I sped up, I began to pick off runners who were fading. Right at 13 miles I caught a group including my uphill partner and sped by. I was in a full sprint, I turned the last corner and hit the chute!

I finished in 1:38:12, good enough for second in my age group and five and a half minutes faster than my 2015 time. I was gassed but elated. The race felt like a breakthrough, especially my energy over the last miles. After some thought I concluded that it was two years of consistent, injury-free training that helped me improve. I recommitted to my core and strength exercises following my running workouts. I’m eight weeks away from my marathon feeling recharged and confident. At the same time I am not shying away from the work ahead. If you ever get a chance to run Chesebro Canyon I highly recommend it. If you ever get a chance to race it you won’t be disappointed.

rainy day running

What’s this? Southern California is rainy for the first time in ages. My running vocabulary grew to include wet, cold, and muddy.  I love it.

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After years of training on dry roads and dusty trails, I’ll enjoy the rain while it lasts. There’s a thrill of getting caught in a downpour and showers during my workouts are a treat.

All of my usual haunts are transformed.

Beach runs during an approaching storm are a dramatic change from the usual blue skies.

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Griffith Park offers a misty morning trail run with sweeping views of the cloudy sky.

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Out on the Palos Verdes Peninsula the trails are a mess. I need to scrape the mud from my shoes while the wind catches me out on the bluffs.

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Sunshine is on the way. Maybe just in time so I don’t get tired of the rain and a special start to my running season.

 

redondo beach 10k

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When I run a 10K, I’m able to flirt with speed until I’m threatened by a flame out. My training and recovery cover a few weeks instead of months a longer distance demands. And if I balance my endurance with some strategy  I’m rewarded with a strong finish. So it felt natural to begin 2017 at the Redondo Beach 10K. My son Alex, fresh off his first season of cross-country, would be racing with- or more accurately- in front of me.

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When I ran my first 10K in 2010, I hacked, gagged, and second guessed my way through fifty-plus minutes of agony. Since then I’ve knocked almost eight minutes off my time and finally broke a 7:00 pace at the Manhattan Beach 10K last October. Yet all my races were similarly inconsistent.  I start way too fast only to realize my mistake as I begin to fade between miles two and three. Then after a sequence of desperate speeding up and slowing down I fade again until my ragged and uncontrolled finish. Even during my MB10K PR my mile splits varied by as much as 35 seconds. This time around I wanted to run the complete package. I just wasn’t sure how to go about doing it.

Coincidentally I started subscribing to McMillan Running’s, Tuesday Training Tips, newsletter and one of the first articles I read was “The Best 10K Workout.”  A Cliff’s Notes summary:  build up to running a 3 x 2 mile workout with each interval at 10K pace. The splits will predict your race pace, 100% guaranteed.  Redondo Beach 10K was scheduled for the first weekend in February so I began my training cycle just after Christmas, during Southern California’s brief winter. I ran most of my workouts during the chilly predawn and my final predictor run started on a bracing frosty morning. It almost did not start at all because I crawled back into bed when I saw the temperature. I forced myself back out because delaying the run would not give me enough recovery time for the race. As I  journeyed to Griffith Park I tried not to dwell on the workout since the whole point was to use the performance as a no-nonsense pace predictor.

Winter gear in L.A. amounts to a long-sleeved running shirt, gloves, and chapstick- usually enough to keep me toasty until I’m a few miles into my run and properly warmed up. But not today. My gear quickly failed me and my fingers went numb followed by my toes and feet. Two miles later, I began my intervals. After the first mile I forgot about the cold and concentrated on my breathing and cadence. I averaged 6:35 for the first set and cursed myself for going out too fast. 6:50 was what I expected and I was worried about repaying my enthusiasm during intervals two and three. I managed another 6:35 over the next two miles but struggled to keep up. With one more set to go I dialed back my expectations and convinced myself to just finish the workout. My final interval was indeed slower but not by much. I finished at  6:40. I was spent and somewhat dazed throughout the day, so I knew I completed the workout without holding back. According to the plan, I would  run my 10K between a 6:35 and 6:40.

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Now I had a week and a half to recover, taper and find reasons to doubt my results. The weekend before the race I did some recon that included the 10K course as part of my long run: hillier than I expected. The last mile was net downhill and I hoped to reach it with enough gas left for a strong kick. As race day approached I sorted out my strategy. Plan A was to match my workout pace and prove the experiment a success. If I miscalculated, I might be able to get a new PR- a worthy Plan B. And if I completely fell apart I could try to break 7:00, a salvageable Plan C.

Sunday morning arrived with perfect running conditions, cool and overcast. After a banana and some loosening up Alex and I ran 2.5 miles to the starting line, enough to get us warmed up and ready for the race. I said hi to a few locals and then it was time to line up for the anthem and starting horn.  I moved up to the front since there were over 2000 other racers and I wanted to avoid getting bunched up too early. We started on time and my plan worked. The pack stretched out after the first quarter mile. Mile 1 was a blur and when I heard dozens of watches beeping I looked at my own watch: 6:30. Too fast but most of the speed came when I broke free at the starting line. I settled into the race and held a steady effort for the next three miles. I was so focused on my breathing and pacing that I did not pay attention to any of the other runners. My 5K split was 20:36, two seconds away from my 5K PR. Somebody was playing “Highway to Hell” from their window, and I was trying to maintain good posture to keep my hips loose. That’s about all I remember before reaching mile five. I still felt strong and started to build up to my kick. I began checking my watch: 6:40 became 6:25 and then 6:15. With less than a mile to go I tried to hold my faster pace. I knew I was in the running for Plan A.
Just then, somebody yelled, “Cheeseburger Hill!” and my plan was under attack. What was a short climb when I practiced the course seemed to stretch out forever. I made it to the top- the hill was only a block or two- but my heart rate was out of control and it took longer than I wanted to regain my racing form. I soldiered on and built up to a sprint for the final quarter mile. I spied the finish line and passed some other runners, even a couple of Alex’s teammates. Just before crossing, somebody sped past me but I didn’t care since I had just run my best 10K ever.
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When the dust settled, I ran a 41:46, over a minute faster than my previous PR and a 6:38 pace- EXACTLY what the workout predicted. I was happiest about my splits which remained steady for the entire race. I finished 59th overall and 7th in my age group (the guy who passed me got 6th), while Alex ran a 41:22 and won the under 14 division. Needless to say, I am sold on the 10K workout and I hope to try again later this year. 6:38 is close enough to 6:30 that a flatter course might get me under. I’ve begun training for my next race, a trail half-marathon, but I’m itching to take on the 10K soon.
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manhattan beach 10k preview

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The Manhattan Beach 10K is two weeks away and my final “goal race” of 2016. I’ve run the race three times. The first was also my first 10K road race while numbers two and three were recovery races as I was coming off injury and the flu.  A course record is in sight but what I really want to do is to keep my pace below seven minutes, closer to 6:45.

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MB10K is one of my favorite races. It begins in a residential neighborhood less than a mile away from my house so my warm up takes me right to the starting line. The race opens the annual Hometown Fair with bands playing and locals cheering along the way. Almost 3000 runners participate.

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The course winds through downtown, the tree section, and right before mile five up its longest hill, Rosecrans Avenue. The final mile is a flat, straight, and fast sprint along the Strand finishing at the Manhattan Beach Pier.

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For the last two years I’ve trained for the half and full marathon distances. My 10K routine is different: I lowered my weekly mileage by 10 miles, dropped my runs from six to five days a week, and sandwiched my rest days around my speed workouts. I’m using my speed work to help me predict my race time and set my race strategy. They are some of my most intense workouts and I am building up to running a 3 x 2 mile interval at my goal pace of 6:45. The rest days are definitely helping me prepare and recover.

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My strategy is to start at or slightly slower than my goal pace, hold it for at the first five miles, then spend whatever I have left on a strong finish. I have a bad habit of starting races way too fast and I want to keep myself in check to hit my time and a negative split. Prepping for the MB10K has been a welcome change from the 12 and 16 week cycles for my longer races and mixing up race distances helps keep my spirit and legs fresh.

summer running

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This summer, my best time to run is early morning along the beach. No complaints there. I spent most of July exploring the South Bay from Palos Verdes, through the beach cities of Redondo, Hermosa, and Manhattan, and as far north as El Segundo.

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After running a marathon at the end of May, I spent June in recovery mode building back my weekly mileage. In July, I put together a string of consistent weeks and feel like I’m back to normal. I started the month with a 5K and surprised myself with a new PR. For the rest of the month I stayed consistent with five runs and a long run each week.

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The Strand bike path is flat and fast. I found that I could work on my running form without worrying about traffic or the irregularities I encounter on trail runs. It’s also ten to twenty degrees cooler than the rest of LA, a definite advantage for summer training.

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The bike path ends at RAT beach and the Palos Verdes peninsula. From the top of the bluffs you can see all the way north to Malibu and most days are just right for running.

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This summer has been a nice break from dedicated training. Three half marathons and then a marathon took up almost an entire year. Now I’m ready to get back to setting goals and racing. I’ll be starting with a trail 10K next month and targeting the Manhattan Beach 10K in early October as a goal race.

village runner 5K

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I celebrated 4th of July by running the Village Runner 5K in Redondo Beach, CA. Since I ran a marathon five weeks earlier I did not train for the race at all. I spent most of the month recovering and getting back into running.

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The course is a mostly flat out-and-back that follows the Redondo Esplanade. Like most summer mornings in LA the weather was cool and overcast, perfect for running. With no training or goal time, I focused on enjoying the morning with friends and family.

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I rediscovered running in 2010 and since then I wanted to race with my wife and kid(s). The stars aligned today as Alex and Ruby lined up with me at the start. Alex is joining his high school cross-country team this fall, and Ruby has overcome a foot injury, so it was awesome watching them cross the finish line running strong.

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As for me, I achieved one of my running goals for 2016 and PR’ed by eight seconds. It must have been my months of marathon training coupled with absolutely no expectations that helped me set a new record. I ran at what felt like a fast tempo pace and tried to maintain a steady effort for the entire distance. When I saw my finish time I was filled with a renewed sense of confidence and realized that a sub-twenty minute 5K is possible. The race also broke me out of my post-marathon funk and I’m excited to try to knock thirty seconds off of my time.

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Looking a little closer at my splits, it is clear that my conditioning was not ideal for a 5K. I slowed by ten seconds each mile. About two and a half miles in I started suggesting to myself that it would be nice to stop and walk. But with such a short distance to the finish line I held on and dug in. My positive splits are a minor complaint and overall it was a great day for running.