Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Week Ending Dec 28

Mon -- Off
Tues -- 10 miles easy. To Blean Woods and around 7.5 mile black trail and home.
Weds -- 12 miles easy. Picked up Jim in Whitstable, returned home.
Thurs -- 7 miles easy. Around reservoir near Myers Ashby with Matt.
Fri -- 5 miles, w/ 2.8 mile cross country race. Saltwood Boxing Day Run, 5th place and personal course PR (17:19) with 2 mile warm up.
Sat -- Off
Sun -- 7 miles. Harrietsham 10k (8th) with 1 mile warm up. Set 5k and 10k PRs (17:21, 36:24)

Total: 41 miles.

Three PRs in three days: a stat which makes for yet another PR!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Low Altitude Running = PR Frenzy (Harrietsham 10k)

Two days after setting massive personal records (PR) over ~2.8 miles at Saltwood (see below), my brother and I decided to add a final road race before the end of the year. The Harrietsham End of Year 10k was a well-organized event taking place on a cold and somewhat breezy morning. The course was all paved and a little frosty in spots. The first half was downhill to flat and, being an out and back, the second half was an uphill grind.

I went out very hard from the off and was shocked to see 2:55 on my watch through the first km. Either the marker was short or I started out at a sub-30-minute pace! Either way it was way too fast and I knew I would be paying for it later. I went through the second km at 6:17 (3:22) which was a bit slower (33 min pace), but still way too fast. The field was a strong one for a race with less than 200 runners, and a pack of 5 or 6 guys had already put considerable distance between myself and a guy who overtook me in the first couple of kms, and who I was now pacing off. I managed to keep my pacer close through the first half, and we hit the 5k mark in 17:21. Considering 17:21 would be a 40 second PR for me in a 5k race, I was gearing myself up mentally for a very tough second half.

I have just finished a great running novel, which I would recommend to anyone who wants a primer on the mental side of racing. Once a Runner is the story of a college track star who puts life on hold to achieve his inexplicable desire to run faster. He ultimately understands that getting the best from yourself as a runner is less about the physical than it is the mental, and that journey through the second half of the book culminates in a beautiful and highly inspirational (for the runner) last few chapters, which I won't go into right now, but would recommend as required reading for all runners.

Anyway, I tried to utilize a few of the lessons that I took from the book as I headed back up the hill with the wind in my face, and focused on covering distance and maintaining form, while refusing to ease up and take the easy route back to the finish line. Ultimately, I was unable to catch the guy in front of me. However, despite serious fatigue I was able to fend off a fast finish from behind and cross the line in my second PR in three days: 36:24 (a PR by 1:05).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saltwood Goals Exceeded!

As noted in my pre-race post, I had a number of goals coming into my third run around Saltwood. In ascending order they were: finish top ten, finish in a course PR, beat my brother across the finish line.

With course conditions just about optimal for a winter cross-country race in England my expectations were high as I toed the start line for the 34th running of the Boxing Day Run. Aside from one or two patches of sloppy mud, my pre-race warm up (which involved a couple of trial fence jumps for the second of five hazards that had to be negotiated) revealed firm underfoot going. Considering the conditions, I opted to wear my newly acquired, rubber-spiked cross-country flats.

From the off at the village green, I went out at a strong but conservative pace, tucking into about 11th or 12th place. I knew full well that at least 50% of those in front of me were caught up in an adrenaline-fueled frenzy that would last no longer than a mile, and sure enough I began picking a few of them off as I settled into a rhythm across the school playing fields. As I had pre-run this first section of the course, I knew it would be important to get to the first hazard ahead of any type of pack to avoid losing time at a bottleneck, so I pushed hard to get in front of two guys on the slight downhill from the playing fields to the one-person-wide footbridge, which leads to the second hazard and the first gate.

With my two trial jumps over the fence to the side of the gate, I was confident of being able to take it in stride, and was relieved when my hand plant on the top of the fence was solid enough for me to clear it with ease. Immediately following the fence jump is the steepest section of the course across a field to a stile (two planks of wood offset to allow people using public footpaths to climb over farmers' fences). I heard some very heavy breathing behind me half way up the hill, and put in an extra effort to ensure that I wasn't passed before the third and fourth hazard. I got over the stile fairly efficiently, ran up the 10 or 12 steps to a swing gate, and proceeded up the rest of the hill to the Big Field. It was here that I was passed for the first and only time during the race, and to my dismay the boy passing me could have been no more than 15 years old. Anyway, he looked way stronger than me so I let him go in the vain hope that his young age would bring him back to me later in the race.

Once up on the Big Field, runners are afforded a visual of those in front and a chance to count off your position while also seeing who you might be able to pick off before the finish. I set my sights on fifth and sixth: a guy who was clearly hurting and a lanky runner wearing the colours of Folkestone Running Club. I caught the guy in sixth with relative ease and by the 90 degree turn on the field I was slowly making ground on the long-striding Folkestone runner as we headed to the last hazard. By the swing gate, and the wooded section of the course, I had maybe ten meters to make up on fifth (which had now become my goal finish place). Taking a quick look back, I could see that I was putting significant distance on those behind, so felt confident that if I could pick off the guy in front I would finish top five.

Feeling in my element under cover of trees and on nice double-track trail I pushed hard on the downhill, making up a few meters. After the wooded descent, there is a fairly steep pitch up to the final uphill pull. I could see my lanky foe struggling on this section and knew he was done, so I put in a big effort and easily made up the ground pushing into fifth place before summiting for the descent to the finish. I felt absolutely great on the uphill, and was going as fast as my legs would carry me (rather than my lungs), which was a very good feeling and a sign that I am in very good aerobic condition right now.

The run down the last section of footpath felt controlled, and a quick look back as I hit the road back into the village confirmed that I had a lock on fifth. With nobody else in sight in front, I concentrated on keeping form and pushing as hard as I could into the finish. I was elated to see a low 17 minute time on the clock in the final few meters, and punched the stop button on my watch at 17:19, a 1:31 PR!

My brother Matt finished in his own course PR of 20:03 (beating my time from last year), and Jim came in for another PR at around the half hour mark. My 7-year-old cousin Thomas ran across the finish line in an impressive 35 minutes and was followed by his mum and younger brother William a few minutes later. Another fun Boxing Day Run.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Week ending Dec 21

Mon -- off
Tues -- 8 miles up to Horsetooth via Spring Creek, back down Audra Culver ~ 1,500ft
Weds -- off
Thurs -- Flying to the UK
Fri -- 5 miles w/ 3 laps of the university route
Sat -- off
Sun -- 13 miles out to Whitstable and back, the back leg being at a leisurely pace with one of my oldest buddies, Jim.

Total - 26 miles with very little climbing.

I am calling this a taper week in the build-up to the annual 3 mile romp through the beautiful Kentish countryside, starting and ending in the village of Saltwood. My brother is harboring thoughts of beating me this year, so with sibling rivalries in gear, I am preparing for this run as something of a goal race.

I ran the course in 20:10 last year for a fairly disappointing 20 something place finish, after just finishing out of the top ten in 2006 with a time of 18:50. Being in much better shape this year, I am hoping for a PR, top ten and, most importantly of all, victory over my brother. I took my screw-shoed Inov-8s for a test run up in the woods today, and I think they will do well in providing decent traction through the sloppy conditions that are typical at Saltwood.

As something of a side bet, my brother, Jim and I will be competing in a handicapped system of best percentage time improvement versus last year. Considering my level of fitness last year, I certainly have a margin of imrovemnent to expect and am not totally out of the running, but as my brother has put in his first serious year of training in 2008 (training for Amsterdam Marathon), he is definitely the odds-on favorite in the handicapped version of the race, with Jim a close second. Either way, it will be a fun day as always, and the beer always tastes better after a good slog through the mud.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The week ending Dec. 14

Monday -- 6.5 miles up and down Horsetooth. Decided to go tempo once I hit the park. 55 mins total. I think this is a PR over this route; however, only the second time I have timed it (~1,500 elev gain).

Tues -- Off

Weds -- 9.5 miles. Horsetooth Trail Half course, with Spring Creek down from Towers (~2,000 elev gain). 8:58 up Horsetooth Trail.

Thurs -- 6.5 miles. As Monday, except all at easy pace.

Friday -- 23 miles. The Twin Peaks Challenge. Up to Horsetooth and around to Mill Creek along HTH course. Mill Creek into Lory State Park and up to Arthur's Rock. Took Timber Trail to the Lory Visitor Center and decided to run the road back to Arthur's trail head because the trails were so sloppy. Nomad to Towers, to Stout, to Spring Creek, to Horsetooth Falls to parking lot and home. Felt pretty good the whole way around. Much, much better than the one previous time I ran this route earlier in the summer, which ended in a dehydrated plod home. Total run time was 3:40 or so. Elevation gain was probably in the 3,500-4,000 range.

Saturday -- 9 miles (2,500 elevation gain). Climbed to Twin Sisters Peak in Estes with Chad. We had originally planned to do Estes Cone as well, but the weather on top of Twin Sisters was so vicious (winds must have been a steady 70 mph, and without eye protection that hurts) we settled for a warm-down jog around the picturesque Lily Lake.

Sunday -- Christmas Classic 4 miler (26:14). With fresh powder on the roads and temperatures in the low single digits the conditions were trying to say the least. Ended up running three minutes slower than over the same distance on Thanksgving. By beating Santa across the finish line, I snagged a pair of running socks. I also won a large pizza from Panhandlers in the post-race lottery, and picked up a pair of tiger-striped (!) running spikes for $10 on clearance from Foot of the Rockies, the store that put on the race. The spikes will be perfect for the Saltwood Boxing Day run, a 3-mile race that is fast becoming a tradition for the Clark family annual Christmas gathering. The run starts and ends in the village of Saltwood by way of hilly fields, which invariably are very sloppy.

Total: 58.5 miles and 9,000-10,000 total elevation gain.

Getting Started

With temperatures in the minus numbers, a pair of sore knees and a heavy week of running just completed, I have decided to take this moment to get a blog up and running. I am doing this primarily as a means of maintaining a record of my runs, something I used to do religiously, but after a six-month, injury-induced running hiatus between August 2007 and February 2008, I decided to quit logging my runs. This was mainly because I attributed my injury, in part, to an obsession with hitting weekly numbers (regardless of how my body felt).

The injury was especially unfortunate as it came two weeks before the Leadville 100, an event for which I had been logging big miles for over 12 months. I ended up toeing the line, despite barely being able to walk, and dropping 25 miles later at the Fish Hatchery. I mean to race Leadville again in 2009, and am shooting for a sub-20-hour, top-ten finish. This being my primary focus, I am sure it will be referenced frequently in the coming months.

Since coming back from injury, my running philosophy has become much more relaxed, and I have assumed a 'run by feel' approach to my training. That is to say, I run on a regular basis, but am no longer a slave to schedules, numbers or times. With that said, I am beginning to realize that record keeping is still a useful and necessary training tool; hence the blog.

A quick primer on my running career: it began as a mission to complete a marathon, which once completed (Detroit 2004, 3:28) became a mission to qualify for Boston (New York 2005, 3:07), which in turn became a mission to go under three hours (Marine Corps, D.C. 2006, 2:54).

Following our move to Fort Collins, CO, my focus changed to longer distances and a preoccupation with the 100-mile distance in particular. I trained well for Leadville, and was posting some competitive trail times and finishes before succumbing to a debilitating lower-back injury which appeared to be linked to a stress fracture in my pelvic bone, an injury that had been bugging me for months but not enough to slow me down. Lesson learned. Pay attention to pain.

Anyway, I was finally forced to follow the doctor's advice and took time to let things heal. Fast forward six months and 20 pounds of weight gain, and I was horribly out of shape and finding it very hard to get motivated to run again.

Being out of shape, with nothing but steep mountain trails to train on, made getting out the door to run on a regular basis very difficult, to say the least. I finally re-found my rhythm after a friend from the Fort Collins Running Club asked me if I would pace her at the Badwater 135 ultramarathon through Death Valley. This really got me motivated to run again as it is an event that has intrigued me for quite some time, and I really wanted to be able to help Alene achieve her goal. The training paid off and I was able to pace Alene through the last 45 miles of the course, helping her hit the tape in under 48 hours for a belt-buckle finish. We mostly walked, and it was a very long walk for sure, but it was a truly memorable experience, and one that I use as a motivator on a regular basis. Alene's pictures and reports from Badwater are available from her blog.

Training for Badwater was just what I needed to get back in the groove, and soon after returning to Fort Collins I was on the interwebs looking for a late-season challenge, which quickly centered on Steamboat in September. My ambition to race in the Run Rabbit Run 50 was the final tool I needed to reinvigorate my running obsession (obsessions can be good).

By September and Steamboat, with some encouraging shorter races along the way, I felt like I was back in decent shape and ready to lay it down. Steamboat went well, all things considered. I was edged into a third-place finish after tracking Ryan Burch, who ran almost pillar to post in first, for approximately 40 miles. He was never any more than three or four minutes ahead of me and frequently within eyesight. I finally reeled him in at the penultimate aid station after working with Todd Trapp to do so. Between the last two aid stations, I decided to make a move for the win, and quickly gapped Todd and Ryan, both of whom I thought were done for the day. Turns out I was the one who was done and a few miles later Ryan came storming back to pass me and he was soon followed by Todd. I was satisfied to put it in neutral back down Mount Werner to the finish (6 miles and 3,000 feet of descent) for a third-place finish, and a goal of running sub-nine hours met (8:42).

Since then, I have set shorter-distance PRs (37:29 10K, 18:02 5k, 23:24 4 mile) and definitely feel like I am ready to train through the winter for a strong start to 2009. My first major test leading up to Leadville will be the Spring Desert Ultra 50 mile in April, an event I dropped out of at the 25 mile turnaround in 2007 after experiencing severe groin pain from about the 12 mile point. Turns out this was the beginning of the end with regards to Leadville that year.

I am also planning some epic runs through Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding area with Chad Johnson, another recent transplant to Northern Colorado, and someone who shares my affinity for running up steep mountain trails. Chad was a mountain rescue volunteer in Washington state before moving with his family to Loveland, so he is the perfect running partner for a mountain neophyte from Southeast England, such as myself. We're already tossing around some planned routes, and I simply can't wait for spring to get here.