Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Tapering Conundrum

Yep, just sitting around tapering ... not running ...
tossing an orange in the air
A quick Google search on "Marathon Tapering" will reveal about a million different articles on the subject ... and probably just as many different opinions.  I've read (and probably tried) everything from "don't run at all two weeks before the race", to "treat it like every other week in training and run your tail off".  The best approach is probably found somewhere in the middle, right?

The conventional wisdom has been to drastically cut your mileage about 10-14 days before the big race, to heal up, conserve energy, and  build glycogen stores - which all sounds very logical.  But I would bet that every set of eyes reading this post has one or more horror stories about how this process adversely affected their race.  And count me among that contingent.  There have been several marathons where I felt like I was killing it in training, then the taper period rolled around and my body went into a weird lull, and I didn't run my best race.

The flip side of this coin is not tapering at all, which I've also tried for a couple of races.  I've actually ran marathons after running a 20 miler the weekend before, and training full tilt until two days before the race.  I wouldn't recommend this approach. My strategy was to treat the race like any other training run, with a few miles tacked onto the end.  But on most of these occasions, I stood at the starting line exhausted before the the clock ever started.   For me, there is just something about race day that takes a lot more energy, even if I'm not running all out.

So what do we do with this tricky two weeks before the race?  For recent races, I've definitely leaned more toward the "maximum rest/minimal running" approach.  In fact it's what I'm doing for my upcoming marathon ... but I'm just not sure this produces the best results.  I know drastically cutting the weekly mileage while trying to maintain the intensity is the most commonly held pre-marathon practice.  But I've never been a full believer in the reasoning.  There are just so many traditional approaches changing in the world of marathon training, and I wonder if this one doesn't need revamped as well.  For example, not long ago runners would fast the week before a race, now that seems crazy.  So where is written in stone that we must break so drastically from our training during taper, that it feels like we've actually lost fitness by the time the race rolls around.

Fairly traditional taper period with reduction in mileage two weeks before the marathon
The chart I've created above plots the long runs for what would be a fairly typical 20 week period before a marathon for me.  As shown, I usually try to gradually build my mileage until about four weeks before the race, and then start gradually backing it down.  The main thing I've always noticed ... and really struggled with ... about marathon training, is feeling and running my best about six weeks before the marathon.  Whether it's perceived or real, I essentially always peak too soon.  Everything after that seems to be desperately trying to maintain the fitness until race day.  Combine that with two weeks immediately before the race where I really throttle down, and I've rarely ever feel like I'm at my fittest on the morning of the race.  I'm like a piece of fruit that while still edible, was at my ripest a few days prior.

I understand the philosophy behind the taper period.  Believe me, I've studied it like it was my job.  But I just don't fully buy into the notion that as we're motoring along in our training, and hitting on all cylinders ... we basically just shut it down.  And then, after being somewhat dormant for 10-14 days ... almost completely from a "cold start" ... we open the throttle full bore and run longer and harder than we have in a long time.  That just doesn't really make sense.  It would be similar to studying for a huge test for a months, taking two weeks of vacation while barely cracking a book, and then showing up on test day expecting total recall and 100% clarity.  I really don't think most of us would produce our highest possible score, and similarly, I just don't believe that we haven't lost a little bit of fitness during the taper period.  Not to mention the endless mind games this little running vacation plays on our confidence.

Tapering approach I'm thinking about trying that moves the two week taper period to earlier in the training
So, something I've been toying around with, although I haven't had the guts to try yet, is completely changing where the two week rest period occurs before the marathon.  The distances aren't exact, but as you can see in the second chart, the reduction in mileage would happen about 4-5 weeks prior to race day, as opposed to directly adjacent to it.  Then, I would slowly ramp back up for a couple weeks, hopefully peaking on the morning of the marathon morning.  My thought process behind it is still giving my legs a couple of weeks to recover from the mileage during training, as with a typical taper, but then sort of "priming" the engine for a couple of weeks instead of just starting "cold".  The plan would be to log back-to-back 10-12 mile runs in weeks 16 & 17.  Then on refreshed legs, I would theoretically begin building again in weeks 18 & 19 with runs of 16-18 miles.  Finally, I would finish with a strong 26.2 in week 20.  Sound crazy?  Eh, might be.  Plus, I still need to vet it a little more to determine if there's any actual science behind the approach, instead of just my personal experience. Obviously, the most apparent risk with this plan would be fatigue on race day.  But my theory is that weeks 18 & 19 would essentially become the "warm up" laps for the marathon.

The main thing I think I've learned about marathon training tapering is to simply listen to my body.  Right now I feel like I'm in a really good place for the race next weekend.  I'm strong, healthy, a little overweight, but pretty confident about running in Idaho.  But I've had success in two recent marathons by taking a lot of time off before the race, so I'm going to stick with that approach for now.  But  I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on why they do or do not taper.  It seems like it's different for almost every runner.  Have a great weekend!
... be great today

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Marathon Experiment ... Less Miles

One of my most favorite marathon photos from the
2011 Kansas City Marathon
After 28 marathons, you'd think I would've cracked the 26.2 code by now.  But like most folks, I might be just as confused and confounded as the day I started training for my first race.  Well, okay - that's a reach.  But the truth is, I love to tinker and continually mess around with the process.  It's part of the journey of building toward a race, and I simply love studying and redefining all of the components.  And for this year's first Fall marathon, I decided to try a drastically different approach ... reduce my weekly mileage like never before.

I've been very guilty in the past of over-training a little.  During a marathon training cycle my legs would ache constantly throughout the week, and I would struggle with energy level on a daily basis.  And for a lot of marathons, I felt like I left some of my best times at the training workouts.  And as I took a look back, a lot of it was due to double workouts, running six days per week, constant strength training, and not enough calories.  But probably the main culprit that left me exhausted at the starting line was too  much weekly mileage leading up to the event.

In 2011 & 2012, I ran over 3,000 miles in both years.  I really cut back the mileage in the latter part of 2013, but the first part of the year had me on track for a third consecutive 3,000 miler.  After reducing the mileage, I finished with about 2,300.  In 2014 I took a similar approach as last year and am on track for about 2,300 again.  And I can tell you that since I started reducing the mileage, my legs feel much fresher and I feel better on a daily basis.

But therein lies the lingering question for this marathon ... did I get enough miles in?  If I look specifically at my long runs, and especially the quality of my long runs, I would respond with an emphatic, "YES!", without a doubt.  In this 16 week training cycle for the Pocatello Marathon, I ran nine long runs of 18 miles or more, with five of them over 20 miles.  Plus, most of the long runs were slogged during suffocating hot and humid days, and for the most part I hit all my target time goals.  So the long runs really weren't the issue.

But the main thing I cut out for this training cycle was the double-run day.  For most of last year, and a big part of this year, I would run my main workout in the morning, and then another 4-5 miles in the evening, simply to flush a little lactic acid from my legs and add some mileage.  But for the most part they were just "junk miles", and I really didn't feel I was benefiting from them.  For the most part, they only served to make me exhausted for my workout the following morning.  But as a result, I only had one week over 70 miles for this training cycle, and most of them ranged from 63-68.  Whereas, in the previous years I would average 70-80 for most of the cycle.

Honestly, sitting here about ten days from the race, my legs feel very fresh, fast, and healthy.  I don't feel worn out in the least, and I'm ready to tackle the marathon.  And if a marathon were only 22 miles, I'd pretty much guarantee a PR!  But it's the remaining 4.2 miles that worry me.  Even though the longer mileage weeks sometimes seemed to wear me down, they filled me with a great deal of confidence that 26.2 was not a big deal.  Conversely, the reduction in training mileage really has me fearing those last few miles of the course.  But then again, we're probably supposed to be a little afraid ... right?

As I age, my body has really appreciated a little less wear and tear from the road.  Plus, most of my recent race results would indicate that scaling it back was the right thing to do.  But it's the unknown from changing a comfortable routine that has the same old butterflies fluttering around in my stomach before I even touch my toe to the starting line.  But it's only ten days until we find if this was the right approach.  But one thing's probably certain, even if I race really well this Fall ... I'll most likely go right back to the drawing board next year.  Hope your training's going well!
... be great today!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Almost Forgot To Register!

As I was waiting for a meeting to begin on Friday, I took a quick peek at my personal email to find out how  many ambitious Asian entrepreneurs, with fantastic English and grammar, had once in a lifetime business opportunities for me - when there in the middle of all the Spam, was an email from my friend Bobby ...

        "Jim - Are you signed up for Idaho?  I got an email last night with the
        list of individuals registered and I did not see you on the list.  Maybe
        you signed up under a fake name."

All of sudden my heart dropped ... did I forget to sign up for the Pocatello Marathon???  Oh no!  What if I booked my flight, reserved my room, trained all summer ... and I couldn't get a spot in the race???  What if I made the trip all the way to Idaho and the race officials wouldn't allow me run???  I mean, Idaho is like seven six States from my house ... I'm sure the folks there are terrific, but I have no other compelling reason to go there ... and I don't even really like potatoes that much!

I immediately picked up the phone and called my trustworthy wife, Michael, and asked her to register me for the race ... which she did, no problem!  Whew, that was a close one!

After I got my confirmation email from Pocatello, I sent Bobby a quick message and thanked him for the "great catch".  I actually met Bobby a few years ago at the Myrtle Beach Marathon.  Around Mile 10 of the race, a guy ran up beside me and said "Are you Jim from 50after40?"  We ran most of the remaining race together chatting about pretty much everything, and became friends after that.  Since then, we've met for a couple of other races, and even play in an ESPN Fantasy Baseball league together every year.  (Yes, we're both baseball nerds)  At the time it was one of the first blogger sightings I'd ever had, and it was great to meet someone who actually read my blog on a regular basis.  Pocatello will be the 4th or 5th race we ran together, and I look forward to hanging out with him again.

Anyway - just curious is anyone else has ever forgotten to sign up for a race and been locked out?  There are so many marathons that I could have undoubtedly found another one fairly quickly.  But not getting to run in the event I had trained specifically for all summer would have been a bummer.  Have a great week!
... be great today!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Why Can't I Race The Way I Practice?

This picture has nothing to do with running, it was just a cool shot
I got of the Catholic Church a few blocks from our house during
the Super Moon on Sunday evening
I've had a great week of training so far ... a 12 mile Tempo Run with 10 miles at a 6:29/pace, and a solid mid-week 15 mile Long Run this morning with 14 miles at a 6:54/pace.  And honestly, with the help of a nice break in the August temperature, both were very manageable and didn't seem to tax my legs.  In fact, for most of my training cycle for this marathon I've been very pleased with how my runs have gone and am looking forward to fast Fall races.

But here's where the doubt begins to creep in.  Like many of us I've had races where I've trained really well, always hit my splits, felt great about the event ... and then laid an egg when the gun sounded.  In fact Michael, my wife, commented after my last race about my disappointment with my finish time, "Yeah I don't know, something weird happens to you on race day!"  So true.

I've always heard runners loosely pass around the phrase, "You just never know what's going to happen on race day!" And while that's certainly true about the weather, I don't buy into this simplistic and seemingly excuse-driven logic for the other variables involved.  I just believe with a methodical and pragmatic approach, it's possible to control what happens with our bodies in a race environment. That said, I haven't quite figured it out yet ... not even close.

If I take a realistic look at training vs. racing, I'm not sure I'm being 100% honest with myself.  A productive week like this one can be like a dressing room mirror that makes images appear slightly skinnier than they actually are.  I'll reason with myself after a good workout, "Man, if I can run 10 miles at a 6:30 pace, surely I can run 26 miles at a 6:50 pace!"  Say what???  What kind of runner math makes that add up?

Close-up of the Super Moon with my Canon EOS Rebel 300mm lense
First of all, if I ever run a 3-hour marathon ... it doesn't really make me a 3-hour marathoner.  It will have been just a great result on the perfect day.  Similarly, just because on a perfect weather morning, on a training course of my choosing, with hills exactly when and where I place them, with no pressure and no expectation ... I put together a nice workout ... does not guarantee a perfect race in the Fall.  And it certainly doesn't seem to be an exact predictor of results.

But probably the biggest problem with my races is somewhat unrealistic expectations.  I really "feel like" I should be a 16'ish 5K'er ... I'm nowhere near that.  I'm pretty sure I have the speed to put together a 1:23'ish Half-Marathon ... but that's 4 minutes faster than my current time.  And I'm somewhat confident that I have a 3-hour Marathon inside me ... but after training my butt off all summer, I'm not exactly sure anymore.  But what's the point of having goals if they're all attainable?  That would be boring.

So in about 3 weeks I'll give the ol' 3-hour marathon my first honest try.  I say that headed to Idaho knowing that it's a complete long-shot.  The real "go for broke" race will be in November at Indy.  All of my training times indicate that I should be close ... but I've been conned into thinking I'm better than I am before.  However, good race or no, I'll keep plugging away and trying to nail down this inexact science that we all love chasing.  I mean if it were easy, everyone would do it ... right?  And maybe if the stars line up, or we get the perfect Super Moon, my Fall races will finally mirror the way train.  We'll see.  Hope your training's going well - have a great week!
... be great today!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fast Finish


One of the tools I've tried to incorporate over the past couple of years, is the "Fast Finish" Long Run.  Basically I'll try to run the first 80% of my run at a nice even pace, and then speed up a little on the last few miles.  I've found that more than anything else it helps mentally in the final stages of a race.  My thought process is that if I can actually speed up on the final leg of a long run, hopefully that will translate to an even pace in the last few miles of a marathon.

So this morning in 70 degree temps, with 92-97% humidity, and a gusting 2 mph East wind, I ran 21 miles with this approach.  And actually, considering I was completely saturated by mile 5, the run went fairly well.  From my splits on the left, you can see I tried to keep the pace slow and "warm up" for five miles, plus I made a couple of bathroom stops without stopping the clock.  I then stayed around a really fairly smooth 7:05 for the next 11 miles.  Finally I dropped below 7:00 for the final 4 or 5.  And considering those last 5 miles were on the hilliest portion of the course (by design), I was fairly happy with my pacing.

I was kind of worried when I started the run because I was STARVING!!!  I used to use the phrase "Starving like a P.O.W." all the time, but I just finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (about American Hero, Olympian, and WWII P.O.W., Louie Zamperini), and frankly now, it just seems insensitive.  Anyway, I didn't really do a great job of fueling up yesterday, so I was really happy that I got through it in the shape I did.

Plus, when I started, my legs were still a little fatigued from the race last week, and a tough week of training, but I'll recover for a couple of days, and really load up on protein today, and I should be fine.  Anyway, it was a pretty good outing, all things considered!
... be great today!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Racing During A Training Cycle

After my race report from the Urban Wildland Half-Marathon this past weekend, where I ran a personal best half-marathon in the midst of my full marathon training cycle, a reader, Bill, left the following comments that I felt were a great topic for a post ...

"You mentioned it's a recovery week but at the same time you were gunning for a Half PR, which can take weeks to fully recover from. Are we greedy as runners? I'm not trying to say you are, I'm just saying I've done this before and the thinking is a bit backwards; it's a week to run easy and recover and yet we have that mentality to go out and GET IT while our fitness is good. What's more important is your upcoming marathon and jeopardizing that at this point seems wrong. You agree?" 

Quite frankly, this is something I spend a great deal of time and energy thinking about and analyzing during almost every marathon training cycle ...

Do I race before the marathon .. or save it all for "the big day"?  If I race ... how hard do I go?  What distance is okay?  How far away from the marathon day should a race be?  And if you've read my blog for very long ... you know I usually mess the whole thing up.  I'm definitely guilty of racing a little too much, and burning up my best performances in training instead of on marathon day.  And I'm guessing I'm not alone.

For me, marathon training is a bit of a trap that I usually don't have enough will power to resist.  For starters, the bulk of the training is typically during the summer  months when I'm close to my physical peak compared to the rest of the year.  Plus, with all the miles, speed and tempo work, and strength training, I feel like I can run forever ... and usually at a fairly decent speed.  But that's precisely the point where my ego takes over.  For example, right now I'm undoubtedly in the best running shape of my life, and I've noticed my focus start to wain a little from the ultimate goal ...  my two Fall marathons ... to shorter races where I feel I can PR. Combined with the fact that I'm 45 years old and my window of opportunity is closing quickly, I've had my eye on more shorter distance "tune up races" than normal.  I think my body tricks me into grabbing all the PR's I can while they're ripe for the taking.

The problem is too many shorter races can really have an adverse cumulative effect on longer races.  And one of my favorite online coaches, Jeff Gaudette of Runners Connect, considers running too many "tune up races" one of top mistakes that runners make during their marathon training (here).  Gaudette explains that a half marathon can be fine, about 5-7 weeks out from your marathon, if you use it as a training tool or maybe just run at marathon pace.  Racing shorter races much more often than that, Jeff explains, can burn up your legs and take too long to recover to run at 100% on marathon day.

Jeff Galloway voiced similar concerns in an article (here) where he encouraged shorter "tune up races" before marathons, but warned that the inherent danger was injury.  Galloway explains that racing before a marathon, especially the half-marathon distance, is a great way for new marathoners to prep both  mentally, and logistically for the upcoming marathon.

While I agree with the premise of Bill's comments above, I've always viewed a half-marathon as basically an uptempo workout that I would be doing during training anyway.  For example, it wouldn't be uncommon to run a 13 mile Tempo Run, with 10 of the miles about 10-15 seconds below my projected marathon pace.  And isn't that basically what happens in a half-marathon?   However, while this appears to be logically sound in theory, I think there are some inherent pitfalls to be aware of.

First, for some reason the "intensity" of a race takes far more of a toll on my legs than a standard uptempo workout.  I've ran mid-week workouts very similar to the half-marathon race I just ran on Saturday, with very minimal soreness or adverse effect the next day.  But in all honesty, my legs were pretty beat up after this race ... however, I think the 6-1/2 hour car ride immediately afterwards played the big role in that too.  If we do decide to run a half-marathon as a "tune up race", it's probably wise to dial it down a little and not run the whole thing at maximum effort.  (And the first time I to have enough discipline to do that, I'll let you know, ha)

Secondly, I think the timing in our training cycle has to be right for a race.  We obviously don't want it butted up the weekend before the marathon.  And probably just as importantly, we don't to disrupt a long run or key workout.  Personally, I ran this half-marathon last weekend because it fell on a weekend when I was only going to be doing 16-18 miles for my long run, which I did in total at the half-marathon with warm up and cool down.  Bill's point about racing during a recovery is very good point, and something I really debated.  But personally I felt that if I recovered during every workout for the full week before, and then ran the race on Saturday, I would still reap most of the benefits of recovery.

For me, the main issue during marathon training  has never been "to race, or not to race", but how many miles and what kind of intensity to train with.  And to be honest, I've struck out a lot in both categories.  I've ran waaaaay too many miles during a training cycle, and I've also been guilty of working out a little too much at higher speeds (which I think I'm borderline doing right now).   Far too often I've stood at the starting line of a marathon without the bubbling excitement I should have felt.  Rather, I stood there in the chute feeling exhausted from weeks of training, with real doubts as to whether or not I could complete the task ahead of me.  And on many occasions I failed to make the finishing time I had trained all summer for.

I think I'm getting better in my approach to the whole marathon training process, simply from experience alone.  But frankly, so much of it seems to be individual and an inexact science.  I think if we race "smart" during a marathon training cycle, it's probably of some value.  But there seems to be a lot of risk, with not much reward.  I would love to hear everyone's opinions on the topic!  As always, it's okay to agree or disagree with me, I just love the discussion.  Hope your training's going well - have a great week!
... be great today! 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

2014 Urban Wildland Half-Marathon Review

2014 Urban Wildland Half-Marathon
Saturday, August 2, 2014
Richfield, MN

Runners: 780 (348 men, 432 women)
Course:  Street & wooded lake trail combo, Flat - 94 ft of elevation gain
Weather: 69 degrees, 90% humidity, no wind
Start Time: 7:00 am CST
_______________________________________
SWAG: No Finisher Medal, Purple Tech-Tshirt
Race Organization: Good
Volunteer Support: Good
Crowd Support: None
Water Stops: Not nearly enough for a summer half-marathon
Food: Bananas & bagels
_______________________________________
Weight: 178
Health: Good, no issues
Conditioning: Good, but not good enough for the intense humidity during the race, still need more core work and need to lose about 5 pounds to race at my best
_______________________________________
Time: 1:27:52 NEW PR
Pace: 6:43/mile
Place: 25th/780, 4th/90 in 40-49AG (2nd in 45-49)

Don't let the time finish time fool you, even though I made it from Point "A" to Point "B" in a half-marathon faster than I ever had before, this was NOT a great race performance from me.  That's not a "humble brag", "sour grapes", or anything else ... plain and simple, I just didn't run a good race.

Great picture of downtown Minneapolis I got this weekend before the race
My training had been going really well lately, in fact I felt like I was faster than ever as evidenced by my recent 5K PR and my overall training times.  So I decided to put my legs to the test and run a half-marathon.  The nearest one to home that I found happened to be only about 6-1/2 hours away in Richfield, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul.  As luck would have it, I also had a couple meetings in Eastern Iowa the week before, which only put me about 3 hours away from the Twin Cities.  So at the end of the work week, I jumped in my car and made the relatively short drive to the race.

I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Bloomington, MN near the Airport ... and only a few blocks away from The Mall of America.  The evening I got to town, I went over to the mall for a while to check it out ... yep, just your basic 4 story mall with 520 stores, 50 restaurants, and an amusement park in the middle.  Nothing to see here.  But when I snapped a few pictures and sent them to Michael, we both had the same thought, "How ironic! Jim at a mall, and Michael sitting at home ... what's going on Universe???"

There were plenty of restaurants in the area, unfortunately I had a little trouble finding anything healthy.  But I did locate a Whole Foods grocery store where I picked up a few things.  Plus, since it was only a half-marathon, I wasn't super-consumed with fueling.  But I didn't want to completely wreck my diet either.  I've been eating fairly healthy lately and this half-marathon was only part of my training, not the final destination.  So I didn't want to veer too far off track just because it was a race weekend.

The Urban Wildland Half-Marathon is not a big event, and is billed as "Minnesota's Green Race".  When I see a race with "green" in the title, it's usually code for "there will be no extras".  And even though I'm a proponent of not wasting resources (I'm not even sure we should water our yards), the product sometimes comes off as "cheap" and "poorly planned".   The race directors did a nice job with planning ... but frankly, I felt this race came off as a little "cheap".

For starters, there was no finisher medal.  This was made clear in the registration information, so I knew it going in.  I've always said that finisher medals are no big deal to me, but for some reason it kind of bummed me out at the end when there was no medal.  They actually handed out the race shirts at the end, so at least there was a "reward" for finishing the race besides a banana and bagel.  But the shirt was purple!  Purple!  So I bought one of the previous year's race shirts for $4, because I'm not sure I'll ever wear a purple shirt. (No offense if purple's your favorite color, it's just not me - ha)

Age group winners received a recycled glass medal.  But the age group categories were divided into years of 10 instead of the typical 5 years divisions.  So for example, a person who was almost 50, had to beat all of the 40, 41, 42, etc., year old's to receive a medal.  That's pretty tough for most people to do.  In fact the results showed that in all of the age group categories, there were only two people who placed in the top three that were in the older half of their age group - a 37 year old and 57 year old runner.  So basically, dividing the groups into 10 year increments meant that if you had a "5" or higher in your age, you basically had no shot at winning a medal.  But obviously having fewer division means buying fewer medals.  Plus, it's just an age group award - so I'll probably be okay!

Finally, there were simply not enough water stops for a summer marathon.  The volunteers at all the water stops did a great job and were very supportive and well organized, but in the first seven miles, on a very humid day, there were only two stops.  It seems like the frequency picked up after that, but they were fairly sparse at the outset.  I just felt for a summer marathon, where we had over 90% humidity and all the runners were losing fluids at a rapid rate, there should have been more water available.  I heard several runners complaining about it while we were running.  But this too was identified in the pre-race info, so I could have carried water.  Several of the homeowners along the course had their sprinklers on so we could run through as we passed their house ... which felt awesome!  Race extras aside, this was a nice small race, on a very flat and shaded course.  The organizers did a great job with organization and communication and were very, very friendly.

Wood Lake in Richfield, Minnesota
Most importantly, the race benefited the Wood Lake Nature Center's Environmental Education Program with the Richfield Schools.  It's an environmental education partnership that provides learning through Wood Lake's science curriculum.  On the evening before the race, I visited the Nature Center and took a few pictures.  The area was beautiful and well kept, and the Nature Center was full of great information.  Most notably, the dirt and gravel trail around the lake was smooth and very well kept.  A few hours later, we would be veering off of the city streets and running a portion of the race on the shaded trails.

We also ran around two other small city lakes - Richfield Lake and Legion Lake - which were both very nice and well kept with adjacent parks.

A portion of the race was ran on these well-maintained and smooth dirt trails around Wood Lake

I kept an eye on the weather all week leading up to the race, and knew two things ...

1. At 65-69 degrees, the temperature wouldn't be too bad
2. At 90% humidity, it was going to be a GRIND!!!

There's no getting around it, regardless of the temperature, humidity just sucks the energy right out of you, and the race on Saturday was the perfect demonstration of this fact.

When I arrived at the starting area at the Richfield Ice Arena, I immediately noticed that the air was very still, and very very sticky.  I ran about two mile of warm ups with some sprints and was already covered in sweat.  I think it was only about 65 or 66 degrees when the gun went off, but the humidity was at or above 90%.

With this in mind, I tried to keep my pace controlled.  My first mile was a 7:02, which felt very comfortable, followed by a 6:38, which felt equally as relaxed.  But as we ran around Wood Lake during mile three, I noticed that my shirt was completely saturated with sweat.  Including warm ups, I had only ran about five miles so far and I was drenched.  Understanding that I would soon fatigue from the moisture laden air, I slowed my pace during the third mile to a 6:42.  But conscious of the clock, I picked it up a little during the fourth mile to a 6:30 and felt fine.

Somewhere during mile five I began to labor a little.  My breathing really seemed to be okay, but my legs were having trouble keeping the pace.  Frankly I had tried to start this race a little quicker than normal, and I think it might have been a little too fast considering the conditions.  I kept looking at my Garmin thinking, "I need to be down in the 6:20's", but I just couldn't seem to find a gear to get me to that pace consistently.  I felt like I was running fairly smoothly, but I just didn't seem to have the ability to increase my speed.

I think I ran mile six a little too fast as well because I actually stopped for about 20 seconds at the water stop to regroup a little and take a gel, but still ended up with a 6:35 split.  I remember thinking to myself that I needed to slow down a little because my breathing had really intensified and I was really beginning to fight it ... AT FRIGGING MILE 6!!!  Plus, since much of the course was tree-line, my Garmin kept losing it's pace so I wasn't exactly sure how fast I was going.

I really wanted to PR in this race so I was fairly mindful of my pace.  Based on my recent training times, I honestly felt like I could have been around 1:25 ... OR LOWER.  Heck, a few weeks before the race I ran a Tempo Run where I averaged a 6:19 over 9 miles, and would have easily PR'd if it would have been a race day.  But Saturday was a different story.  I really hadn't wanted to stop during mile six, but knew that I was still way under PR pace.  My 10K split was a 41:13, which for me is pretty quick, and I knew a few added seconds wouldn't hurt.  But when I stopped three more times over the course of next seven miles, I really started wondering if it was going to be my day.  I started doing the math in my head at mile 10, trying decide just how slow of a  mile I could run and still come in under record time for me.  I figured that if I ran the last three miles at a 7:00/pace, I'd be okay.  The problem was that I was really fighting even keeping a 7:00 pace on track.  I was beginning to get a little light headed from the fluid loss and took a salt capsule somewhere in mile 11.

I don't think I've ever faded in a half-marathon like I did on Saturday, but it was a grind to keep those last miles under 7:00.  I would run for a while and then need to stop again.  This was simply unbelievable for a half-marathon.  I was just completely drained and soaked to the bone with perspiration and felt like I was breathing through a straw ... with an elephant on my chest.  It was just a lot tougher than a half-marathon should have been.

I crossed the finish line with a 1:27:52 for a new PR.  I would have been elated with this time a few years ago ... but on Saturday I was pretty disappointed.  The race was supposed to be a stepping stone or a springboard to an awesome marathon in four weeks.  But unfortunately, it left me with more questions than answers.

After the race, I stopped back by the hotel, showered, and hit the road as soon as possible for the 6-1/2 hour drive home.  Even though I'd ran a poor race, probably the worst thing I did all day was only stop the car once over the trip home.  Not a real smart thing to do.  My legs were so stiff the next day.  Hopefully I can get rid of the soreness quickly and resume the final phase of marathon training for Idaho.  The half-marathon hadn't been a disaster by any means, I mean I DID PR. But it made it very clear to me that I still have a lot of work to do.  Maybe that's a good thing.
... be great today!