A Cold 21 Mile Run to Cap a 72 Mile Week

Yesterday I did a 21 mile run in the morning before going to work. What made the run particularly daunting was that it was -2 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

There was once a day when I was a fair weather runner. I lived near Phoenix, AZ and I generally wouldn’t run in the winter there because it was too cold. Ha! (For those of you that don’t know, the Phoenix area rarely even reaches freezing in the winter.)

I’ve come a long way since then, and now that I’m training for the Boston Marathon, I’m trying hard to stick to my schedule. That means a lot of snowy and cold runs during the past month here in Meridian, ID. This has been a particularly cold and snowy winter. Boise set the all time record for snow-pack this year, and we’ve had at least one record setting low temperature. I’ve done a few runs in the snow and many low temperature runs. I’ve also hit the treadmill — doing as much as 45 miles on it one week.

This week is cold as well, but the roads were clear (from snow) and I really wanted to do my long run outside. Right now I’m doing my long runs on Monday before work. This week the schedule called for a 21 miler. So in the morning I bundled up and headed out at 4:57am. I wore:

  • Shoes
  • Knee-high socks
  • Tights
  • Jogging pants
  • T-shirt
  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Hoodie
  • Ski mask
  • 1 pair of knit gloves
  • 1 pair of gardening gloves
  • 1 pair of socks over the gloves
  • Reflective vest
  • Hydration belt

I looked pretty ridiculous.

But, I finished my run.

I was quite happy after finishing. The pace wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad and I had a strong finish without hitting The Wall.

I was even happier when I logged my run on my spreadsheet and saw that I had run 72.85 miles during the past 7 days! That was my highest mileage ever in a 7 day stretch, and my first time crossing 70 miles in a week.

I’m mostly sticking to the “Up to 70 Miles” plan in Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger. It’s going well for me so far, and my knees and ankles seem to be holding up to the heavier mileage demands.

Long runs can be scary and daunting, but it’s always awesome when you finish one. Especially before work. Especially when it’s -2F. But here’s to hoping that it warms up around here sooner rather than later.

2016: Running Year in Review

2016 was a great year. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from my running.

Miles ran: 2024.4 miles in ~227 runs

2016 was my highest mileage year by far, surpassing the 1359 miles I ran in 2015 by nearly 50%. In January Cyndi and I made the goal to run 2016 combined miles during the year. We hit that on November 11. About that time, I started increasing my weekly mileage to prepare for a new training regimen. I soon realized I could hit 2016 miles solo, and sure enough I hit it on December 30. I couldn’t help squeezing in 8 more on New Year’s Eve.

Miles raced: 140

My 2016 race schedule was similar to 2015, but this year I did a mid-summer relay instead of a half marathon, and an October marathon instead of a 50k. I’ll be starting off 2017 a little heavier with a 20 miler in January (weather permitting) and a half marathon in March.

Races completed: Ten

  • Three marathons
  • Two half marathons
  • One 8 miler (~12k)
  • One 10k
  • One 5k
  • One 1 mile time trial
  • One relay — about 16.5mi over three legs

Worst training run: 20 miler on 3/4

My second 20 mile training run of the year was rough. One month earlier, I had completed a 20 miler and finished strong in the last couple miles. On this run I bonked really hard at mile 17. It served as a reminder that I needed to eat right and bring sufficient fuel for long runs. It was a bit of a wake-up call to me and shook my confidence as I was training for a marathon.

Best training run: 21 miler on 4/29

My confidence was restored in late April on my last 20+ miler before running my spring marathon. I didn’t hit the wall, I picked up the pace in the last third of the run, and everything seemed to click. It gave me a nice confidence boost before my marathon as this run was at a Boston Qualifying pace.

Most awesome training run: Pi run on 3/14

10+pi miles with 1x2mi and 1xPi mile intervals.

Best race: Layton Marathon

Just about everything clicked for me at the Layton Marathon. My pace was solid, and I actually accelerated during the second half. I didn’t hit the wall. I was able to finish 1st overall after passing the leading runner at mile 22. It ended up being a new PR. The one thing that went wrong was I had to take a bathroom break, but that wasn’t enough of an issue to ruin my race.

Running towards the end of the Layton Marathon
Running towards the end of the Layton Marathon
Runner-up: Famous Idaho Potato Marathon

The Famous Idaho Potato Marathon was the one that got me into Boston and my first sub-3:00 finish. I stayed right on my target pace and I was able to have a decent finish.

Honorable Mention: Zeitgeist Half Marathon

My performance at the 2016 Zeitgeist Half Marathon was a little slower than my expectations, but I ended up winning, so I can’t complain!

Worst race: ?

I really didn’t have a race that was a disaster for me. I didn’t get lost in any races this year — like the Idaho Falls Half Marathon in 2015. I didn’t have a big bonk in any of the marathons I ran — like the Newport Marathon in 2015.

The one race where I didn’t quite hit my target time was the Zeitgeist Half Marathon, but it was still a solid race and the circumstances were a little unusual (I didn’t have any other runners within sight to push me at the end).

Most memorable experience: Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay

I’m still not sure if I like running in relays, but they are definitely memorable. It was fun to be able to run Wasatch Back with my wife, Cyndi, and spend some time with her and a few crazy guys in our van. I’ll never forget sleeping in the van because everyone was too tired and confused to get out and use our sleeping bags. I made some new friends and I’ll get to run with them again this year.

2016-Ragnar-Wasatch-Back_Exchange-6-Cyndi-and-Blake

Summary

Overall, 2016 was a spectacular running year for me. Once again I was blessed to not have any significant injuries during the year. My training went really well and I was able to run several races and improve my times. I qualified and registered for the Boston Marathon, which was my top goal.

I’m hopeful that 2017 will be a great year. So far I’m signed up for a marathon, 20 miler, half marathon, and two relays. I’m sure I’ll fill in the gaps!

New Running Workout: Crescendo Diminuendo Run

I’ve been doing pretty much the same workout regimen this whole year to improve my running (and mostly to train for my May marathon):

  • Run intervals on Monday (various distances)
  • Cross train Tuesday
  • Tempo run Wednesday
  • Cross train Thursday
  • Long run Friday

My tempo runs on Wednesday usually consist of a warm-up, followed by 5-8 miles at a steady, fast clip, and then a short cool-down. For some reason I didn’t feel like doing the same old tempo this week. Yesterday I gave it some thought and came up with a fairly challenging and fun workout (I use the term “fun” very liberally here).

I call the workout: Crescendo Diminuendo

The Crescendo Diminuendo run is basically a tempo workout with some speed variability built in. I suppose it’s not a true tempo since it get’s pretty fast and it’s not steady. The idea is to start at a pace slower than normal tempo, then increase speed at a steady rate in 1/2 mile to 1 mile increments. The fastest mile should be half way through the workout. Then slow back down at the same rate.

Here’s a description of the Crescendo Diminuendo run I did, what my targets were, and what I actually achieved:

Description My Target My Result & Comments
1 mile warm-up 1 mile @ ~7:30/mi 7:28. Felt pretty tight after some hard workouts in the past few days and some yard work yesterday evening (digging a ditch)
1mi @ marathon pace +15 seconds 1mi @ 7:00 6:54. I was still warming up here and it was nice to continue to loosen up.
1mi @ MP 1mi @ 6:45 6:42. Not too challenging yet. Feeling better and better.
1mi @ MP -15s 1mi @ 6:30 6:27. Now I was starting to move. I began to wonder if I could hit the upcoming pace at my toughest mile.
1mi @ MP -30s 1mi @ 6:15 6:13. There was a small down and uphill towards the end, so I made sure to speed up on the down to bank a little time for the up.
1mi @ MP -45s 1mi @ 6:00 5:50. I started out on a downhill which was really nice as I got my legs moving fast. However, I’m happy to report that the second half of this mile was still <6:00  🙂
1mi @ MP -30s 1mi @ 6:15 6:13. I didn’t immediately slow down from the previous mile, so that gave me a good head start and kept this mile on pace despite a slight uphill at the end.
1mi @ MP -15s 1mi @ 6:30 6:21. The first half mile was fast with a little downhill, then I started to lose focus and get a little lazy the second half. I caught myself and sped up at the end to stay under my target.
1mi @ MP 1mi @ 6:45 6:38. I thought this would be easy, but the second half was a little challenging for me as I was beginning to wear out.
1mi @ MP +15s 1mi @ 7:00 7:07. I kept the first half under 7:00. I wasn’t too concerned about keeping the second half on pace as I was ready to start cooling down. Also, I had a little uphill to deal with.
Cool-down Cool-down. 7:15. This was only 1/4 mile, so I took it fairly easy although I was still moving at a decent pace.

You can see from this that my run had some decent symmetry:

Crescendo Diminuendo Run
Symmetry of the Crescendo Diminuendo run. I peaked right at the beginning of the 6th mile — the downhill portion of the fastest mile.

Overall the Crescendo Diminuendo run was a success. It was different, kind of fun, and kept my mind engaged. It was nice to have different targets rather than the same target over and over. In fact, my tempo runs often don’t have a defined target until I get going, so this was definitely a change.

Interestingly for me, my overall average pace was exactly the same as my tempo run last week on the same course where ran steady for ~8mi @ 6:20-6:25 pace. That tells me I got the pacing right for this run.

I’m hoping that in 2-3 months I can improve enough that I can lower all my targets by 15 seconds. This workout actually gave me some confidence as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hit those targets. I’m coming off of a hard week for me. I also dug a ditch yesterday evening and didn’t get sufficient sleep. Perhaps if I’m a bit more fresh I can already drop a few seconds.

I did this Crescendo Diminuendo run on mostly flat terrain with only small rolling hills. If you were to do it on real hills, you may have to go by effort rather than pace.

Maybe this workout already exists somewhere, but I hadn’t heard of something like this. If I were more knowledgeable or fancy, I would have some nice descriptions of how this particular run helps your lactate threshold, mitochondrial uptake, etc. etc. Really though, I feel that any challenging run can help you get better, so this was one that was a little different and changed things up. I definitely believe in mixing things up to achieve performance gains. The Crescendo Diminuendo run did that for me.

Training for the Race to Robie Creek Half Marathon

Tomorrow is the Race to Robie Creek half marathon, my favorite race to run each year. This will be my seventh attempt to run over the mountain. My times have ranged from 2:07 to 1:31.

I think there are many people that sign up for the Race to Robie Creek that are unsure how to train for it. I decided to jot down some ideas and some training philosophies that I’ve developed over the past few years to offer training advice for those attempting Robie. I’ll split it into two parts: Training to survive, and training to thrive.

Part 1: Training to Survive the Race to Robie Creek

First, the Race to Robie Creek is challenging, but it’s not as hard as a marathon. I want to start with that since I’ve seen some people get overwhelmed by the challenge of it and give up before race day. Yes the race has a lot of uphill and downhill, but the length of a marathon makes even a flat marathon much more difficult to endure.

If you are just trying to make it over the mountain to Robie Creek, then you should first focus on building your endurance. Being a half marathon, the race is about 13.1 miles long. If you want to do fairly well in the race, you’ll need to build up to the point where you can run about 13 miles in a single run. Really though, you can probably build up to 8-10 miles and still be able to run most of the race.

How do you train in order to build mileage? I would suggest planning on three runs per week. For example, plan on running every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. The intention of the first two runs is to enable a better long run on Saturday.

Where you start your training depends on what your capability is. How far can you run today? Make that distance your first Saturday run. If you can run 3 miles, then target a 3 mile run on your first Saturday in the first week, and something less than that on Monday and Wednesday (perhaps 1.5 miles each of those days). If you can cross train on other weekdays it would help, but it’s not necessary. Cross training can include things like biking, swimming, yoga, crossfit, basketball, etc.

Each week, add one mile to your long run. Lengthen your two shorter runs slightly each week. If you’re still drained on Monday from your long Saturday run, then don’t worry about lengthening your Monday run. Your goal is to build the Saturday run slowly over 2-3 months so that two weeks before Robie you are somewhere between 8-13 miles in that longer Saturday run. If you have time, it would also be good to take one week a little lighter where you don’t add a mile — that will help you recover.

The mileage is most important, but it’s also a good idea to run some hills. Try to run hills about every other week during your longer run. If you don’t live next to hills, you may need to drive. I live in Meridian where the biggest hill is the nearby freeway overpass. I often drive to the foothills, to the Lucky Peak Dam, or to the dump loop near Eagle to get a hill workout.

What makes Robie challenging is the uphill. What makes you sore the next day is the downhill. Focus on both uphill and downhill during your Race to Robie Creek training. Many runners make the mistake of fighting against the downhill. Don’t put on the brakes the whole time you’re running down a hill! Let the hill do the work and roll down the hill. Don’t lean back too much — try to keep your torso as perpendicular to the hill as possible.

Most runners below the ~2:00 mark at Robie walk the last portion of the uphill — from about Mile 7.6 to the Mile 8.4 peak. That is fine and may save you a lot of energy. Besides that portion, I think that if you can do a ~10 mile run, you should be able to run the rest of the race.

Remember on race day to relax and have some fun. The Race to Robie Creek has a fun atmosphere and I’ve always had a great experience running it.

Part 2: Training to Thrive at the Race to Robie Creek

It’s one thing to train to survive the race, it’s another to train to improve your time.

Generally speaking, anyone who puts in more miles is going to improve their race time year over year. Aerobic capacity will enhance your performance at Robie. I noticed a large improvement in my performance once my long runs peaked at 15 miles rather than 10-12. I continued to improve as I trained for marathons with long runs reaching 20 miles.

However, if you want to get faster it’s not always enough to just run. You will need to train with speed. There are two typical speed workouts you can do to improve your speed.

Intervals consist of repeated running at high speed for a short distance, and resting between runs. The rest can either be actually stopping or just jogging at a slower pace. (Fartleks are basically the same thing.) Intervals can vary in distance. I usually focus on distances of 400m, 800m, and 1600m. For example, a workout may be 6x800m at a fast pace with a 400m jog between each.

To make these more relevant for the Race to Robie Creek, you can do intervals going up and down hills, although this isn’t completely necessary.

Tempo runs consist of running at a faster pace for a 20-50 minutes. Typically you should target a heart rate around 80-85% of your max. I generally warm up for a mile or two, then run the tempo, then cool down for a mile or two. These runs are usually at a pace that you can’t sustain for too much longer than you run them.

I use interval and tempo runs on two of my workouts each week, then do a longer run as well.

It’s also very important to train on hills if you want to improve at Robie (obviously). I wouldn’t suggest doing big hills every workout since your legs need to recover. I try to do a long run on hills about every other week, with my other long run being on flatter terrain. I feel like this gives my quads a break and enables them to heal and improve.

Finally, what has helped me improve my times at the Race to Robie Creek the most is consistently training through the year. If you wait until February to start training, you may or may not beat your time from the previous year. Working hard over the fall and winter has helped me to make continuous improvements and build on what I’ve already established.

To all who sign up for the Race to Robie Creek: good luck! I love the race and I look forward to running it every year I can. I think the difficultly makes it more valuable and adds to the great feeling everyone has when they finally cross the finish line.