09 September 2009

blueberry stomp 15k race report

Failed attempt at Usain Bolt!

Labor Day marked the first 15k I've raced. A few things that set this race apart from others is a) the distance (9.something), b) the terrain (quite hilly, and I haven't been training on hills), c) it's definitely longer than an hour. My running has only recently started being consistent since Run Jane Run and I decided to go ahead with signing up. I felt reasonably comfortable with this decision since I knew I'd be able to finish without walking and that I could handle the distance with the desired pace in mind. I'll go through the miles and then talk a bit about my "training" strategy. I deleted the race time with splits from my watch so the splits aren't going to be completely accurate.

15k - 1:25:0something, avg pace of 9:07

Mile 1 ~ 8:45?: Gun went off (it might have been a cannon) and I have to wait a moment before crossing the start line. I wasn't just going by mile splits as much as I was paying attention to how I felt effort-wise, but I wasn't planning on clocking a sub-9 minute mile. The first mile never feels bad, no matter how quickly you start off, and knowing this I focused on my breathing pattern and holding myself back.

Mile 2 ~ 8:39?: So much for holding myself back. I didn't feel like I had sped up, maybe it's an adrenaline thing, and I was a bit concerned because now I might have gotten myself into trouble. The hills were beginning to arrive in steady intervals and I knew I might have issues with those, so I just concentrating on maintaining a steady effort going up the hill and surging naturally on the way down -- not necessarily speeding up but going by the force of gravity. So far, I didn't feel as if I was dying.

Mile 3 ~ 8:49?: Here is the slow down, and also more hills. What I will talk about later is training by effort and time instead of miles (though I do keep track of them). This really helped me not freak out so much about slowing down since I still felt pretty decent, as I have a tendency to figure out what my pace needs to be depending on my estimated finish time with the resulting emphasis on mile splits. Yes, I seemed to be slowing, but given the terrain and my fitness level this wasn't a bad thing, especially since I hadn't been hitting the 8 minute range in my runs. This is also where I realized, as the 5k runners (including my brother) veered off to their route, that I was going to be out here longer than usual for a race.

Mile 4 ~ 8:59?: I was beginning to feel the effects of the hills in my legs, which was feeling a tad more heavy than at the start. Still feeling relatively good despite the many, many hills, I could feel that I was settling into a pace that I would be holding for the remainder of the race.
Around here is where the top 6-8 guys ran by all us slower runners, and that's what I love the most about out-and-back courses. It's amazing to see their form and the speed, it's simply incredible. If I wanted to be rude I'd have said, aloud, "And we still have about halfway to go!" I missed shouting out around 15 minutes into the race how someone must have finished the 5k by now.

Mile 5-6 ~ 9:09s?: These were together since I apparently didn't fully press the lap button after reaching mile 5, though judging by the total time it was around 9s. The fatigue really started settling in, and here was when my timed runs came into play. After passing the hour mark I kept telling myself two things -- Just a 5k to go, and I've run longer than an hour in training. That run, 1:40:xx, ended up being 10 miles that came rather easily. Just coasting along and enjoying myself. A tip I've picked up from some great runners at the Runner's World Forums is to run time-based runs to get the feeling of being out on the road for however long you might be running. Since I've been dealing with leg problems, I let how I feel dictate how long I run instead of locking myself into a set mile run. I feel this has allowed me to pace myself more intuitively based on exertion feel and all that -- if my mind knows I still have halfway to go, I "preserve" myself. I think I took a water break here, too.

Mile 7 ~ 9:29 or 39?: Yes, I definitely slowed. I was vaguely concerned that this meant I was slowing down too much, and I think I did considering my fast few miles. I shifted my focus on racing the last 3 miles at a pace faster than my easyish runs that have been around 9:45-10s. Again, breathing from the diaphragm allows more oxygen to enter your lungs, I think it's how it goes, and it really helps me to stave off that winded feeling as wells as cramps. Regardless, I'm starting to feel tired. Concentrating of my form, my foot strike, and my breathing is what keeps me focused.

Mile 8 ~ 9:31?: Coming around to the last mile. Based on my split and how I felt I could tell I wasn't slowing down any more, though the concern was not letting my mind slow me down; I have a tendency to do that to myself in races. The course runs alongside the parade that's part of the Blueberry Festival and that was kind of fun, running between the downtown area with people packed on either sides, staring at the floats filled with sitting people. Crazily, I kept talking to myself and telling myself that I was almost there, don't slow down, don't me a n00b. But, my conversations remained in the first person.

Mile 9.something ~ 11:30? (there was no mile marker): This was it, and I was getting stoked to be finishing because I knew there were popsicles! Instead of telling myself that I was just going to finish, I actually sped up and started sprinting when I saw that 1:25 was nearing, which was my goal time. I came in just over 1:25, but I was still pretty happy with my time. It placed me 6th in my age group and I know I can improve on that next year.

My brother finished the 5k in 26.xx with an average pace in the 8.30s.

And here is my finishing apple and popsicle

Now I will go over a few aspects of running that I follow.

Form and Breathing ~
I run on my midfoot instead of heel striking. This places less stress on your leg and mimics a barefoot running motion. The first place I read about this was when I searched various articles on shin issues, which led me to an article about ChiRunning and shinsplints. I will quote a section of the article:
Too much impact to the lower legs: If you're a heel striker, the repetitive shock of your heels hitting the ground will irritate the fascia (the connective tissue) in the muscles of your lower legs, especially your shins. When the fascia becomes irritated or inflamed you'll feel discomfort in your shins that could worsen over time if no correction is made.

Impact to the lower legs can happen in a variety of ways. Here are a few:

* Running in old, worn-out running shoes
* Heavy heal striking
* Extended downhill running
* Running on an unstable surface (like snow or ice)
* Running on a treadmill
* Running on a side-sloping street

To reduce the amount of shock to your legs, it is important to eliminate any heel strike while running. Heel strike happens when you run with your trunk upright and reach forward with your legs as you stride--commonly called over-striding.

ChiRunning offers a way to eliminate heel strike by leaning forward from your ankles as you run, thereby allowing your foot to strike underneath or even slightly behind your body. This allows you to land on your mid-foot and your legs to swing to the rear as soon as your feet hit the ground, eliminating any heel strike.

Overuse of the lower legs: This is caused by pushing off with the toes, which in turn causes the calf and shin muscles to overwork. Anytime your body weight is supported by your toes, your calves and shins are required to do much more work than they were designed to do.

In fact, if you're pushing off with your toes, you're actually increasing the workload to your calves and shins to be more than your body weight because you're pushing up against the downward pull of gravity. That's simply too big of a job for that relatively small group of lower leg muscles to handle. They'll get overworked and will eventually begin to complain in the form of soreness, inflammation and in some cases, become separated from the bone (the most painful version of shin splints).

The article goes on to address other ways of overusing your legs, pertaining specifically to beginner runners, and those are increasing your mileage too quickly and also your intensity, or speed too soon as your legs aren't ready to handle it. I've worked out that I tend to add speedwork too soon when I realize that I didn't start focusing on a race soon enough. I highly recommend reading the article in its entirety. Just think of heel striking as hitting the breaks and trying to speed up at the same time whilst driving.

Back to my training, this was somewhat of a "revelation" for my running since I overpronate a bit. Instead of relying solely on a stability shoe, I worked on my form simply by paying attention to it at various times during a run. This became a conscious effort, overtime turning into a subconscious effort that's always in the back of my mind.

The breathing part is really simple: Breathe fully from the diaphragm. In short, this delivers the maximum amount of oxygen to your lungs and utilizes your entire lung capacity. You aren't "shorting" yourself out by breathing from your chest. I got this tip from Alberto Salazar's Guide to Road Racing. The benefits I've notices is that my pace seems easier to maintain and I don't tire as quickly.

Time-Based Runs
The concept of runs based on time instead of mileages at first seemed inconceivable to me, as I wanted to know my exact mileage and exactly how far I was going. I don't have a Garmin and have no intention of getting one in the near future, so I mapped my run and memorized where the miles markers were. I then would figure on what the pace needed to be for the scheduled workout and hit the road trying to fit each mile into the time slot; in short, in a sense I was racing each mile.

After developing some leg issues and having to reevaluate how I trained, I decided to think about the time runs more deeply. My first time run was different in that I didn't necessarily know where each mile was, and I didn't have any markers but for the watch. What I noticed is that I enjoyed myself more and I noticed my surroundings more. I also have regained a bit of the inner pacing I had back when I first started. So, while I still keep track of my miles, I feel like I've let go of whatever pressure I was putting on myself. I focus on how I feel, the exertion level and if I can keep an even pace for the duration of the run.

Another aspect of time runs is that you definitely know you can hack it on the road for however long you need to be out there. It's partly a mind game, but much of running is about how strong your mind is anyway.

Alrighty, that's it for now. I gotta pay attention to this tennis match, the Bryan Brothers are about to close the second set. Must concentrate. For any runners out there, please share your training and racing tips, and go visit Sam at Antics of a Cycling Cook. He will be running his first half marathon in a month, so wish him luck!


  1. In-freaking-credible!!

    Hang in there with those leg issues though - hope they're gone for good!!

  2. leg issues never end up in these parts, hope yours get settled up quickly!

    GREAT race :)

  3. Thanks for all the tips (and the linkback!). I'm like you, I overpronate a bit and definitely heel strike too much, the heels have almost worn off my running shoes!

    I'm really interested in the Chi running idea, if there's one thing that worries me it's getting injured before race day and having to pull out so I'll be paying more attention to how I run from now on.

    I'd be interested to know how you do your speedwork, at the moment I'm doing long runs anywhere from 8 to 13 miles for endurance and shorter much faster runs of around 4 miles to try and build some speed. I don't know if that's the right approach so would love to know what you think.

    Oh and congratulations on coming 6th, that's a great result!

  4. You are unbelievable! I would have choked after 3 miles! Congrats on making such good time, sooo envious of your running skills and ability!


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