Friday, September 28, 2007

Top 6 things I miss in the USA -- 8 days til Marathon Sunday

Top 6 things I miss in the USA while working in China:

1. Fast, reliable internet connections
2. Starbucks
3. Drivers that yield to pedestrians and practice some degree of road safety
4. Being understood while speaking English
5. Running in humidity less than 90%

6. Just a quick sandwich for lunch, please?

It has been an adventurous, action-packed week here in China. I have toured several factories, had numerous culturally enlightening lunches and fired back countless shots of bajou (Chinese white spirit). I have met a great number of honorable Chinese business associates and learned a lot about Chinese culture.

Rabbit, pigeon, fish head, eel and my personal fav, fresh larynx of ox, are all on the menu here on a daily basis. And the Chinese business culture, God bless it, is that you cannot get out of lunch to save your life. Wonderful…

Most notably, I have hit all of my taper workouts. At last post, I was gearing up for last weekend’s runs. I did an exploratory 5-mile recovery run through the city of Chengdu. On Sunday, I nailed a 17-mile run through the city.

That’s right, I put in a run through this 11 million person city on a Sunday morning at 7:26 average, including a final three-mile stretch right on marathon pace. I completed last week week with 46 miles. The best thing about it is that you don't even need to carry water. Just grab about 6-7 RMB cash ($0.80 to 0.90 USD) to take with for convenience stores. This will buy you about 2 bottled waters and a Gatorade whenever you need to stop.

This week, my goal is to put in just about 39-40, for which I am on track. I haven’t dipped below the 40-mile mark in a week in four months. Hardest workout of the week was simulating the 3x1600m repeat workout that normally would be done on a track. I found a reasonably un-congested stretch of pavement in the outer Chengdu area, on which I ran 5k pace (or as close as I could) through 95+% humidity on Thursday AM. It was rough - the humidity killed me.

The diet has been the “X” factor. I’ve never eaten all the “stuff” I have been eating now.

It’s 10:10 PM here on Friday night and I’m going to bed. I have to go to work AGAIN tomorrow on Saturday. Before doing so, however, I have a 5-mile recovery planned. I will then run 13 on Sunday morning early.

After my Sunday AM run, I will then be heading to the airport. I fly home on Sunday. I can’t wait to get home. I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and being in Chicago for the last several days leading up to the marathon.

I have also purchased tickets to the world premier of The Spirit of the Marathon for Friday. Awesome pre-race inspiration!

8 days and counting…

Friday, September 21, 2007

Taper update from Chengdu, China

Greetings from Chengdu. It is Saturday mid-morning and I have been in China for six days now. It has been an extremely interesting experience to this point. I am pleased to say that I am pretty much on track with my taper plan, despite being in a totally foreign environment and working with a compressed schedule.

One thing we experienced marathoners all know is that you must retain some degree of control of your schedule; we need to meticulously plan and hit the runs. Business travel to China has provided me a good challenge in this area. My work is going reasonably well and I have been running as planned.

I arrived in Shanghai on Sunday afternoon (middle of the night Sat Chicago time). I was determined to complete my week after a killer 20-miler on Friday. I had 59 miles before I left Chicago and was hoping to get to 64. The flight from Chicago was 14+ hours.

Upon arrival, I hit the hotel treadmill after a 20-hour trip with virtually no sleep and severe jet lag. The gym was very hot and humid and I could only muster 4 miles. This would total 63 miles for the week. I grabbed a light dinner in the hotel and crashed at 8PM.

Monday was a planned rest day from running. I was scheduled to meet my boss for this assignment who runs our Asia Pacific Procurement team and head to our local office. I woke up around 4:00 AM. Around 5:45 AM, I took a walk around the hotel in Shanghai. That night, we had an interesting dinner in downtown Shanghai and looked out over the Yangtze River. Very colorful and bright signs illuminate the sky in what is a very Western-friendly, cosmopolitan global city.

Tuesday, I was up and at ‘em again early in Shanghai. During Monday morning’s walk, I decided my immediate surroundings in Shanghai were not runner friendly. I headed back to the gym, which didn’t open until 6AM. I was waiting at the door at 5:50AM. I was hoping to simulate 6x600m repeats at 5k pace on the tread like I would the track. I was pressed for time – I needed to be in the lobby at 7:15 AM with my luggage to meet my team to head to the airport. I lost about 12 minutes due to a power failure, which the staff needed to fix. I finished with 5 miles, which incl. the repeats as well as 8-minutes on the elliptical.

Wednesday, I woke up in Chengdu. This is “home base” for my assignment. My hotel, the Shangri-La, is located right along the Main river in Chengdu. There is a path that is popular for joggers and walkers. Chengdu is much more conducive to running than the large, cramped city of Shanghai. I had a very solid 7-miler along the river and observed .

Our Chinese business partners invited us a very authentic banquet on Wednesday lunchtime. Some of you know I work in the alcoholic beverage business. Our partners own a prominent, high-end brand of Chinese white spirit. At a banquet, Chinese tradition is to toast your guest and do what I can best described as mini-shots of 52% grain alcohol beverage together. So, I was toasted about 9 times at lunch and fired the shots back – then went to our scheduled business meeting at 2:30 PM. Quite interesting….

Thursday, I did a 5-mile recovery on the river path. On Friday, I had my best run since leaving Chicago. I completed 8 strong miles – the final two of which were on par with marathon pace.

The stares I get from the locals during my runs are interesting. They see this tall, extremely white dude with iPod and Garmin chugging through their Chinese city. I’ve noticed the occasional random dog and dead rat during my runs. Although the early morn temps are reasonably comfortable (i.e. high 60’s w/ a delicate breeze), the humidity level is fairly high. I am soaked after these runs.

I slept into today and headed to brunch. I will do an easy 5-mile recovery around noontime.

I moved my final two long runs to Sundays to sync up with marathon day. Tomorrow, I will rise early to knock out a 17-miler throughout the city of Chengdu. I will take some cash and a printed Chinese hotel card in case I get lost and need to taxi home. My only concern about tomorrow is hydration. It was inevitable I would forget something, and I didn’t think to bring my water belt. I will need to find some c-stores out in Chengdu as I run through the city for Gatorade.

Plan for this week is to complete a total of 47 miles after tomorrow’s long run. 15 days til the Chicago Marathon.

Friday, September 14, 2007

My best training run of my life

I recovered nicely from last Saturday's disappointing half marathon. I chose not to dwell. I know I am better shape than my time indicated.

For this week, I had to adjust my schedule quite substantially since I leave for Shanghai tomorrow morning.

Mon - double recovery - 6 in the AM - 4 in the PM - total of 10
Tue - SPEED - Crushed 6x1200m repeats on Tuedsay right at 5k pace (5:56) -- 11 miles total
Wed - 11 miles
Thu - 3 miles
Fri - 20 miles - SMOKIN'! See splits below.

WTD: 55 miles . Will do 5 recovery tomorrow AM before leaving and 4 easy on Sunday in Shanghai on Sunday... TOTAL GOAL MILEAGE: 64 miles.

Today's 20-mile run was my best ever training long run in my life. What's more, I did it all by myself... all 20 miles, 10 of which were right at marathon goal pace. I actually went into this workout with a clear plan. I wanted to follow McMillan's Fast Finish long run approach.

So I planned to knock out the first 10 at around 7:20's - and finish the second half at 6:51's, my goal marathon pace. See the results below. In a nutshell, I nailed this workout exactly as planned.

My Charity Runner obligation has far been exeeded for the American Cancer Society. I raised over $2,600.

No more time to write. I need to go have my final American meal for 3 weeks. Signing off before heading to the Far East in the morning. Three weeks of wonderful experience in China coming up. Only 23 days until I run my first ever sub-3:00 marathon. Then I go back to China for two more weeks!

Check back for entries from Chengdu.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Charity Drive Update / IKEA Half report

Phew, I’ve been busy. First and foremost, here is an important update on my American Cancer Society Charity Runner Drive.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! On Thursday this week, I raised $880 at my company’s happy hour for the American Cancer Society. This means I have raised $1550 in total – and this does not count the match that my company will provide on the donations from my co-workers. This puts the total over $2400 for the American Cancer Society. Thank you, donors! Your support is greatly appreciated!

Secondly, my departure date for China has been moved up a day. I now leave on Saturday 9/15, which means I need to get my final 20-miler in all by myself on Friday.

Here is my training update for this past week, including a half marathon race report in Pittsburgh.

Mon 9/3 – 10 miles – 7:48 average – not too bad considering a hard race on Saturday
Tue 9/4 – 11 miles w/Yasso 800m repeats – didn’t think I had it in me, but I hit all 10 repeats at around 2:57 – on track for sub-3???
Wed 9/5 – 5 miles recovery – 8:43 avg pace
Thu 9/6 – 13 miles – 7:50 avg – Struggled – got it all in, but was fairly fatigued.
Fri 9/7 - REST
Sat 9/8IKEA HALF MARATHON (report below)

Total: 52 - below target of 58 - needed a cutback week with all the intense mileage

It was convenient that I had a visit with the in-laws in Pittsburgh this weekend, since I was able to run the Ikea Half Marathon on the Montour Trail with my friends, Steve and Aaron. Both of these guys put up sweet times here last year: Steve, a 1:25 and Aaron, a 1:26.

We all had hopes of putting up a decent half marathon time as our final race for our Chicago training. I wanted a PR at worst (i.e. besting my 1:29 from the CDC in Aug), hoping more so to put up a time in line with my 30k, which would be 1:26 or better.

This course is interesting. You start up in the parking lot of an Ikea and run down a monster hill toward the Montour Trail. Basically, the first 0.7 miles are solid downhill. Then you hit the crush limestone path and begin a steady, slight uphill for six miles to a turnaround point - at which point you run a slight descent on the way back.

48 hours earlier, I was struggled to complete a 13-mile training run at 7:50’s. And here I was ready to chase another PR.

Aaron and ran the first mile in 6:07, while Steve had to have been at least 10-15 secs ahead of us. Now, I know what you’re thinking… TOO fast. But, the hill is very steep. In retrospect, I think it would have been smart to run about 10 seconds faster than goal pace (maybe about 6:25).

Humidity levels were high. Quite simply, after mile 1, I couldn’t get in a rhythm. The steady incline for miles 2-7, modest fatigue and the humidity kept my heart rate abnormally elevated. I felt myself in trouble in the early going.

Check the numbers and compare vs. last week’s race (prior post). You would have thought I had a cardiac meltdown. On the 7th mile, I averaged 179 bpm – this would mean trouble. I was tired entering this race, is what this tells me.

Unfortunately, none of us were pleased with our results. Aaron and I ran 1:30 – and Steve a 1:29. We all know we’re in better shape than this. We all took solace in each other’s struggles and chalked it up to a workout. All three of us have been training pretty hard. I had a hard hill 30k race last week. Steve and Aaron banged out 2000m repeats earlier in the week.

We need to trust our training – and not let this race affect us mentally. Last week, I ran a 3:02-3:03 marathon equivalent on a hilly terrain 30k. I checked last year’s results and the average top 5 times were 2-3 minutes faster than this year so everyone was affected. It wasn't worth running a recovery after the race, I was spent. I needed to rest.

I still believe with a strong last week of training before taper, healthy diet, solid rest and care during my taper, good weather conditions on race day – with all of these things and the stars aligning – a 2:59 is within reach. I will not give up trying. Time to right the ship...

Plan for 9/10 week – my final week of solid training

Mon 9/10 – AM: 6 recovery – PM: 4 recovery – 10 total
Tue 9/11 – 12 miles w/ 6x1000m repeats
Wed 9/12 - 10 miles
Thu 9/13 – 6 recovery
Fri 9/14 – 20 miler – Fast finish
Sat 9/15 – Recovery 6 miles – Fly to Shanghai, China – 10:35 AM flight from O’Hare

Goal: 64 miles

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Labor Day 30k Race Report – Milford, MI – 9/1/07

We arrived at the race grounds in Milford, MI around 7:20 AM Saturday morning. It was a gorgeous morning for a race. Temps were in the mid-50’s around 30 minutes before the start.

I had hopes of breaking below 2:05:59 assuming the course was fast and relatively flat. However, I did not know anything about the course. There was really no detail on the race website.

I asked a woman in front of me in line at the check-in area if the course was hilly. She laughed and said, “Um, yes, it’s hilly. In fact, I can’t think of a single flat stretch of ground on the whole course.” Great, I thought. That answers that question.

Wanting to get a second opinion, I checked in with a dude who struck up a conversation with me at the start. “You don’t want to run this one for time,” he said. Alrighty then, so much for a 2:05.

I backed off my expectations and decided I was going to focus on hitting as many 6:45 splits as I could. This is the pace I felt I needed to race for the 30k distance to be on track for a sub-3 Chicago.

I decided to wear the Garmin, which was against my recently adopted anti-Garmin policy for races. I decided that this was partially a training run more than a race. I wanted to see what HR’s would look like. I turned off the auto-lap function and hit the splits manually.

Miles 1-3 were on the local streets and did not have too much grade. I thought, where’s the hype? Then I came upon mile 4 and saw why. I started to pass a guy who looked in his 50’s on the first major hill, which was a wake-up call. When we got to the top, I said “how many more of these are there?”

We started chatting (after we caught our breath) and this guy, Doug, starts telling me about some of his running feats. He also throws in that he writes a running column for the Detroit Free Press.

In short, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was running with a marathoner of legendary status. I am by no means a running historian, but after checking up on this guy, he has to be considered one best marathoners in the modern running era.

Check out this profile for Doug Kurtis and you will see what I mean. The marathon history is simply astonishing: he holds the world record for the most marathons ever completed under 2:20 – a mind-blowing 76.

Doug and I chatted it up casually while banging out 6:40’ish pace. He asked my age and told me that his best year of running was when he was 37. He started to pull ahead at mile 8 and knowing his experience I decided it would be wise to let him go. I later learned that he came in at 2:05.

Now about those hills. Yes, there were at least four or five killers out on that course. In addition, there were plenty of steady grades in both directions. I have not put in a hill run since Boston in April. I started to feel it when I hit 14. I just felt winded from the up and down. You can see my HR’s fluctuate along with my splits.

This was a competitive field. Late in the race, I also ran with a guy who was pushing me for miles. We got to chatting and he told me he was 50. He pulled ahead of me on the final stretch to come in about 15 seconds ahead of me. I hope I can do that to a 32-year-old when I am 50.

Bottom line: I ran a 2:07:20 (see splits below) and I am satisfied with the result. I had a very strong finish and responded pretty well to a hilly, gravel terrain course. I did manage 5th place in my age group.

Garmin says the race length was 18.81 vs. the 18.64 for a 30k race, so not sure if I added on or what. I know the hills and dirt, gravel terrain cost me at least 10 seconds per mile – if not more. I would have nailed a 2:05 on flat pavement – guaranteed. I know it. I am on track for a 2:59:59. I can feel it. Progress has been huge and there are two solid weeks of training left before taper.

With this race, I hit 58 for the week. This coming week, I will plan for low 60's mileage before ramping up the high 60's one last time before taper. I will be running the Ikea Half Marathon next week with Steve and Aaron in Pittsburgh.

I’ve got to figure out what I will run this week. I also will begin planning for my trip to China, which is a mere two weeks away. Did I mention I will taper for the Chicago Marathon in China? After marathon Sunday, I will turn around on Monday and head back to China. Never in my life did I think I would be living the crazy traveling/running lifestyle that I am now.