Friday, October 21, 2011

A Bit of the Old Run-Walk

Well, I did run the Portland Marathon barefoot. All went well at the beginning. Did not go well at the end. I had been doing my long (19+ mile) training runs at right about 10 minutes per mile. I finished the marathon in 4:26:49, a 10:11/mile pace, so it was a little slower than my training runs, but not a complete disaster.

Unless you look at the last 4.4 miles. The last 4.4 miles took me 58:40. That translates to 13:20/mile pace, and trust me, it felt slower than that. That was a complete disaster. (Other depressing stat: after the 20 mile mark I passed 34 runners...but 512 passed me.)

The reason I know my pace for the last 4.4 miles is that there were several timing mats along the course. Some of them were for common distances (10K, 1/2 marathon), some were at odd distances, just to make sure people weren't cutting the course. My splits were:

Distance   Total Time Interval Pace Total Pace
10 km         55:32       8:57         8:57
8.6 mi      1:17:38       9:12         9:02 
Half        1:57:17       8:49         8:57
17.5 mi     2:41:42      10:06         9:15
20 mi       3:11:16      11:50         9:34
21.8 mi     3:28:09       9:23         9:33
Full        4:26:49      13:20        10:11

I ran with the 3:55 (~9 min/mile) pace group for the first 15 miles, but couldn't hold the pace after that. The highest point on the course is midway across the St. John's bridge at 17 miles. The approach to the bridge is the only steep climb of the course, and I was still doing okay at that point, but after I crossed the bridge - BAM! - I was toast.

I had seen this kind of pattern in my training runs, too. I was hoping that on race day the adrenaline and the fellow runners and the cheering throngs (including the folks of Occupy Portland) would pull me let me extend my 9 minute miles beyond the 16 mile point, but it was not to be.

I don't usually time my runs. For the longer (19+) runs I'd just check the clock in my car before and after for a rough idea of how long it took, but for shorter ones I did wear a watch a few times. I didn't write the times down, but I do know my best times this year for a few distances:

5K: 21:56 (7:05/mile at the Fall City Days 5K)
11 miles: 1:28 (~ 8 minutes/mile)
13.1 miles: 1:50:28 (8:26/mile at the Labor Day Half)
16 miles: 2:25 (~9 minutes/mile)
22 miles: 3:37 (just under 10 minutes/mile)
25 miles: 4:10-ish (~10 minutes/mile)

Looking at these times, my Portland results are depressingly in line with them. My problem is how to maintain pace beyond that 16 mile mark. There is no shortcut, of course, I have to take it out beyond 16 miles and push the pace. I know that. It's obvious. Obvious, but easier said than done.

Going longer is probably not going to help me. First off, how much farther can I really go on a weekly run? I'm already doing a 20+ miler most weeks. I need to raise the intensity at the end of my long runs somehow.

Today, 12 days post-marathon, was my first long run. I've run most of the days since the marathon, including three 11 milers, the last one two days ago. (NOTE: yeah, I thought about backing off my mileage to recover after the marathon, but then I realized that it was no faster and not much farther than my weekly training runs, so I'm just treating it like a normal week.)

But I needed to do something different.

If you read my previous post, you know that I met Jeff Galloway at the Portland Marathon expo. He is a big proponent of doing a run-walk mix for distance runs rather than trying to push all the way through without stopping, so I thought I'd give it a try. I figured that, though my run will be a little slower over all, I will have some higher intensity miles at the end. It's basically just a long interval workout.

I picked a 4:1 ratio of running to walking. I opted to make it 20 minutes of running followed by 5 minutes of walking.  I pulled those numbers out of a hat and reserve to change them in the future.

So this morning I woke up and it was raining. Bleah. Not cold (low to mid 50's), but 4 hours in the rain did not sound inviting. Still, I forced myself to drive down to the trail, forced myself to get out of the car and over to the 5.5 mile post, and forced myself to take those first few steps south towards Marymoor Park.

Knowing that I would get to rest 20 minutes in I set out at a pretty brisk pace (for me). I hit the first mile about 7:25 and 2 miles at about 15 minutes. Not the way I normally start out on my long runs, but rest was coming!

The first rest seemed odd. My brain was still stuck on the idea of a long run, and my legs still felt quite fresh. But walk I did, then set out again. I hit the 5.5 mile turnaround at Marymoor in just under 45 minutes, only a minute slower than my best 11 mile pace in spite of walking for 5 minutes. Interesting. Time to walk again as I turned back towards Bothell.

I got back to my start point (now the 11 mile mark) at 1:33:24,  about a 9 minute mile pace, only 5 1/2 minutes off my fastest 11 miler this year - and I had walked for 15 minutes of it.

I kept heading north. Blew by the 13 mile mark at 1:53 and dug deep but couldn't quite get to the 14 mile mark before it was time to walk again; I passed it walking at about 2:03. The next 20 minute run took me to within about 50 meters of the 16.5 mile (turnaround) mark. Hit it under 2:26.

I want to pause here for a minute. I'm doing intervals. Everyone knows that interval training is slower than running a steady pace, right? Except at the marathon I hit 17.5 at 2:41. Even if I stood stock still for 4 minutes at the turnaround I would still have 11 minutes to get to 17.5 miles in my marathon time, and at this point my running miles are still sub-9 minutes. Huh?

And look at my best 16 mile training run: 2:25. When I hit the turnaround I'm almost half a mile ahead of my best 16 mile training run! With no rest, no taper, no special diet. Running in rain that makes my shorts wrap themselves around my legs and chafe. Not ideal weather or diet or rest, yet I am beating my best time by half a mile. And I've walked 26 minutes of the workout.

I'm definitely slowing down on my way back, but I'm not dying, not by any means. I hit 20 miles at 3:03 (yeah, 8 minutes faster than the marathon), and stop to take my first drink of water - not the brightest way to run, but I didn't need it before then - and still get well beyond 21 miles before it's time for the last walk at 3:15.

I hit 3:20 with a little more than half a mile to go, push myself and finish 22 miles in 3:24:37. That would be about 5 minutes ahead of where I was in the marathon, and more than 12 minutes faster than my fastest 22 mile training run. And I walked 40 minutes of it.

And here's the kicker: I feel fine. After the marathon all I could do was lay in bed the whole afternoon. I was so stiff I could barely walk downstairs that evening to get food. I won't say I'm not sore (I am - hell, I just went 22 hard miles!), but I could run again. Right now. Three hours after that workout. The first half mile would be tough, but after warming up I could go on to do an easy five miles, no problem.

So my interest is piqued. I ran faster and recovered more quickly than doing a long, slow 22 miler. The farther out I went, the better this method worked for me today.

This could be an outlier, though. Today could have just been a good day for me. I might have done well, maybe even better had I run straight through at a slower pace. It will take a few weeks to see if this really does work for me.

If it does, it might be enough to get me under 4 hours for a marathon, something I haven't done for more than 25 years. That would be really cool, and certainly enough reason to give this run-walk stuff a try for a while.

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