Another Milestone

In August of 2008 I ran my first 5K as an adult in 22:15. Yesterday, more than four years later, I broke 20:00 for the first time, and finished in 19:43. I realize this is not a very competitive time, but it does push me just above the 70th percentile for my age grade, and as a confirmed sprinter I will take it as a good sign of progress. At the same race last year I ran a PR in 21:22.

Maggie and I discussed our results while walking home from the race. She ran 21:53, not a PR, but also not bad for five months after delivering our second child. I asked her if she ever imagined a few years ago that she would be running so fast, and she responded with, “I never thought I would care enough to run that fast.” I could not agree more with her statement. Both of us have become more focused on the 5K recently, and until this fall I really didn’t think I would ever want to train specifically for the distance with any seriousness. With that in mind, I am even more satisfied with my new PR, as I know I am not done improving, and I feel like I can keep the 5K on a shelf and return to it when I choose over the remainder of my running years.

So how did I drop 1:39 in twelve months? I believe the process began in the late spring when I began extending my speed endurance in workouts designed to help me bridge the gap from 400 to 800 meters. I knew I wanted to start focusing on the 800 this year, without completely abandoning the 400, and I knew this would require getting back to logging road miles, but I decided to hold off on the mileage until the summer track season ended. Instead, I just kept adding longer intervals and shorter rest to my track workouts. By the end of summer I was running a fairly comfortable 2:20 800; not event close to my goal of 2:05, but progress.

The next phase would begin in the fall after a a few weeks of rest. I decided to take my own advice and join the cross country team to start logging mileage, but I really was only thinking about the 800, not actually improving much in the 5K. Then the run to work experiment began, and by my first race of the fall I could tell I had a stronger base endurance than I have in years.

In a nutshell, the 1:39 fell away by running a lot of raid miles, with a couple 40-mile weeks, while still doing speed drills and track workouts about once a week. The road miles helped me drop about 10 pounds, and get my body fat down under 10%.

Hopefully the PRs will keep coming with the start of indoor track a few weeks away. I have been staying injury-free, so my only training interuptions have been intential rest periods. As a result of my good fortune and recent 5K times, I no longer have any idea what my new 400m goal is for the season! Last summer I was looking to run 55.0 this winter, but now I think I might see something a little lower. And I am holding off on a specific 800 goal for now.



With the first indoor track meet scheduled for December 27 at the Armory, NYC, I began making the transition from cross-country to sprinting a couple of weeks ago.  Instead of logging 40-mile weeks running back and forth to work, I began taking the train to 8th and Market and only running about 4 or 5 miles per day.  The first thing I noticed was how incredibly relaxing these commuting runs had become.  Compared to when I began the experiment in September, I can move at a comfortable pace and barely increase my breathing.  I also feel like I can control my exertion more, and if I choose to run a little faster I am completely in tune with the effort.  The distances getting back and forth from work are short enough that it feels like very little work, but long enough that I feel very refreshed and energized.  This makes me want to experiment with distance to see what creates the best sense of balance — no matter what, the work week takes its toll, so simply running further and further is not necessarily optimal for an overall sense of balance.

Along with cutting back on mileage, I have begun to do more track workouts.  We are developing a good core group of runners at the GPTC South Jersey satellite, so more and more of these track workouts are becoming more consistently high quality.  Nothing compares to having a group to run with on the track.  We inevitably end up going just a little harder and or faster than planned.  That can be a problem if it gets out of control, but usually its a good thing.

I can tell I am lighter, stronger, and maybe faster as a result of the road work.  It’s important to note that I never stopped doing speed work.  Slow road miles might have a negative impact on speed if that is all one does for an extended time (I am not convinced this is true), so I made sure to do somewhat regular sessions on the track, keeping up the drills and short bursts of speed.  The other night, four of us did a ladder workout of 3×300-200-100 and my third 300 was 46 seconds.  Not blazing fast, but a little surprising at this point in the cycle.  It was a hard effort, but I know I run much faster.  Today seven of us did 3x2x300 Russian Intervals with a 100m jog between reps and a 500m jog between sets.  We began at a warmup pace, hitting the first 300 in 62, and finished with a 43.  That was a confidence booster.  Again, the last rep was a hard effort, but it was our sixth and on relatively short rest.

It was ironic that I almost fell off the leader’s shoulder on the last rep.  Cayhun went out fast and hard so I had to make back a little distance on him in the first 50.  Then, on the curve, he took it up another notch and there was a brief moment when I almost let him go, but quickly buried the thought and with a couple of good strides got right back on shoulder.  I say this was ironic because I had just been saying to Bruce that I have been really preoccupied lately with that exact moment of a 400 race.  A month before the first meet, and I am obsessing over the small details, and a few days ago got stuck on thinking about that critical moment when I too often back off.  It usually happens at only about 50 or 75 meters, and I second guess my speed, and that quickly throw a race away.  If I learned anything from all the races I ran in high school it is that that moment is when I have to bear down and, if anything, crank it up a notch the way Cayhun did today.  If its going to be a new pr, I have just run the whole race “balls out.”
Running an all out 400 on the December 27th will be scary, but I keep telling myself to really see what all my work these last several months amounts to.  I am back at college weight, and my body fat is at 9%.  I feel like a lean, mean, racing machine.  It would be so pathetic to let fear keep me from testing this revamped machine!

Run to Work Experiment – Week 6 Review

On September 21 I began running back and forth to work as part of my daily commute.  Being honest with myself, and having accumulated a lifetime of failed endeavors, I began this experiment with an open mind.  I know from too much personal experience that no matter how good an idea seems at the start, I might abandon it at any time.  Although many consider it a myth, I told myself if I at least tried to do this for 21 days then it might become a habit.  Now that over six weeks have passed, here is a review.

Without trying to sound overly evangelical, I am, well, ecstatic.  The experiment has been a massive success, I have gained insights, on both my running and life in general, that I could not have imagined in advance, and the icing on the cake is I have experienced a bit of a miracle, or at least a piece of magic.

First, the miracle.  My traditional commute consisted of walking or driving to the Patco station (.65 miles), taking the train to 12th/13th and Locust, and then walking to Community College of Philadelphia at 17th and Spring Garden (a little over 1 mile).  The one-way commute took me about an hour on average, and included a 20-minute brisk walk. My new commute consists of running from my house to the station, then getting off at various stops, and running various distances to work.  Sometimes I take the train to the last stop at 16th and Locust, and run out to the Schuylkill Banks Trail, then up around the Art Museum before heading back to 17th and Spring Garden.  Other times I get off in Camden and run over the Ben Franklin Bridge.  I have also run all the way from work to home a couple of times (8.5 miles).  To explain the miracle, or magic trick, most easily, I will break down a 40-mile week.

First, I have to mention, 40 miles may not be worth much bragging, but for a sprinter who has not logged significant road miles since giving up triathlons about four years ago, it is a really big deal.

To complete a 40-mile week, I run from home to the station (again, .65 miles) and then run from Camden City Hall to CCP (3.5 miles).  A few hours later I run back on the same route.  It takes me about 50 minutes to go one way, including waiting for and riding the train — total travel time from point A to B.  Traditional commute: 1 hour.  Running commute: 50 minutes.  This means I am logging over 40 miles and not using any free time to do it.  Technically, I am actually saving about 50 minutes of free time by running.  For a married guy with a 3-year-old son and a 5-month-old daughter, this is truly groundbreaking.  My running career is significantly enhanced by having a wife that also runs, and together we work very hard to help each other get our workouts in, but it is still a challenge to find the time.  Instead of trying to “find the time” I have managed to simply convert time, from just commuting, to commuting and logging serious miles.

Now I ask, how many people say they would exercise more if they could just find the time?

So that is my run to work miracle, and I truly feel like I am somehow cheating the universe.  As I run across the Ben Franklin Bridge on particularly windy days I hope the universe doesn’t try to get me back by sending me over the railing!

Now I will explain some of the insights.

I told myself at the outset of this experiment to run easy.  Back in the summer I decided to follow the advice I give many of my high school track athletes and joined the GPTC cross country team.  I previously had decided to make an honest effort at the 800 meters this year, and everything I have read implies that I need to start logging some mileage off the track.  Even though I tend to agree with the philosophies that promote training at a fast pace, with my limited distance experience I decided it might be healthier to just do the miles.  I am also a huge proponent avoiding injury, and Gradual Progress (see I Ching, the Chinese book of change) is an ingrained part of my running practice, so taking it easy, at least at first, seemed to make sense.

On most of my commute runs, I just begin at an easy warm up pace, and then allow myself to settle into whatever feels comfortable at that time.  Some days I end up running quite fast, and other days I just bob along at a jog.  More important, I am regularly reminding myself that I am simply commuting; I am running as a form of nothing more than transportation.  This meditation has an interesting effect, as I can immediately sense that feel more centered, and then I relax, and sometimes I even go faster.  I run in a way that I compare to hiking in the woods; swiftly enough to enjoy the activity, and maybe break a little sweat, but not so fast that the activity takes my focus from the bigger experience of simply being on a trail in the woods (or a city street).  (I often stop running to take photographs.  I know, any serious runner can just stop reading now!)

The biggest insight to come from running with this kind of mindset is that I enjoy road running more than I ever have at any time in my life, AND I am increasing my endurance and speed more rapidly than when I have made either one my focus of running.  Oh, that sounds so quaint and hippy-like you might say, but I have also dropped my 5k pr by over one minute since beginning the experiment, and I am expecting to break 20 minutes for the first time in my life later this month.

Another insight is that I am more relaxed and focused at work than I have ever been, and I am enjoying my time on the train more than ever.  I arrive at work with about 20 or 30 minutes to shower, change, and get a cup of coffee before my first class.  I exchange my super minimal running shoes for a pair of super minimal dress shoes, and I float across campus in the state of mind that I used to only feel in my own living room after a good run.  I have a lot of students that can really push my patience in various ways, and somehow they just don’t bother me all that much any more, at least not early in my work day.

I used to get on the train in the afternoon to come home and collapse into a seat, too tired to do anything useful.  I would often play solitaire on my phone, and by the time I arrived at my station had sunken into an afternoon semi coma.  For some reason, the brisk walk to the station did not counteract this tendency.  As much as I enjoy walking, it never leaves me very revived.  Now, when I get the station after a run, I open up my iPad and return to whatever book I am reading.  Since September 21st when this experiment started, I have finished Born to Run (only took two years), and read Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run (awesome by the way), Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of the Universe, and Alberto Salazar’s autobiography, Fourteen Minutes.  I consider myself as much of a reader as I do a distance runner — always have the best intentions and wishes, rarely follow through.  I never make New Year’s resolutions, but last year I said I wanted to read one book a month for all of 2012.  By September I had read a few more pages of Born to Run (began in 2011) and a few chapters of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Volume I.  Pathetic.  But now I understand that when my brain felt like mush a lot of the time, reading was the last thing I wanted to do.  Running back and forth to work has somehow made my brain less mushy.

If you would like to learn more about running to work, check out some of my earlier posts.  There are a few logistical considerations, but also with a little creativity I think a lot of people could give it a shot.  Having a locker room and showers at your place of employment is amazing, but if you live in the city, there might be a reasonably priced gym within walking distance of your work.  I also recommend a running-specific back pack.