Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Avila And The Smell Of Rain

Marathon Plan - Regressive Countdown - Week Fourteen
01/25/10 - 01/31/10 - Week Total: 23.5 miles
Month total: 114.7 miles

If you've seen Avatar, you can picture my country of origin: Venezuela. Yes, pretty much.

Caracas, a big cosmopolitan city, is a valley at the skirt of a majestic mountain: Avila... A Pandora place, full of trees, and little falls, and butterflies, and lush. With hundred of paths to go and discover the most wonderful gift of nature. And as you climb up, the vegetation changes, the big leaves and big trees start to disappear to give room to sub p
áramo vegetation, shorter and smaller plants take over, and you are in the most perfect natural garden where the landscaper has to be God.

To "Caraqueños" Avila represents an immense power. The mountain is so imposing that every day you have to stop and admire it. It is a sort of deity.

Avila with Caracas at her feet.

I lived all my life at the edge of this skirt. I couldn't be closer to Avila, and I am happy that I never took my Avila for granted. Every day I saw my Avila more beautiful than the day before. I hiked every time I could in this place, full of luxuriant foliage, where you lose track of where the sun is, and where you get more than connected with mother nature. Some days of the week my workouts started with a short hike of 20 minutes in a very steep slope, "La Subida del Diablo" (Devil's Hill). At least 2 weekends a month as a family and as members of an excursionist center, we hiked for 6 to 8 hours, or more, and we camped there. Spent the night over. Felt the magic. Lived the magic. Sensed the magic. It was an unbelievable and unforgettable feeling, so close to the concrete jungle and so far from it.

Every single moment spent in my Avila was majestic and breathless. My favorite peak always will be the Oriental (Eastern), which looks like a gorgeous beautiful breast if you are located at the east of Caracas, but climbing the highest Avila's peak, Naiguata, 8,875 ft. became an experience from beyond. Standing at the ridge of the mountain range you could see the Caribbean Sea to the north, and the big city of Caracas to the south. Those are moments my eyes will never forget. But, was not only the sights what kept me going. The sense of smell of the tropical foliage combined with the rain is something recorded in my brain like one of the most pleasant experiences I have had in my life. The rain forest, the wet dirt, the smell of our Earth.

Oriental Peak. My favorite peak. 8,670 ft.

And when I moved to Washington State I brought my Avila with me. This mountain has given me so much, that will be in my heart to the end of my days. And a day like today, when I go for a long run, a 13.5-miler, in a wet day, everything is a reminiscence. It rained and the breeze was cool and delicious. When I started to run, the only thing that I could think was in my Avila, my peaks, my Oriental, my Naiguata, my camping times, my countless hikes. The sense that comes time after time and that I enjoy so often in rainy Seattle. The sense that takes me back to Pandora, to My Avila And The Smell Of Rain.

Avila's Ridge (La Fila). To walk this ridge is priceless. What you are seeing here is 8,000 ft high. I believe I will never go back to Venezuela, but this is one of the most wonderful experiences I've had in my life. And I am glad I did it many times.

My son Diego, Father Perico Galdos s.j., and me at Naiguata peak (8,875 ft) in 1995.

At this cross, Father Galdos has officiated mass every February for more than 50 years. The flags in the cross, are: Venezuelan to the left and the Loyola Excursionist Center (CEL) to the right.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ocean's Nine. Ocean's Eleven. Ocean's Nine.

Marathon Plan - Regressive Countdown - Week Fifteen
01/18/10 - 01/24/10 - Week Total: 28.3 miles

I have had issues with my long runs pace. I slow down and seems there is no way to speed up. One day in Green Lake I decided to stick behind two ladies that were running at 10:20 min/mile. That was the only way I could keep that pace. Once they finished their run, I slowed down, and went back to a 11:30 min/mile. I have even had some long runs at 12:50 what really concerned me.

Knowing that I perform better when I race, I replaced my 13-miler yesterday for a 10-mile race to determine what pace I was able to keep. The race was part of a four Kilometers/Miles races series: 5k/5M - 10K/10M - 15K/15M and 20K/20M. (I didn't run the 5M and won't be able to run the 20M as I already registered in a Half the day after).

So here I go, running at a good pace with a lot of people for 2.30 miles when we got to the point where the 10K and the 10M races split. And all the people running with me, turned to the right (10K) and I alone turned to the left. I could see in the distance only two people ahead of me. Then a girl passed me and told me "What a gorgeous day!!!", I nodded and told her: "Yes, and I think we are on our own", as I realized that we probably were the last runners. She nodded and took off.

The race was put together by a running club and many of its members are training for spring marathons. Do you know what it means? That most of the runners of the 10M are very fast runners. At mile 3.5 the lead runner was coming back. He was 3 miles ahead of me. And then I saw ALL the runners. I was really happy because at least, I was NOW running with a lot of people. They were running in a different direction though, but it didn't matter to me. I had company!!! I had to be one of the last, but as I never look back, I didn't know how many people were behind me, if any. I would find out at mile 5 when I would have to turn around. Finally mile 5 arrived (or I arrived to it) and in my way back I was able to count how many people were behind me. Nine. Then I passed two ladies, so eleven. Then they passed me, and I went back to nine. Ocean's Nine. Ocean's Eleven. Ocean's Nine.

And that was it. I was going to keep that pace, and not let any of these nine to pass me. That would be the way to push for the pace. I was doing very well, until ... I missed a sign!
Fortunately the race director was driving by and stopped me. Also, a volunteer at a stand on the street I had to turn saw me and chased me.... They saved me big time. Who knows where I would've ended.

While I was going back to the race course I saw four of the people that were behind me closer to the curve that I should have taken.
I was about to be reduced to Ocean's Five. No!! I sped up, and took the curve first than two of them, and later I could passed the other two. I was running at 10:30 min/mile, but again being alone, when I didn't feel any pressure I slowed down, and found again these two people breathing down my neck. Time to speed up again, left them behind, slowed down, they are again at my side. LIZZIE ! I wanted to scream! We were in that game for about 1.5 miles, but this was going to be an Ocean's Nine. Period. Not less. When we were about 0.5 miles of the finish line I accelerated, and as I know I am a good sprinter, as soon as I entered in the track I pushed the song Gonna Fly Now, and ran the track at 8 min/mile. Ocean's Nine it was!

Official time 1:46:33 for 10:40 pace. I was one of the slowest persons of the race, however I felt great as I ran a 10-miler a hair faster than my marathon goal pace (10:56)!!!

And BTW, I proudly got a ribbon for third place in my division. If I can't be that fast, I can outlast runners my age!!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Knee Relay

Marathon Plan - Regressive Countdown - Week Sixteen
01/11/10 - 01/17/10 - Week Total: 16.3 miles

Marathon Plan - Regressive Countdown - Week Seventeen
01/04/10 - 01/10/10 - Week Total: 30.6 miles

I skipped my first race of the year: Nookachamps Half Marathon on Jan 16th. The reason was fear.

I ran 30 miles
the week of 01/04 - 01/10 including hills' intervals, a nice 7.5 miles on Sat 09th and a good 13.1 miles on Sun 10th. For the latter I wanted to stop at mile 2. I had a soft unrecognized pain in my left leg, a sort of a shin splint, but different. It felt as stiffed as a concrete post, and my knees were bothering a little bit. Then I said to myself: "one more mile", and with that strategy from one mile to another I completed the Half Distance at 11:52 pace average. I was pleased.

On Tuesday 12th I had one hour available to run as we had tickets for Jesus Christ Superstar... I jumped on the treadmill and did without thinking 5 miles at 11:27. I felt OK, but the following morning my knees were hurting while walking or coming down the escalators.. Runners' Knee???.

My run on Thu ended after my 2 miles warm up, which were done merely walking. I started to panic... How I am going to run Nookachamps like that?

I tried to analyze if it was the combination of hills, plus the 7.5, and 13.1, but it didn't make sense to me... Then, the light bulb went off. The 7.5 miles course in Green Lake started with 0.5 miles moderate uphill. Therefore, as it is an out and back course, it ended with 0.5 miles moderate downhill, not too steep but downhill anyway. And because we have normally that feeling of success after a long run, I ran that portion at 8:30 min/mile with a peak of 7:35 min/mile.
That was it. That was what happened. Nothing worse for knees that going fast downhill if your legs are not trained/prepared for that.

To bring my confidence back, I skipped the race. One thing is not to complete a run, and another thing is to DNF a race. I went to Green Lake to do a 9-mile run. It started with a
Knee Relay; going uphill my left knee was softly hurting. After 0.5 miles, when the hill was over, left knee passed the baton to right for the right knee to hurt. The left didn't bother any more. The pain on the right was so bad for the next mile that I was limping. But after 1.5 miles right knee threw the baton away and the pain was gone. Relay over.

I ran the whole run conservatively slow, and as the knees' pain didn't come back my fears were going away... The final trial to get rid of my fear was during the last 0.5 miles going downhill. I decided to walk it as a cool down, but even walking my knees started to gently scream. This is it. Cause known. Fears gone. I won't run downhill until my knees fully recover, and when doing it will slow down.
Concrete post sensation also going away.

Today I took the day off. My week ended short of my planned mileage, but I don't think that a 16-mile week will hurt much.
My next problem to solve is pace management during long runs. I am having serious troubles keeping a decent pace, but I have a strategy used by me and proven successful back on Sep 2008. I'll try it and post next week...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Paving The Road To Eugene

Marathon Plan - Regressive Countdown - Week Eighteen
12/28/09 - 01/03/10
Week Total: 36.6 miles

36.6 miles sound pretty good to me for a winter week. Of course, I was not working, so I could run any given day, at any given time. Whenever I wanted. In addition, while the back east and the south are freezing we are in mid 40s and eventual sunny days. I decided it would be my week where I would start Paving The Road To Eugene.

To pave the road I needed to establish first my main goal: finish time. Answer, a sub-5. But how sub ? I went to Mc Millan to predict my time with my best 5K, 10K and Half. The 5K predicted 4:27; the 10K predicted 4:44; and the Half (a hilly one) predicted 5:02.

Checking the driving directions it was determined that from home to Eugene it will take me 4:46 minutes. So I took that number, the 10K prediction, put in a blender, divided by 2, and got my goal time 4:45 for a 10:53 pace. Scientific... Close!

The next step was to determine how many miles of asphalt I am going to pave per week. I have trained the past years with less is more (i.e.: Furman), and running only three times a week. It worked for me and my life style, and took me the first year from zero to finish. The second year, with the same system I improved my PR in 40 minutes. Not to mention free of injuries.

Then I started asking myself, if all the buzz about more is more is good for me, and found, of course, TOO many opinions and contradictions. Then I got a scientific study, that concluded that there is a poor correlation between the number of miles and the finish time for marathon beginners (They defined beginners the runners that complete a marathon above 4 hours). "Running 39 miles per week - parceled into four workouts - was just as effective as scooting 48-50 miles per week, with six weekly exertions...
The [finish] times were exactly the same. "

My own conclusion,
the study supports Furman. Being that said, I set up my top mileage in 40, and I'll work the week based on that max.

The last step was to confirm what plan I'll follow. I'd thought on Lydiard's methodology but I think it's somehow complex, so I turned to a combination of Furman with RW's plan (Fit/Efficiency). Furman calls for 3 key weekly workouts (speed/tempo/long runs) and RW's calls for two (tempo and long runs). This combo gives me room to variety according to time availability, so I'll stick with it.

I am very excited to run a marathon again. I have planned several races, half and similar distances as part of my long runs, and some 10Ks for tempo work... and 5Ks because I love them!!!

Cheers, and Happy New Year!