Friday, December 16, 2016

Ready to Race!

It's the Friday before my first-ever half-marathon on Sunday, and I've learned a surprising amount during my last week of training.

Let's rewind a bit, to last summer when I finally decided to commit to some real triathlon goals, the first being to do a 70.3, and I chose O'side 70.3 on 1 April 2017.  Given my difficulties with the run, I added an interim goal of a half-marathon race, and I chose the Holiday Half on 18 December 2016.

Initially, my run training had three simple goals:
  1. Become physically able to do two hours running without pain.
  2. Improve my metabolic capacity.
  3. Improve my speed (to spend less time running).
To accomplish these, I initially chose a two-pronged training approach:
  1. Do long, easy runs to build up leg tolerance and contact time.
  2. Do short, hard intervals to build speed and metabolic capacity.
This approach worked really well, permitting me to make major injury-free gains:
  • I regained the 10K speed I had about 8 years ago (yeah, I had really slacked off on the run training).  
  • I became able to run well over an hour with minimal mechanical discomfort (muscles and joints were OK, though I was huffing and puffing like an old horse).
Implicit in this improvement was getting my cadence up to reduce the impact and muscle recruitment associated with each stride.  My running went from "thud, thud, thud" to "tap, tap, tap".

One thing I avoided during this phase was training for a "run-walk" race style.  I freely gave myself permission to walk when needed, but never as a planned part of my race.  Typically, I'd walk for 30-60 seconds at the turn-around point in my run just to be sure I could do it well enough (many injuries occur when returning to run speed after a brief walk).

Last Sunday I finally did my first 10 mile run (two laps around Lake Miramar, 9.8 miles actual).  I intentionally started out easy, and I comfortably held a 10:00 average pace. But about 8 miles in I realized I had some extra gas in the tank, but was unable to pick up my pace!  It seemed my legs had decided they wanted to stay at the 10 minute pace, and they weren't going to change.

It seemed there was no way I could break 2 hours on my race.  A 10 minute run pace (with no walking) means a 2:11 finish.  To break 2 hours I'd need a 9:00 pace, a full minute per mile faster, and I didn't see a last-minute 10% improvement being a realistic expectation.

Since this week has been my taper week, my runs have been shorter, so I decided to see if I could make them faster, to let me do a little more work on both pacing and my metabolic capacity.  I did a 5K Thursday evening with the intent to do the first 1.5 miles as a best-effort sprint, then return at whatever pace seemed sustainable.  Despite some serious fatigue at the end of 1.5 miles, I still averaged a 9 minute average pace for the total distance!

So I'm left with two significant questions: If I start the race at a 9 minute pace, will my legs lock in to it, and will my metabolism support it all the way to the finish?

I think I'm going to go for it, and let myself briefly walk when/if needed.

The main reason for this decision is that this half-marathon and 70.3 are steps toward my goal of doing at least one full-Ironman in my life, preferably before the end of 2017.  Which means my run must enter all-new territory: The only way I'll survive 26 miles after a 120 on the bike will be to run fast and efficient, to get to the finish line before it falls apart either mechanically or metabolically.

I seriously doubt I'll be able to endure more than a 4 hour marathon after a 120 mile ride.  If it's not at least that fast, then it will likely be hours slower.

A 4-hour marathon is roughly a 9 minute pace.  If I can get close to that Sunday, then it should be an achievable marathon goal.

Run speed is my new best friend.

Update: I did 2:13:49, about what my training predicted.  But I hadn't trained on hills, and I beat myself up a bit on the first 4 miles, going way too fast downhill (6:30) and struggling too hard uphill.  By mile 8 I was power-walking up each hill.  So getting this result with all those mistakes tells me I should be able to reach sub-2:00 on a flat course.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Hoka Bondi Running Shoes

My pair of original Brooks Pure Flows died.  Not due to mileage (I only had about 250 miles on them), but due to the sole materials failing with age (not wear).  The foam broke down under the ball of each foot, and the rubber tread pieces became hard and slick.  When I slid and nearly landed on my butt during a run, I decided they had become a safety hazard and needed to be replaced right away, without delay.  (Being a Frugal Triathlete, my plan was to run in them until they wore out, no matter what. Fortunately, reason prevailed.)

The main goal for my next pair was to get shoes that would treat my feet gently enough for me to comfortably do my first half-marathon in December (Holiday Half), and my first half-IM in April (Oceanside 70.3).  The Brooks always had me hurting at the 10K distance.

I run with a forefoot strike, so I wanted a zero-drop shoe (or close to it).  And my feet are gradually getting wider with age, so I wanted a spacious toe box.  But most importantly, I needed a bit more cushioning between my feet and the road than my Pure Flows provided.

One thing I absolutely didn't want was to run directly on an EVA sole, without tread lugs.  Many running shoes have eliminated the rubber tread lugs to make the shoe lighter, but all that really does is make the sole wear out barely after they're broken in.  I refuse to buy shoes that won't last at least 350 miles.

I tried over a dozen pairs of shoes: Ten different models from seven separate brands at two local running specialty stores. My initial hopes were with Altra and Hoka, though I eagerly tried anything from anyone that looked even close.  I was a bit wary of Hoka, since I had demo'ed a pair a few years ago and found them to be unstable: I felt I was running on squishy stilts.  But I had heard they had evolved nicely, and certainly deserved a retry.

By the end of a dozen fit checks, and many treadmill and parking lot runs, the Hoka Bondi was the clear winner.  The Hoka Bondi was not perfect overall: It was just the best of what was available when I went shopping.

What's not perfect about the Hoka Bondi?  The toe-box is barely wide enough. If my foot spreads any wider, the shoe will be too narrow.  Plus, the upper isn't tongue-less (more about that below).

One feature I liked about the Hoka was pull-loops behind the heel: They will make transition a little bit faster and easier, and will also be great for hanging them to dry after getting wet.

Unfortunately, the stores that carried the Hoka Bondi didn't carry the full color range.  I refuse to buy light-colored shoes simply because they quickly look dirty, and putting them through the washer can only shorten their useful life.  I'm also tired of wacky day-glow colors that serve only as advertising. I'm paying for shoes, not for the privilege of becoming a running billboard.  I wanted a dark, solid-color shoe.  No bling, but with embedded reflectors for night runs.

Fortunately, the Hoka Bondi comes in black.  Unfortunately, none of the stores I visited carried the black version.  Since my Brooks were dead and I needed shoes ASAP, I couldn't wait for a special order to arrive.  I returned home, found the black ones online, and ordered them with rush delivery.  I also found that there are no Hoka discounts online: My final price was the same as it would have been at a local store.

Right after they arrived I went for a flat 4 mile run at an easy pace.  While the Hokas are a little unstable to walk in (the heel is squishy), they were absolutely wonderful during the run.  In the Brooks, my feet would start to feel hot after only a few miles: In the Hokas, my feet felt cool and comfortable right to the end of the run.  My legs also felt less fatigued: They could have easily done a 10K (though my lungs would have objected).

I'm looking forward to my half-marathon training!

The greatest revelation in the other shoes I tried was the awesome progress in tongue-less upper construction: Many of them felt like socks, with no pressure points at all, yet still with a very secure and comfortable fit.  But none had soles with enough cushioning to give me adequate impact isolation.  Some fit so well that I tried every accessory insole in the store, hoping I could improve the cushioning enough to do the job. Sadly, none worked well enough.

I hope Hoka has a tongue-less upper by the time my Bondis wear out. There's really no reason for a modern running shoe to have a tongue.

Woah.  A year since my last post.  Sorry 'bout that!