Friday, September 28, 2007

There and Back Again

Since my wife and friends will be joining me in Pt Mugu a week from tomorrow, I have been looking for a trail in Palos Verdes that, for them, would prove a good introduction to trail running and, for me, a chance to break in my new Asics Kahana trail shoes while reacquainting my legs with the challenges of navigating uneven and unfamiliar terrain. My search turned up Burma Road, a 2.5 mile long fire road starting near Del Cerro Park and ending at a fence. Today I decided to scout the course to see if it will be sufficient for training.

The trail is wide enough to accommodate people hiking or biking in both directions and with room for passing. The grade, though substantial, never gets too steep to be discouraging. There are segments with more rocks than others, but my feet could usually find a smooth patch to land upon. The biggest problem I have is that the trail starts from the top...I have a tendency to start too fast when I am going downhill (I did close to 7 minute miles for the first two miles without even trying), depleting my reserves by the time I hit the inclines. I also wish this trail looped rather than dead-ends (I prefer to not retrace my steps), but there are a number of smaller trails branching from here that may be worth investigating. On the plus side, the view overlooks Portuguese Bend, so, on clear days, you should get a nice view of Catalina (I could see its shadowy form through this morning's marine layer)...and a couple of wild rabbits crossed my path providing a nice distraction as I worked my way back up the hill.

This was my first trail run/jog since high school, but it will not be my last (I had to walk far too much on the inclines). I plan to come back here with my wife and friends on Sunday.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Home 7.1 Mile Orbit

With the 11K Xterra Pt Mugu Trail Run a week-and-a-half away, I can no longer afford to ease into a more rigorous training routine, nor can I wait until the weekend to test myself at this distance. I have extended the orbit around my home without shying away from significant inclines since I expect to encounter similar elevation changes during our upcoming race.

I start my orbit in what I assume will be the easier direction...downhill. Unfortunately, what goes down, must go up. My route saves the easiest stretch for the end, but, in doing so, has placed the start of the longest and steepest incline exactly at the mid-point. On the bright side, this hill features everything Palos Verdes is known for: spectacular vistas (sadly obscured by the marine layer this morning), huge multi-million dollar homes, and peacocks. As I near the peak, I barely manage to maintain a slow jog, but afterwards I am able to pick up the pace and finish my extended orbit running. Discounting a few pauses to tie shoes or wait for traffic, I probably averaged 10 minute miles. I am hoping I can improve my pace by race day.

My Forerunner data confirms I just ran 7.08 longest since high school. Unfortunately, it also proves my neighborhood is not hilly enough. Am I in trouble?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sweating in South Beach

Running once in this climate seems ridiculous. Twice is just stupid. And why I try for more miles is beyond me...but that is exactly what I decide to do before during my stay at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach.

Having already done a beach run, I decide to stick to the boardwalk today. Though initially on bricks, the bulk of my run is on wooden planks...a bit easier on the legs for sure. I am not sure how far the boardwalk extends, but decide I will let some landmark or 2.5 miles define my northern limit (whichever comes first).

I thankfully reach the end of the boardwalk at around 2.2 miles. Any further and I am not sure if I would have been able to make it back to the hotel. The sun has started to peek through the thunderheads and the temperature has been increasing. My legs feel weak, my breathing labored, my side hurts. I must walk. A jogger passes by inspiring me to pick up the pace, but I give up as soon as they disappear into the distance.

Of my 4.4 mile excursion, I have run about 3 of them. Walking has screwed up my average pace to the point where it is not even worth mentioning. I really do not feel good. How could anyone run races here?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Humidity Humility

This weekend, I am in Florida for the first time in my life...having joined my wife who is already here on business. Though I would never have thought to run here especially in the middle of a humid day, my wife reminds me that we have an 11K run in just two weeks. She is hoping I will join her in the air-conditioned comfort of The Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne's Fitness Center, but I cannot record mileage on my Forerunner if I run on a treadmill!

With thunderstorms threatening to hit at any moment, I step on the beach and head south, sticking close to the water where the gray sand remains somewhat firm. I only plan to run three miles, but decide to extend my workout as soon as I see Key Biscayne's lighthouse.

Turning around at the lighthouse, I unexpectedly encounter a strong headwind. Already struggling with the heavy humidity, I am barely able to sustain a 10 minute per mile pace. By the time I return to the hotel, I am drenched in sweat...but at least I have a record of my endeavor.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Nike Run Hit Remix

For many, today's event is more fun than run. Stages featuring live music are located at every mile and draw participants (my wife and friends included) who would rather dance or hang out than worry about their time. It is hard to argue with Nike's marketing strategy...promote a healthy lifestyle, help a charity, offer freebies and hands-on (or, should I say, feet-on) experience with their products hoping to gain customers. That said, their effort backfired (my wife could not get Nike+ to register her movement, I got blisters and a black toe from their shoes...hence the last minute switch to Asics).

Having little interest in the roster of bands dotting the course, I decide to run the race, but my wife wants me to take pictures. Once I start running, I do not plan to stop, but, since I have to carry the camera, I will try. Hopefully my shots will not be too blurry.

The starting area is divided into sections based on pace much like the training sessions. Those wanting to seriously race should have no worries about navigating through the crowd...assuming everyone is a good gauge of their abilities. I line up between the 8 minute and 9 minute milers...hoping that I will be able to hold the pace for the entire 5 mile race.

An estimated 11,000 participants line up at the start, creating a sea of red in front of the famous archways of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The race starts, but it takes a minute before I actually cross the starting gate and begin running. I have never run with this many is hard to find my own rhythm as I stay with the flow. I am surprised that I need to weave through slower runners and walkers early on...especially because my Garmin tells me I am sticking pretty close to an 8 minute per mile pace.

I can't help but notice all the new buildings along Figueroa. The neighborhood has changed a lot since my wife and I attended USC. The course is flat, but the morning sun is already hitting hard and there is little shade. The live music and classic cars parked in the middle of the street are a nice distraction, but I do not seem to getting any closer to Staples Center (the turning point). The stretch between Adams and the L.A. Convention Center is straight and boring...I start seriously thinking about trail runs.

At the Staples Center, we turn back on Fig, but have barely run more than two miles. I remind myself to stick to my pace, but I am starting to feel the distance early...probably more due to the heat than how fast I started. The L.A. Convention Center is familiar territory to me, but I have never thought about running around here.

I look through the oncoming runners, hoping to see (and photograph) my wife and friends as they run by, but I cannot pick out anyone in this river of red. The search makes this straightaway a bit more interesting than the first time I traversed it, but not by much. As I pass the three mile clock, I am pleased to see that I am in the low 26's (25 if I subtract the minute it took to cross the start gate). I have had worse times when I was running cross country, not that I should be proud of those instances. Two miles to go.

When I get back to USC, I start to wonder...did I ever run around campus during the five years I lived here? I seem to recall trying, but not liking the smell of exhaust fumes. I realize that today has not been too bad...perhaps because the streets are closed to traffic. Running along Exposition is not as nice as I had hoped due to on-going construction of the Metro Expo Line.

There is only a half mile left when we turn towards the Coliseum, so I decide to push a little harder. My burst does not last very long. I am even tempted to stop at a Jamba Juice truck parked outside of the stadium, but, knowing there are free smoothies inside, I stay with the runners, sprint through the Coliseum tunnel, and on to the field. This is an exciting way to finish a race...on the same turf I witnessed an Olympics and many USC football games.

Every participant completing the race gets a medal and then proceeds into a line for freebies including water, a banana, Clif bars, and, of course, Jamba Juice's Nike Protein Berry Workout smoothie.

I have completed my first post-high school race in a respectable 42:44 (based on my watch...apparently electrostatic interference prevented our official timing chips from registering our start time). I am happy that I finished the race in less than 45 minutes, but I really hoped I could do it in flat 8's.

I try to photograph my wife and friends finishing the race, but race officials prevent me from returning anywhere near the finish line (probably to prevent me from getting more freebies...or to give pro photographers an advantage over us amateurs). For the next ten minutes, I wait for someone I know to cross the finish, but it is really too hard to pick anyone out. I decide to queue up for another smoothie instead.

When I finally meet up with my wife and friends again, I learn that they did indeed stop to listen to the bands. Some waited for slower friends, only to miss when they actually passed by. MC Hammer closed out the festivities as we relaxed on the field.

For those in my group who had never run 5 miles before today's run, they now understand that such distances are within their grasp. We even discuss participating together in future (and longer) events as we head into Chinatown for dim sum.


Nike has finally posted official times. Due to the aforementioned loss of timing data at the start of the race, this data only reflects split and finish times relative to the overall event clock...and my personal time differs from my watch by roughly a minute (the amount of time it took me to cross through the starting gate). Of the 8,486 participants who finished the race, I was within the top 12%. Considering that most were doing this just for fun, it is not a very relevant statistic...but it is encouraging.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Home Orbit

The easy run around my neighborhood still includes the killer first and last hill, but is only 1.51 miles long...a good minimum workout and one that I now plan to use to improve my pace.

Today I didn't want to push too hard since tomorrow morning is the race, but I really needed to break-in my new shoes. While training for this Nike-sponsored run, my wife and I discovered we really like Asics Kayanos. How ironic...I've been wearing Nike running shoes my entire life!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A New Runner?

My wife who supposedly hates running has started to get into it, thanks largely to the Nike training runs. She is even encouraging her friends to run and surfing the Web for clubs and running events. She now wears serious Asics running shoes, an armband for her Walkman phone, and seems eager to get a runner's watch.

After hanging with the 3 mile 11 minute pace group for the last couple of weeks, she advanced to the five mile group while attending this evening's session in Hermosa Beach. She borrowed my watch and now has proof that not only she can do it (first time in her life), but at nearly a 10 minute per mile pace!

I need to start pushing my pace or my wife will soon pass me!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Another Five in Santa Monica

I can't believe my employer was located on the Third Street Promenade for a few years and I never once thought to run along Palisades Park. Tonight's run was absolutely beautiful, with the run timed perfectly to view the sun setting over Malibu. I think I averaged 9:30 per mile once again (hard to say because I lost my map and had to stop and wait for my group to catch up...and then forgot to stop my watch when we finished), but I felt much better than on previous days. In fact, I sprinted at the end and definitely enjoyed a touch of runner's high!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Another Five in Brentwood

Okay, I'm going to have to work on my five mile workouts...I seem to have peaked, struggling to average a 9:30/mile pace once again.

Since I started this blog last Sunday, I have totalled 19 miles. My goal for next week is to cover at least that much ground within a 7 day period while remembering to take it easy on the morning before the Nike Run Hit Remix. I just hope I can do so while getting less than six hours of sleep each deadlines are not making this easy (Thursday will likely go well into Friday morning)!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

More than Five in Long Beach

Today is the first day I've run more than five miles since high school, and, while staying with the 10 minute mile group won't win me any awards, it is reassuring to know that I can still push the pace without dying. Averaging under 9:30 for nearly 5 3/4 miles is pretty good for someone who really isn't in shape, but I'm not sure if I'm ready to advance to a faster group. The last mile and a half was pretty hard.

Once again I want to thank Nike for putting on these free training sessions (and Jamba Juice for providing refreshments). I've mentioned before how much I missed running with a group, but now I must add the impact of changing scenery. While running along Mother's Beach and by Joe's Crab Shack, I kept thinking how nice it is to not know exactly where I am or how much further I have to go. When I trained for cross country, I rarely knew exactly where our runs would take us...probably part of our coach's strategy to keep us going (plus it made it harder for us to take shortcuts).

My coworker is right about the accuracy (or lack-thereof) of the Garmin's elevation indicator...this run was pretty flat (and never underwater)

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Home 3.03 Mile Orbit

Nothing is easier to do with consistency than a workout that starts and ends at, when I got more serious about running again, I sought to map out a good 3 mile orbit. My first orbit turned out to be a bit shorter than I expected, so I tried various configurations until I found one that not only hit very close to 3 miles, but also did not cross back on to itself (there's nothing a cross country runner hates more than to traverse the same path twice during the same run...which is why I hated doing the two mile when I was in track).

Up until this week, I was fairly certain that Google Maps verified my orbit's length, but was unsure of the elevation change. All I knew was that I hated the brutal hill I faced upon leaving and returning to my home. Now I know exactly what I'm up against:

Two 150 feet inclines don't seem so bad, but they are steep...and bookend my orbit. Funny thing is I hadn't paid much attention to the similar incline within the first mile.

Before this week, it was taking me longer than 30 minutes to complete this orbit, so I saved it for weekends. Now that I'm sub-30, I plan to run this every other day...and I now have a virtual partner to keep me on pace!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Small World

It turns out that I may have crossed paths with my trail-running coworker back in high school cross country. Though he was a freshman when I was a senior and despite attending schools located more than 50 miles apart, we competed at several of the same invitationals including:
  • Woodbridge Invitational, Irvine, CA
  • Bell-Jeff Invitational, Griffith Park, CA
  • Kenny Staub Invitational, Crescenta Valley, CA
  • Palos Verdes Invitational, Palos Verdes, CA
  • Mt SAC Invitational, Walnut, CA (freshman year I wouldn't have seen him here)
Furthermore, I learned that both of us may have ran against a friend of a friend who has been running with the Nike 5 mile sub-8 minute group. He attended high school 40 miles in the opposite direction (90 from my coworker), yet he also ran at Woodbridge and Mt SAC. It is very possible that we also faced off at track meets because we ran distance track!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Labor Day at Palisades Park

I don't plan to blog daily about my running experiences, but I really wanted to thank Nike for putting on these free training sessions. It has been a long time since I've run with a group, and breaking into sessions based on pace has quickly shown me what shape I am really in. It doesn't hurt that Nike treats us to freebies including Jamba Juice and, in today's case, salad and sandwiches.

After yesterday's run, I decided to move up to the 3 mile, 9 minute per mile group. Our group ticked off the second mile at an under 8 minute per mile pace. The third mile was a bit of a struggle...but I was still able to finish strong enough to average under 9 minutes per mile for the entire run. At least I know I should target this pace until I can do so without dropping behind. I plan to move into the 5 mile group on Saturday.

Unfortunately, this was the only weekday session I'd be able to attend because of work...core hours end at 6:30pm when each training session is scheduled to begin. I wouldn't have been able to attend today if it weren't for its close proximity to my office and the fact that today was holiday...I was working today.

Pace spikes are from stopping at traffic lights...I should probably stop the timer next time

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Once a runner...

I've never felt, said, or believed that I would always run, but here I am making yet another attempt. This time promises to be slightly different than previous efforts, primarily because this is my first time blogging about it.

I first decided to run twenty years ago, not because I really wanted to, but as a means to an unrelated get in shape for another sport. At that time, I was an incoming high school freshman seeking to avoid general P.E., but seriously wanting to play baseball. A summer worth of training told me I could run, a season of cross-country suggested I could be somewhat competitive...and, the next thing I knew, I skipped baseball for distance track.

A tennis injury between sophomore and junior years threw off my training and I never quite recovered. By high school graduation, I vowed I would never run again, but the correlation of age and weight gain has a tendency to push one not willing to alter his diet to reconsider. For the next sixteen years, I would start for various reasons and stop with similar excuses. I rarely ran more than once a week, never longer than 3 miles, and, at best, only a few months at a time. I tried orbiting my townhouse complex. I tried running on a treadmill at the gym. No matter what I tried, I simply couldn't find the motivation that kept me going every day through high school. It didn't help that my wife hates running.

A year ago, my wife and I moved to the hills above my high school...near the roads and trails I once trained upon. As both of us have become passionate snowboarders, we have been looking for an activity that will help us stay in shape between seasons...and running around our neighborhood seemed like the only thing we could do with any consistency. My wife decided to try. I decided to try harder. Unlike previous attempts, we started running more than once a week...up to every other day.

This year, I have additional motivation from a coworker who, like me, had not run for many years after high school cross-country, but recently returned to the sport with newfound enthusiasm. He has been blogging about his growing passion for trail-running, participation in half and full marathons, and ultras. I personally think he's crazy to run such distances, but I deeply respect his effort...and he has definitely encouraged me to train with more consistency.

This week, my wife gave me a Garmin Forerunner 250, the same GPS watch my coworker uses to chart his progress. Today is the first day I used a Nike sponsored training run in Brentwood. At the event, I chose to run 3 miles in the ten minute per mile group. Despite temperatures in the high 80's, I found myself comfortably maintaining pace with the leader and finishing even stronger. Here's proof:

My goal now is to run every day, improving to at least three miles every other day, with longer runs on weekends. My best friend from high school (who only just started running last month) convinced my wife and I to enter the Nike Run Hit Remix, so we have only a couple of weeks to get to the point we can survive a five mile run. I figure blogging about my progress should encourage me to push harder. I may not have marathons in my near-future, but at least I'm now considering to make one a longer term goal. Wish me luck!