I’ve been meaning to write for a while now. I think one of the reasons that I haven’t is because I’m not sure what to write about. Not that I don’t have any ideas or topics or events. More that there are too many, and I’m not sure which to pick.
I’ve been doing lots of things. Working - building and providing unique, useful, desired and valuable services in the personal finance and asset management realms. Skiing, in the backcountry mostly. Cooking. Moving about the continent. Spending time with family. Reading books. Watching the sun rise over the plains and watching it set over the mountains. Training every day. Bangin out laps in the pool, riding in the mountains, cranking on the spin bike (4.5hrs yesterday…), running and more running. The goals and themes of the training have been various, but the most persistent motif has been “I think I’ll go for a run.”
So I guess that’s what this post will be about. Running. Here’s a bit about run training the last few months, and the 3 races that I’ve ran:
Since October, I’ve run all over. In state parks, national parks, on country roads, city sidewalks, beaches, Great Plains, Rocky Mountains. In Boulder, Calgary, Wisconsin, Florida and all kinds of place in between. Every day is a new adventure – some days I plod along, some days I can run flat out and it feels like I was meant to do it, sometimes it feels physically damaging, sometimes it feels like physical therapy. There has been 80 degrees and shirtless, below zero cold, dry pavement, icy gravel, snowy fields. Sometimes bright sun, sometimes clouds, sometimes pre dawn dark. Every run is its own experience, its own story.
Oh yeah, there’s the treadmill, too. That’s always the same. The treadmill has been my rock. When it’s windy, cold, snowy, dark, whatever – I go to the treadmill. Or if I want to do a real workout, to really smash it, it’s tready time. The treadmill has been my constant, my standard, and I think it’s made me a much better runner over the last few months. The treadmill has no compassion and no mercy. You put it on 10mph and 1% grade and start doing interval work, and it doesn’t care if you’re legs are jelly or if your head or guts or feet are bothering you. It’s 10mph and 1% grade no matter how you feel, and you need to figure out how to make it happen. So you learn how to run fast regardless of your physical and mental state.
New Smyrna Beach Turkey 5k
In October and most of November, the running was totally unstructured (i.e. no pace, no hr, no duration or distance target). It was pretty casual training - the way it should be during the ‘off-season’. My body seemed to like this, because it responded with a Thanksgiving Beach Run 5k in 17:40 (5:42/mi). It was my first ever 5k, and I won, 1st place overall. Dad and Brother Ben ran too, and ran really well. Pretty cool way to start Thanksgiving :)
Shortly thereafter, in early December, I was back in Boulder and training for real again. Our training group hosted our ‘running guru’, Lawrence Van Lingen, for a 5 day "run camp". Lawrence is ‘magic hands’ as a therapist and has proven again and again his ability to get people ‘moving right’ and to run faster and healthier. He’s certainly been magic for me.
Here is pre-Lawrence Runner Luke (one year ago) (left) and current Runner Luke (right). So many things are better about current Runner Luke, but some of the major differences are better posture (shoulders down and elbows back, chin down, long neck), a disregard for cadence, feet more relaxed and a half size larger, hips and ankles that ‘move right’, glutes that actually do something.
Denver Resolve 10k
I raced next on January 7, the Resolve 10k in Denver. I raced this course last year, so it was a good chance to compare year-over-year results. Unfortunately, this year the course was 100% snow covered. Packed down, so runnable, but not at all conducive to fast running. And the legs were pretty smashed before I even started, because I had backcountry skied the previous 2 days. So that was my fault. Regardless of questionable prep and unfavorable conditions, I ran a 38:45 (6:15/mile) and set a new 10k PR by a couple seconds. That was encouraging and fun, but it didn’t really conclusively demonstrate whether or not I was seeing a lot of improvement in my running. But I did win a case of yogurt.
Arvada Ralston Creek Half Marathon
Finally, just this last weekend, I raced the Ralston Creek Half Marathon. This is another course that I ran last year. It’s quite hilly, featuring a several hundred vertical foot switchbacking ascent to the top of a reservoir dam. The race starts with 7 miles almost entirely uphill, then you reach the top of the reservoir. Around the other side of the reservoir, and then it’s 6 miles almost entirely downhill to the finish. Conditions this last Sunday were great – dry pavement, no wind, lots of sunshine, reasonably cold – around 45 degrees – so you could really go all out without overheating being an issue.
The race plan was to hold a 160-167 heart rate for the first 7 miles, then to try to push it above 170 beats per minute for the remaining 6 miles. This race plan set me up perfectly. I was around 12th or 13th place at mile 7, and I had averaged a 6:27 per mile pace up to this point. I started to push the effort level, reached the top of the reservoir, and started sendin’ it over the other side. All of a sudden I was flying downhill, running pretty much as fast as I could.
The last 6 miles felt almost reckless. I was running faster than I ever have before, and part of me said that my current pace and effort were not reasonable. But once in a while you have a breakthrough day, and you are able to run/swim/bike on a new plane, able to hold a higher effort and faster pace than ever before. It was starting to appear to be one of those days. I was trying really hard – seriously, almost as fast as I could run – but I knew that I had the fitness and strength to hold on to that effort, to see it through to the finish. “Catch that girl. Come on. Send it. Get er.” “Pass that dude. That dude sucks, he thought he was hot shit running up the reservoir all fast. Get em.” “Pass that dude. Dude sucks. Ugly stride. Pass that dude..” “Come on Luke, it’s time to try. All out, send it. Really try.”
I ran an average of 5:54/mile for the last 6 miles, finishing in 1:21:45. That’s 13 minutes quicker than last year. That is ridiculous. An entire minute per mile faster than last year. I was and am fairly glowing after that. It’s a ‘real’ time. By that, I mean that it’s something a real runner would do, or a really stellar triathlete would do. 6:14 per mile for 13.1 miles, at over 5000 feet above sea level, on a hilly course. It’s legit, and I am stoked.
A final (side) note
Fitness is a funny thing. There are a couple of posts I’d like to write about how fitness works in general, and how it seems to have worked in my case in particular. For now, I’d like to point out one facet of fitness that I alluded to earlier – that in last weekend’s half marathon “I was holding a higher effort and a faster pace than ever before.”
A teammate once said to me that “eventually swimming gets easier. Actually, wait, no - it doesn’t get easier. You just go faster.”
I rebelled against this idea for a while. It has to get easier! It’s so flippin hard now, and these guys are so much quicker than I am, it must get easier. I don’t want it to feel harder, how could anyone go harder than I am now!?
But I have bought into this idea more and more over the last couple years. Gaining fitness does makes a certain pace feel a little bit easier than it used to. It takes a little bit less effort. But this is not the most significant effect of increased fitness. Really, what high fitness does, is allow you to hold a higher effort level for longer.
Say in 2015 I could run one 6-minute mile. As I was running that mile, it got harder and harder throughout. Maybe I started at an 80% effort, but by mile .25 I was at a 90% effort, and at mile .99 I was at 100% effort. Now it’s 2017, I’m a better runner, and I’m fitter. So now I’m able to run thirteen 6-minute miles in a row. I still start at an 80% effort to run that first 6-minute mile. But unlike in 2015, the required effort doesn’t ramp up to 100% by the end of the first mile. The required effort stays the same. At the end of mile 1 I’m still holding an 80% effort. At the end of mile 3, still 80% effort. I know that I’m running fast and putting out a high effort level, but “nothing happens” – I don’t blow up. My required effort to hold that pace doesn’t increase – “nothing happens” – and I can just keep going.
If you look at pictures, or watch a race, and really look closely at most of the front runners or the pros, you might notice that they look like they’re trying really hard. Their macro motions are usually fluid and often graceful, but look at their faces and their demeanor – these top level athletes are not throwing around a lot of jokes and their faces often show the effort. They might smile and might some joy might shine through, but you can see the effort. These top athletes are actually trying harder than most of the people behind them. Their fitness is so high that they are able to hold close to a 100% effort for the entire race. That’s fitness – the ability to try harder for longer.
That half marathon last weekend was an example of breaking through with a new level of fitness. At some points, I thought I might be running at an unreasonably high effort. But that thinking was based on my past fitness. On that day, compared to the past, I was fit and strong enough that I was able to hold a new, higher threshold effort level, and to just keep going and keep going. To try harder for longer.
Race Schedule 2017
For now.. additional races TBD.
Denver Chilly Cheeks Duathlon – January 25
Denver Half Marathon – March 4
St. George Ironman 70.3 – May 6
Boulder Ironman – June 11
Boulder Peak Olympic Tri – July 9
Boulder Ironman 70.3 – August 5