Vancouver Lake Half Marathon Training and Race Recap

Vancouver Lake Half Marathon Training and Race Recap

Half Marathon TrainingI completed the Vancouver Lake ½ Marathon last week. I finished in 1:28, 7th place for my 45-49 age group (top 6 receive commemorative pint glasses). This is a small race (about 525) on a flat course adjacent to Vancouver Lake and the Columbia River in Southwest Washington. Race time weather conditions were perfect. Temperatures were in upper 40s/low 50s, with no wind or rain and a slight fog. In past years, racers have experienced freezing rain and wind. Although I didn’t train specifically for this race, I’m still happy with the time. 6:45/mile pace isn’t bad considering I haven’t done much speed or tempo work.

My specific mile splits are captured below. Right now my sights are set on the Vancouver USA Marathon in mid June, so I view this race as just a 13 mile tempo that I ran 17 weeks prior to the Newport Marathon. Following are my splits for the race:

Vancouver Lake Half Marathon Splits
Below I outline my training for this event. I think it’s a good template for half marathon training at the beginning of a race season. I mostly relied on my running base (typically 25-35 miles/week during the offseason, plus cross-fit conditioning workouts twice a week). Although this may seem like low mileage, at my age, I don’t want to breakdown during my marathon training. Read my post on building an offseason mileage base for more information.
I also recently completed the Runners World 36 day challenge (running every day from Thanksgiving to New Year’s). I completed medium to long runs (8-12 miles) at a relatively easy pace and I finished 4 track/interval sessions. The rest of training was balanced around my busy work/travel schedule and consisted of workouts in hotel gyms. As discussed in my marathon training tips for busy professionals, the goal of these gym workouts was to maintain my level of fitness. My 6 week half marathon training plan included:
1.  At least one long run per week – 3 (total) x 8 milers, 2 x 10 milers, 2 x 11/12 mile runs at 7:30/mi pace.
2. Weeks prior to the race, 11 mile run at 7:15-7:30/mile pace in the vicinity of the course
3. Approximately half the long runs included hills.
4. Interval/track workouts. I completed 1 (each) of the following workouts, starting 5+ weeks prior the half marathon.  These were not super strenuous, but each was run at 5k pace. I honestly haven’t felt too motivated to run a hard/long track workout. All of these started with 1.5mile warm-up, stretching & 8 x 100m strides

Week 1 – 4 x 200m with 60 seconds of rest between each
Week 2
– 2 x 200m, 1 x 400m, 2 x 200m with 60 seconds of rest
Week 3
– 4 x 200m, 2 x 400m, 2 x 200m with 60 seconds of rest
Week 4
– 2 x 200m, 3 x 400m, 2 x 200m with 60 seconds of rest

5. Other workouts included either 4 miles on hotel treadmills with assorted plyometric exercises or 2-3 mile warm-up runs followed by 30 minute cross-fit/Universal Combat Conditioning (completed as group at Universal Jiu-Jitsu  in Camas, WA).

Training using a heart rate monitor

Heart Rate Monitor TrainingThere are compelling reasons to complete your marathon training with a heart monitor.  This article will explain the benefits of properly using a heart rate monitor and provide step-by-step instructions on how to correctly incorporate the heart rate monitor into your marathon training.

If your goal is to finish or have a faster marathon or half marathon time, the intensity of your workouts is very important.  A heart rate monitor can help you determine and maintain the correct intensity for each workout. Essentially, you decide what your heart rate (or zone) for a given workout and then watch your monitor or watch to ensure you reach run within the zone. It’s easy, if you want to get faster, you train at higher target heart rates which help build speed. If you want to go farther, then run with lower heart rates, which can help develop endurance.

I completed training for my last 3 marathons with a heart rate monitor using Garmin’s Forerunner 110 watch and their separate heart rate monitor.  Although I don’t strictly adhere to training each workout in a certain heart rate zone, I find that using Garmin’s online interface allows me to track my cardiovascular fitness and adjust my training plan if necessary so I can improve my performance in the most effective manner.

Measuring Your “Work” Rate In order to utilize a heart rate monitoring system, it’s necessary to calculate your maximum target heart.  This is because there are numerous ways for a runner to measure or gauge their “work” rate.  These may include: 1) The time to complete a specific distance
2) How hard we are breathing during and at the end of the interval or workout
3) How tired we feel The problem with each of the above is that they can be affected by numerous outside influences. Specifically, terrain, weather, hydration, nutrition, sleep and even mood can impact all of the above.  As a runner who faces much rain and wind in the Pacific Northwest, I know that I can’t skip a workout due to poor weather while I wait for optimal running conditions.  Additionally, I can tell that there are some days when my professional life is impacting the quality of my workout.  Typically my “Achilles Heal” is lack of quality sleep due extensive business travel.

At times, I’m also challenged by inadequate hydration (I’m guilty of drinking more coffee than water).  Both of these can negatively impact the quality of my workouts. On the days where weather isn’t an issue, I think I’m well rested and drink sufficient water, it’s still possible to run slower or feel worse than expected. It’s during these workouts that monitoring my heart rate is so beneficial.
Heart Rate Monitor and Watch
We now offer a wide selection of name brand GPS watches and heart rate monitors for sale in runner’s store.  Occasionally some items are discounted for additional savings.

Why I Train for a Marathon using a Heart Rate Monitor: The goal of training with a heart monitor is control.  If used properly, a heart rate monitor is like having a coach along for every workout.  It helps to ensure that you train at an appropriate intensity, neither too hard nor too easy.  Since your heart rate is an indicator of exercise intensity, a heart rate monitor allows you to monitor and precisely control the intensity of your running. Beginning runners often make the mistake of not sufficiently varying the intensity of their running. A heart rate monitor can help you. Ultimately, you want to run longer and faster with a lower heart rate. By uploading daily run activities, you can keep track of your results.  Oftentimes, runners just look at the distance and pace they run and may simply note how they felt (that’s if they are tracking their performance at all).  This is called perceived exertion.  It can be an effective way to train, but with a heart rate monitor, there is actually a couple of ways to see your progress. If you’re improving, you will observe that running the same distances and the same route (terrain) will become easier (you’re rate will be lower). You should be able to run faster for these distances without your heart having to work as hard. This is because your heart is becoming more efficient.
running with Heart Rate Monitor

Another way to recognize your improvement is to track your resting heart rate (RHR) by recording it every morning before you get out of bed.  You should see that as your fitness improves, you will notice a lower resting heart rate. Conversely, where a heart rate monitor can show improvement, it can also help detect signs of over training or fatigue.  RHRs may be suddenly higher than normal, even after “easy” days.  If you regularly check your resting HR and find that your heart rate is slightly higher than normal, it may be an indication of fatigue caused by a couple of days’ hard training or the start of a cold or illness. Take this as a sign to go easy for a day or two until your normal heart rate returns and you know you are fully recovered. Be aware not to read too much into 1-2 days of higher than expected heart rates.  As discussed above, higher heart rates can also be signs of external factors discussed above, like weather, hydration, nutrition, sleep, etc.  I recommend looking at patterns over 3-4+ days.  If heart rates are trending up, you don’t feel good during workouts and external factors are essentially controlled, then there’s reason to take a step back, rest and reassess your training.  Typically, 1-3 days of rest or really light work, coupled with additional sleep each night will allow your body to recover. The key is to observe trends and make adjustments prior to onset of injuries or excessive fatigue. The question many athletes have is how to train with a heart rate monitor and make sense of all the data. To give the numbers meaning, you need a reference point, a heart rate unique to you at a given level of intensity.

How To Calculate Your Max Heart Rate: There are various ways to calculate your Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). The easiest way involves subtracting your age from the number 220 for men or from 226 for women. Unfortunately, among experts, this method is not accurate for all runners.  It’s considered to be too arbitrary and does not generate appropriate target heart rates for most athletes. In a 2001 Runner’s World article, they discuss two more reliable formulas.
(A) MHR = 208 – (.7 x your age) or (B) MHR = 205 – (.5 x your age)
Runner’s World staffers concluded that both formulae seem to work almost equally well for runners under 40. However, for runners over 40, formula (B) was more accurate.  Accordingly, RW decided that formula (B) would be best for predicting maximum heart rate, and adopted it as their standard.
There are two more effective ways to calculate your MHR.
1) You can pay $200-$300 to undergo a lab test. Prior to using this service, however, ensure you are healthy and clear of injury and illness.  This will ensure the most accurate results.
2) The least expensive test that’s just as accurate as a lab test is to calculate your own MHR while performing interval training.
Use either a slight hill of approximately 200 yards or a 400 meter running track (readily available at most Middle and High Schools). You’ll need a heart rate monitor to measure and record your heart rate while you sprint the distance. Take a short recovery jog of no more than 2 minutes and then repeat the sprint interval up to five times.  The average top heart rate you record is very close to your MHR. Following image shows my heart rate data from a “hard” interval/track workout.  As you can see, disregarding some error at the beginning of the workout (I’m certain my Max HR isn’t in the upper 190s) my top HR tops out around 178.  However, analyzing additional data from other similar workouts confirms that my typical MHR will be closer to 177.
Determining Max Heart Rate

The best way to train for a marathon with a heart rate monitor: Heart rate-based training involves planning your workouts so you are training at different heart rate zones. One of the most popular zone systems involves training at designated percentages of your max heart rate (MHR) or lactate threshold heart rate that you have previously calculated.

Zone 1Active Recovery<75% lactate threshold heart rate (LT HR)
Zone 2Aerobic Threshold or Endurance75-82% LT HR
Zone 3Tempo83-90% LT HR
Zone 4Lactate Threshold91-97% LT HR
Zone 5aAerobic Capacity98%-101% LT HR
Zone 5bAnerobic Capacity102-104% LT HR

Zone 1 is very light running – like a slow recovery jog between high intensity intervals on the track. Use this for warm-up and cool down. Zone 2 is a comfortable pace and used for building aerobic fitness, fat-burning and endurance. Zone 2 paced runs are often referred to as “foundation runs” because they build endurance. Comfortable enough to hold a conversation, this is the most used zone. Following is my HR data from a recent 20 mile training run.  I could have gone faster, but I wanted to train at Zone 3.  Towards the end, my legs felt very tired.
20 miler HR - zone 3 Zone 3 is faster than your natural running pace. “Comfortably Hard” or tempo runs.  Running in zone 3 is useful for extending the benefits gained in Zone 2. For a marathon runner, Zone 3 training is running at full marathon race pace. 

My friends and I often use a strategy to finish long runs (last 3-6 miles) at Zone 3 pace. Zone 4 is your lactate threshold intensity.  It is a running intensity that requires a conscious effort to go fast. While training in this zone, you should be able to talk in short sentences.  It’s not completely comfortable, but you should be able to train at this pace for long distances (such as a 10k). It should be regularly incorporated into your training in moderate amounts to get your body used to that intensity. You can complete Zone 4 workouts in between Zone 2 (warm-up and cool-down) runs. For example: 10 minutes Zone 2 (warm-up), 20 minutes Zone 4, 10 minutes Zone 2 (cool-down).   Also, Fartlek runs would be run in Zone 4. Zone 5a is much more stressful than lower zones, so you can’t do a lot of running in this zone. It’s a very powerful fitness booster. 

To improve your performance, you need some Zone 5a running each week.  An example would be high intensity medium (400m+) intervals on the track.  Another example, is when you run (6+) x 3 minutes (or 800 meters) @ Zone 5a following each interval with 2 minutes @ Zone 1. When you incorporate Zone 5a training in small amounts it will elevate your running performance significantly.  I use Zone 5a training on the track weekly during my 20 week marathon training program. Zone 5b features multiple short segments of fast running separated by active Zone 1 recoveries. Zone 5b is running at the fastest pace you can sustain (a full sprint). It is incorporated into very short intervals and is very stressful. Train at this rate only sparingly. An example would be 200 – 400 meter sprints.  Concentrate on form, breathing and stride length when running at this pace.  This is a great way to boost speed and running economy.

In my opinion, the heart rate monitor is an excellent method of determining how much benefit we are deriving from our training.  This is because it’s measurable.  However, I caution runners that heart rate training is only one of many ways to train.  I think that ultimately, the best indicator of running intensity is actually perceived exertion, or how hard running feels.  This is because perceived exertion accounts for heart rate and other physiological and psychological factors that can influence your exercise intensity. Consider that even if your heart rate monitor showed that you were within your target zone, you would likely pay more attention to how you felt and adjust your running based on this perceived exertion, before adjusting because the heart rate monitor indicated you were within or outside of a particular zone. Bottomline, training with a heart rate monitor is very effective.  However, don’t let yourself become too attached to the monitor.  Consider a mix between using the monitor and perceived exertion.

Staying injury free

prevent running injuriesStaying injury free with your running is critical if you want to reach your goals.  If you’re injured, you can’t train and if you can’t train, you won’t run achieve your goals.  My marathon training plans incorporate at a minimum, the following 5 steps.  In a separate checklist, I outline in detail 8 things that you can immediately implement to ensure you remain injury free.

1. Rest or decrease your mileage every 3-4 weeks. While training for a race, you should keep track of your weekly mileage.  This is especially important while gradually increasing mileage.  The body needs some rest from the pounding of running to stay injury free. Every 3-4 weeks, depending how strong you are feeling, reduce your mileage for the week. I suggest reducing by 25% for intermediate runners and around 40% for beginners.

2. Remember weekly mileage. No matter how strong you are feeling, it’s not recommended to increase weekly mileage by more than 10% per week. Also, I do not think it’s wise to increase the length of the weekly long run by more than 2-3 miles each week. I’ve made this mistake before when I was training for the Portland Marathon a few years ago.  Sudden mileage increases in excess of 10% each week can increase injury risk. To be able to avoid injuries while you add miles, take an additional day off every 4 weeks. It helps you complete scheduled long runs, but incorporating rest into the week will help your body heal faster.

3. Warm-up at the beginning of training runs. When you start each run or interval session with some light stretching in addition to 4-5 minute jog. You may also transition in to the faster pace with 4 short accelerations/strides. When the legs warm-up, improve your pace gradually. Doing strides and incorporating some jogging or recovery for no more than 30 seconds between sets of 2 x 100m, you will soon have the ability to hit your target pace during track workouts

4. Regularly run fast. This doesn’t mean each time you head out, go fast. Rather, you must regularly complete track and hill work. Should you only do speed work monthly, the body won’t get used to faster running. One speed workout each week will help you get faster and get in better shape, injury free. Don’t forget, whenever you do speed work, always warm-up first.

5. Staying injury free can best be accomplished by stretching right after runs. Stretching right after a run, when your muscles are warm, can help combat all the contractions you have with each and every step. Following a high exertion effort, try to avoid stretching intensely. Stretching a tired muscle an excessive amount could tear muscle tissue and basically increase the time to recover. After hard workouts I recommend that you stretch lightly.

One Mile at a Time

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 9.25.41 PM

Every so often, I find some interesting (human interest like) posts.  I saw this one and thought it was appropriate to share since it’s the beginning of the year and we often start with some kind of New Year’s resolution.  Personally, I don’t see the point in simply running 1 mile to keep a streak alive.  If you can only run a mile, why not get on an elliptical or stationary bike.  If you’re injured, seems like you could heal quicker if you take a day or 2 off.  This is just my opinion though.  Some people are very motivated by running everyday, regardless of the distance.

“One Mile at a Time”

by Patrick Reed

Shall I rename this blog “One mile at a time”? Perhaps…

I remember having read helpful hints about naming one’s blog or website — and a great no-no is walling yourself in. The more you define the details of your message, the more restricted you become. With my Run5kaday mantra and title and motto all rolled into one, I became locked into the “Gotta run my 5k today, tomorrow and every day for eternity” mentality.

Truth is, though, us runners — though defined particularly by our penchant for clocking mile after mile on the morning roads, lap after lap on the sun-lit track, and kilometers across any plot of dirt that lays in our path – us runners are actually “runners” by virtue of a mindset more than what it is that we actually do. After all, if the act of running were what defined us, what of the injured runner. Is she no longer one of us? On the contrary, the injured among us may indeed be more wholly us. I am reminded of the refrain I pump into my kids on the soccer field day after day right now — in these blissful eternal seasons of their youth: “It is not winning that matters, but the will to win!”

And so it is with us harriers – and we know who we are. We are runners because running is our passion. A desire to run wells up in us incessantly and when we find ourselves on roads and fields connecting stride after stride with our rhythmic breathing, then we feel perhaps most fully alive. We are runners because we want  to run.

And so I come around the bend in this thought, as if careening with momentum around the final corner on the beloved track oval. Though I propose 5k a day, and though for over 3 years I once ran 5k a day, and though for the balance of 2013 I completed at least 5k a day, I find myself in that uncomfortable predicament of not being able to complete my 5k a day as I begin this new year.

As a result, I am on a new running streak, now 6 days old, yet my goal is changed to run at least 1 mile each day. On January 1, when I set out for my first 8 minute traipse, I laced my shoes smiling, considering that my workout could hardly count as a workout — that lacing up my shoes and sipping my coffee, changing my key from keychain to pocket, and wiring up my iPhone to pump in my latest audible novel — all of these rituals would eclipse much more time than the run itself. And yet, 8 minutes did I run. And sweatily — just a hint of breathing and perspiration — I stepped out of the running life minutes after entering and chalked up my first run in my new streak. Best of all, I was uninjured.

For it is injury which has hampered me and which has me ambulating and conniving and spinning my running passion. Nevertheless, I am convinced that my will to run, though it returns but a pittance of a distance run today, will tomorrow include once again monumental distances that dreams are made of.

Is a mile far enough? You bet. Get out and run today!


~Coach Reed

image credit: music.ousd

Featured Post #2: Optimize your cadence

how to optimize your running cadence

Why is 180 steps per minute the “magic number” for cadence? Evidently, legendary coach Jack Daniels counted strides of distance runners at the 1984 Olympics.  He found that nearly all took at least 180 steps per minute during their races.  180 is the agreed upon number to minimize over striding, maintain forward momentum and reduce the impact forces on your legs.

The challenge that I and many other runners have is that cadence can be dictated by pace.  If I’m running at a slower speed, it seems that it would be appropriate that I take fewer steps per minute.  I think that your cadence for a 5k race should be slightly more than your easy run cadence.  However, it’s still appropriate to target 180 steps per minute for your races.

Although most of the advice on this site pertains to marathon training.  Optimization of cadence is important for runners at all levels. With nearly 34 years of running experience, I don’t consider myself a beginner, but this advice is for beginner, intermediate and advance runners who may be struggling with recurring injuries or simply looking for a way to improve their race times (5k to marathon).

Following is an exercise that can be used to optimize your cadence at various paces.

  1. Increase your speed by 1 minute per mile until you’re at 5k pace.  During this process, you will be going through each training pace (easy, marathon, ½ marathon, 10k, tempo, etc).  As you “hit” each pace, give yourself a minute to adjust to the speed and then count your steps for 30 seconds.  Multiply by 2 for your strides per minute, then accelerate to the next pace level. As you reach each level, you’ll notice that your cadence likely increases.
  2. Take the cadence numbers for each training pace level and then add five percent to establish your goal cadence.  For example if a tempo run is at 155, your goal cadence is now 163.

Years ago, I recall that Galloway wrote about this in Runner’s World. He provided details of variation of the above exercise that he called the “turnover drill.”  This is easiest if completed on a track.  Most high schools and many middle schools now have 400 meter tracks that are open for use by the public after school hours.

1.    Easy warm up for a half mile or 5 minutes.

2.    Start your run at normal training pace.  Once you get your momentum going, start your watch. For exactly 30 seconds, count the number of times your right foot pushes off. Then multiply that number by two. This is your current turnover rate.

3.    Jog slowly back to the start.

4.    Repeat step 2, but this time, increase the number of right-foot push-offs per minute by two to five. Follow up with another recovery jog back to the start.

5.    Complete at least two to four additional repeats.  Each time continue to increase your push-offs until you’re not running comfortably anymore.  Back off the increased cadence at that point, and do the same for remaining repeats.  However, maintain the number of push-offs that allows you to stay relaxed while still using a faster turnover.

It will take a while for you to feel comfortable with the increased cadence through these turnover drills.  Following are some tips to help maximize your benefit from the turnover drills.

Complete twice per week, more if you can.  Most people find that only one weekly session provides minimal improvement.  Anything more infrequently (once or twice a month) is essentially a waste of time.

Try to stay light on your feet.  This one really helps me, but it takes concentration.  As you count your steps, try to imagine that you’re running on thin ice or hot coals. Another analogy is to run “as if you’re on eggshells, When you touch very lightly, you will reduce the time between touchdown and push-off.

The more time you spend in the air, the longer it takes your feet to make a cycle. This is why long strides are not good.  So you don’t want to simply land on your toes and bounce too much.  If you are, you’re expending too much unnecessary energy pushing your body upward.  If you’re having trouble reducing bounce, try shuffling by aiming for a foot clearance of an inch or less from the surface. When you become used to less vertical motion, ease back to your natural foot lift.

Shorten your stride if necessary. If you’re trying, but still unsuccessful to speed up your cadence, try shortening your stride length during the first 10 to 15 seconds of each repeat. Ideally, this should relax the leg muscles and encourage a faster turnover. Once your cadence has increased, you can gradually lengthen your stride to normal.

The adaptation process for this change to faster cadence will likely feel very different. Many people report that they have made the change, but they describe the change as feeling like their shoes were tied together.  This is because their steps had become so much shorter and faster compared to how they were used to running.  Such a change feels wrong. It may take a few weeks to adjust, but when you do and the adjustment becomes habit, your running will improve dramatically.  I know of people that have increased their cadence and knocked off 20+ minutes of their marathon PR.