Runner’s Journal: The Virginia Beach tune-up with Dodge

Parents with young children rarely experience the freedom of a weekend getaway. Weekend errands and weekend soccer games and weekend family functions, sure, but not weekend getaways. For my family, there also are the weekend long runs, which we’ve learned will chew up an entire Sunday morning as you work your way up to 20 miles in your marathon training schedule. My most recent weekend long run, however, doubled as a long weekend getaway for my wife and me when Dodge, sponsor of the hugely popular Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series, invited me to the Virginia Beach Half Marathon and gave us a sleek 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel to drive to and from the race. A chance to break up my training routine while staying at an oceanside hotel and spending several lazy hours next to a pool? Sign us up. A fully loaded Durango and a break from the kids too? Shoot, now you’re just spoiling us, Dodge.

Fortunately, the race itself didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Wait…fortunately? Yep. I’ll admit that finishing four minutes slower than my goal wasn’t really how I wanted to cap off the weekend, and as my wife can attest to, I was pretty disappointed when I crossed the line with a time of 1:34:20, a full minute and a half slower than my PR and significantly slower than my goal of 1:30. Still, a runner can learn something from almost every race, no matter their time — in fact, slower times often yield the most significant lessons — and just as I learned a few things from my first three half marathons, I came back from Virginia Beach on Labor Day better prepared to run my first marathon in Chicago next month. So what did I learn?

I need to run my race. I went out too fast last weekend, and it cost me. I had a plan heading into the race, looking to run the first 8 miles in 56 minutes (7:00 per mile) before picking up the pace over the final 5 miles and finishing under 1:30. Instead, I got caught up in the moment and came through the first mile at 6:40. I settled into a 7:00-per-mile pace after that before falling off a bit around mile 6, coming through the 8-mile marker at about 56:30 and finding little left in the tank when it came time for the strong finish. My fast start alone didn’t cost me four minutes off my finishing time (more on that below), but it certainly didn’t help. No matter what my strategy ends up being for Chicago, I’ll need to stay under control early and stick to the plan. If anything, I’d rather start out too slow than too fast, since I’ll have plenty of time to make up for a sluggish first couple of miles. Whatever race you’re running, spend some time thinking about how you want to run based on what you’ve learned during your training, and do your best to stick to that plan, at least early on. You can always adjust mid-race if needed, but a fast start could spell trouble later in the race.

I’ve been training hard. It sounds a little silly, but it’s true. I felt tight and worn out Sunday, almost from the start, whereas I felt loose and fresh when I set my PR in Cleveland last May. The difference? I tapered my training down the week leading up to the Cleveland Half Marathon whereas the Virginia Beach race capped a challenging week of training, including a tough speed workout Wednesday morning. Tired legs combined with a fast start depleted my reserves pretty quick and I never really recovered. Be sure to take some time off during your training, especially leading into any big races. Fresh legs are vitally important to a quality race, as I learned again last weekend. In fact, I elected to take Tuesday off this week as well, feeling like my body could use an extra day of rest. Don’t be afraid to cut yourself some slack if your body’s telling you it needs a break.

The marathon is going to be even tougher than I thought. With three previous half marathons and several training runs longer than 13 miles under my belt, I expected to feel better and run faster last weekend. I don’t want to overreact to one disappointing performance during what has been a challenging training routine, but Virginia Beach reminded me that I need to have my expectations in check heading into Chicago. I recently saw a t-shirt that said, “A marathon is only a 10K with a 20-mile warmup.” I wouldn’t have fully understood what that meant six months ago or even three months ago, but I get it now. A marathon is 26.2 miles long, but with many of the popular marathon programs maxing out at 20-mile training runs, the race itself — the true physical, mental and emotional battle that every marathoner must endure, especially a first-timer — doesn’t start until around mile 20. Any ill-advised notion that I may have had of running a free and easy race in Chicago next month flew out the window in Virginia Beach. And that’s a good thing.

The new Durango is one hell of a ride. My wife and I spent roughly 20 hours going to Virginia Beach and back to Ohio last weekend, and we rode in style and comfort the entire time. Our blackberry-colored Durango was a beautiful SUV — just ask the people who gawked at us when we drove by — with a tan leather interior that perfectly complemented the car’s impressive exterior. The onboard GPS worked like a snap and the ventilated seats (or “butt fans,” as my wife called them) were awesome. Unfortunately, most of our drive in was done late Friday night and it rained for most of our drive home, but the few photos I was able to snap of the Durango between raindrops are in the slideshow at the top of the page (along with some of me before, during and after the race). The only downside came Tuesday morning…when we had to give the Durango back, but only after they rejected my offer of a straight-up trade for our 2006 minivan. Rats.

Finally, I’d be honored to join Team Hoyt some day. I’d heard the unbelievable story of Dick Hoyt and his son Rick before, but last weekend marked my first exposure to Team Hoyt. Rick was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy when he was born in 1962, and although Rick couldn’t walk or speak, Dick and his wife Judy were determined to help their son experience a life filled with community, education, sports and a future career. From TeamHoyt.com:

In the spring of 1977, Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a Lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Far from being a long-distance runner, Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair and they finished all 5 miles, coming in next to last. That night, Rick told his father, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”

Thirty four years later, the father-son duo has competed in more than 1,000 races, including marathons, duathlons and six Ironman triathlons. Absolutely incredible. In the same spirit, the Team Hoyt runners I saw on the Virginia Beach course were pushing strollers with physically handicapped children who wanted to run the race but were unable to compete on their own. The course was filled with people in their red Team Hoyt shirts who rightfully were the recipients of more applause and words of encouragement than any of us mere solo runners. Every time I passed a Team Hoyt duo (and, in some cases, trio), I tried to imagine how much tougher the race would be if I were pushing a stroller too. My wife even said one of the Team Hoyt runners was trying to finish in better than a 5-minute-mile pace. It’s inspiring stuff, to be sure, and I’d love to one day become a Team Hoyt member.

The race may not have gone as I had hoped, but you won’t find me complaining. This was my second Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon, having run the Vegas race last December, and the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon was every bit as memorable as my first experience. Live bands dot the course, providing some unique entertainment while you’re sucking wind and begging for the finish line, and the crowd was energetic and highly supportive. Even better, I got to take a nap after the race, which would have been a much dicier proposition at home with three kids running around. Dodge was a gracious host and they put on a fantastic race. Now, with just 30 days to go before the Chicago Marathon, it’s back to the training grind — and minivan — for me.

Jamey will be updating his Runner’s Journal a couple times a month as he trains for the 2011 Chicago Marathon – his first full marathon – on October 9. Only 30 days to go…but who’s counting, right?! Email jcodding@bullz-eye.com with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running, and see why Jamey runs.

  

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Marathon tune-up: The Virginia Beach Half Marathon

Training for a marathon can be grueling. Most weeks, my training consists of four runs: speed-based workouts on Tuesday and Thursday, a shorter easy run on Saturday and a long run on Sunday. At the moment, I’m putting in just over 30 miles a week, and by the end of my Sunday long run, I’m worn out with only a day to recover before it starts all over on Tuesday. It’s a schedule that’s served me well for the past year — I followed a similar routine with modified mileage while training for each of my first three half marathons — but, as you can imagine, things tend to get a little repetitive and stale, especially in the heat and humidity of an Ohio summer when the race you’re training for is still months away. But this weekend, I get a break.

Granted, running the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon Sunday morning doesn’t seem like much of a break, but our friends at Dodge, one of the sponsors of the excellent Rock ‘n’ Roll series, are giving me a much needed and appreciated mental break from my training routine. After dropping our kids off with the grandparents Friday afternoon, my wife and I will load up a fully loaded 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel and head for Virginia Beach. It’s a long drive from Ohio — about nine hours, give or take — but we’ll be riding in style in the blackberry-colored Durango (pictured below) and, with no kids clamoring for snack stops and bathroom breaks, it’ll be the most peaceful nine-hour drive we have had in quite some time.

The unique circumstances of this particular trip aside, the race will serve as an excellent training barometer with the Chicago Marathon just over a month away (Oct. 9). I set my half marathon PR (personal record) of 1:32:51 in Cleveland a couple months ago while I was dealing with some knee pain and IT band tightness, but my body feels better now than it did in May and I’m in even better shape. My ultimate goal for Chicago is to qualify for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3:15 or better. A bit of a longshot, perhaps, particularly for my first marathon, but there’s nothing wrong with aiming high. And as I head into my final month of training, the race this weekend will give me a clearer idea of where I am in my training, with a time under 1:30 meaning that a 3:15 marathon may in fact be within reach.

If you’re training for a marathon, half marathon or any other longer race, don’t shy away from competition in the weeks and months leading up to the big day. Of course, races are much more taxing on your body than a standard training run, so don’t sign up for anything too close to your big race, but because you’ll likely run a race faster than any of your training runs, adding one or two shorter races to your schedule can serve as a useful warmup while giving you a mental break from the training grind to boot. So thanks again to Dodge for the opportunity to test my training in Virginia Beach this weekend and, after driving the 2011 Dodge Durango home Monday and picking the kids back up, I’ll check in next week to see if I broke that 1:30 mark.

Jamey, the editor-in-chief at Bullz-Eye.com, will be updating his Runner’s Journal a couple times a month as he trains for his next race. Currently, Jamey is training for the 2011 Chicago Marathon – his first full marathon – on October 9, and he plans on running the Tough Mudder next March. Email jcodding@bullz-eye.com with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running.

  

Training for Marathon #1: Hydration and nutrition

It’s no secret that you need plenty of water before and after a run, but what about during? And while most runners know all about carbo-loading with a big plate of pasta the night before a race, trying to figure out whether you need GU energy gels (pronounced “Goo”) or some other form of in-race nutrition to keep you chugging through the finish line can lead to some tricky trial-and-error experimentation during your training. To GU or not to GU? That is the question.

I’ve put in a fair number of miles over the years, but prior to competing in my first half marathon, the farthest I’d ever run was 11 miles. In fact, during my heaviest volume days in high school, most training runs topped out around six miles and races were anywhere from a half mile to a 5K, or 3.1 miles. Because of that, I never had to worry about in-race hydration and nutrition – by eating well the night before and taking in plenty of fluids prior to a race, my body was prepared for the moderate mileage it had grown accustomed to. Running 26.2 miles? Well, that’s a different story.

I first started looking into energy gels while training for the half last year. Also referred to as endurance or sports gels, these single-serving plastic packets of goopy carbohydrates typically contain some form of simple sugars like sucrose or fructose, and supply the body with calories and nutrients to help delay muscle fatigue while raising blood sugar levels and enhancing performance. The first and perhaps the most popular energy gel – the one you’ll likely see in sporting goods stores or during most longer races – is the previously mentioned GU. I didn’t know if I would need energy gel during the race, but since this would be my longest run ever, I figured I at least should consider it. The first thing I learned was that I needed a test run. Literally. No matter the brand, energy gels in general can cause gastrointestinal discomfort for some runners – most commonly cramping, bloating and/or diarrhea – so you’ll want to introduce them to your system during a long training run instead of a race setting, just to see how your body reacts.

I picked up a berry-flavored GU on the way to my final 10 miler and planned to take it about six miles in. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the note on the package about taking the gel with some water. I tore off the top of the packet and squeezed the thick, sticky, berry-flavored gel into my mouth. Instant cottonmouth. It was like trying to swallow the world’s thickest, sweetest cough syrup. A mile or so later, I felt slightly and briefly nauseous, but it was smooth sailing once that passed as I finished the final three miles strong despite my sticky lips and dry mouth. However, while my stomach handled the gel fine during the run, I had some problems afterwards and elected to pass on GU during the race a couple weeks later.

Two months after that, I had some stomach issues during another half marathon. In hindsight, several factors likely contributed to the problem, but my main suspect at the time was the GU I took at mile 7. I didn’t run very well in general that day so the GU may not have been to blame, but I certainly didn’t feel any better at the end of that race than I felt without any gel at the end of my first half. Frustrated and disappointed after my poor finish, I swore off energy gels for good. Then I signed up for the Chicago Marathon.

All runners are different, and all runners have different needs. Some have to stop at every water station to stay hydrated and healthy, while others blow through the stations without taking a drop. I’d always been in the second group, but I’ve also never run for three or four hours straight. One day, it dawned on me: I am going to need some kind of nutrition for the marathon. GU again?

Well, I recently gave GU another try but after mixed results, I turned to apple-cinnamon flavored Hammer Gel for a 14-mile training run last weekend. The Hammer Gel, which contains real fruit juice and no added simple sugars, wasn’t nearly as thick or sweet, making it much easier to swallow while cutting down on the cottonmouth, and it tasted pretty good to boot. I took a few sips of water from one of the bottles in my new hydration belt (more on that below) and, after another slight but brief bout of queasiness, I finished the second half of my run rather well. Once it was clear later that day that my stomach had no problem with the Hammer Gel, I had officially found my in-race nutrition.

There are, of course, dozens of other options available to the running public, from Clif Shots and Accel Gel to PowerBar Gel and Carb Boom. You can also try chewable products like GU Chomps, Clif Shot Bloks, Sport Beans and even regular ol’ gummy bears. I’ve had Sport Beans and GU Chomps, but only before runs because I find that chewing while I’m running disrupts my breathing and rhythm. Some runners use Honey Stinger gel or simply grab single-serve packets of honey for their long runs, while others create their own homemade portable energy sources (a quick Google search will yield plenty of options for you DIYers). Most casual runners probably don’t need to consider energy gels or other forms of nutrition– they’re typically recommended for people running for 45 minutes or longer – but if you’re thinking about signing up for a big race (think 10K, half marathon or more), you probably will have to spend some time experimenting like I have to find a nutrition option that works for you, and don’t be afraid of a little homework. Different runners prefer different products – I have friends who swear by GU, some who love the Sport Beans and others who don’t like any of them. The web is littered with comparisons of these products, tips on how to take them, and a host of other issues you should consider while doing your research.

Hydration, on the other hand, is a little simpler. Every runner needs fluids, some just more frequently and in greater quantities than others. I don’t like holding anything when I run so water bottles aren’t an option, and I’ve never been particularly adept at drinking from the little cups they hand out at water stations – I usually end up spilling 97% down the front of my shirt and another 2% dribbles down my chin, allowing the remaining 1% to actually reach its intended destination. For those who choose to walk intermittently during a race, however, the stations are a perfect place to take a breather, rehydrate and maybe wash down some energy gel.

If, like me, you need an on-the-go solution to your hydration needs, there are plenty of options. You could go with a handheld water bottle for shorter runs, but that seems like the least effective option. I recently bought a Nathan Speed Waistpack with two 10oz bottles, knowing I’d need some help getting through my upcoming 16-, 18- and 20-mile training runs. I admit that it took a bit of time getting used to those two bottles sloshing around on my waist, but by my second long run, I barely noticed them. And when it came time to take my Hammer Gel, I had the water I needed to wash it all down. It may look and feel a little goofy at first, but if it gets the job done, who cares? There are an endless number of hydration belt choices out there with all sorts of various factors to consider, including comfort of fit, number of bottles and waist size.

If you need more water than a hydration belt offers, consider one of the Camelbak Hydration backpacks. I’ve never used one but have seen plenty of other runners with them, and customer feedback on sites like Amazon is overwhelmingly positive. An added bonus is the ability to stash essentials like keys, wallet and/or phone in your Camelbak. My recommendation would be to try on several of these packs and belts at your nearest running or sporting goods store to see how they feel, but you won’t know what works for you until you hit the road with one strapped to your hips or back.

So what about pre-race hydration and nutrition? Well, that’s a much bigger can of worms. I drink plenty of water and some Gatorade before a run, and will also have some coconut water between runs to help keep me hydrated consistently. On the morning of a race, I add Gatorade Prime to the water and standard Gatorade regimen. Food, of course, is much trickier and, like so many other factors, varies wildly from runner to runner. I recommend doing your own research on this subject and, as always, experimenting to find what works for you and what doesn’t because, as you’ll discover when you start increasing the length of your races and training runs, your needs are going to change along with the mileage. What worked for you on a two-mile jog or 5K race probably won’t be enough for a 10K or half marathon. And, I think it goes without saying, what works for a half marathon most certainly won’t work for a full.

Bullz-Eye.com editor in chief Jamey Codding ran competitively in high school, took a brief 15-year breather, and then came back to run his first half marathon last year. He’s currently training for his first full marathon, in Chicago on October 9. Only 44 days to go…but who’s counting, right?!

  

Why run?

Why run? It’s a damn fine question, one I couldn’t stop asking myself as I trudged along during a brutal 14-mile training run last weekend. “Why am I out here?” “I feel awful.” “Wish I hadn’t run out of water five miles ago.” “How the hell am I going to run 26 miles in October?” That last one, in particular, has been gnawing away at me in the days since the 14 miler, but we’ll revisit that question in the coming weeks of this series. Today, let’s start with two words that non-runners will routinely throw your way when they see you lacing up your shoes or hear about your latest race: Why run?

Of course, there isn’t one stock answer to this question, and different runners will offer different responses. As someone who ran competitively in high school before taking the next 15 years off, getting back into running has been like reconnecting with a long, lost love. I stopped running after graduation in 1995 because whatever passion I had for the sport had dried up when I stepped onto the Ohio University campus later that fall. Who wants to go for a five-mile run when there are beers to be drained and late-night fast food to be devoured? And after four years of training and racing in both cross country and track, my body (and my mind) needed a break. I just didn’t know my break would last 15 years.

I had tried to pick it back up several different times during those 15 years, but my restarts never lasted longer than a month or three for one simple reason: I didn’t have the proper motivation. If someone had posed the “why run” question during that time, I wouldn’t have had an answer. Every couple of years, I’d force myself to go on painful two- or three-mile runs with one abstract goal in mind: to get into shape. And after a couple months, with my times not improving and my body still feeling like crap every time out, I’d throw in the towel and wonder how and why I ever ran in the first place.

Everything changed last April. A friend who knew I ran in high school asked if I wanted to be a part of his four-man marathon relay team in Cincinnati’s Flying Pig Marathon. I hadn’t run longer than four miles in at least 10 years, but something about the challenge of training for and competing in a legitimate road race compelled me to say yes. I regretted it almost immediately. My leg of the race was about 5.5 miles long – the shortest of the four, but also the hilliest. What had I gotten myself into? I had a hard enough time finishing three-mile jogs around my neighborhood, so how was I going to double that up on a bunch of hills in the matter of a couple months?

I had some training to do.

If you’ve had an urge to start running but haven’t been able to either take the plunge or stick with it for any real length of time, I recommend signing up for a race. It’s instant – and very real – motivation. Your training runs take on a true sense of purpose and urgency when you’ve got an actual goal you’re working toward, rather than the abstract concept of merely running to get in shape. Spending $50-$100 on the entry fee helps too. Knowing I had committed to this race in April, and knowing that I had three other guys counting on me to show up on race day, I finally started to see my times drop and mileage increase. I soon graduated from two miles to three and four, then five. I wasn’t setting my watch on fire by any stretch of the imagination, but I was running farther and faster than I had since my high school days after failing to improve during any of my previous false starts over the past 15 years. Then one day, I set out to run six miles and, realizing just how good I felt in the middle of the run, I decided to tack on another mile…then one more. Two months earlier, I struggled through two- and three-mile runs, and now I had an eight miler under my belt. I was back.

We ran well in Cincinnati – not as fast as I had hoped I’d run, but not bad for my first real race in ages. More importantly, I had rediscovered the passion for running I thought had vanished for good. Being in that race environment and talking with other runners who had been working as hard as I had (and harder) to accomplish a goal energized me and served as a wake up call. After my leg of the race was over, we headed back to watch runners cross the finish line at the end of their own half and full marathons. I felt good about what I had accomplished that day, but watching them finish their race, I knew was ready for more. I signed up for my first half marathon a couple weeks later, and by May of this year, I had completed half marathons in Columbus (1:35:31), Las Vegas (1:35:34) and Cleveland (1:32:51), and am currently training for my first full marathon in Chicago this October. How’s that for a turn of events?

So why run? I run to challenge myself, to set a goal and accomplish that goal. Running can be a very personal experience – it’s just you and the road or trail. There’s no coach out there barking instructions, no teammates clamoring for attention, no scoreboard to worry about. I run to find my limits and expand them, to redefine my comfort zone, to defy that voice inside my head that tells me my legs hurt too much and my lungs can’t take any more. I run to prove to myself that I can accomplish anything if I’m willing to work hard enough. I run because, on my personal list of life’s simple joys, crossing the finish line sits near the top, and crossing the finish line ahead of my target time is even higher. I run because it’s time that belongs to me and me alone, time I take to improve my health, achieve my goals, clear my mind, and find some peace amidst the rhythmic sound of my footfalls. I run because I spend too much time sitting at a desk with my eyes glued to a computer monitor. I run because it feels good to sweat. I run because there are few things in life that taste better than cold water after a long run. I run to escape my thoughts, work through a problem or just blow off steam. I run to be part of a community, because the energy at a big race is intoxicating and inspiring, even if you’re just a spectator. I run because my kids see me run, and because we just bought my eight-year-old daughter her first pair of running shoes. She can go a mile or two at a time right now, and she loves it. I’ve asked her why, but she hasn’t figured that part out yet. She will.

Finally, I run for moments like the one I had yesterday. I was still trying to figure out why my 14 miler had gone so poorly – I finished eight minutes slower than I wanted – and challenged myself to make up for my mediocre showing with a quality five-mile run Tuesday morning. Three days after having my worst run of the year, I came back with my best run of the year, beating my target by a minute and running faster than I had for any of my previous training runs. I guess I run for a chance at redemption too.

So now the question is, why do you run…or why will you run?

Jamey, the editor-in-chief at Bullz-Eye.com, will be updating his Runner’s Journal a couple times a month as he trains for his next race. Currently, Jamey is training for the 2011 Chicago Marathon – his first full marathon – on October 9, and he plans on running the Tough Mudder next March. Email jcodding@bullz-eye.com with comments, questions or your own thoughts on running.

  

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