Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I know this is supposed to be a running blog, but this is somewhat related because it has to with fitness and weight and health in general so I think it fits fine here. Plus, I don't really need to explain myself anyway :) This post is all about my 3 months of P90X from start to finish.

Very Long Blog Post Warning:  This is going to be a long post because I am covering 3 months of P90X. If you want to skip down to the results, feel free to scroll down to the bottom. No hard feelings :)

Why P90X?

Before Pete got me into running 4 years ago, he started his fitness journey with P90X. He managed to get about half way through until he stopped and started to run, but in that 45 days the transformation was quite impressive. It was pretty clear he lost weight and increased his strength. But, then his interest turned to running and he decided to sign up for a marathon. I ended up joining him and the rest is history.. up until the beginning of this year.

This thing was $30 and works like a charm.
I continue to use it and in fact used it this morning
After a couple years of running, I wanted to start incorporating some kind of strength training and core work, but I would never do it. I would just say it to myself or others in conversation but never follow through. Finally at the end of 2012, I was reevaluating my goals, and decided that 2013 will be the year where I really commit to strength training. For some reason, I decided to focus on pull-ups. Mostly because I've never been very good at them because of my huge legs and small upper body. So I came up with my goals and shared them with my friends.

The very next day Pete suggested we all do P90X. Joe and I were instantly on board. I think I stopped at Target and picked up a pull up bar that same day! I was very excited to get started and was happy that I had two friends that would be doing it at the same time. P90X would fit perfectly with my goal to do a lot of pull-ups and since I knew very little about weight training, I was happy to just go with this program.

First Workout

I had heard that it was pretty intense from Pete and others so I came in with those expectations. And even though I know that it's better to start things conservatively when you are getting into a new program, I was so pumped for my first workout that I wasn't about to hold back. I am not a morning person, and I almost never get up early to run except occasionally on the weekends, but I wanted to be done with my workouts before work so I set my alarm for 5:30 and was excited to get up the next day.

I put in the first workout DVD, Chest and Back, set up the pull-up bar, got my 20 lb dumbbells and was ready to go. The Chest and Back workout is mostly push-ups and pull-ups. But its a lot of push-ups and pull-ups.You end up doing 16 sets of exercises by the time you are done. And there isn't a lot of break between sets. I had never done a workout like this and before half way through I was already feeling nauseous. But I just kept going.

By the time I got to the second half of the workout while Tony was still doing 15 unassisted pull-ups and 20 diamond push-ups, I was doing 6 assisted pull-ups and 5 diamond push-ups. It was pretty pathetic, but I didn't care. I loved how hard it was and I knew I was going to push through it.

When I got to the end of the workout, I was completely beat up, sitting on the floor feeling nauseous and then I realized I still had to do the Ab Ripper X workout! This was going to be a joke. I considered skipping it, but since I didn't even have the strength to stop the video, it just started playing so I figured I might as well get this over with. 

This is the intro right before Ab Ripper starts and it always cracks me up

It was indeed a joke. I would estimate I did less than 10% of what they did. They were doing 11 core exercises 25 or so reps each. The first exercise I think I did 15, after that the numbers plummeted to 5 or 3 or nothing. But the pain finally ended and I was finished with my first workout.

This is where having friends going through the same thing really helps. I emailed Joe and Pete on my way to work that morning and I was relieved to hear that they had almost the exact same experience. 

After that first workout, things got a lot better. Tuesday was plyometrics, aka jump training, and since I was already in pretty good shape cardio-wise, this was much easier for me, although still a great workout. Then Wednesday was Arms and Shoulders which was mostly with the dumb bells and again not as intense. Friday was Legs and Back which was pretty tough due to the single leg wall squats but I also really liked it because it was full of pull-ups and I knew I was going to be improving here. 

On Saturday was Kenpo X which is a martial arts cardio work out. I did it once and it just wasn't too tough so I decided I would skip it and run instead. Sunday was for stretching which I also skipped because I would rather run and then stretch for a few minutes rather than spend an hour stretching. 

So you may have noticed that I skipped Thursday. Thursday was yoga, and yoga was my arch nemesis.


I'm going to devote a whole section to yoga because I think it deserves it. I didn't know what to expect here. I remembered Pete saying it was one of the hardest of all the workouts but he also ended up liking it the most. I have to be honest and say I didn't understand how yoga could be hard. I guess I was thinking the worst it could be was stretching very uncomfortably for a long time. I woke up extra early at 5 am because yoga is 90 minutes long!

I got started and I was getting into it, mostly because I like trying new things, and yoga has been on my list of things to try and I knew that this yoga was going to be pretty intense. It didn't take long for me to realize what Pete was talking about. After about 15 minutes you start getting into some pretty uncomfortable positions. My legs were burning and at the same time I would be trying to balance myself. This makes for a very difficult combination and I fell out of the poses frequently, because my legs were on fire, or I couldn't balance or usually a combination of the two. The hardest thing of all was this move called the twisting half moon.

Even now I am looking at this picture and thinking it's not bad

Now I know this doesn't look that bad, but before you get to this, your legs are already shot from all of the other poses and you are balancing on your one leg for such a long time doing other moves that by the time you get to this thing, forget it. I just kept falling over.

This was about half way into it and soon after they take a small break and say that now we are going to start the balance postures. And I was thinking I was already falling over during the strength postures. Was my balance that bad? Well it turned out that the balance postures were a bit easier for me so that was a relief.

Next was something they call "Yoga Belly 7" which is pretty rough. And every time I would do this I would think I just did abs yesterday and at the end of Ab Ripper, Tony says don't do abs every day, yet here I am doing it right after I did it yesterday and I'm going to do it again tomorrow. Finally the whole thing ends with a little bit of meditation and some "oms".

I have to say that 90 minutes of yoga feels like a long time. I would always be happy that I did it when it was over, but over time, starting it would get harder and harder.

That's a short uncle

A lot of people complain that Tony Horton's corny jokes get so annoying so fast, they have to mute the workouts to get through them. I had the complete opposite experience. Although I agree that some of his jokes are indeed terrible, I loved them anyway. And as I continued through the workouts I loved them even more. And it was not just the jokes, but getting to know what he was going to say at each point in the workout and using it as a guide to know how far along I was. So here is my list of my favorite lines from P90X:

  1. Time for crunchy frog. Everyone gets there hands up!
  2. Posing for the cover of Downward Dog Magazine
  3. Like a pterodactyl backing out of trouble... CAAWWW
  4. We wanted to get some big shots for this video… COULDN’T DO IT!’ 
  5. The world famous Dreya Weber, she flies through the air with the greatest of ease!
  6. Those are some nice shoes. Almost as nice as mine
  7. OKRA i love okra!
  8. Get on your tip toes, or tippy toes. Why do we say tippy?
  9. Ab..Ripper…X..Let’s climb our legs.
  10. The man’s making contact! The man’s making contact.. elbow thigh!

Now if you haven't done P90X these will mean nothing to you, but if you have then you know what I'm talking about and I'm sure you have your own.

Keeping it going

P90X is broken up into 3 phases. 3 weeks of exercises followed by a "rest week". "Rest week"  is in quotes because it's not that much rest, but more on that later. For the first phase, keeping it going was no problem. I kept waking up at around 5:30 before work and although it was hard, I had plenty of motivation. I was already starting to see improvements. I was keeping track of everything so it was easy for me to see that I was going up in most of exercises. I was most excited to see that by the 3rd week of doing legs and back, I went up in all of my pull-ups. I improved in most of the other workouts as well. Even yoga was getting better, although I continued to have trouble with that darn twisting half moon. But, the biggest improvement by far was in the ab ripper. Because you do that 3 times a week, its easier to see improvements. By the third week, I was doing more like 90% of the movements. This was very encouraging because I have never been good with doing any ab exercises and I would always hear about how its beneficial to running. This was forcing me to do it, and I was actually improving. 

Then came the "rest week" which lets you take a break from the strength training but replaces it with another yoga session and two core synergistics sessions. As I already explained, yoga was very challenging and this core synergistics wasn't easy either. It pretty much combines a lot of different movements from all of the other workouts. There was one exercises in particular that was super hard: The Plank to Chaturanga run. Rather than describe it, you can just see for yourself.

Try this after you've already been working out hard for 30 minutes.

After I finished the first phase, I was still excited to continue because the second phases introduces a couple new workouts. I was happy for the change but getting up early before work was getting more challenging. On a few occasions I would skip the morning work out and do it in the evening after work instead. I stopped doing the entire 90 minutes of yoga because it was just too long. I cut it to the first 45 minutes of the more challenging strength part and that was a lot more reasonable. So there were little tweaks here and there, but I kept it going through the second phase.

By the time I got the third phase I admit I was starting to get a bit burned out but I felt I needed to finish it. My main issue was that it was taking so much time and I wanted to spend more of my work out time running. But I was so close now, with only a few weeks left that I pushed through it. So speaking of running, I kept running the whole time.

Continuing Running

I knew going into this that I wanted to continue running, but I wasn't sure how much I'd be able to manage. I had high hopes of keeping it above 20 miles a week for the duration, but that was really unrealistic. P90X was taking about 5 to 6 hours a week, so adding another 3 hours of running would be a lot. As it was I was now working out more hours per week than I had been a while.

You can see it pretty clearly in both the weekly and monthly charts. The black represents the time I spent doing P90X. I was surprised that in January and March I spent over 35 hours working out. Even more than the I did training for my ultra a year ago!

So even though initially I felt like I was lazy for only running in the 10 - 20 miles per week range, once I saw my overall time spent working out, I cut myself some slack :)

Also despite having such low running volume, my overall fitness didn't seem to be suffering so much. In fact, by the end it was improving.

Courtesy of fitcharts.com :)
Monthly Distance vs. Fitness (VDOT/HR)

Despite running less than 50 miles in February and less than 100 in March, my fitness was on the rise. In fact, by April it was approaching where it was at my height during last fall's marathon training. Perhaps the P90X was helping, or maybe there was another variable.

Monthly Weight vs. Fitness (VDOT/HR)

I think this chart is pretty convincing. The red line is my monthly weight and the blue line is my level of fitness. Once again, it was pretty clear that by losing a few pounds at the end of P90X my fitness had gone up. So speaking of diet.


There is a diet component to P90X which I did not really follow. I was not going to spend any money buying P90X supplements and I figured I would just manage my diet myself. Except I didn't really manage it too well. For the first few weeks I was still on a vegetarian kick until I started reading more about how important protein is when trying to build muscle. I'm not saying that vegetarians can't build lost of muscle, but it doesn't make it very easy. 

I started eating meat again and I also bought protein powder from GNC to have after my lifting days. I have to say, for not liking sugar substitutes in soft drinks and other foods, I didn't mind the Sucralose at all in my after work out shake. In fact I loved the shake and would look forward to it. It really tasted like a milk shake to me. But as far as my diet went, for the first month I didn't lose a pound. But even so, I could tell that things were being redistributed. So even though I weighed the same, I could see my stomach getting a bit leaner and my arms getting a bit bigger.

After half way through, I really started to do some more research on diet and strength training in general. I realized that of all the things that P90X introduced me to, I was most interested in the strength training. I turned to Reddit, and found some great subreddits with tons of info. Some of the ones I went to the most were r/fitness and r/bodyweighfitness. In the fitness subreddit, a lot of people were talking about lean gains and it piqued my interest so I went to check it out.

Basically, lean gains has to do with intermittent fasting (IF) and controlling your macros (macronutrients - protein, carbohydrates, fats). In the end its just a means for managing what kinds of calories you eat when and it helps with building muscle and losing fat. I won't go into too much more detail because I plan to write a whole post on this at a later time. But, suffice it to say I started following it for the last month and have had more success than in the first half. Over all I ended up losing about 5 pounds and that is with gaining some muscle so really I lost more than that in fat. Now without further ado, here are my results.


Here are the results of all of my hard work.
Little Collage I made. If it's not clear, the top 5 pictures are before and the bottom 5 are after. 
As you can see, my head got less pointy at the top as well :)
I kind of have mixed feelings but mostly I am happy. There were times during the end of the training where I would look at myself in the mirror and think I am really starting to see a difference here. Mostly this was due to the after workout pump. But, even so I think you can tell in the pictures that overall I just look a bit fitter. There is a little less fat around my mid section. I think my arms have definitely gotten bigger, and over all my posture has changed a bit. Even though the changes were not drastic, I think they are a good beginning.

Of course I wasn't doing this just to look better. I wanted to get stronger as well. Before the start of P90X there is a fit test that you complete. Then at the end you do the same test to see how much you have improved. Here are the results.

Fit Test Before and After

I found this Google spreadsheet for tracking all of my progress. Here are the results of the fit test
Before I even thought about doing P90X, I had made goals in the new year to do more pull-ups. I was very happy that by the end I was able to double the amount of pull-ups I could do, from 5 to 10. And these are the hardest wide grip pull-ups. Although I haven't tried, I'm sure I could do at least 12 chin-ups (palms facing in).

The most disappointing result were the push-ups. As I was doing them, I couldn't believe I managed to do 34 before P90X. When I got to 30 and started getting tired, I realized I wasn't going to improve that much. Considering the thousands of push-ups I did over the course of the last 3 months, this was a disappointment. But, like anything else, these are just two results and not enough data. Perhaps if I tried again and did them fresh without killing myself on the pull-ups I would have managed more. Who knows. I've decided not to dwell on it.

The biggest improvement though came from the ab exercise. I more than doubled the amount I did from 47 to 100! I was very happy with this because I knew this was a weakness for me. Now I felt like abs were no longer a weak area for me.

Conclusion and Going Forward

Overall I am really happy that I did P90X. Although I didn't love everything about it, and I made some adjustments along the way, it introduced me to a lot of exercises and stretches. It introduced me to yoga which I always wanted to try. And, most importantly, it helped me commit to strength training and accomplish a few of the goals I laid out for myself at the beginning of the year. I didn't know where to begin with strength training and it was nice to just follow a program without having to figure it all out. 

Now that I went through it and did a bunch of research on my own, I am able to make up my own workout routine. Even though I will not continue with P90X for now, I can see coming back to it at some point in the future. It's been a couple weeks since it ended and as crazy as it sounds I miss Tony's corny jokes and knowing how far along I am in certain workouts when I hear him say certain things. 

Going forward, I already know what I'm going to do next to continue strength training. In fact I've been doing it for over a week already. I won't go into too much detail now because I plan to dedicate an entire post to it once I am further along, but it is pretty much the basic routine from the FAQ that I found in the body weight fitness subreddit. Thanks for reading or skimming, or just skipping to the results. If you're considering giving P90X a try I would say go for it! And let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2013 Goals

Ok, so its April and I'm just coming up with my goals for the year now?! Isn't that kind of like cheating or something? Well the truth is I came up with my list of goals in early January and just haven't posted anything on my blog for a while. Well today I decided enough was enough and I wanted to get this out there. So without further ado, here are my goals for 2013:

<email from January 2nd sent to friends>

Average weight below 160 lbs. for a month
Incorporate strength training for 1 month P90X baby
7 pull-ups P90X again

Average below 155 lbs. for a month
Incorporate strength training for 3 months aww yeah
10 pull-ups
Marathon PR ( I realized after this year that a new marathon PR should never be put in the easy goals)

Run more miles than last year
Get to below 150 lbs. on marathon day
Incorporate strength training all year
15 pull-ups
sub 20 5K
sub 3:30 Marathon

Crazy Hard:
Run over 2000 miles
Have ripped abs
20 pull-ups
sub 19 5K

As you can see my goals are a little different than last year. First of all, there will be a new baby Bilenkin that will occupy a bit of my time in the Spring. Given that, I didn’t want to set as many total distance goals. Instead, I want to do more with the time I have. I think a lot of that will have to do with me getting fitter by losing weight. I still think I can get faster and not run as many miles. Don’t get me wrong. I will still be looking do 60+ mile weeks once I start training for NY (assuming I’m able to run it), but for the mean time leading up to and around the due date, I will be running reduced miles. I also wanted to start incorporating some strength training, and for whatever reason I want to be able to do a lot of pull-ups.

As far as race plans, I’m still not completely sure. I would really love to do River to Sea again, but I’ll have to talk to April about that first. I am not going to be running the Rutgers half because it is right around the due date. I’m not going to be doing any ultras in 2013 because they require so much time, but I am excited to get back to it the following year. I would like to do a couple 5Ks though and definitely plan on doing the Hillsborough Hop.

</email from January 2nd sent to friends>

Shortly after I sent this email to Pete, Joe, Sachin and Andy, Pete suggested that we all do P90X. I remember P90X as what Pete did before he started running a few years ago which really got me to start running. So I have a warm place for P90X in my heart before even doing it. I immediately decided that this would be perfect. Joe agreed as well and so the three of us started the new year doing P90X. I'm going to dedicate a whole post to that later on so I won't go into more detail here, but lets just say that I am three months in to 2013 and I already have 3 of my goals knocked out!

A Look Back At 2012

Note: In early January I started writing this post and was about 3/4 finished with it when I kind of left it. I know it's now April, but there are a bunch of things I want to write about and it only makes sense for me to finish this post that I started 3 months ago.

This is supposed to be me looking back at 2012.
This was taken right after I finished the Dirty German which was the highlight of the year.
Well, another year has passed by and it's time to look back at 2012 and see how I did. I'm going to spend this whole post looking back at 2012 and then dedicate a separate post to my 2013 goals. Let's get started! Where else to start but the very numerous and lofty goals I laid out for my self at the beginning of the year. Let's see how I did:

2012 Goals

Easy:5K PR • Half PR 1:36:28 • Marathon PR • Longest running streak 141 days •Highest weekly mileage 70.3 • Highest monthly mileage 243.3 • Highest yearly mileage 1828 • under 160 lb
Medium:sub 20 5k • sub 1:35 half • sub 3:20 marathon • 60 mile week • 2000 mile year •50K ultra • under 155 lb
Hard:sub 19:30 5k • sub 1:32 half • sub 3:15 marathon • 70 mile week 70.3 • 50 mile ultra Dirty German!!! • under 150 lb
Crazy Hard:sub 19:00 5k • sub 1:30 half • BQ

I had 3 general categories of goals. Times, Weight, and Running Distances/Consistency.


Unfortunately, I did not do as well as I hoped in the first two categories. In fact I completely failed in the weight department. Even though  I did slip under 160lb for a week, I decided I wouldn't count it if I didn't stay under for a month, or more importantly, end the year under that weight. Instead, I ended the year at my highest weight. This is a big point of failure that I aim going to address in the new year.

Last 16 months showing my peak fitness in February
Aside from my weight goals, I had very high expectations for my race PRs, and I understand where I was coming from. I came in to 2012 running 40 mile weeks in December and in pretty darn good shape. I figured I just would continue to increase mileage and my fitness would continue to increase. And for the first couple months, that's exactly what happened. In February I reached my peak fitness and although for the next couple months I continued to run high mileage, in preparation for my 50 miler, I changed my training to have less speed. And that's when I realized that running fast times at shorter distances was not going to go perfectly with training for my first ultra. Something had to give, and I decided that the ultra was the bigger deal. But I still managed to eek out a pretty respectable new PR for the half marathon in April.


But enough about the disappointments of 2012. Now lets get to the goals I did meet. Aside from not running 2000 miles last year, I met every single weekly mile goal as well as running every single day for 141 days in a row. I am very proud of that. And it's not like I was just running a mile or two every day. My average for those 141 days was 7.1 miles.

And even though I did not run 2000 miles, I did run 1828 which was over 200 miles more than the previous year.

Of course my biggest accomplishment of last year was the Dirty German. That was one of those amazing experiences that I envisioned, planned and then actually followed through with. And that's just the training I'm talking about. The event itself was one of the most wonderful experiences and sharing it with my family and friends made it that much more memorable. I'm not going to go into any more detail about it here again since I already talked about it at length, but even now looking back 8 months ago, it makes me very happy.


As much as running is mostly a solitary experience for me, I was so happy to take part in two events with my friends. The first was this summer's River to Sea Relay which was just one of those things where so much went wrong with injury leading up to it, but then on the day of the race, everyone came through and it was a super awesome experience. Seeing my friends, especially the ones that don't normally run as much, improve so much and conquer this thing was so sweet. I felt like maybe I had a small hand in getting them to be a bit more fit which makes me happy.

The other event was the Marine Corps Marathon with Andy. Even though in some ways I was a bit disappointed with my personal performance, the whole experience from the training, to going down to DC and spending a little time with Andy, Jenn and the kids, to the expo, to the race, trumped my result. I was so happy to do it and be there for Andy's first!

In Summary

So overall, despite not meeting a lot of the goals I laid out, I am very happy with how the year went. I made some great memories that I will be thinking about for the rest of my life, and I have some areas where I need to work on for this year. Speaking of this year, it's time for me to lay out my goals for 2013, I mean it is April already!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Marine Corps Marathon

By sheer luck, Andy's friend snapped this picture at the start without even knowing where we were in the field!
First, The Numbers:

3:39:22 (8:23 pace). 1:46:14 1st half (8:07 pace), 1:53:08 2nd half (8:38 pace), 
6:54 positive split.  Compared to:
3:55 positive split when I ran my PR 3:37:07 (8:17 pace)
9:44 positive split my first marathon when I ran 3:54:34 (8:58 pace)

Not sub 3:30, Not even a new PR, but still a very rewarding and memorable experience, and a third marathon under my belt. It is now over a week later and I am only getting to write about this experience now because of a certain storm that has completely decimated the mid-atlantic. I may write something about that at a later time, but for now, before I forget anymore, I want to record my Marine Corps Marathon experience.


I won't go into any of my training here. I got to Andy and Jenn's house on Saturday afternoon. I hadn't seen Jenn or their kids in over a year so it was really nice to see them. The boys are at an age where 1 year makes a huge difference. Especially Liam who was running around and talking.

Andy and I made our way to the Expo and we got in pretty quickly with no line. It was on par with the Philadelphia one I had been to a couple times. I enjoyed walking around and checking out the crazy amount of products that have popped up over the last several years to support the booming running industry. We picked up our bibs, Andy bought himself a hat for the race and we were on our way.

We got  back while it was still light out and played a bit outside with the boys and then it was dinner time. Jenn and Andy made chicken and rice (my favorite pre-race meal!) and it was delicious! Dinner was over and it was now time to start discussing some logistics for the morning and start worrying about the weather. Worrying about the weather was just some foreshadowing of what was to come the following week. At the time I went to sleep it looked like we'd be running in the rain which I was a bit upset about.  But aside from being nervous about my marathon, I was already starting to get nervous about heading home to prepare for the storm. I had visions of hurricane Irene from last year, and I didn't want that to happen. Despite my nervousness, I slept alright.

Andy woke me up at about 5:45, I guess my alarm which was set for 5:30 didn't work. The plan was to leave the house at 6 and park at a close by Metro stop. In my head, this seemed like more than enough time to get to the start. I didn't feel like getting there an hour early and standing there in the cold an rain, waiting for the race to start. We ended up leaving a little late which was my fault and then I got a coffee at the Starbucks near the Metro station which delayed us further.  I still thought we were fine at this point. But, then we met this other runner. Pretty much the only people out this early were runners. He had run 19 Marine Corps Marathons! He explained that we would be fine. When we got there we would just be behind everyone else  and it was OK because our time wouldn't start until we crossed the line. This is not what we wanted to hear. We were hoping to get there with enough time to get pretty close to the front so we wouldn't get caught up with the crowd of slower runners.

On the Metro heading toward the race. I really wish we took more pictures. 
When we finally got off at the last stop we only had about 20 minutes left.  You would think that would still be enough time, but not with the amount of walking we still had to do.  Also we were walking along with tens of thousands of people which didn't make it go any faster. We decided to start our "warm-up" and start jogging to the race. But before we could do that, we had to take care of a couple things. We had to drop off  our bag, and we had to use a Porta-Potty. As we jogged around, we realized that despite having hundreds of Porta-Potties, we would still be in line after the race had already started so this was not going to work. We decided to go find another location to take care of things, but it was a little farther away. With that taken care of we had about 4 - 5 minutes left before the race, but we were still about half a mile or more away from the front. We started to jog again, but this time a little faster. We were able to find some areas to get by people on the sides and it was looking like we might get pretty close to where we wanted to be. It always amazes me how many people there are. Even after passing tens of thousands of people and getting within site of the front, we started hearing them counting down to the start.

Start - 5 miles

There was so much excitement in the air. Despite the fact that we did not get up as far to the front as we wanted, we did get past the 4:00 pace group and we were definitely pumped. We passed the start about 4 minutes after the race started. I was ready to take it slow for the first couple miles and I knew it was going to be congested and we would lose a little time. Andy and I decided we would at least start together and he agreed that 3:30 was a good goal time for him as well. So as we ran we were looking down at our bracelets that we had made, courtesy of Frank, to check our pace.

The first mile was fairly slow, and there was a lot of weaving in and out between people to try to get ahead. Despite our efforts, our first mile was 8:52, 38 seconds slower than what we wanted, and honestly it didn't feel that slow, which made me think I was wasting some energy trying to get around people. The second mile was slightly less congested, but also had a hill in it. We were able to increase our pace to 8:34. We were still 13 seconds off, but not as bad as the first mile. I also realized that my Garmin was already quite off. I was already almost .1 miles off of the mile markers. This meant that we were going even slower than I thought. I tried not to let this bother me and just focus on the miles ahead. By the time we hit the third mile, we were pretty much able to run without worrying about the crowds, so we were back on track with a 7:59. The 4th mile had a major downhill and we hit it in 7:35, 12 seconds faster than our suggested pace, but it felt easy and my 159 average heart rate confirms this. We finished out the 5th mile in a few seconds over the pace in 7:58.

suggested - real = difference
1: 8:14 - 8:52 = -38
2: 8:21 - 8:34 = -13
3: 8:01 - 7:59 = 2
4: 7:47 - 7:35 = 12
5: 7:55 - 7:58 = -3

Lost 40 seconds in the first 5 miles (but really more because the Garmin was off so more like a minute 30.

6 - 10 miles

Somewhere around this point, I turned to Andy and suggested that we really need to try NOT to make up the time we lost during the start. We would be tempted to do so, because we would be feeling good this early, but we would end up paying for it later. He agreed with this, and that's sort of what we did.  At this point we were about a minute and a half behind our time at each mile.  Here are what the next 5 miles looked like versus the suggested pace:

suggested - real = made up time we were trying not to make up
6:   8:00 - 7:54 = 6
7:   8:01 - 8:06 = -5
8:   8:08 - 7:47 = 21
9:   7:49 - 7:49 = 0
10: 7:53 - 7:49 = 4

Total time made up was 26 seconds over 5 miles, so not exactly what I wanted, but I don't think this is what killed the race for me. Although, by the end of the 10 miles even though I was feeling pretty good still, it wasn't quite as effortless as I was hoping for. Somewhere in this section we saw Jill who had come out to cheer. That was nice and Andy and I were feeling pretty good at that moment.

11 - 15 miles

This is the only picture taken of both
Andy and me and this random dude
At this point, I was pretty happy that Andy and I had continued to run together for so long. The chance that we both happened to be in such similar shape when we finished our training was not high, so I was not expecting this. It was a happy surprise. I really thought he would run away from me sooner, and he thought he was going to start slower and let me go out faster.

We started the 11th mile with another GU. I should mention that every 5 miles I took a GU which worked out quite well again. Somewhere in these next 5 miles, I realized that I was going to be slowing down instead of speeding up. But, I didn't slow up yet. I continued to try to follow the bracelet. Here were our next 5 miles:

suggested - real = difference
11: 8:02 - 7:54 = 6
12: 7:57 - 7:57 = 0
13: 7:57 - 7:58 = -1
14: 7:57 - 8:08 = -11
15: 7:57 - 7:58 = -1

So I only lost 7 seconds over these 5 miles, but by the end of it I could tell that there was no way I could continue for another 11 miles. At this point, I turned to Andy and told him that I was going to have to slow down to make it the rest of the way and that he should go ahead. Again, I was still happy we were able to go 15 miles together. I didn't know why I was tired this early, and I hoped that Andy would just be able to continue this pace and maybe even pick it up at the end.

16 - 20

These miles are where I really started to slow down. In the 16th mile I saw Andy slowly get away from me, but I hadn't slowed down too much yet. But, each mile after that was slower than the last, and the last few here were especially rough because we were on this part of the course that was exposed to the wind and I really started to feel its effects.

Because this storm was coming lots of spectators had made signs referencing the storm. The only one I remember now was "Run you fools! Sandy is coming!" Despite the windy weather, I was happy with the amount of crowd support and it was always cool to see the Marines at all of the water stops. At this point I had gotten rid of the water bottle I was holding and stopped at every water station for water. Having the bottle for the first half was definitely a good idea (thanks again Frank!)

I stopped looking at my bracelet because I knew I was not on pace anymore, but I definitely still thought I would get a PR. I even thought that maybe I was going through a rough patch and I would get a second wind. Ha, not even close. Here were my mile splits:

suggested - real = difference
16: 8:02 - 8:04 = 2
17: 7:58 - 8:12 = 14
18: 7:59 - 8:30 = 31
19: 7:56 - 8:31 = 35
20: 7:59 - 8:42 = 43

So this block was my first real slow down with 2 minutes and 5 seconds slower than I wanted. But the real slow down was still to come.

21 - Finish

Every mile got harder than the last and somewhere in the 21 to 22 mile range I started to have muscle cramps on top of everything. I knew that things were really heading down hill. This was definitely more on par with my first marathon than my second. I was only concentrating now on finishing and with each mile I became less and less worried with my time. Although it was still a little in the back of my head. Somewhere around the 23 mile mark I calculated (as best as I could in my state) that I might still have a chance at a PR if I was able to pick it up a bit. I actually did start to pick up the pace a bit thinking that I had to give it my all for just 3 more miles, but then the cramps got more frequent. Each time I would get a cramp, in my calf, I would be forced to slow down and try to adjust my stride. I knew better than to try to stretch it out, because it would just make things worse.

Unfortunately this was turning into my first marathon experience, where I actually started feeling like maybe I could go faster, but the muscle cramps were stopping me. These last 6 miles were pretty slow:

suggested - real = difference
21: 8:00 - 8:32 = -32
22: 8:06 - 8:48 = -42
23: 8:09 - 8:46 = -37
24: 8:02 - 8:38 = -36
25: 8:05 - 9:09 = -64
26: 8:07 - 8:57 = -50
.2:  8:14 - 8:44 = -6 (because it's 1/5th a mile)

Total lost in the last 6.2 miles = 4 minutes and 27 seconds

When I got within a mile or so from the finish, and I realized that it wasn't going to be a PR, I pretty quickly switched my mindset to being happy to just finish this race and see Andy and celebrate the finish with him. I was hoping that he ended up having the opposite experience that I was having. With about a half mile left, I started to pick it up just a little bit and the muscle cramps were not coming as frequently any more. I kept thinking the finish line was coming soon, but I hadn't realized how off my Garmin was from the course. Then I remembered that the last couple hundred meters are up this crazy hill and there it was. You would think when you were this close, it wouldn't matter, but it definitely did. I tried my best to run up this thing, but I was barely moving. Then I was finally able to pick up the pace a bit for the last hundred feet and I crossed the line just under 3:40. Really, when I finished I could care less about my time.  I was so happy to be done. I was hurting and I knew I gave it everything I had even if my plan was not the best.


I saw Andy pretty much right after I crossed, and I could tell he hadn't been waiting there for too long. It turned out that he had a pretty awful last several miles too. He experienced muscle cramps in the last few miles and had to walk a bit. He ended up finishing about a minute ahead of me. But aside from our rough finishes, Andy had finished his first marathon and I was there with him and that was what was really important.

He wasn't doing too good though and said he felt a bit faint and I could see it in his face. I wasn't doing that great myself, but I knew that over time we would get better. Unfortunately the way the finish is setup with so many people we had to walk quite a long way to just get some food and water. My first bite into this little bagel was awesome. I drank a bottle of water, and I started to feel better. After about 15 minutes Andy was starting to feel better as well.

Even though I was so happy to be done and so proud of Andy for his first marathon, I started to feel guilty about how it all went down. First off, it was my fault that we got there late.  I really didn't realize that it would take so long to get there and then once we did, there would be so much farther to go on foot. Secondly, it was clear that we had both gone out too fast in the first half. If Andy just followed his own more conservative pace in the beginning he would have been better off. Running at the pace I suggested may have caused him to run a slower overall time, and I am sure it contributed to him having such a miserable finish.

Andy assured me not to feel guilty about it and who knew what would happen if we ran it differently. I started thinking about the 3:30 goal and what went wrong. It really didn't seem like that much of a stretch goal. Even with all the time I've spent thinking about it, I'm not sure exactly what happened. I have a few ideas though and I'll break them up into race day vs. training factors.

Race Day Factors
It was a bit windy throughout the race, but especially in some parts of the middle miles.
I knew it was going to be hilly in the beginning, but it was even hillier than I thought, and there is no question the hills were worse than Philly. I don't even remember being phased by the hills in Philly, and here I was feeling them.
The first two miles were quite congested and as a result we were constantly weaving in and out of people and accelerating and then slowing down like a mini fartlek workout.
I think the combination of these factors was enough more effort to push a little too hard for the first half and that difference didn't leave us with enough for the end.

Training Factors
My decision to go for 3:30 was largely due to one awesome training run I had where I ran the last 10 miles of a 20 mile run at 7:45 pace. I think in order for me to run a 3:30 I would had to have an equally amazing race day, and that just didn't happen that day. I also had grand plans to lose some weight in the months during my training, but instead I gained a couple pounds. That is definitely one area I need to work on. And finally, I just wasn't able to get the volume of training I wanted to get in based on recovering from my injury. Honestly though, I don't think I should have pushed it anymore. I could tell when I was hitting the 50 mile weeks, I was getting close to my limit and my knee would start to ache again.

In Conclusion

So how do I feel about this race? I have mixed feelings. Personally, I wish I could have been a bit more prepared for the race and in fact, even while I was finishing I thought about how I definitely need to train a lot harder for NY next year. I didn't get the time I wanted and I didn't get a new PR which I kind of thought was in the bag. But, that's where I'll end with the negative feelings.

I was so happy to run 15 miles of it with Andy. With a marathon, it's not just one day. There needs to be  many weeks of training that go along with it, and it was great to go back and forth with Andy over the weeks and comment on each other's workouts and talk over the phone about how things were progressing. It's not that uncommon to not even make it to the marathon because of injury so the fact that we both made it through our training and then were able to run together for any of it was just a bonus.

And I have to remind myself that I've come to a point in my running that finishing a marathon is not enough for me. That's actually pretty cool. That I'm in good enough shape where I am disappointed with merely finishing. That actually makes me happy. So I walk away from this experience overall quite happy.

This is us coming back home after the race. You can still see some salt lines on Andy's face. At this point we were
feeling pretty good and ready for some real food!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

PEAC Ewing 5K

Right from the start I was a bit behind. Frank is all the way to the right. Matthew next to him in red and in the lead!

20:57 (6:45 pace) 6th Overall (My highest place finish in a race, ever? :)

I had considered possibly doing a race just like my training schedule suggested, but never got around to actually looking for one, so I decided I would just do a tempo run instead. But then I talked to Frank, who is also following a Pfitzinger marathon plan (although he is peaking at over 70 miles) and he was doing a local 5K by him in Ewing. A couple days before the race I decided why not go for it. It also helped that Andy was planning on doing a 5K the following day. I had traded the speed work earlier in the week for a few strides so I was feeling relatively fresh for the race. I knew that my fitness wasn't at it's peak, but I was thinking I was more fit than I was when I did my last 5K. I was definitely thinking I was going to get a new PR. I had even thought about the possibility of breaking 20 minutes if conditions were favorable and the course was flat. Well conditions were questionable (32 degrees at the start) and the course was definitely NOT flat and I  missed a PR by 7 seconds.

The Race

I was so cold when I first got there. I had a hard time filling
out the form with my shivering hand!
I arrived about 45 minutes before the start. I knew it was a very small race (about 100 people) so I wasn't worried about getting there super early. It was ridiculously cold outside for this early in the season. It was the first frost, actually. I had the usual level of nervousness and after signing up and attaching my racing bib, I did a little warm-up. It was a bit too short and then I got a text from Frank saying he was there. I met up with him and his family and waited with them for about 15 minutes before the start of the race. A few minutes after 8:15, we lined up and I was pretty much right at the front. The mayor of Ewing said a few words and we were off.

The first 100 meters were pretty fast as expected. And even so, Frank and his son, Matthew were already way out ahead. I was feeling like I was likely running fast enough so I decided to take it easy. Perhaps too easy. What I didn't realize was how much of a downhill the first half mile really was, but I would find that out later. I hit the first mile in just under 6:30 which sounded perfect to me, again if this was totally flat. The start of the second mile was a fairly significant hill. I looked down at my Garmin a little after I started and it said 8 something! I remember thinking "What is this nonsense?!" I knew I was going up a hill, but I didn't think I was going that slow. That whole 2nd mile I just tried to get it under 7 minutes, and I couldn't do it. I was pretty upset but then I figured, I would just really have to pick it up in the third mile.

I think I actually said "Crap" as I crossed the line and stopped my Garmin.
Ha! The third mile was ridiculous. It was pretty much entirely uphill. My thoughts of picking it up started to fade. I was pretty upset at this point, because it was dawning on me that I was not going to be getting a good time, but I still thought  I could eek out a PR. Usually at about half a mile out I start to really pick it up, except this was the point where the hill got even steeper, so even though I felt like I was pushing harder, my pace stayed at right around 7 minutes.

The last quarter is flat to downhill, but it was too late by then. I kicked it in pretty well, but I could already see 20:4X when I was still more than 10 seconds away from the clock and I realized I wasn't going to even PR. I crossed the line in 20:57 and I was pretty darn upset.

I just thought this was a great picture of
Frank and Matthew (happy with a PR!)
Frank came in a minute ahead of me in 4th place in just under 20 minutes. That made it the 3rd time he broke 20 minutes in a 5K. I remember when he was chasing that for a while. After him, was his son Matthew (age 13) in 20:32. I remember only 2 years ago when Matthew came in just ahead of Abby in about 27 minutes in the Princeton 5K. He improved over 6 minutes from then! It's pretty clear he has a bright running future ahead of him. I'm going to make a prediction and say his high school PR will be 17:14. I was behind him in 6th place overall.  Despite my upsetting performance, this turned out to be my highest place finish in any race I've ever run. I guess that's what you get with  a local 5K with a field of ~100 runners.

Here come the factors (AKA excuses)

So what happened? Why did I not even PR? Were my expectations off? Was I not as fit as I thought? Now that I've had some time to think about it, I've come up with my list of reasons in order of increasing affect on final race performance.

  1. It was too cold. I am totally down for cold weather running. Even 32 degrees is fine, but I was not fully ready for it this early in the season. When the race started and I was huffing and puffing the cold air, I felt a little like the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz.  +5 seconds.
  2. Not enough warm up. This kind of goes with the cold weather. I ran less than a mile and only did a couple strides and I don't think this was enough of a warm up especially for how cold it was. +10 seconds.
  3. Too Hilly. This course is definitely the hilliest 5K course that I've run on since High School. Now granted, I've been mostly running on flat courses, so it doesn't take that much to be the hilliest. But still, this course starts with a major down hill and then you are running up and down some hills in the 2nd mile and then going back up the big hill on the last mile. There's about 125 ft. of elevation gain for that last mile. My previous PR at the Hillsborough Hop has a net downhill of a bout 70 ft. and it feels like a pancake compared to this one. +20 seconds.
  4. I did not push hard enough. Ultimately, these other factors are beyond my control. But, this is what really gets under my skin. I finished the race feeling like I had more to give. I was upset with the hills and I did not push hard enough. If I compare this race to two years ago when I ran a then, 21:16 PR at the Princeton 5K, I remember not having much of a kick at the end because I was too tired. That's when I know I have pushed enough. Here, I had plenty left in the tank. And this was made even more clear once I looked at my Garmin results. Average HR of 169! What the heck?! That is way too low. Maybe part of it was the cold, but still, I should be pushing way closer to my max for such a short race, and I did not do that. This is what I am most upset about. +25 seconds.
Add it all up and you get 60 seconds and a new sub 20 minute 5K PR! Ha, if only it really worked this way.  It's not like I really believe these made up numbers have any value, but I like to play around with things like this anyway.

The take away

Right now I am mainly focused on the Marine Corps Marathon in 11 days. This race doesn't change anything in that regard. If anything, I feel like based on the conditions and my HR, I'm in a good spot to go for my 3:30 goal, but I will really have to work on number 4 to get there. Now, once the Marine Corps Marathon is over, then I think I would like to focus on running a faster 5K time. I plan on doing a November 5K at Colonial Park which I believe is relatively flat. And then I think I would like to continue working on some shorter stuff into the early Spring. I am still optimistic that the 20 minute barrier will go down in the coming months!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ups and Downs

The last year of training broken down weekly. Blue = distance, Red = fitness (VDOT/HR).

There are of course ups and downs during the course of training. They are expected. But, that doesn't stop me from trying to figure out the cause each time I have a great run, and even more importantly, figure out why things are not going well. 

The graph above is my last year of training broken down weekly. The blue represents my weekly miles (topping out at 70 during the week of my 50 miler). The red line is my own custom indicator of fitness. It is a combination of pace and distance (VDOT) divided by my average heart rate to produce one number. Back in February when I was really pushing the miles into the 50s and 60s as well as doing some quality workouts before the Rutgers half, I was at my peak fitness. Then in March and April, I had to back off a bit because of some calf issues and I stopped doing the faster workouts. I lost a little fitness, but I still was able to run a pretty darn good half and get a new PR.

Marathon then and now

2 years ago, I ran my 2nd marathon which was a 17 minute improvement over my first. I ran a 3:37, averaging 8:17 pace. I was very happy at the time, but since then, when I was at the peak of my fitness, I was pretty confident I could have managed a sub 3:30 marathon which would be sub 8 pace. When I was making my list of goals for the new year, I was pretty darn confident that I could take another 17 minutes off and get a 3:20 and I even put that as a medium goal. I was planning on going into 70 or maybe even 80 mile weeks to do this. 

Then, after the 50 miler in May, I realized a I had a bit of a knee injury so I really laid off the miles. This also happened to be during the summer, and one thing my chart does not take into account is temperature. So during the summer months, with the low miles and the hot temps, my level of fitness seemed to have really dropped. But as I kept adding more weekly miles and then the temperature started to go down, my fitness started to come back. 

I was happy to see the improvement, but I still wasn't back to where I once was, and no where near my hopes of running a sub 3:20. I  was running out of time before the marathon. I was trying to figure out what kind of pace I'd be able to run and whether I could even get a new PR after two years. After having a fairly good week of improvement, I had a few runs in a row that went terribly. I had some ideas as to why they went badly, but I really started thinking that I would probably have to completely abandon any ideas of a major improvement and just try to PR again. I was pretty darn bummed at this point in my training. But then I has a breakthrough run!

Breakthrough Run

My plan was to finish my long run at my planned marathon pace, and based on the couple terrible runs earlier this week, I decided 8:15 to 8:10 is probably where I am at. Although I plan to do this all the time, I know that really I'm going to try to go a bit faster than that. I decided that if my HR was in the low 160s it would be alright to get the pace down to around 8:00 if I was feeling good, but I didn't want to push it into the high 160s to low 170s range like I had done before.

I was also a bit torn on the distance I wanted to run. I had been reading more recently about how doing long runs in the 20 mile range when you are not doing enough weekly miles was more injury risk for the reward of going that far. I was only going to hit 50 miles this week, and a 20 mile run meant 40% of my weekly miles. According to what I read, 1/3 of weekly miles is really the longest your long run should be which would be more like 17 miles like I had done in previous weeks. But I wasn't really following the rest of the advice of these plans and I figured I'd done it two years ago and was alright and c'mon, I ran a 50 mile race in May. I decided to just go for the 20 for this one time.

I decided at least part of the reason for my recent crappy runs had been dehydration. I just wasn't on top of my water intake and I decided I would not make that mistake again, so I was sure I was drinking plenty of water the days before. I knew I was we'll hydrated based on having to take a pit stop about 5 miles into my run.

Another factor in my crappy runs is I wasn't running until later in the day so it was a little too warm reaching into the 70s. But this morning it was Sunny, no wind and in the mid 50s. I was a little chilly in just shorts and a t-shirt. Perfect. I had 3 GUs in my pockets and a single hand held. I was ready to go. 

The first several miles were pretty uneventful, as is normally the case on long runs. It was a lot hillier than my normal tow path runs which was on purpose since the marathon has some hills in the beginning. I ran past the old home at Jackson ave and past the playground where Abby and Sadie and even Lucy for a bit (although she'll never remember) spent some time growing up. I was in a good mood and feeling strong. My pace was nice and easy in the 8:40s and my HR was in the mid to low 140s. This was a great start, but I have enough experience to know that this mean little this early on a long run.

Next came the hill on Mt. Lucas. This was always my favorite go-to hill when I lived at Jackson. I'm going to guess its at least a 200 foot climb over the course of a mile, which is more than I will come across at the Marine Corps. I decided that once I climbed Mt. Lucas and started going down the other side at around the 8 mile mark I would naturally pick up the pace on the down hill and just keep it at marathon pace all the way home. 

Cruising down Mt. Lucas was as fun as I remembered. I was just letting my legs go and my HR dropped back into the low 140s after hitting the mid 150s going up the hill. By the time I got near the bottom, my 9 minute pace turned into 8:20. I was now heading into Princeton and feeling great. I already had two GUs and my water was about half gone which was about right. 

There are a few rolling hills in Princeton but I was able to keep the pace in the low 8s with my HR still in the 150s so things were good. There is another really nice downhill heading into the tow path so I decided to take it really easy and head in just under 8 pace with a low HR. Now it was going to be all tow path for about 8 miles. Because of the beautiful fall weather, there was a ton of runners out there. And running near Princeton meant passing a few of the faster college kids which is always inspiring.

I had my last GU at around mile 13 and I realized I had been going a bit faster than I had expected at this point. I was in the 7:50 range and feeling great. I started to slowly creep up to this guy ahead of me. I was at a point where I was going to pass him, but it would have been to slowly as our paces were so close, so I decided to pick it up just a bit to pass him quickly. I did and as I looked down, I realized I was now running 7:40 pace. I was feeling really relaxed though and my HR was in the low 160s so I just went with it. This guy ended up passing me then, which was fine with me, and this time I just stuck behind him. For then next few miles I was cruising along in 7:40 - 7:45 pace and feeling wonderful.  This is the best I had felt this late in a run and going at that pace. I wasn't exactly sure what to make of it. I started thinking about how I was really going to start to fade when the last few miles came up, but it never happened. Instead, when I had one mile left, I decided to pick it up some more, and finished it in 7:26 pace. I can honestly say I was holding back some.  I think if I really pushed with everything, I could have gotten close to or maybe even under 7.

Last 5 months of daily runs and VDOT/HR showing the last long run as my best fitness
When I got home, I was absolutely ecstatic. I plugged in my data and uploaded it to fitcharts and sure enough, there it was.  A new peak for my highest VDOT to HR ratio, although this time I didn't need the graph to tell me it. When I looked further at the stats and compared them to a pretty much identical run from two years ago, I got even more excited. For this run, I finished the last 10 miles at 7:45 pace with a 161 HR. 2 years ago on the exact same run I averaged 8:02 pace for the last 8 miles and I didn't have a HR watch then so I don't know that stat, but I did write in my log that I started to fade a bit at the end. 

So what does this mean for Marine Corps?

Of course, the first thing I thought of while I was enjoying my wonderful runner's high from this run, was that it was time I made my pace bracelet for the Marine Corps Marathon. And that's exactly what I did. Having finished the last 10 miles of this training run with a relateively low HR and a 7:45 pace made me think I have a real shot at breaking the 3:30 barrier which would mean averaging 8 minute pace. I did a bit of research online and found this great pacing guide site. I created my pace bracelet and I am ready to do this. As a last check to make sure I wasn't crazy, I posted my intentions of going for sub 3:30 on the sub 3:30 marathon thread at runningahead and a couple folks weighed in thinking I was in great shape to go for it! Now I just need to have as great of a day as I had on this long run and I think I've got a good chance! With my new adjusted expectations I am once again, super excited for my 3rd marathon.