And so it begins

It's only 9:15 a.m. and I feel like I've had a full day already. When the alarm went off at 5:50 a.m., I was having a dream ... about the alarm going off. Don't you hate those? Anyway, I quickly relieved myself, put on my running clothes, grabbed a granola bar and some water and headed over to Riverside Runners for the first workout of the speed and endurance training group.

Our warmup was probably about a half mile total, including a slow quarter mile then some easy, short hill repeats to get everything moving. The run itself was 6 miles with 10 minutes slower, 3 hard, 7 slow, 3 hard, 7 slow, 3 hard, then a relatively medium pace for the remaining distance. Click here for the actual course (you'll have to forgive me on my mapping skills since this is the first time I've used the mapmyrun site).

On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give this workout about a 7. My overall time was just over 50 minutes. During the faster runs I was hitting about a 7:30 mile pace. (One day I'll blog about how great it is to have a Garmin Forerunner watch.) I fortunately hit two of those faster times on a downhill; the third started going up a hill, but the second half was downhill. Considering I started this run earlier than I'm used to, and got up an hour earlier than usual, this is a pretty good kickoff to the rest of the summer. And being one of the slowest in the group only motivates me to run harder. (I could also go on and on about this horrid humidity we've been having lately...)

On a side note, thanks to those who have left comments or sent separate emails to me. It's nice to have a few readers out there! Feel free to leave any questions or comments for me. Don't forget that comments can be anonymous. And if you read my blog and have a blog yourself, let me know and I'll add a link on my page.

The early bird ...

I just realized that in 12 hours I'll be getting up an hour earlier than usual to go running with a speed and endurance training group. While I dread the thought of running at 6:15 a.m., the reality is this will only make me better. In my mind, it's just impossible to have a long race in mind without some group help. So I guess you could say that even though the Richmond Marathon is 20 weeks away, my training will officially get under way in the morning.

Using what I've learned

A couple of days after a race, I always like to write about the experience of what happened, what I could have done differently, what I learned from that specific race, etc. This past Saturday I was 4 seconds away from having my first sub 23-minute 5K. I had my personal best of 23:03, a 7:27 mile pace. That time was 40 seconds faster than a 5K I did on a track about two weeks ago, and 43 seconds faster than my last road 5K in November.

Saturday's race, the Presbyterian Homes 5K in Lynchburg, was an interesting course. The first and last half mile of the race were uphill, with lots of rolling hills in between. Perhaps interesting isn't the right word -- it was fairly typical of races in Lynchburg with all the hills. It was the first race in a while that I feel I effectively used what I have learned in the past year. Going up the hills, I shortened my stride and let the arms do more work. While I was getting passed going up a few hills, I was not wearing myself out like some people were. Going down the hills, I let the hills carry me and gave my body a chance to relax while still going faster (and passing those people who passed me going uphill).

I don't think I could have done much differently. I had a pretty decent final kick the last tenth of a mile and I felt like I left everything on the course. There are no regrets there. The weather was perfect. For late June you couldn't ask for much better weather than mid-70s and relatively low humidity.

So, what's next? This Wednesday I join a morning training group at 6:15. It's a speed and endurance group geared for the Virginia Ten Miler, but will help me tremendously as I get ready for the marathon. Next week there's a one-mile race on July 4. Last year's time was 7:11 and I really hope to break the 7-minute mark this year.

You can quote me on that

About a month ago, I signed up to receive daily e-mails from Runner's World magazine that contained running quotes. I thought I'd share some of them. Some of them you may have heard, while others are along the lines of "Why didn't I think of that?"

"A lot of people run a race to see who's the fastest. I run to see who has the most guts." — Steve Prefontaine

"Pain is temporary, pride is forever." — Anonymous

"I like running because it's challenge. If you run hard, there's the pain - and you've got to work your way through the pain. You know, lately it seems all you hear is 'Don't overdo it' and 'Don't push yourself.' Well, I think that's a lot of bull. If you push the human body, it will respond." — Bob Clarke

“Running is real and relatively simple - but it ain't easy." — Mark Will-Weber

"Runners just do it - they run for the finish line even if someone else has reached it first." — Nike

"The greatest pleasure in life is doing the things people say we cannot do." — Walter Bagehot

"Run like hell and get the agony over with." — Clarence DeMar

Looking back helps me look ahead

A year (and two years) ago at this time, my longest run since I started running again in 2004 had been 4 miles. I was among those people who ran, but never did more than 3 miles at a time and only ran 5K races. I thought anything beyond that was just crazy. Three years ago at this time I was really just starting off and enjoying getting ready for my wedding. Four years ago, running was something I used to do, as I weighed nearly 220 pounds.

I have to look back at where I've been over the years to help me put the rest of this year into perspective. As a teen, I was just in shape by default. I played football on the street in the neighborhood; I road my bike miles and miles without thinking; I played basketball nearly every day from November through March; I "ran" track a few different times. Simply put, like I say now that I "just do it," I did it back then. Then came college in which every year I gained weight here and there. I can blame in on the pizza and beer all I want, but honestly, it was more about what I didn't do. I gradually stopped doing the things that kept me in shape without thinking about it. It's as simple as that. After college, that trend continued. It took getting married for me to take a hard look at myself and have that urge to change my ways that led to 200-plus pounds.

So 2004 was the year of change for me, and for two and a half years I kept that same routine of running a few times a week. I've now come to think of 2006 of being even a bigger year of change when it comes to running. Like I said earlier, a year ago at this time my "long run" really wasn't that long. In the past year, 4 miles has become more of the norm, I've ran a 5 miler, three 10Ks, a 10 miler and two half marathons. Each time out I feel better and my race pace has gradually improved. But now comes that true test of preparing for the November marathon. Now that I have taken a look back at my running days (or lack thereof), it's time to look ahead and get focused.

The race with an asterisk

The Xterra James River Scramble 10K is the most challenging race I've ever done. In three years of doing races, I've never finished a race and said, "That was the hardest race I've ever done," until this past Saturday. I've race some challenging races, but nothing so far had fallen into that "hardest ever" category.

Two days later it's still hard to put into words what it was like to run up steps, run through weeds, run over rocks, climb up a small ladder, jump over water and still finish in less than an hour. Race wise, this will go down as my slowest pace ever (57:07, click here for results by gender), but I think the same can be said for everyone there. It wasn't meant to be a race against time - it's more a test to see what your body can actually handle in 6.2 miles.

The race was broken up into four heats. I was in the first heat with a predicted time of just under 50 minutes. To be in the first heat, predicted times had to be less than 50 minutes. Well, only 116 runners out of nearly 1,100 actually finished in 50 minutes or less. To realize two days later that I still finished in the top third of the field is very satisfying. I am still sticking to my statement after the race though that this was a bad race, but a hell of a workout. It's tough to "race" when you have to actually stop and wait to climb up steps and jump over rocks. I'd say that total stop time was 2 or 3 minutes.

On paper, this will be the worst race I hope I'll ever do, but physically I learned a lot about myself and realized that there are many more challenges out there for me. It was a perfect springboard to have better 5K times and to get me even more motivated for the Richmond Marathon.

Just pay attention

This past weekend The News & Advance published a large feature on bikes vs. automobiles. This article, and an accompanying reader reaction question posted to this week, were in response to a couple of recent bike crashes. While I don't bike, I can relate to this story being a runner ... and being a driver. Virginia laws are quite simple - bikers and pedestrians are allowed on roads unless otherwise posted. That should be the end of the story, but it's not.

I've seen a lot of comments about people who "hate" bikers and say they shouldn't be on the road. I am sure those same people say the same thing about runners who often opt to run on roads without a sidewalk. As a runner, I must admit that I KNOW that I can go to places like the Blackwater Creek Bikepath to jog. Bikers can go there as well. The problem is, even though there are plenty of entrances to the trail, it's truly not a challenging place to run or bike. It's one of those places to go to a few times a month to get a nice and easy flat workout. And yes, the trails are available too, but some of us, like myself, don't like trail running that much. I do it maybe once a month.

So that leaves bikers and runners to the streets. Lynchburg's streets are dangerous for everyone, including drivers. I think there are too many two way streets in the city's older neighborhoods. While that's another story for another day, it's an issue for bikers and runners because drivers simply don't want to slow down even in tight spaces. I, like many runners, will always use a sidewalk when it's there, but there are a lot of streets around here that simply don't have sidewalks. I'm not saying that we need more sidewalks, because some streets just aren't built for them. But on roads that don't have sidewalks, drivers need to be paying better attention for people who may be running, or even walking their dog ... and bikers.

For drivers who have a problem with bikers and/or runners, I know what you want to say. Go to the trail, or stay where there are sidewalks. It's not that simple. You need to get off your cell phone, stop eating in your car, stop driving 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, and pay attention. Cars and trucks aren't the only things allowed on roads. Bikers need to obey the laws, use hand signals, stay out of the middle of the road, and ... pay attention. Runners should run facing the traffic, stay out of the middle of the road, use sidewalks when they're available, and ... you guessed it, pay attention.

Seasons of running

The recent hot weather makes me realize why I like the cold so much more. When it's cold, you're so focused on getting warm that you don't have time to think about what you're doing. You just want to run and get it over with. But when it's hot, there seems to be too much going on. There's sweat everywhere. You have to avoid getting sweat in your eyes ... the sweat makes your shirt stick to your back ... there's sweat dripping off your arms and legs. I like to run in the mornings, but when it's hot, there's really no escaping the heat. When I left for an hour run at 7 a.m. earlier this week is was 65 degrees ... by the time I got home it warmed up 10 more degrees.

All this makes me wonder why there are so many races in the summer and very few in the winter? My half marathon was in the "winter," but mid-March can bring 70-plus degree temperatures, or like this year when it was 25 degrees at the start. (Like I said earlier, you just want to run and get it over with when it's that cold ...) In Lynchburg there's a 5K in February that usually doesn't bring out much of a crowd, but why? It seems runners like to take the late fall and winter off, or at least drastically cut back, then start training again in the spring. I have to disagree with that thought to a certain point because it seems winter is a great time to build great base miles. Just last year at this time, a "long" run for me was just 4 miles, and this Saturday will be my second 10K in a month - and I'd like to attribute that to running a lot in the winter. At the same time, taking time off does a body good ... I guess after training hard in the winter I'll continue to go about it a little differently and rest up in April. Who knows, though, what I might think after Nov. 10.

I guess you could say this point really has no point - I went out for a 5 mile run today and it was just hot, hot, hot and I needed to write something about running. I know this heat will get worse, much worse, until September rolls around, but it certainly makes me appreciate the runs in the cold so much more. No matter what though, I'll keep running.

The summer lineup

With knowing that I'll be training for a marathon from mid-summer to mid-fall, races this summer will take on a while new meaning. While I'll be looking to set some personal records, how I run and how I feel afterward are more important to me. I'm looking at this summer's races more in the sense of having a solid workout each time.

So that being said, here's a look at races around the area that I plan on doing:
* June 16, James River Scramble in Richmond. This is a 10K and my first time running this race.
* June 23, Presbyterian Homes 5K in Lynchburg. Despite running races for nearly three years, I've never done this race. The past two years I've been on a mini-Dave Matthews Band tour in Hershey, Pa., and Northern Virginia. This also is my first time doing two races two weeks in a row. I'm not too worried about it, but will listen closely to my body after the 10K.
* July 4, the second annual Downtown Academy Mile. Last year's time was 7:11 and this year I hope to break 7 minutes. Last year at that time, I had no idea how to run something all out, but I've learned a lot in the past year.
* July 21, Percival's Island 5 Miler. This is a great, relatively flat race. At the same time it's a bit intimidating because you can see too far in front of you. Last year was the first time running this and I had a time of 41:07. This year I'm shooting to break the 8-minute mile pace and finish under 40 minutes. I'll have a better goal in mind when it gets closer, but realistically I should have a time under 38 minutes.
* Aug. 18 is the Lynchburg Half Marathon. I'll probably do this as a long run only. I said that last year and ran it too hard, but I've learned my lesson.
* Sept. 29 is the Virginia 10 Miler. I'll be running this again, but like the half marathon, I'll use this as a chance to do a long run with people around. I'd like to beat my time from last year of 1:23, but it's too far away to be worried about that right now.

So if you're feeling motivated, go sign up for a race. There's a complete listing of local races at Riverside Runners Web site.