March 29, 2011

The Recipe for Running

Since someone asked me recently what went into my training schedule for the half marathon, figured I'd throw out all the gory details.

Winter Preparation
After taking seven weeks off running through November and December, I needed motivation; I’d never run through the winter before, and this year I was determined to not lose the endurance gains from last year’s base mileage. So in mid-January, I signed up for a February 10k, March half marathon, and early April 10 Miler…essentially putting my money where my mouth was…or shoes were…something like that. With $250 in race fees paid, I suddenly became more engaged in getting outside, leading promptly to another $250 in cold-weather gear from Pacers.

The key race in the trio was the National Half Marathon, a new distance for me in an official event, and a distance that wouldn’t be daunting if not for my long winter lay-off. My first run in mid-January would be a 2-mile run in 25-degree weather, with a 1-minute walk in the middle to catch my breath in the cold air. Uh-oh…13.1 miles suddenly loomed large.

After gaining ‘cold-weather lungs’ in January, I found the familiar groove of training runs on the W&OD Trail and started a slightly accelerated version of Hal Higdon’s half marathon training plan, leading to five days a week of hitting the ground, trail, or treadmill.

Much to the chagrin of my wife, Saturday mornings became pace runs; the farmer’s market or errand du jour could wait, I was running. And Saturday nights became pasta dinners, trying to keep fueled for Sunday’s long runs.

Final Preparation
After logging 175 miles of training in 2011, despite not feeling my groove in the 10k a month prior, the National Half Marathon was quickly on top of me, just a couple weeks away. After a confidence-boosting 12-mile training run on March 13, it was time for two weeks of taper before a March 26th race morning.

I tried a few new tricks for this distance, including drinking a few servings of 100% pomegranate or tart cherry juice every day for a week prior to the race. Preached by Jeff Galloway and Shalane Flanagan, it’s thought that the phytochemicals (antioxidant vitamins) and in particular, anthocyanins, in these juices help the body resist damage and repair itself. It’s really less about having a faster run and more about the body recovering and resisting new damage so you don’t feel destroyed the day after the race. Worth a shot.

I also tried to make sense of ‘computational marathoning,’ estimating the calories and carbohydrates I needed to load for optimal performance (based on VO2 max, heart rate, etc) and increasing the loading period from one night to 36+ hours. According to the calculations, which contain too much advanced math for me (thank you internet-based calculator), I apparently needed 1,250 calories (about 400g) of carbohydrates in the 12-36 hours prior to race day. I didn’t keep track too well, but I did expand my carb-loading into Thursday. So what did my Friday look like? It was a 2-bagel breakfast (Bodo’s FTW!), 2 servings of spaghetti (enriched; not whole wheat) for lunch, 3 cereal bars in the afternoon, 3 servings of spaghetti for dinner (12 hours out from the gun), and sipping on H2O all day. Why non-whole wheat pasta? Because to prime my glycogen reserves, foods higher on the glycemic index are much more effective in loading muscles. Extra fiber, olive oil, and whole wheat pasta are great for healthy weight loss, but before a race, you shouldn’t be worried about the size of your @$$. I wanted the highest glycemic load possible.

Related to carbs, I also carried two servings (one sleeve) of Shot Blocks on race day for midrace fueling to keep the glycogen reserves up for as long as possible. I try to replenish 30-50g of carbs per hour of racing, and don't want to rely on race-day Powerade/Gatorade or the mass quantities volunteers mix them in (often too concentrated or diluted).

The final preparation required a credit card. After two weeks of 60-degree weather, race morning was looking like 30-32 degrees. Though I already owned winter running pants, I was worried about over-heating halfway through the race and being miserable for the final kick. So on the eve of the race, I picked up a pair of CW-X Ventilator compression tights as a lightweight base layer to keep the wind at bay and keep my muscles warm. Turned out to be a very expensive, but also a very essential, addition to my race-day arsenal. Thankfully the race organizers gave out cheap cotton gloves which I could trash mid-race (No Impact Man would not be happy). Fully geared up for the arctic blast, the only thing remaining was a 5:00am wake-up and a 13.1-mile walk in the park.