Spartan Race

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Shamrock Half Marathon 2010: What Does a Running Quack Wear Beneath His Kilt?

I have to say, with all due respect to Disney and Kill Devil Hills, Virginia Beach may be my favorite town in which to run a race. I've run the Shamrock in one form or another twice (marathon 2009, half 2010) and the RockNRoll Half there as well, and it's always done right all the way around. This year was no different.

As I've mentioned before, if I don't have a race to train for, I get, well, lazy and fat, so my spring schedule has been loaded up. After the Goofy, Mrs. Running Quack and I decided that we'd just do half marathons for a while, and we had such a good time running this race last year that it was a no-brainer to include it again this year. It's flat, fast, scenic, well run, has great community support, and has excellent swag. What's not to like?

After the Goofy, I had two goals for the late winter and early spring: transition to midfoot running and PR a half. I thought this race would be the one to in which I would most likely be successful in both endeavors, but the since I PRed the Mercedes while running midfoot, I seemed to have accomplished my goals way ahead of schedule. It took a lot of self imposed pressure off, and I decided to just have fun. Early on, I figured, with the Celtic theme of the weekend, it would be a great time to wear my Sport Kilt. So what if it doesn't really match the color scheme of my Sugoi Brand Champion Ready Shirt or my Newtons, was this a half marathon or a fashion show? Honestly, as bad as I look after some races, who cares whether my color scheme works. I did have a little bit of a concern that it might slow me down, but I had run for a while with a guy in the Disney Marathon who was wearing a kilt, and picked his brain on the effect on his running. His assessment? He didn't even know it was there. I wanted to PR in my kilt.

The Shamrock Half starts at a civilized 7 AM, but Mrs. Running Quack and I stayed a hotel right at the finish line, so we had a half mile or so walk to the starting line. Even so, we left our room around 6:30. We walked outside that morning to the first race that we've run in 2010 that didn't have a sub-freezing start temperature. Arriving at the starting line in what we perceived as plenty of time, we decided to take one last visit to the porta-potties. After waiting in line for quit some time, we emerged to the Star Spangled Banner, and then immediately after, a starting gun, which was somewhat problematic, because we should have been off with the first corral...
We dashed through the crowd of spectators , trying to get into a corral, to no avail. We finally ended up running through the landscaping of several local businesses, hurtling recently sheared pampus grass and narrowly avoiding Spanish Bayonets, but managed to slide into the shoot just as the second wave started. An inauspicious start, but we were both laughing about it.

I took off running at a good pace, and felt great. I was actually running part of the Saturday Night Live Cowbell/Blue Oyster Cult skit through my mind in the early stages for some reason, but instead of Bruce Dickenson/Christopher Walken saying "I put on my pants one leg at a time, and then I make gold records" I was going with the mantra "I put on my pants one leg at a time, and then I run PRs".
I cruised through downtown Virginia Beach towards Fort Story, and discovered a curious thing. I've never run in a kilt before, but apparently, if you do, it's instant street cred with anybody else wearing a kilt. I ran into such a guy around mile 3. He asked me if I had done any practice runs in my kilt (I hadn't). He apparently had done exactly one, but on that run had happened to intercept his son's school bus. There was much discussion on said bus as to why a lunatic was running around the neighborhood in a kilt. No word on whether his son claimed him or not. He was running a good bit slower than I was, so I bade him farewell - he told me to look out for his buddy who was somewhere up ahead of us, and also wearing a kilt.

Miles three, four, and five of this race are on a tree-lined, shady, well-maintained road called Shore Drive. While it's pleasant, there's not a lot of entrainment value. The race folks know this, and station cheering volunteers as well as local DJs and Band along this part of the route. It makes for an enjoyable part of the half. It serves a dual purpose as as miles 16 through 19 of the full marathon, and I don't remember liking it quite so much at that point during that race.
Just before mile 6, you enter Fort Story. You can do funny things with your mind if your try hard enough. Looking at the elevation profile of this race, there's a slow up slope, with peak around mile 6, followed by a long gradual down slope to the finish. The peak is pretty close to the half way point. It's frankly absurd to think of it as a peak. If actually look at the scale, you gain maybe 6 feet over six miles, and then lose those same 6 over the next 7. This ain't Grandfather Mountain. That said, I somehow managed to convince myself that I could tell I was running up hill for the first half, and that the second half was downhill and would be easier. When I reached to half way point, and the "apex" of the climb, I was still easily on pace to break my PR from the Mercedes half by a good 2 minutes. And I felt good. A crazy idea about having a negative split crept in to my mind. And why not, I was running downhill.

In Fort Story, you get the feeling you are running just inside of a cluster of sand dunes that are hiding one of the most pristine beaches in North America. You can hear waves crashing on the shore, and you can feel a sea breeze, but you can't see any water. For all I know it, the shore line could be paved right down to the water, but I envisioned it as a white billowing sand beach, strewn with large whelk shells and scavenging crabs. You even pass between two picturesque light houses. That's on your right side. On your left side is a fence with signs every few feet declaring "Danger, Laser Range". The juxtaposition always made me laugh.

Somewhere around mile 8, I caught the first kilted guy's friend. We chatted for a few minutes, but we weren't running the same pace, and I ran on ahead. About mile nine, you squirt out of Fort Story into a residential neighborhood. At this point, I was still feeling quite good. I had slowed down a few seconds per mile, but was still easily maintaining a PR pace. Things were looking good. Around mile 10, some local, unofficial good Samaritan's were offering beer. While it is usually my policy to take at least a sip of a beer offered to me during a race over 10 miles in length, if not drink it outright, I elected to forgo it on this particular race. After all, I was flying (for me). And then, it all came apart.

For reasons that are unclear to me, somewhere around mile 11.5, I bonked. I lost all my energy, and my right hip started killing me all at the same time. I slowed waaayyy down to what felt like a crawl. I somewhat angrily stumbled through the next mile, which took me out of the residential area and back into downtown Virginia Beach's main drag - Atlantic Avenue. Over this short mile, my sure thing PR seemed to just melt away. I honestly can say that I was giving it all I had at that moment, though.

Around mile 12.5, you zig zag off of Atlantic and onto the Boardwalk. I checked my Garmin against my pacetat, and realized that I still had a chance to PR. I knew I'd be mad at myself if I didn't suck it up and try to burn it on in, so I dropped back nearly to my mile 1 pace, and covered the distance. I knew that if I focused on the now visible, but distant finish line, I'd run out of oopmh before I got there, so I just elected to focus on individual boardwalk lamp posts and run to them, then I'd choose another lamp post to which to run. Doing that, I managed to maintain a pretty good pace all the way to the finish line. But it wasn't quite enough.

I didn't PR, but I was within 31 seconds of doing so. It still goes on record as my second fastest half ever, and had I not PRed the Mercedes, it would have been a minute and four second PR. I grabbed a water and leaned up against the railing to wait for Mrs. Running Quack to cross the finish line. Pretty soon, the second kilted guy showed up, and we started chatting like old buddies. Not too much after that, my wife crossed the finish line, with a 1 second, but well earned, PR.

With all that in mind, I couldn't be too upset when I received my Shamrock Medal, my Shamrock Half Marathon Hat, and my "Surprise Gift", which turned out to be a finisher's t-shirt. I was even less upset when a few minutes later I was enjoying complimentary cold beer and an Irish Stew on Virginia Beach. Mrs. Running Quack and I climbed up on a dune, and watched the waves roll in on a warm, totally beautiful, spring day. Couldn't have hoped for a better ending to a race.

So what does a Running Quack wear beneath his kilt? Sugoi Piston Compression Shorts, if he is running the Shamrock Half Marathon. Mu.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dissecting a bad run

Last weekend, I had an epiphany. I'm a running moron. I decided to do a short run on a 3.5 mile dirt loop in a local state park. And it was terrible. And I'm really glad. It made me realize that I've slowly transitioned in the way I approach my running. And the transition is good. I'm an idiot for not figuring this out earlier.

As I've explained, I'm not somebody who loves running. Runner's highs elude me, I don't use it as a social outlet, and it doesn't clear my head. I usually run because I have an objective somewhere down the line. I'm your basic medal and tech shirt junky (I swear, I can quit any time I want). I always have to have my next race scheduled so I am training for something. If I don't, it becomes all too easy to just to just tank a run and do something else.

For most of my running career, I've purposely distracted myself from what I was doing. I've day dreamed, I've listened to music, I've listened to books on tape, I've composed my own novel in my mind (it was excellent, until about mile 20, when I realized that it was the plot of several Faulkner books mashed together), I've done anything I can to entertain myself. What I haven't done is give much thought to the mechanics of what I was actually doing. But on this awful run, I actually paid attention.

About half way through the run, I realized that I was actually actively making an attempt to vivisect my dying training session. Unconsciously, I had turned off my Ipod, ceased my mental wanderings, and started taking inventory of how my body felt and what it was doing. I realized a few things. First, I've become much more of a mid-foot runner than a heel striker. My Newton Gravitas aren't conducive to dirt trail running, so i had switched back to my old Mizuno's. They may offer better traction on the dirt, but they feel awful now. The heel is waaayy too high. Second, I was over striding a lot. Third, I have a lot more control when going downhill with the above mentioned midfoot strike then with a heel strike. Fourth, there is a limit to how much fiber one should eat prior to a run. I could go on, but the important point is that rather than just bagging it, and deciding to run another day, I actually tried to figure out what was going wrong.

In retrospect, it actually began when I bought my Newtons and started running off a part of my foot other than my heel. It continued on through the Mercedes Half, and is probably why I PRed that race. I'd be willing to bet that most people figure this stuff out while they're training for their first marathon. Not being an athlete, it's taken me five marys and double digit halfs to actually monitor what I was doing. I probably just doubled my running IQ, and I'm still the equivalent of a running cro magnon. Mu.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Quack Knocks Out a Hundred

It's nice when a product does what it says it does. Some time back in December, I stumbled upon an app on my Ipod Touch called 100 push ups that promised to get you to the point where you could do just that. I find that I do a better job of exercising when I have a goal in mind - that's why I'm always signed up for at least one race past the one I'm training for at the moment. Given that, it sounded like an pretty ideal exercise program - quick, simple, underrated exercise (push up), specific, concrete objective one is trying to reach (100 reps), prescribed time period (about 7 weeks). I downloaded the app for a nominal fee, and got started (don't have an iphone/ipod touch, don't worry - it's also available online at

I started the week of Christmas. The app is fairly simple. You are first given an initial test to determine you baseline (nothing fancy, just the number of push ups you can do in a row with good form) and then you are given a set number of reps and sets to perform 3 days a week based on your initial performance. The Ipod version keeps track of these for you and even graphs them if you like. It will also let you broadcast your progress on twitter and facebook, if you are so inclined.

I did well enough on the initial exam to get placed in the highest of the three categories. I found the first couple of weeks challenging, but easily doable. Then came the Goofy. Given that I was a bit concerned about just being able to finish this race, I decided to take a hiatus from any form of cross training for a few weeks. It seems I was able to do this fairly easily, but it did end up stretching me beyond the seven week goal.

Over the next several weeks, I saw a really profound increase in the number of push ups I could do. You actually hit one hundred total push ups by week three, though that includes all the sets. I also found out around that time, that this program was the brainchild of an acquaintance, Steve Speirs, aka @britishbulldog.

The end of week 4 requires another test to exhaustion. While I was able to crank out the maximum level of reps required stay in the highest category, I did make the mistake of then trying to get my sets in after the test. At that point, I decided that it was probably better not to test and work out on the same day.

For the next month or so, I kept plugging along. Unfortunately, I didn't quite keep to the three work outs a week, more like a three every ten days, and while think I would have made better progress had I kept to the rigid schedule, I don't think it ultimately hurt me. A few days ago, I cranked out a total of 274 push ups. I woke up this morning, expecting the daily tally to be in the 300 range, and was surprised to learn that I had completed the program - I just needed to do my final test.

Somewhat nervously, I started at 100 counted down. I didn't even really feel anything until I hit 40 (after 60 push ups). About 25, things started getting hard, and I have to admit, I had to pause a few times and collect myself during the last 20, but I made it, in what I would consider one set. And tomorrow, I'm going to do 105. Mu.