Saturday, November 3, 2007

Sweet Home Alabama

24.02 miles, 3:11:00, 7:57 pace, Max HR = 155, Avg HR = 145

The Olympic Marathon Trials were held this weekend in New York City. The event was overshadowed by the death of Ryan Shay a mere 5 ½ miles into the race. I couldn’t possibly compose anything that would do Mr. Shay any justice, so let me be brief and say that I pray that the Shay family finds peace.

I ponder life and death rather frequently. Have I earned my life? Have I increased the utility in this world? Why haven’t I done a better job? If I am remembered for one quality (good or bad), what will it be?

Today’s run was a tough 24 miles through Birmingham, Alabama. This is the longest run I will complete prior to the marathon. I have a 22 mile run scheduled for Nov 17, and nothing else exceeds 16 miles until after I run my marathons.

My goal today was to complete the run with an eight minute pace. The toughest, most intimidating part of this run was the unknown. I didn’t know what to expect regarding hills, running surface, turns, route, weather, hydration stations, lighting, etc. And I ran by myself starting at 5:13 AM, almost two hours before the 7:08 sunrise time.

I chose my route based on the advice of a Danny, a running coach associated with the local running store called Track Shak. Danny runs a C25K program (couch to five kilometer) in Birmingham, and can be reached at Just like the name implies, the goal is to transform people from a fitness level of TV watcher extraordinaire to complete a goal race of a 5k. I get really excited about couch to 5k programs, because that’s essentially what I did back in March when I started with Power in Motion. As I said, Danny gave me some advice on the route. But I ended up missing half of the route because it was too dark to follow and I thought I was at the end of the trail.

Overall I conquered 2,142 feet of elevation. That doesn’t mean I peaked 2,142 feet higher than I started, it just means the sum of all of my inclines equaled 2,142 feet. I could try to explain it, but it’s easier to understand by looking at the picture below. It shows elevation in green, and the corresponding heart rate in red. It’s interesting to see how my heart rate climbed ever time I hit a hill.

The steepest I had to climb was 13.3% grade, and the steepest I declined was 16.1%. Overall my average grade was 3.4%. I tackled most of the hills early in the run, and paid for it in terms of fatigue from about mile eighteen onward. To be honest, I have no idea if those numbers are impressive or just plain average for the rest of the runners out there. But it’s flat in Houston, and by way of comparison my other long runs have all averaged well under a 1% grade.

You might notice that my heart rate fluctuated in the high range at the very beginning of the run. I’ve seen this happen over the past few weeks, and I’ve been attributing it to faulty readings of the heart rate monitor. I assumed it was time to change the battery or something. But after hearing about Ryan Shay, I started to think I should try to confirm whether or not the initial high readings were realistic or not. It could be some sort of psychosomatic response to initial exercise stimuli. It’s only started happening recently, but I’ve recently ramped up my training so I hypothesized that maybe there is a correlation.

But I think I figured out that none of that is the case, and that the sky isn’t falling. The weather has also changed recently, which means I’m sweating less and later into the run. The heart rate monitor works off of electrical impulses of the heart, and needs a good “connection” to my chest in order to work. Water or sweat provides that connection. During the summer the simple act of stepping outside produced a layer of sweat sufficient to make good contact. But now that it’s colder I’m not forming that layer of sweat until after a quarter of a mile or so, and my heart rate monitor is generating initially erratic readings. I’m going to prove this theory by making sure the heart rate monitor contacts are wet at the beginning of all future runs, and checking to see if the erratic readings continue.

The “gold standard” of physicals for endurance athletes, if there is indeed one, would be the stress test. Doctors measure your heart beat and respiration while placing you under increasing levels of stress on a treadmill until your maximum heart rate is achieved. In certain cases heart defects are found, and the athlete is treated and educated. The bottom line is that endurance running is not for everyone, and that it can actually harm your health if you have preexisting heart disease.

Some more notes about this run:
* High for the run: 7:30 last mile, and knowing I can run a 3:30 marathon
* Low for the run: .02 miles I ran at the end (it was difficult to stand and I had ability to make lateral movement) and frozen hands (45 degrees warrants gloves)
* Ugly but painless blister on outside of little toe on right foot.
* Breakfast = bananna, southwest airlines peanuts package, half a blueberry bagel
* water => few fountains on trail, so I averaged about 5-6 miles between water stops.
* nutrition => ate two clif shot blocks, but I could barely get them out of the zipper pocket of my shorts because my hands were numb.
* people finally started showing up during the last hour of my run, but it was lonely and quiet for quite some time.

The Tigers took on Alabama today, and won after converting a late Alabama turnover into seven points. I'm happy to have witnessed this victory firsthand, but I can't help but be a little perturbed that the Tigers continue in their normal mode of committing penalties and dropping passes. Let's hope we can correct some of these mistakes over the next couple of weeks before we have to face Arkansas on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Geaux Tigers!

8:07, 7:57, 7:33, 7:36, 7:51, 7:55 (46:59 for first 6 miles)
7:46, 7:48, 8:08, 8:15, 8:03, 8:05 (48:05 for second 6 miles)
8:00, 8:04, 8:03, 7:51, 7:52, 7:59 (47:50 for third 6 miles)
7:42, 8:18, 8:31, 8:03, 7:36, 7:30 (47:40 for fourth 6 miles)

1 comment:

Cory said...

Great run, Jonathan!

I've found that gloves are essential in cooler temperatures. For me, gloves seem to be the most important cold weather gear. If my hands are warm, it seems that the rest of my body is usually okay. I picked up a $5 "disposable" pair at a running store before the marathon with the intention of tossing them to the side during the run. However, I ended up keeping them on until the end even almost every other runner had taken their's off by the end. I'm glad that I had them and I'm happy that I kept them. They've come in handy on a few runs since then.