Monday, June 20, 2011

Speed Phase

With my base phase in the bag, it's time for my most grueling phase of all, the speed phase. My base phase went ok, but it could have gone better. I finished with a week just over 100 miles and got to the point where I could be pretty relaxed at sub 6:00 pace. However, I had trouble finishing up my medium progression runs at the pace I wanted. I debated extending it another week but I felt I met most of my objectives, so I decided to move on.

In the speed phase, I try to build up my engine as much as I can and get in very good 10k-half marathon shape. At the end of the phase, I hope to be in sub 67 half marathon shape and have the speed to run close to 30:00 for 10k. Joe Rubio said it best when he said the point of this phase is to turn into a Porsche, while in the marathon specific phase, you take that Porsche and turn it into a hybrid. While I'd prefer it to last 8-10 weeks, I think I'll only have time for eight weeks.

I'll run a variety of speeds in my workouts, race a good bit and also increase my mileage. The key is to attack the body with a variety of stimuli to help it develop in different areas. While I can't yet know how my body will respond to the training, I'd like to be over 100 miles for most of the weeks in this phase and get in a couple 110-115 mile weeks. While in the marathon specific phase, it's very important to be fresh enough to hit your workout times and I'll delay a workout if it's not going well, in this phase, I'll run my harder workouts tired and will stick with them, even if I'm running too slowly or am running slower than planned. I expect to hit some rough training patches and have many days where I feel like a zombie.

During my Rocket City speed phase, the focus was more-so on building half-marathon fitness. I did a lot of long intervals, 6-7 mile tempo runs, finished up some of my long runs with some hard running and did a weekly run at 90% of my marathon pace. I only raced a couple of times and placed most of my emphasis on workouts that would give me a good gas tank.

During my Country Music speed phase, I focused more on speed. I raced about every two weeks, did a lot of fartleks, and really didn't get in any longer tempos or long, steady runs. It really wasn't the best training for the marathon but I wanted to have some fun and get in some fast running and workouts, which I hadn't done in years. I also needed to get used to running under 5:00 pace, which will help my efficiency for this fall.

This go-around, I'll probably do a combination of the two. I'm racing 3-4 times in July, with a race or two in August. Every other long run, I'll include some fast running or run most of it at 90% of marathon pace. These long, fast runs will be something new for me, but as a result, it will hopefully help me breakthrough to the next level. My body wasn't strong enough to do those kinds of runs so frequently last year, but with a year of solid training under my belt, I feel that I am ready. And as boring as it sounds, I'm going to do the majority of my tempo runs and all of my intervals on the track. It will help me regulate my speed and work on more efficient pacing. A two week period might look something like this:

Monday: Easy running
Tuesday: 10x10 second hill sprints with 2:00 jog recovery
Wednesday: Workout around half-marathon race pace
Thursday: Easy running
Friday: Workout at around 3k-10k race pace or a controlled long progression over hills (if I'm racing on the weekend, I'll make this another day of easy running)
Saturday: Easy running
Sunday: Easy long run with every other long run including most of it at 90% at current marathon race pace

I'm both looking forward to and dreading this phase. Luckily, I can knock out six weeks of it during summer break, which gives me enough time to get in some good sessions (rather than having them be rushed during my lunch break) and also give me a chance to get enough sleep.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Saucony Grid Type A4 Review

When it comes to running shoes, I'm a bit of a diva. When it comes to racing shoes, I'm an even bigger one. I have some fragile feet and if a shoe doesn't fit me well, I'll get some killer plantar fasciitis within a couple of weeks. And while I'm more of a natural midfoot/forefoot striker, if a shoe has too high of a heel, it will cause me to heel strike and overpronate. I've tried out nearly every racing flat known to man and have found something wrong with pretty much all of them. My focus for this spring was to just have some fun with running and do a lot of shorter races. So I needed a lightweight, flexible racing shoe, so I decided to get a pair of Saucony Grid Type A4's and I've been nothing but impressed with them.

When racing shoes approach 7 ounces, they feel too heavy and don't have that fast feeling for the shorter races. When shoes are under 6 ounces, they wreak havoc on my calves. The shoe weighs in at 6.3 ounces (size 9), which I feel is around the perfect weight. The A4's also have just a 4mm heel to forefoot drop off (13mm-9mm), which makes it much easier to run with a more "natural" footstrike. This 4mm dropoff is the same as my training shoes, the Saucony Kinvara but the Grid Type A4 sits much lower to the ground, which gives its a fast feeling and gives your feet a better feel for the road.

One of my favorite things about the A4 is that it's very flexible. Flexibility is very important to me because if a shoe is too stiff, it creates havoc for my arches. While most racing shoes have too much plastic running through the midsole, the A4 has primarily foam, which lets the shoe flex naturally. However, it does have a tiny bit of plastic in the inside of the arch but it doesn't interfere with the flexibility at all and gives the shoe a little more support.

The outsole of the shoe comes equipped with drainage holes that run the entire length of the shoe. In rainy weather, this helps drain water from the shoe, so your shoes don't end up weighing more than you do. This will also help during the brutal and sweaty Tennessee summers when the heat index is regularly over 100 during the afternoon. The only flaw to the drainage holes is that small rocks can get trapped inside them when I run on the cinder trails at Moss Wright Park but the rocks are easily removed and this isn't an issue when I run on the roads.

I raced in these shoes all throughout the spring, ranging in distance from 5k to the half marathon. While the Asics Piranhas I used in the fall gave me everlasting calf knots, I never once had any calf issues with the A4. About a month before the Country Music Marathon, I even flirted with the idea of using them for the full 26.2 distance. On most sites, they recommended the shoe for distances between 5k to half marathon. But just like most doctors usually tell you to rest for two weeks and come in again no matter if you sprained your ankle or got hit by a truck, I felt like the suggestion was too conservative.

When you race 26.2 miles, your muscles get beat up pretty badly and go through a lot of trauma. To make sure the A4's would take me through the whole distance, I tried them out on several longer runs. The first long session I used them on was my longest and toughest workout of the season, so I felt it would be the perfect test: 6.2 miles at 85% of marathon pace, 1:00 rest and then 6.2 miles at faster than marathon pace. That workout sounds somewhat tough but did I mention you have to repeat it again later in the day? And what really puts it over the edge is that once you wake up until you finish the second session, you can't take in any carbohydrates. This super-compensation workout mimics the marathon pretty well without putting you totally over the edge. After it was all said and done, I got in about 26.5 miles for the day and the A4's worked great. I also tested them out on two 22 mile runs and again, I had no foot or calf pain and I was really pleased with how they performed.

I decided to use them in the marathon and they worked perfectly. After the marathon, nearly everyone asked me if my feet hurt. While almost my entire body felt like it was run over by a tank, my feet were perfectly fine. For such a lightweight shoe, they offer a surprising amount of responsive cushioning.

The shoes now have almost 250 miles on them and show little to no wear. My Asics Hyperspeeds and Piranhas have almost the same amount of mileage and the tread is already worn out completely in some areas. Overall, I'm really impressed with them and I think they are a great pick for nearly any runner. They are the most comfortable shoes I own and I will gradually turn them into my everyday training shoes. If you're looking to knock several seconds per mile off your race time (which could give you that extra boost to knock out that Boston qualifying time), the A4's are definitely worth a look.