The New Normal – Part 2

A little over a year ago, I wrote about reaching a “new normal” pace.  Up until that point, I had been struggling for quite a while to get past the 9:00/mile barrier, but once I did, that pace became normal to me.  I no longer had to push to get there, it just became the pace my legs would take me when I went out the door.

Since then, I’ve gradually improved my running and, yes, even gotten a bit faster.  When I was heading out to run the Ragnar Relay in Arizona in February, I had a simple goal: don’t embarrass yourself.  Meaning, try not to be the slowest guy out there!  Once I had completed my first leg and handed off the bracelet, I was surprised when I checked out my Garmin:  a little over 4 and half miles at a 7:40/mile pace.  That was the fastest run I had ever completed.  Ever.  The next two legs went just as well:  6+ at 7:41/mile and about 5 and a half at 7:43/mile.  To be clear, before landing in Arizona, I had never in my life run at a pace under 8:00/mile, but somehow managed to turn in three runs in a row at better than that pace.

Last Sunday, I went in to the Heart Half Marathon feeling pretty confident that I’d be able to run a good race.  So confident that I lined up with the 8:00/mile pace group.  Granted, I thought I’d be hanging on for dear life, but I also didn’t think it was crazy either.  Again, I managed to run that race (a 13.1 mile race) at an average of 7:50/mile.

I don’t know this for sure yet, but each time I’ve gone for a run since Ragnar, my legs just seem to want to run at a pace close to 8:00/mile.  I’m kind of hoping this becomes the new normal.  We’ll see.



Cincinnati Heart Half Marathon race report

I coach my younger son’s 9 and under travel baseball team. When my assistant coaches and I talk about coaching these kids, we talk a lot about confidence. You can take the boy with the most talent, the best technique, a perfectly balanced swing, but if he has no confidence when he steps into the batter’s box, he’ll have a tough time succeeding. “Knowing” you can do something can make all the difference.

I had signed up for the Cincinnati Heart Half Marathon quite a while ago, but I really looked at it as a training run. This weekend is the end of a ‘step-back’ week in my marathon training, so prudence would have told me to just take it easy. But a few weeks ago, I surprised myself at the Ragnar Relay by turning in all three of my legs at under 8:00/mile paces. And I felt strong and healthy afterward as well. That left me feeling pretty confident about the progress I’ve made in my running. Earlier this week, a gorgeous March day motivated me to try a short run at a faster pace and I came away from that feeling good as well. I know a fast four mile run doesn’t mean I can handle a long run at that pace yet, but I did come away thinking it wasn’t completely out of the question either.

After that run, my friend (and Ragnar teammate) Steve Speirs, who is just an outstanding runner, suggested that based on my recent running, I could be capable of a 1:45:00 in the half this weekend. This is the same guy who just set a 50K PR by 30 minutes while coming in 3rd overall, and is the two time defending champion of the Cayman Islands Marathon, so he knows what he’s talking about. I have to be honest, good recent running or not, it wouldn’t have ever entered my mind to attempt a half marathon averaging better than 8:00/mile had he not said it.

So this weekend, I decided to race the half rather than just run it. I exchanged messages with Madison Gerstle, a local runner who told me she was gunning for a 1:45:00 in order to secure a corral spot at the upcoming Kentucky Derby Half Marathon. Her plan was to line up near the 1:45 pace group and see what happens. Great idea! So I copied it. Sure enough, just a few minutes before the gun, we saw each other hanging out near the pace group, exchanged good luck wishes and off we went.

It took me a couple miles to really find a groove, but once I did, I thought I actually had a shot at holding this pace. While I knew I was working, I felt smooth and strong, so I just kept hanging with the pace group. My wife and sons came to cheer me on, so each time I saw them, I got a little boost of energy, which is huge in a race like this. The weather today was kind of cold and drizzly, so the fact that they kept out there cheering was great.

Just before a crazy hill at mile 6, I pulled away from 8:00/mile pace group after passing a water stop.  This hill is just ¼ of a mile long, but climbs 109 feet in that short distance.  I’ve done a pretty good job of mixing hills into my marathon training since the Flying Pig has lots of them as well, so I powered up, then cruised back down.  At the end of the hill, I got to see my family once again, so that little burst got me going again.  After that, I never looked back.  While I was nervous about leaving the pace group, I knew if I could just keep my turnover consistent, I could hold the pace I was running, which was just about 7:55/mile.  Madison and I continued to see each other on the course, so I knew she was ahead of her goal and had some time in the bank.  We had a quick laugh about being glad to be past that killer climb and she also told me that every time I saw my family, I got a little pep in my step!

The rest of the race is a bit of a blur.  I know we made our way into to downtown briefly, then headed over one of the bridges to Kentucky, then quickly back over to Ohio on a different bridge.  While briefly in Kentucky, I know I saw my family again, but that’s about the extent of what I remember.  After heading back into downtown Cincinnati, I knew we had a little over a mile and a half left to the finish.  I glanced at my watch and saw something in the neighborhood of 1:30:00, so I knew I was going to beat my goal.  With a smile on my face, I decided to see what I had left in the tank and push hard to the finish line.  As I tapped my Garmin, I looked down and saw 1:42:44.  My chip time was 1:42:43, more than 9:00 minutes better than my previous PR at the Spirit of Columbus Half Marathon.  Madison also got her corral spot by running a PR and getting her sub 1:45:00.

After making my way through the finishing shoot, I found my wife and my boys and got giant hugs.  I had tears in my eyes as I hugged Michelle, because she alone knew I wanted to run this race to shake off a few demons from last year.  I had not yet shaken the feeling of guilt for running the mini marathon at this race last year and then missing being with her as her father slipped away from us.  I had run the race, then immediately hopped on a flight to get to her, but he died while I was in the air.  The race today, with Michelle there cheering for me, has given me a bit of closure.  I thought of her dad a number of times throughout the race today, and I’m sure she did too.  While the sadness never completely goes away, this little step today helped.

A funny picture

Sorry.  Far too funny (and true) not to post.  I wish I could give proper attribution for the creator of this shirt, but I’m not sure who created it.

Funny running t-shirt


A new cadence

I’m a drummer. I probably haven’t mentioned it, but I am. I used be pretty good when I was younger. I can tell you that one of my favorite things to play was the cadence. The cadence is the rhythm the percussion section plays for the rest of band to march to. The length of the cadence is usually shorter than a full song, but it always repeats, and that repetition gives everyone a sense of where they are and what they need to do next.

Running has become the cadence in my life. The rhythm of my week is kept by my running schedule. Mentally and physically I know where I am and what’s coming next based on what my run is for that day (or the fact that I have no run that day).

  • Mondays are for cross training. A chance to use a different set of muscles and keep fit without the stresses that running puts on your legs.
  • Tuesdays start my running week. It’s usually a relatively easy run and not terribly long.
  • Wednesdays are tough. The day starts with strength training early in the morning, and ends with a medium long run.
  • Thursdays are when some work gets done. This is a day where I’ll do either a tempo run or hill work. I love this day.
  • Fridays are a rest from running. I still do strength training in the morning, but absolutely no running allowed. And maybe, just maybe, I like to get a great big burger with my boys. Maybe.
  • Saturdays are usually a repeat of Wednesday’s run: medium long in length and intensity. It’s meant to get me just tired enough that I have to run Sunday’s long run on fatigued legs.
  • Sundays are my long run. The distance is typically twice the length of Saturday’s run. At this point in marathon training (just under two months from the marathon), my long runs are in the high teens, 20 and 21 before we taper back down.

My life doesn’t have as many paradiddles, triplets, rolls or rudiments as it once did, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have rhythm.

Zensah Calf Sleeve review

Before our Ragnar Del Sol team left for the race, Zensah was kind enough to supply the whole team with Zensah Calf Sleeves, to help us all with recovery in between and after our runs. Now, I have to admit that I was skeptical about whether they’d have an effect one way or another, but I’m happy to report that they really helped.

Ragnar Van #1 with our Zensah Calf Sleeves
Ragnar Van #1 with our Zensah Calf Sleeves

I’ve run with their arm sleeves for a while, but I did it mostly to bridge the gap between short sleeve weather and long sleeve weather, never for any therapeutic effect. This weekend, I got to experience what calf sleeves can do first hand.

The Ragnar Relay is a special kind of race. Instead of just one long race to run, each team member has three separates legs of the race and those legs are dispersed over time. For instance, my first leg started at about 5:00 PM, my second leg started at about 2:00 AM and then my final leg was at about 10:00 AM. In between, you spend a lot of time standing around or cramped up in a van, fighting for room with baggage, food coolers and the random gnome (don’t ask). All in all, your legs can really take a beating. Throw three race-pace runs through the desert into the mix and even the fittest among us can end up with tired, achey legs. I know I certainly expected to walk away from the weekend limping along, with a lot of pain and soreness, especially in my calves, but I didn’t. One day of rest and I was back out there, getting some mileage in.

I’m a believer. I’d highly recommend Zensah Calf Sleeves to help you recover from tough runs, whether in the desert or your neighborhood.

Joe Marruchella, one of my Ragnar team members had the same great experience, and so did Steve Speirs.

Zensah Compression Technology
Zensah Compression Technology