Invisible Shoes - Barefoot Running Sandals

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

24, 52, 9

I don't remember ever feeling as comfortable running as I have felt the past couple of weeks. I go out and find my stride right away. It just feels good to be out running on the road.

Today I went out running with a friend. We planned a long run, expecting between 22 and 25 km. We went out on the 375 toward Elah Junction. The first 10km until Elah we ran at a great pace. It was getting hot, but we ran hard, though we were not trying to run at any specific pace. We stopped for water at Elah Junction and then continued to Tzomet Azeqa.

When we got to Tzomet Azeqa, the place where a young David, in his days before royalty, slay his warrior of an opponent, Goliath, we turned around and headed back to Tzomet HaElah. After another quick water break we geared up for what would be a tough 10km home.

We knew it would be tough because of a combination of factors. The sun was already strong and getting hotter. The wind would be against us. Most of the terrain would be uphill, though not at a steep incline.

The run was tough. The wind was very strong and dry and made it a serious struggle, but we worked hard and plowed through.

I was completely parched by the end of it, but satisfied at a great run.

As of Tuesday morning, I have now logged 52km this week. Only 9 days left to the Israel Marathon in Tiberias!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Taper Week Starts Out Great

It looks like I am getting another taper week off to a great start. I have already run twice this week for a total of nearly 20 kilometers. And it is only Sunday!

I went out Saturday night for a short run. I ran at an easy pace, a recovery run pace, and cut it at about 8.5km.

Sunday afternoon I went out for a 10km run and ended up running about 11km. The weather weas beautiful. I went out in the late afternoon, just before sunset. The day was unusually warm, and I figured by the end of the afternoon it would start cooling down. I was right. It was already getting a tad cooler, and the breeze in the air was cool as well. The sun was starting to set in the horizon so it was not strong, and it seemed like such perfect weather for a run.

I ended up running with no watch, as the battery died shortly after I began my run. Running with no watch is pretty interesting. I end up running my best because I cannot pay attention to the watch, the time, the pace. I just run my best. My best runs have been with no watch.

I know the distances, as my run was terrain I run regularly on, so I know I ran about 11km. Pace is a bit more difficult and not accurate but based on how I ran and felt, I know I was running for about 8km about 20 seconds faster than marathon pace. It is just an estimate, but that is what it felt like.

Sunday night, nearly 20km in 2 runs. Let's see what the rest of the week has in store for me!

Israel Marathon, here I come!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ramped Up Taper Mode

This past week was a great week for me running-wise. With just barely 2 weeks to go until the marathon I have had my best running week in a long time. I guess "taper mode" really suits me!

I don't remember from my school days being much of a crammer. I studied a lot for tests at the last minute as well, but I was very good at doing my work and studying in a timely fashion. It seems that entering taper mode has made me realize that I only have a short amount of prep time left..

Friday was great. I did not run with the group, but chose to run a bit later in the morning. I like to run when it is a little bit warmer, so I went out at about 9 in the morning. The sun was strong, with a cool breeze.

I ran a bit more than 13 kilometers. The day was beautiful, with runners and bikers all over the place. I ran out of RBS onto Road 10, out on Highway 375 and then back. I went out as far as the entrance to Aderet and then turned around. I ran about 8 km of the run in marathon pace (really a bit faster) and felt very strong.

This was the first week in a very long time that I ran four times in the week. My total mileage for the week was 53 kilometers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Magic Taper

Coach Chaim's, from Al Derech Burma, introduction to Taper Mode:

Ahhh......the Magic Taper.

The mere sound of the phrase rolling off the tongue is soothing balm to the runner's aching muscles. Well, my friends, we are there. After last week's final long run, the hay is in the barn and you are officially declared marathon ready. All you need to do now is recover, maintain your peak fitness and stay healthy.

Although we gradually reduce the mileage during the taper, we do not reduce the intensity of the runs until the final week. Marathoners need to continuously be reassured that they have not lost fitness and, by reminding the body how to run fast, we will both maintain peak fitness and soothe our fragile psyches. Incidentally, there is nothing you can do in terms of workouts at this stage to get fitter. What you can do is properly target the appropriate zones in the reduced mileage that we will be doing and to get plenty of rest.

It is critical that you understand that hard training merely produces the stimulus to adapt to a new level. However, the actual adaption to a new level transpires during rest. What this means is that without the proper rest, you will not reap the benefits of the amazing training season that we just completed. The trick with tapering is to do the minimum possible volume without losing peak fitness. Resist the urge to do more than the carefully crafted schedule calls for.

As you read this, we are a mere sixteen days from the 35th Tiberias Marathon and it is an appropriate time for a little reflection. Yes, the marathon is an undeniably incredible experience. For many, it is nothing short of a life altering event where one redefines the scope of the possible in arenas far beyond the athletic.

I always envy first-timers the incomparable sense of euphoria as they cross the finish line for the first time. But whether January 6th is your first or your fifteenth marathon, you deserve to revel in what you have already accomplished. This marathon is not merely a race that will last between three and six hours. It is an odyssey that has demanded of you nearly superhuman dedication for more than one third of a year. You have woken up at ungodly hours to run distances more appropriately traveled by freight trucks, gasped through lung searing interval sessions, dragged yourself out on the road in the heat and the cold while the rest of humanity slouched on the couch and accused you of being an obsessive lunatic.

In so doing, you have transformed yourself into a hero and I am not truly not waxing hyperbolic when I say this. Any time someone transcends mediocrity by the sweat of his (or her) brow, that person has done something genuinely heroic. Most of us are simply programmed to do what our peers are doing. You, on the other hand, through sheer determination and tenacity, have become a testament to what a human being can accomplish should he choose to do so.

You are now capable of running 42,195 meters, a staggering distance by any measure. And frankly, it does not matter one whit whether you cross that finish line in Tiberias in 2:57 or 5:57, you will have transcended your physical limitations in a way that an infinitesimal portion of the human race will ever do in their lifetime. 

And while personal records and milestones are worthy goals that should be savored, it would be a serious, perhaps even tragic error to assume that they are more significant than what you have already acomplished over the past eighteen weeks.

On marathon day, naturally, we will all shoot for the stars. We will obsess about pacing, gels, isotonic drinks, negative splits and a plethora of other details that make the marathon as much of a mental challenge as a physical one. But if, by some unhappy stroke of bad luck, the weather turns against us, or you come down with a bit of a cold or you simply don't have your best stuff on that partcular morning, know this, truly know it and do not merely console yourself with it:

You have already reached the stars.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Running In Taper Mode

With just over two weeks, 16 days precisely, to go until the Israel Marathon in Tiberias, it is time to head into taper mode. I have been training mostly in taper mode, so I think the only thing I will be tapering is no long runs. The rest I plan on running a few more medium-long runs and trying to even ramp it up a bit. I think I have only run more than twice a week just a couple of times, so I dont think I deserve a taper.

In 16 days 18 weeks of training will be over. January 6th is the day man meets asphalt. Man meets himself. The marathon is really one of the greatest personal challenges anybody can undertake. It is a challenge in the physical realm, and more so in the mental realm. To will oneself, and keep motivated, for training to run 42.2 kilometers, to run anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, is a challenge that is beyond a persons normal abilities.

That is really what is great about the marathon. It is not that I love running 42 kilometers. I don't love running anything even close to that distance. I do love the challenge. I love to challenge myself to see if I can do something I know I should not be able to do. Both the physical challenge - to get myself to run such distances physically, and the mental challenge of getting through the training and even just getting through such long runs. You really get to know yourself when you train for a marathon. And it is a life-transforming experience.

Coach Chaim sent out some words to introduce the taper mode. They are words of instruction, direction, inspiration and motivation, and I will share them with you in a later post.

Despite taper mode, I went out for a 17km run this morning. I hate running in the cold, so I skipped last nights run and decided to run this morning. When I run in the cold I feel stiff and I never feel like I had a good run.

The weather was beautiful, with nice cool air and a warm sun. There was a bit of a gusty wind, but not too strong.
I decided to do a run I have not done in a very long time. When I got to Road 10 I turned left and ran eastward towards the Industrial Zone of Bet Shemesh. I only ran out 3km on the road and then turned and ran back. I then continued on to the end of Road 10, out on 375 and back. I totaled 17.2km.

I have run plenty of dangerous runs; pitch black trails, pitch black highways, highways with almost no shoulder, and more. Running on Road 10, in broad daylight, must have been the most frightening run I have ever done. I was worried the whole time about being hit by a car, and even though the shoulder is decent, for some reason it was more frightening, both running with traffic and against traffic, than any of the other crazy runs I have done.

Anyways, it was a good run. The winds were a bit of a disturbance, and ner the end it was getting a bit warm, but it felt great.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My First Barefoot Half Marathon

This past Friday (yesterday) was my first race of this marathon season. The Bet She'an Half Marathon, which is the premier half marathon in Israel, now in its 32nd year. And my Vibram FiveFinger Bilia barefoot running shoes did not let me down in crunch time. I must say though that people ask really silly questions when they see the Vibrams.

The day was forecast for really lousy running weather - strong winds and rain (the beginning of a four day storm). I went to run, shlepping two hours up north to do so, only because this is the barometer of progress before the marathon. I am familiar with the course, it is mostly flat making for a good run, and it is the premier half marathon in Israel. I had no expectation to have a particularly good run, mostly because of the weather, and partly because I have not been training with any particular level of intensity.

Yet, the forecasters seem to not know what they are talking about.

I went up north with my friends, the Running Bubby and her husband, and the weather was absolutely beautiful. The day started off sunny and cool, heating up as time went on but there was a nice cool breeze throughout.

The run started off with lots of excitement and adrenaline. I was careful to not start off running too fast, sticking to my expected pace of about 5:40km/m. I did not know exactly how fast I'd run, especially because I had been expecting a slow run due to bad weather, but I figured I could run it a bit faster than the average pace of my long runs, so I figured 5:40 was a safe pace to settle in at.

After a couple of kilometers I was feeling great and figured I could pick up the pace. At least for a few kilometers of a tempo, and then I could always slow down to my expected pace..

Not to belabor the details, I had a great run, and felt all the way through that I could keep going at my faster pace. Eventually I realized that if I can keep it up I could break my personal record from my first year running the half marathon two years ago. The trick would be to actually keep up the pace. Especially with the uphill stretch still coming up. Uphills always kill me, even if I run it decently. The run after the uphill always seems slower.

The uphill came, and the Bet She'an uphill is not really such a serious uphill, but it is significant, and I powered through it only slowing down a bit. For the first kilometer after the uphill I still felt a bit slower, and then I motivated myself to pick up the pace again. Familiarity with the route makes a big difference. I knew what was coming up and what I could expect. So speed up I did. I still felt great, though when I hit kilometer #19 or so I was starting to feel a little winded, but I was on track to a personal record so I figured I could push myself to the limit and keep it up for just a bit more.

At kilometer 18-19 people I am picking up my pace a bit and am passing other runners. The final stretch comes, and I exploded through the finish line with a new personal record of 1:51:44. It is amazing how you can make a big deal, and be so excited, about a difference of 1 minute.

Now, about the Vibrams. They generated a lot of interest. A lot of people saw them and started talkign to me about them, before, during and after the run. I actually saw one other person wearing Vibrams. I saw him after the race, in the staging hall after returning the chip - he was on his way out and I was on my way in. Because of the crowds flowing I could not ask him about his experience, but we both looked at each others feet and then up at each other as we passed by.

People ask silly questions. The silliest of them all is the question about whether I am going to be running the whole thing in them - what should I say? No, I am going to be switching to regular running shoes halfway.. Other questions like are they comfortable or do they hurt.. those are not as silly, but they get shocked when I answer no they are not comfortable. After their initial moment of shock, like if they are not comfy why are you wearing them, I say they aren't comfy but they are not meant to be - there is no padding and cushioning..

Anyway, lots of people looked and noticed and asked about them. It seems people are interested, they just are hesitant to try them out.. I suspect we'll be seeing increasing numbers in the near future. Eventually the interest will turn to people actually running in them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Mid-Week Medium Long Run In Bikila

The most elusive of runs, for me, has been the Wednesday medium-long run. I don't think I have managed to run the 16 or 18 kilometer mid-week run more than a couple of times this whole marathon training season. It is a horribly difficult time to run. It is an individual run, it is a work day, and it is too long to just go out and squeeze in a quick run. On the other hand, it is a far more important run than the way I treat it.

Today I finally got out to run. I scheduled it with a running partner. He is normally faster than me, but he has not been training due to a recent injury, so he is now running a bit slower than his normal pace. His slow pace is my fast pace, but it means we can run together. Bad for V, good for me.

Out we go at 5 AM. We decided to run from Tzomet Ha'Elah up to the 383 (2km), up the 383 another 6km, and then back, totaling 16km. The first 2km was pretty cold, but as soon as we turned up the 383 it warmed up right away. When we got back to Highway 38, 12 km later, it was freezing cold again. The last kilometer was a bit of a struggle for me. I felt everything stiffening up from the cold. We finished the run with a 5:49km/m average pace.

Today I wore my Vibram FiveFinger Bikila shoes, and I always get a better run in them than in my other shoes.

The run was a great run, and today I conquered the elusive mid-week medium long run..