Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Quick sea-level running weekend

Orange County, CA

We were fortunate to have a quick weekend visit out to Orange County to visit our good friends, Todd and Andrea. We always have a great time with them, and the weekend went by too quickly. Unfortunately, the weather was as about as bad as it gets in sunny So Cal, with rain and cool temperatures 2 of the 3 days we were there.

But there's nothing to complain about, as we still had a great time with them, and did have a nice day to get some surfing in, which was one of my main goals.

Rain, rain, go away!
We used to live in So Cal, and I remember how the infrastructure just...isn't...built...for...rain. That is, the roads get slippery (noticeably so on a bike); bacterial levels get high in the ocean so you can get sick if you surf afterward (although I'll pay for that check when it comes in a few days, if it does); and the trails are caked in thick mud. Al fresco dining is ruined, and the coffee shops don't have the requisite character, generally. Everyone gets crabby, and doesn't know what to do with themselves.

Strangely, though, it was a perfectly welcome relief.

I went for a run a couple mornings in the rain and grey, something I rarely did while living there (I ran less, so I'd just do some sort of indoor workout or something else). Instead, I found it quite enjoyable to go for a run in the morning when it was calm and traffic was light. The people that were out in the rain were, as a percentage, more friendly.
So I did a couple of 1.5-2 hour jogs from downtown Newport to areas around the beach, Corona Del Mar, and Irvine.
This one's for Alex!

Sea Level Run Tests
But first: one of my goals was to do some sort of quick sea-level test to see how noticeable the extra oxygen density might be. So, the first morning I headed out to the track at Irvine, home of the UCI Anteaters.

This, however, happened to be the absolute heaviest part of the storm.
I decided to run 8x800 anyway, but used Lane 5 so as to avoid the worst of the puddles:

This meant I had to think about the staggered start lines and such.
First lap was OK, in the mid 2:30's. The same or a little faster than I've been lately, though not the fastest.
The rain picked up a bit.
I thought I'd be OK as long as I didn't slip or anything, but in the following laps, my shorts, socks, and shoes were absolutely soaked. I was easily 5, 10, then 15 seconds slower than my first lap, with times all over the place. I stopped in the middle and wrang the water out of my socks.

So the workout was absolutely worthless in terms of testing-the-fitness at sea level. This bothered me as both a runner, and a student of exercise physiology. Shoot.

In the afternoon of our last day, a few hours before we left, I hadn't run during the day yet. Todd said he'd be OK with a quick jog to the local high school track in Corona Del Mar. Then I could do a quick workout and he didn't mind waiting or stretching, etc. It was near sunset now, due to Daylight Savings Time ending, but the weather was absolutely perfect.

I ended up having about 20 minutes, so I just decided to do a 5k.

Everything felt awesome and I hit 5000m at 17:10. Holy crap (in my world, anyway). I wasn't dying at the end, and finished another 400m up at the same pace to make it an even 13 laps. Todd was timing as well and said he was impressed (very kind of him to say so) about clicking off tight 5:30 splits with regularity.

I was pretty stoked by this -- I've never even run sub-18 in a race.
Is this a PR? Does it "count" since I didn't pay money for it? Who knows. AK is running his own self-timed marathon, and I think it's an awesome idea.
In any case, it's the fastest I've ever run that distance, and it felt awesome.

I don't know where that came from exactly, but I felt like a few things were key:
1. I've been doing less mileage (planned and unplanned) and am pretty well rested
2. I've been stretching with some regularity, and some niggling pains are getting better (fingers crossed)
3. Sea level doesn't give you any speed that you don't have already, but it makes the speed you do have easier to maintain for longer periods of time

Regarding the last point, I realize I could also benefit from some occasional very short stuff (100m, 200m, 400m), because my leg speed in this case was the limiter, whereas my heart and lungs felt like they had a bit more to give.

Anyway, it was a memorable workout and a fun scientific test.
Now back home, where our motto might was well be "A mile higher and a minute slower!"
Next up is the FC Thanksgiving Day Run, so it's fun to do the short stuff for a change.


  1. Sweet. Sweet on several fronts. A fast(er) 5k. A sweet CP50 (or 45) shirt). Sweet to get to sea level. Sweet.

    The general thought on sea level was exactly as you stated it: you are not faster outright but you can maintain longer. And in fact, at altitude, if you cross that line, forget about recovering back in that race.

  2. That is an amazing time, Mike! Congratulations! If it were me, I'd consider it a PR. BUT that's just me, a slow runner who'll take anything she can get.

    Ahh, Fashion Island, Corona Del Mar, Anteaters...makes me kinda miss the OC...sorta.

  3. Awesome Mike!! Very solid 5K time. I want to make it out to sea level again sometime to see what it would do for my times.

    And I say absolutely use it as a PR! A track PR anyway. PR's are only for you anyway right? And I guarantee you I will be using whatever I run at the marathon this week as my marathon PR regardless of what anyone elses opinion or legitimacy of it it is. (Also since it will be the first one I have done I know it will be a PR regardless of the outcome.)

    I can totally relate to you on the enjoyment of mixing it up with the short distance races etc. I find a lot of enjoyment in varying my type of training throughout the year from shorter to longer focuses and back.

  4. Looks like a good trip Mike. I do miss the OC sometimes especially those runs on the beach. Did your get out to Crystal Cove/El Moro. I have put in my share of track sessions on the Anteater track, some of them in the rain too. 17:10 5K is awesome, so what is your goal for the Thanksgiving Day run?

  5. Thanks for reading and commenting:
    @GZ: The CPTR is one of my fav's
    @Aaron, your marathon PR will be totally legit, and is totally awesome. Outside of the highly competitive running world (your wife!), the rest of the running world seems focused on big events, medals, rock bands, etc. -- and costs. Don't get me wrong, that aspect can be highly motivational: having numerous people to pace with, etc. -- but I like your old-school approach!
    And, should you get out to sea level, it's fun to see how much easier it gets!
    @May's: Ironically, being in So Cal in the rain was more enjoyable than I thought. It's fun to visit as a tourist, yet not do tourist things. If you want to miss anything, though, it would be the ease of the Santa Ana airport, in contrast to the mind-numbing trek to DIA.

    We went to Crystal Cove on a perfect day, and *all* the trails were closed. I know the clay is bad out there, but I was optimistic because I played around on some backyard singletrack in Bonita Canyon, and it seemed like it was drying OK. Oh well, that led indirectly to the 5k time trial instead.

    Alex, my goal for the last (only) 2 4-milers I've done has been 24:00, and I've missed by 25-30 second each time. That's still my goal, but I believe I should be able to do better, hopefully solidly in the 23's. I like your training ideas right now, too: next week I'm planning on a 4x1M on one day, and a final 1x3M at pace as a predictor. I hope! Good luck with training!